Can Buffalo secede? Not from New York State, mind you, just from Western New York.
At least then the city wouldn't have to share an identity with the very suburbs whose history of robbing and pillaging the urban core make Gov. Andrew Cuomo's IDA “reform” plan all the more galling because Buffalo would pay again.
Worthwhile projects to redevelop downtown and breathe life into one of the nation's poorest big cities would suffer under Cuomo's effort to stem the silliness that suburban industrial development agencies have tried to pawn off as “economic development.”
The governor's proposal has development officials on edge, arguing that new limits on sales tax exemptions could mean no more downtown redevelopment like the Hotel @ the Lafayette or the office-apartments project at mostly vacant 298 Main St.
Such projects would be casualties in the effort to prevent more tax breaks for retail shops that skip town for a nearby locale, contributing nothing to the region's overall health or wealth while letting municipalities cannibalize one another.
These moves are abetted by tax breaks from suburban IDAs that already have done their share of damage to Buffalo, with little regard for how weakening the central city drags down the entire region.
The move against IDAs follows a history of Buffalo building owners having to go to court to stop suburban IDAs from pirating their tenants by using tax breaks to lure them to suburban office parks.
Now the harm is more indirect, but just as real. The end result is a sweeping Cuomo proposal targeting IDAs that critics insist would turn Buffalo into collateral damage.
It makes you long for the days when we at least gave lip service to “regionalism.”
Remember that? It's the long-dormant idea that the urban core is the heart of Western New York and that everyone should be pulling together to strengthen it.
That concept, viable elsewhere, died an ignoble death here. But suburban IDAs have been like body snatchers, digging up the corpse and killing it all over again.
Yet reform proposals have gained little traction. While Cuomo's bill targets state tax incentives, another from Buffalo Assemblyman Sean Ryan would stop suburban IDAs from unilaterally giving away county money, as well.
Ryan, however, scoffs at much of the hand-wringing, noting that some city projects also have received questionable tax incentives while no one checks to see whether any of these projects meet their job goals. Still, he recognizes the need to aid projects in the urban core.
“I think we need to develop a program just for that. But right now, we've been unable to separate the baby from the bath water,” Ryan said.
He's right. There has to be a way of blocking aid to traveling liquor stores, doughnut shops and car dealerships without hamstringing redevelopment critical to our central city.
But even if state lawmakers can modify Cuomo's proposal to mitigate the harm to downtown, it wouldn't solve the larger problem.
The real solution is to tear down the boundaries – on maps and in mindsets – that separate Buffalo from its suburbs and prevent Western New York from thriving as a region.