Local business owners voice their concerns to state lawmakers A large state budget deficit looms, while tax reform remains priority
Photo by Erika Norton
From left to right: Assemblyman Karl Brabenec, Assemblyman James Skoufis, state Sen. John Bonacic, Sen. William J. Larkin Jr. and Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther.
BY ERIKA NORTON MIDDLETOWN — The Orange County Chamber of Commerce held a breakfast with several New York State Legislators, allowing both big and small local business owners an opportunity to ask questions and bring their concerns to their elected officials. Among the concerns were how state taxes, particularly property taxes, can be reduced while dealing with a looming $4 billion state budget deficit this year — an issue the six state legislators at the breakfast saw as one of the biggest hurdles they will tackle within the next few months. “This is probably the most difficult budget year of the six years I’ve been in Albany,” said state Assemblyman James Skoufis (D-Woodbury). “We have no money. We have a $4 billion deficit this year heading into the budget negotiations. And quite frankly, I think a lot of programs, services, stakeholders, will be happy to just maintain their levels of funding if they’re able to do so come April 1. So it’s going to be a difficult budget year.” Where to cut?Several of the lawmakers proposed places to cut spending and balance the budget. Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther (D-Forestburgh) suggested revaluating and eliminating reappropriations that had been there too long. While Assemblyman Karl Brabenec (R,TCN-Deerpark) suggested a much more sweeping approach: an independent audit of the entire $162 billion budget from top to bottom. Through the audit, he said he hopes to eliminate waste and duplication, while finding ways to share services and cost savings. Skoufis also suggested reviewing what he called the “cockamamy economic development programs,” such as Start-Up NY, the Regional Economic Development Councils and the Empire State Development initiatives. “One of examples of many, many examples of how much waste there is within these programs: It was just revealed last month that New York State through one of these programs spent $90 million upstate retrofitting a unique factory that was expected in the Utica area — and then that company pulls out after the $90 million is spent on building this factory,” Skoufis said. “No one else can use this factory. It was uniquely built for them. It is a total waste of money often times from these programs.” Skoufis also lamented how he sees Start-Up NY spending more money on TV commercials than on actually getting economic development from that program. Brabenec said he has been complaining about Start-Up NY for years and has seen no accountability or thorough reports about their projects. Property tax reformOn the heels of the newly passed federal Tax Reform law and state Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address, the prospect of comprehensive property tax reform was also a hot topic among the state lawmakers. U.S. census records show that over 1 million people have left New York State since 2010 due to high taxes, Brabenec said. And with the new State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction capped at $10,000, Hudson Valley residents are worried. Democrats are saying the SALT deduction cap is going to hurt New Yorkers, while Republicans are saying if New York taxes weren’t so high, it wouldn’t be a problem. “Both sides are right,” Skoufis said. Cuomo suggested in his State of the State speech to try and find a “work-around” for state income taxes to be able to continue fully deducting them, specifically a payroll tax system. Skoufis said this will be very complicated, but with the average ranch-style home in Woodbury paying at least $8,000, he’s open to the option. “If there is a way to do it, we should explore it, “Skoufis said, “because in the Hudson Valley, Orange County, Rockland County, across the river in particular, this is going to hurt a lot of people.” Earlier this month, state Senate Republicans have already proposed a reduction in state income tax. “Our line in the sand to this budget is ‘no new taxes,’” state Sen. John Bonacic (R-Mount Hope) said. “That’s where we stand.” “We’re going to have a war this year in terms of getting a budget that balances all of the challenges,” he continued. Effect on tourism boomOn a more positive note, every state legislator mentioned the increase in businesses coming to Orange County and the Hudson Valley, especially tourism. The biggest attractions include the anticipated Legoland New York theme park, the expanding Woodbury Common Premium Outlets, the Storm King Art Center, the revitalization project in Tuxedo and Sloatsburg, Harriman State Park, and Bethel Woods Center for the Arts and the new casino both in Sullivan County. “The Mid-Hudson is rocking,” Bonacic said. Sen. William J. Larkin Jr. (R-C-Cornwall-on-Hudson) mentioned the $10 million that was put into The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in New Windsor. Skoufis also praised all of the new tourism industry coming to the area, but stressed how improved infrastructure and capacity will be crucial in supporting the increase in tourism. He mentioned several improvements such as a one-seat ride — which is a direct ride to a destination without the need for a transfer — proposed as part of Amtrak’s Gateway Project. The project proposes a loop track at the Secaucus Junction station connecting the Bergen, Main, Pascack Valley and Port Jervis lines and the Northeast Corridor Line. Also, the revised MTA $29 billion spending plan includes an Orange County midway train yard and passing sidings between the new yard and Suffern on the Port Jervis to Hoboken line. Plus, there’s the $34 million plan to transform Stewart Airport and improving Route 17. “Having the capacity to bring people up here is important because of they get stuck in traffic going to the casino or Legoland on Route 17 and we don’t widen 17, they’re probably not going to come back,” Skoufis said. “The hope is, they come back time and time again, and we need to have the capacity and the infrastructure to do that.”