Cuomo pitches tax-free SUNY plan

Gov. Andrew Cuomo traveled to Plattsburgh Thursday to push his plan to create tax-free zones around state college campuses.

Speaking at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, Cuomo said his Tax Free New York initiative could be a “game changer” for the lagging upstate economy.

“We have to admit the depth of the economic problem in Upstate New York,” Cuomo said. “It has nothing to do with the most recent economic downturn. Upstate New York has been struggling for 30 to 40 years.”

The proposal would allow new businesses to start up and out-of-state businesses to open on or near SUNY campuses. The businesses would not pay sales, property or business taxes and their employees wouldn’t have to pay state income tax for a decade.

Cuomo said the program would help eliminate the perception that New York is a high-tax, anti-business state. It’s designed to keep innovative start-up companies, many of which have sprung up around SUNY campuses, from leaving New York, he said.

“What happens is we lose 75 percent of them at the end of the first year. Why?” Cuomo asked. “Because they’re new businesses and they decide that they don’t want to stay in the state of New York because we have the anti-business reputation. So they move to a low-tax, no-tax state. We have to keep those jobs here.”

There are only about four weeks left in the current legislative session in Albany. Cuomo said that’s plenty of time for lawmakers to take up the proposal.

The tax-free plan has drawn the ire of one of the state’s largest employee unions. The Civil Service Employees Association has launched a statewide radio campaign against the initiative, calling it a “special giveaway to businesses” that would treat some employees “better than everyone else.”

“I’m tired of all these tax breaks that are supposed to help our economy but just benefit a select few,” a person in the ad says.

The Tax Free New York proposal has the backing of business leaders around the state and many local elected officials. Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau traveled to Albany Tuesday for a press conference on the Tax Free New York plan with Cuomo and other politicians from across New York. The village’s North Country Community College would be included in the plan.

“We’re tremendous supporters of Governor Cuomo’s proposal to link up Tax Free New York with our local SUNY campus,” Rabideau said at the press conference. “We’ve got a lot of challenges facing us, but with this new arsenal of Tax Free New York initiatives and ideas and proposals, I think we have a leg up in the competition. I think we can bring jobs into the middle of the Park and we can grow.”

Later this week, the village and NCCC issued a joint press release in support of the program. College President Steve Tyrell said the college will work closely with municipal leaders, county and state officials to attract businesses to its campuses in support of Cuomo’s initiative.

“The all-too-common arms-lengths relationship colleges have had with economic development would be replaced with higher education leaders taking a center stage role with municipal leaders in the critical task of job creation,” Tyrell said in the release. “For some college leaders and for many faculty, this will appear as a new juncture for SUNY; but one truly necessary for all of us if we are to help New York thrive.”

NCCC also has campuses in Malone and Ticonderoga.

Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio provided the Enterprise with the audio from Thursday’s press conference in Plattsburgh.

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or