Press-Republican

May 31, 2013

Governor in town to tout tax-free plan

JOE LoTEMPLIO
Press-Republican

PLATTSBURGH — Dannemora Town Supervisor Americo “Ves” Pivetta hopes Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Tax-Free New York initiative becomes a reality.

“I know there are a lot of Canadian companies that would love to come to the United States, and the more incentives we can give them, the more attractive a place like Lyon Mountain could be,” Pivetta said.



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The governor’s plan calls for alleviating all state taxes for 10 years on new businesses setting up shop on or near State University of New York campuses across Upstate. State income tax for employees of those businesses would also be suspended for that length of time.

CLOSED PRISONS

The plan also designates 20 other properties that would be included in the program. At a visit to SUNY Plattsburgh Thursday, Cuomo said those 20 sites could include closed prisons, such as Lyon Mountain Correctional Facility in Dannemora and Camp Gabriels in Franklin County.

The initiative is designed to attract business to Upstate, which has long struggled economically.

 In a 26-minute talk, Cuomo told area business and government leaders that the state has driven away businesses and residents with high taxes and strict regulations over decades.

“We are chasing people away from Upstate New York,” Cuomo said.

“People are not leaving because they want to; they are leaving because they have to. We have to undo what we did that created the issue.”

The prison in Lyon Mountain closed in 2011, and Camp Gabriels closed in 2009.

The 26-acre property in Lyon Mountain, which includes 18 buildings, will be put up for sale at auction later this summer.

With a minimum bid price set at $140,000, Pivetta believes the site can be of use to someone.

“I’m sure there will be interest in that property, and we can use all the tools we can get from the state to make it more attractive,” he said.

The governor has been on a statewide tour promoting his Tax-Free NY initiative. His aides have also been touting the plan at regional seminars, including one held at Clinton Community College on Wednesday.

Cuomo said that using SUNY campuses to attract business is continuing with the idea from the 1970s that the college communities will help the Upstate economy.

With 55 of the 64 SUNY campuses in Upstate, the impact of new businesses and jobs can be significant, he said.

“This is not a boutique approach. This is a massive space and enough to change the dynamic of the Upstate economy.”

‘DIFFICULT’

City of Plattsburgh Mayor Donald Kasprzak said he hopes the plan works.

“I appreciate the fact that the governor understands the difficult tax issues in this state that affect communities like ours,” Kasprzak said.

“I am hopeful that this initiative will increase the economic benefits to the city and will increase business activity and employment.”

The Business Council, a leading business group in the state, has pledged its support for the plan, but not everyone is on board.

FAIRNESS QUESTIONED

The Civil Service Employees Association came out against the idea, saying that allowing some companies and workers to pay no taxes is simply not fair.

Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru) said she has heard those same concerns despite the Business Council’s endorsement.

“Some businesspeople are very concerned about their competition paying no taxes,” Duprey said.

“They are also worried that they could lose employees to these companies where they would not have to pay any income tax.”

PREVAILING WAGES

John Donoghue of the Plattsburgh-Saranac Lake Building and Construction Trades Council endorses the concept but said that union workers should also benefit.

“It’s a great idea, but we have to make sure that if it happens that all new construction will provide prevailing wages,” Donoghue said, referring to union wage scales, which are higher than non-union wages.

The state chapter of the Building and Trades Council has yet to support the idea but has not denounced it, either.

“The State Council has not currently taken a position on this initiative; however, we have made it clear that we will not lend our support without seeing that the enacting legislation expressly states that all construction work will be defined as ‘public work’ covered by the prevailing wage,” a statement read.

LEGISLATURE OK NEEDED

Cuomo’s plan must be approved by the State Legislature before going into effect. The legislature is scheduled to wrap up its session in about a month.

Cuomo told reporters following his talk that details of the plan, such as how closed prisons would be involved and whether prevailing wages will be required, must be worked out by the legislature.

Duprey said she won’t say she will support the plan until she knows all of the details.

“The governor is thinking outside the box, and this idea has never been tried before. But we need to see if the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.”

State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) said such ideas may be able to prevent young people from leaving the state.

“I think it’s a good idea to proactively harness the innovative and entrepreneurial nature of students.

“We have had, for a long time, a problem with providing a wonderful SUNY education only to see many graduates leave the state. Some of that is wanderlust. Some of it is opportunities elsewhere in other states, and we need to continue working to improve the overall business climate.”

Little said a deal could be reached on the governor’s plan before the session ends.

“I don’t have a lot of specifics. Discussions are under way between the governor and leadership in both houses.”

Assemblyman Danield Stec (R-Queensbury) said he likes the idea of helping the Upstate economy but has not seen details of the governor’s plan yet.

“I am interested in seeing the bill and getting a chance to digest it and taking up the discussion,” Stec said. “But I am glad the legislative focus is shifting back on the economy and creating jobs.”

NEW DYNAMIC

Cuomo said the plan will not affect tax revenues for local communities because SUNY campuses have never paid taxes on their properties, and properties off campus that are eligible for the program could negotiate a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement.

“That premise (lost revenue) is wrong,” he said.

Bringing in more businesses and workers will help ease the tax burden on everyone, the governor said.

“We have to change the dynamic. People are leaving, so we have fewer people paying the higher cost of government.”

Email Joe LoTemplio:jlotemplio@pressrepublican.com

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SEE THE VIDEO

See Staff Photographer Kelli Catana's video from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's visit to Plattsburgh, online with this article at pressrepublican.com.