By Michael HillALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal to lure high-tech business by creating no-tax zones around college campuses has drawn flak from both the right and the left — with critics from different camps lobbing identical charges of special treatment and corporate welfare.
Cuomo has been touring the state to promote his plan to collect no property taxes, corporate taxes, sales taxes or even state income taxes for employees of relocated businesses as a “game changer" for upstate New York.
But the crossfire opposition against a well-organized statewide campaign of support demonstrates the challenge Cuomo faces as he tries to strike a deal before the state Legislatures wraps up its regular session this month. Even as some Republican lawmakers react coolly to the targeted tax plan, public employee unions have launched attacks on the airwaves calling it a “special giveaway to business."
“If we're on the same note, then in fact there's nothing wrong with that," said state Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long. “But the free-enterprise system is what works here, and you can't have the government trying to control areas where people will get a free ride."
Cuomo jolted the state Capitol late last month by proposing to waive taxes to businesses for up to 10 years if a company moved to New York and partnered with a State University of New York campus. Saying “there would be no place in the country that you could go and pay less taxes," Cuomo argues the plan would create jobs in a long-stagnant upstate economy.
Proponents see the targeted tax breaks as a way for New York to compete for prized high-tech jobs with states that have lower corporate tax rates. The Cuomo administration's list of supporters includes dozens of mayors, county executives and other government officials as well as high-profile business leaders like General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt.
The proposal has “wide-ranging support from virtually all sectors in every corner of the state," Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi said.
“The fact that the extreme right and the extreme left have a vested interest in preserving the status quo is not surprising, but it does nothing to help create jobs and jumpstart the upstate economy," Azzopardi said in an email.
Still, some business-friendly conservatives are asking why they should offer targeted tax breaks when they believe state leaders should focus on broad-based tax relief. Long, who sent a memo to state lawmakers opposing the plan, called it the “wrong prescription" to alleviate New York's onerous taxes. Republican state Sen. Greg Ball of the Hudson Valley called Cuomo's plan a gimmick.
“This by itself will make a lot of press releases and some good front-page press for the governor and any senators who want to show up for ribbon cuttings ceremony, but it's not going to do a goddamn thing for 99.9 percent of the businesses that are choking on taxes and fees and regulations," said Ball, who added that he still would vote for any tax break.
Cuomo has been able to overcome opposition from the right on issues ranging from gay marriage to a minimum wage hike. He also has tangled with public employee unions and left-leaning groups over some of his fiscal proposals. This issue is rarer in that he is facing attacks from both flanks.
The state's largest public employees union, the Civil Service Employees Association, is running a radio ad statewide claiming “Cuomo's got another special giveaway to business." The media campaign also includes billboards upstate and ads in weeklies next week decrying “special" employees who pay no state income tax, said CSEA spokesman Stephen Madarasz, who added that the state Public Employees Federation is helping out with the advertising
Ron Deutsch of the labor-backed New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness said his group will take part in a news conference with groups including Occupy Albany, the Fiscal Policy Institute and the Hunger Action Network to oppose the governor's plan.
Some of those groups have different views from their conservative confederates about how corporations should be taxed. But the critics are at least united their desire to knock down Cuomo's proposal.
“It's making for strange bedfellows here, I think," Deutsch said. “And I agree with Mike Long, who says we shouldn't be picking winners and losers as part of our state's economic development policy."