WASHINGTON – It was like being in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” a time warp, watching that “New York Open For Business” ad flash across Fox News down here. Later, it was on CNN. It’s an ad campaign paid for by New York taxpayers. It’s national in scope – viewers in Texas, Virginia and Florida see it – not targeted at high-tax states from which disgruntled employers are looking to relocate.
Is it jaundiced to ask just who this campaign benefits? The economic help a state gets in terms of new jobs from such a campaign “is minimal, at best,” said Dennis Donovan, of Wadley, Donovan, Gutshaw Consulting, a leading corporate locator firm.
“Advertising by a state works, but only if the state offers a competitive business environment,” said Michael Whalen, head of Heart of America, which builds and operates hotels and commercial facilities. “Advertising might catch a business owner’s eye, but we do volumes of research before we make facility location decisions.”
If the campaign draws doubt from investors, who gets the lift from it? Ads broadcast in New York comfort the permanent incumbency in the Legislature and the congressional delegation.
Nationally, it helps deflect criticisms of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for concentrating only on ideological liberalism, in seeming competition for presidential consideration with Maryland Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, who also made a big media splash in pushing laws on gay marriage and tough gun control.
Who, you ask, does the campaign hurt? It portrays a Legislature and governor doing their earnest best to create jobs in the Great Recession. But they’re not. The state still has the highest, by multiples in most cases, corporate tax rate in the country. Cuomo and the rest in Albany haven’t touched the 1,100 public authorities that have racked up $250 billion in unpaid debts.
State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli recently reported that 18,000 employees of these authorities – or 11.6 percent of their workforces – are paid more than $100,000 a year. All but a handful of these cushy jobs are the product of Albany’s nationally notorious political play.
This Legislature just ensured that local government expenses – reflected in the highest property taxes in the country – will grow, because instead of attacking the costs of public pensions and health care, as in Ohio and Wisconsin, New York’s districts will stretch out their costs over time.
The Republican State Committee denounced Cuomo for taking credit in the ad for the Nanotech Center in Albany, saying GOP Gov. George E. Pataki announced it in 2001 and it was operating before Cuomo took office.
“Despite the governor’s duplicitous rhetoric, New York remains the most taxed, least economically free state in the nation,” GOP committee spokesman David Laska said.
Great swaths of the state like the Syracuse area are still mired in recession. Buffalo Niagara has regained about 72 percent of the jobs it lost. But parts of the Southern Tier resemble the old Appalachia. The greatest cause of economic drag is President Obama’s unwavering refusal to engage manufacturing outsourcing to Asia. States, though, are not as helpless as New York seems to be. Its political culture of high taxes, labor coddling and unrelenting regulation has left it with the highest official unemployment rate, except New Jersey, in the region.
Changing the economy requires a new language, and this national TV campaign’s greatest damage is its reinforcement of the status quo in New York. The money could be better spent: On something like the conservative Mercatus Center at George Mason University, in suburban Virginia. After studying all 50 states, it pronounced New York “the least free” because of taxes and overregulation.