Tax-Free NY and Casino Gaming

As we approach the end of the legislative session here in Albany, there are dozens of bills and proposals on the table and I want to share thoughts on a couple of outstanding issues.

As an advocate for innovative job creation for our region and state, I am committed to finding ways to attract and grow businesses in New York. One new proposal is the Governor’s Tax-Free NY initiative for new and relocating businesses targeted primarily for SUNY campuses in Upstate New York. The proposal is modeled after the SUNY College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, which has been a tremendous economic boost to our regional economy. Despite this success, a troubling trend the Governor has pointed out is that although New York State is second in the nation in number of high tech start-ups, three-quarters of these businesses leave the state before five years for better prospects out of the state. Essentially, we pay for their development, but other states reap the rewards.

While the Governor is to be commended for a creative and ambitious proposal to generate job growth in Upstate New York, the Tax-Free NY proposal raises a number of serious concerns particularly in Albany where almost 60% of property in the City is tax-exempt. Local municipalities benefit from the developed properties but must also absorb associated costs (such as street maintenance and public safety assistance). Albany receives PILOTs (payments-in-lieu-of-taxes) for state property such as the Empire State Plaza, yet the proposal is silent on PILOT payments should additional property adjacent to a SUNY campus (in our case, the University at Albany) become tax-exempt from property, sales, and income taxes – which could place additional burdens on property taxpayers.

I also have a very serious concern about the waiver of state income taxes for the employees of these Tax-Free NY businesses and have been quite vocal in the Assembly in this regard. The income tax waivers raise serious philosophical issues and may set a troubling precedence for future economic development. On a related note, questions of fairness must be addressed for existing business as well as questions that could result in pitting neighbors against neighbors on income tax payments. I will continue to raise these questions, to amend the proposal, and to advocate for increasing job opportunities, especially for those in our most distressed areas.

Another proposal expected to be voted on next week is to legalize non-Indian casino gaming in New York State. This casino gambling proposal also targets Upstate New York with up to four casinos.

As we’ve seen with localities that are home to casino gaming, the costs – both societal and through additional government services – must be considered when weighing any benefits of such establishments. A high percentage of the revenues produced from casinos come from problem gamblers, and the wider economic development that tends to follow does not enhance the quality of life.

Economist Paul Samuelson has written that gambling involves “simply the sterile transfer of money or goods between individuals, creating no new money or goods.” In other words, it’s not considered true economic development, such as manufacturing, and since it’s unproductive, the state should be wary of some of the hidden costs here.

Here are additional highlights and upcoming events:

+ I spoke during a rally by the Organization of NYS Management Confidential Employees (OMCE) at the Legislative Office Building this past week about raising wages for non-unionized state employees, who have gone years without a raise in years.

+ There will be a Community Clean Up Day in the Town of Bethlehem on Saturday from 9 a.m. to Noon. Participants should head over to Town Hall for instructions and safety guidance. Help keep Bethlehem beautiful!

+ Guilderland’s Parks and Recreation presents the third annual Mud Mania race and obstacle run on Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Tawasentha Park. A portion of the proceeds will go to improvements at the park’s children’s playground.

+ Albany High School sophomore Isaac Rosen, in a wonderfully-written letter published by the Times Union, says that music is a “shining achievement” at the high school and the proposed cuts to the school’s music faculty that could be devastating to the students.

+ And last, but not least, I spoke with Brian Shields at WAMC about legislation that passed the Assembly that would allow for the President of the United States to be elected by national popular vote.