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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara

"Tax-Free NY, kind of"

ALBANY, June 2 -- The buzz around New York government over the past few weeks has been
around New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and top members of his cabinet touring upstate New York touting that they’re ready to go nationwide with this message: Tax-Free New York!

But maybe we should hold on before we go turning up the volume on that one.

The governor’s “Tax-Free NY” initiative is obviously enticing. Who, after all, can argue against paying no taxes in New York State? It proposes to utilize the State University of New York (SUNY) system, including community colleges, to offer new businesses a place to operate tax free for 10 years -- no income tax for employees, as well as no sales, property or businesses taxes. More details and fine-tuning of the plan, which requires the Legislature’s okay, are in the works. But that's the gist of it. In and around SUNY campuses, most of which are located upstate, at some private universities and in a few other chosen places, businesses would be invited to set up shop, tax free.

Here’s how the governor recently described the plan to the editorial board of the Syracuse Post-Standard: "It's big, it's bold. I think it could make a major difference."

One of the state’s leading fiscal experts, E.J. McMahon of the conservative Manhattan Institute, called the Tax-Free NY plan a “promising new wrinkle.” But he also stressed that “the state should go much further than this.”

But for the moment let’s give credit where’s it’s due and admit that the Tax-Free NY plan is bold -- just not for all of the same reasons as many of its supporters believe it is. What I mean is that the plan may be even bolder for what it admits than for what it offers to do. That’s because:

-- Tax-Free NY admits that high taxes -- business, income and property -- are a problem in New York. That’s good, because high broad-based taxes are New York’s problem and have been for a long, long time. So we welcome the admission;

-- Tax-Free NY admits that tax cuts are the best way to attract businesses and industries, and the private-sector jobs they create. That, too, is a bold admission because tax cuts are the best answer and we’ve ignored it in New York for too long; and, finally

-- Tax-Free NY admits that upstate New York needs to be the focus. "This is directed primarily to Upstate New York," the governor said, "because that's where we have an economic problem." We sure do, governor, and thanks for acknowledging it.

And yet, Tax-Free NY is admittedly limited in the scope of its boldness. What about all of the communities where there isn’t a SUNY campus nearby? What about other businesses in the neighborhood that will fall outside any tax-free zone, will still have to pay New York’s high taxes and, therefore, be rendered less competitive? How do we say it’s critical to carve out pockets of upstate prosperity, economic progress and job growth, but to the rest of upstate: sorry.

There are legitimate questions left unanswered for the time being.

For now, though, let’s stay focused on the underlying admissions of Tax-Free NY: New York State taxes are too high and cutting taxes is the most important thing we can do for the economy of upstate New York.

The Business Council of New York State reacted this way: “(Tax-Free NY) is an innovative approach, and illustrates that we can and should do more to make the state’s overall economic climate more competitive.” Translated: If tax cuts are the cure for some of what ails us, how about a
healthier dose that’s good for all of us.

Unshackle Upstate responded more pointedly: “(Tax-Free NY) is another step in the right direction for the Upstate economy. However, state leaders must enact additional tax relief and regulatory reforms for all businesses across the state.”

My early take on Tax-Free NY goes something like this: Hallelujah to the admission that New York State taxes are too high and the main reason why we can’t turn our economy around, especially upstate. But let’s go statewide with the broad-based tax cuts we need before going nationwide with any chorus of “we’re tax free!”

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison

Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field


Legislature Chairman

Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687

Legislature Members:

Michael A. Yuhasz, 535-4967

Doris L. Karius, 546-5544

Barbara Halpin, 594-3683

Glenn R. Larison, 594-3385

Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517

Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen 481-0482

Stewart Field, Watkins Glen 535-2335

County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133

Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222

Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222

County Treasurer: Margaret Starbuck, 535-8181

District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383


State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address:

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451

State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976

Assemblyman Christopher Friend -- Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga
Room 720, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-4538


© The Odessa File 2011
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869