Niagara Gazette

Local News

May 26, 2013

Cuomo's tax-free business plan is bold but uncertain

Niagara Gazette —

ALBANY — Through much of the last century, New York built America's locomotives, automobile parts, steel girders and more through three shifts a day. Today, the Empire State is next to last on CEOs' list of states to set up shop.

The decline came over more than four decades of economic erosion for much of the state outside New York City's nearly unshakable economy. The state played a high-stakes game of offering tax breaks, but it yielded more political scandal than economic turnaround.

Now, Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to go all in.

He's proposing a new way to lure high-tech companies and entrepreneurs by waiving all business and property taxes and even state income taxes for all their employees for up to 10 years if they move to New York and partner with a college campus.

It could have a major impact on the Falls as state Sen. George Maziarz believes the plan may bode well for the empty portion of the old Rainbow Centre mall building.

In a letter delivered to Cuomo on Thursday, Maziarz, R-Newfane, encouraged the governor to explore the possibility of applying various incentives under his Tax-Free NY proposal to assist in the redevelopment of 200,000 square feet of available space in the mall site. The former mall already houses Niagara County Community College's culinary institute.

As the governor touts the tax-free pitch as a major upstate economic development plan, policy experts say it's a unique approach but warn it could backfire and actually hamstring the state's economy. Either way, other states are watching closely.

"This is exactly the kind of thinking that makes New York score so poorly in our tax index," said Scott Drenkard, an economist with the Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan, national tax research association. "The bread and butter of a good tax policy is its broad-based taxes. That means you don't have giveaways to certain businesses. Instead, you operate on a level playing field."

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