There’s nothing quite like the final days of the legislative session in Albany.
Deals are struck, compromises made and positions forced from politicians in the matter of a feverish handful of hours before lawmakers are scheduled to pack up and head back to their districts for the rest of the year. If the rest of the session could operate at this pace, something might actually get done now and again.
Though many big issues were deferred on, leading to a less-than-satisfying end to the session, the legislature in this past week did move on some major items. A number of women’s rights laws were passed (excepting a big, controversial abortion statute) and the first steps to bring casino gambling to the state were made. And let’s not forget the seismic impact of the SAFE Act, which was passed earlier in the year but still counts on the 2013 scoreboard.
Among all the last-minute clamor, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s much ballyhooed “Tax Free NY” plan was passed without too much notice. Well, it’s actually now known as “Start-Up NY,” thanks to a late-game rebranding worthy of a Don Draper monologue.
Put simply, the program establishes zones at and near universities that will give approved businesses a 10-year window to operate sans taxes, including income tax for most employees.
Cuomo signed the law in Vestal, at Binghamton University. The location was not chosen by mistake – the Southern Tier community is home to a major branch of the state university system but has been economically pummeled by the loss of industry over the past few decades.
The idea is not without merit. Attracting businesses to Upstate New York should be among the top concerns of any governor, to be sure, and offering the incentives found in Start-Up NY is one way to attract the attention of employers who will hire the young, trained and well-paid workforce that is simply bleeding out of the state.
Yet critics are right to draw parallels between this program and the failed Empire Zone endeavor that merely rewards companies with creative accounting departments. Start-Up NY is written to include only new businesses creating new jobs, but history has shown lawmakers have difficulty keeping up with creative lawyers when there’s money on the table.
And then there are the philosophical difficulties. Why, after all, should the state roll out a shiny red carpet for a young, unproven startup when a homebuilder who has been paying taxes on time and in full for decades could be given relief and the opportunity to expand? Why couldn’t existing employers be given a chance to hire back some of their workforce by way of a tax break?
It’s a timely question, as our nation readies its Fourth of July celebrations. It’s an event in our country’s history that was in part predicated by unfair taxation – an extra burden was placed on some so that others could enjoy a lesser one.
Of course, we think it unlikely business owners here in New York will rush to the harbor to start chucking tea into the ocean. It seems far more plausible they’ll be forced out of existence along with the jobs they currently provide us.