Start-Up NY is a bad deal for taxpayers

Despite the objections of people like us, the state has enacted Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s START-UP NY, which stands for SUNY Tax-free Areas to Revitalize and Transform Upstate New York. It invites out-of-state companies to not pay taxes of any kind for 10 years if they set up shop near state college campuses. And “no taxes” here really means no taxes: no state corporate tax, no sales tax, no property tax, no franchise fees and no income tax for the company’s employees.

That means, of course, that the rest of us New Yorkers have to pick up those businesses’ tab.

How many of those businesses will still be around when, after 10 years, they’re asked to pay their own way? Not many, we suspect. Gov. Cuomo won’t be, either.

The state is foolishly trying to play into corporations’ tax-avoidance game, and they have more tricks up their sleeves than we do.

Even as corporate welfare schemes go, START-UP NY is particularly lame, for several reasons:

It’s an over-the-top giveaway that benefits relatively few areas of the state.

It’s costing New York taxpayers millions of dollars to advertise – $15.2 million between December and March. Of that, 59 percent was for ads aired in New York state, which is surprising considering that the target audience is supposed to be out-of-state businesses.

It only helps college towns or neighborhoods, which aren’t necessarily the places that need the most help. A State University of New York campus is already a great engine for a local economy, and in the North Country, college towns – even community college towns – tend to do better than their neighbors. Colleges are great assets to Potsdam, Plattsburgh and Saranac Lake. Such generators of jobs and student influx would be very desirable in places like Tupper Lake or Massena. So why not help them instead?

It’s not just up north, either. Down in the Hudson Valley, START-UP NY favors New Paltz over Newburgh, which needs more of a boost.

START-UP NY is off to a slow start. Just 12 firms with 400 jobs were signed up as of the beginning of this month, six months into the promotion. That could be because communities are just now finishing their plans for it, but we hope it’s abandoned before it spreads. We see it as a loser, Cuomo campaign gimmick that’s not really designed to fix the economy, but to show people he’s doing something for the economy – something that sounds big.

Nevertheless, an effort is underway to use Saranac Lake’s state campus, North Country Community College, as START-UP NY bait. We’re not sure what kind of wheeling and dealing is going on behind the scenes, but what if Saranac Lakers were able to reel in a biotech or other firm that would seem an ideal fit for the community’s small biotech cluster, Trudeau Institute, Trudeau’s partner Clarkson University, Adirondack Health and NCCC, which could train students for even more health-related jobs? We expect almost everyone would welcome a firm like that. It would be, in many ways, a model outcome for START-UP NY.

Yet still, it wouldn’t be worth the price.

Every other struggling business owner in town, every homeowner stressing over bills – those people would be shouldering that company’s property tax burden. Every piece of property that goes to START-UP NY goes off our local tax rolls for a decade. Saranac Lake already has a huge proportion of tax-exempt property; it doesn’t need more. It can do better.

Meanwhile, the state wouldn’t be able to benefit from that economic growth by finally having money to rein in your income taxes, or to do long-postponed things like fix roads – for instance, the pothole-pocked section of state Route 86 that runs right in front of NCCC’s Saranac Lake campus.

Our community should just say no to START-UP NY.