In an ambitious move aimed at changing New York’s high-tax reputation, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday proposed to eliminate taxes for many startup companies and businesses coming from other states.
The proposal would eliminate sales taxes and property, business and corporate taxes – for 10 years – for companies that set up shop on or near State University of New York campuses.
Employees at those businesses wouldn’t pay income taxes for as much as 10 years.
The plan aims to keep new inventions and technology developed at New York colleges and universities from leaving the state, turning those innovations into businesses that grow and create jobs here.
“We birth the ideas in New York because we have the schools and the minds and the talent,” Cuomo said during a stop at the University at Buffalo’s North Campus in Amherst to outline his proposal at the Center for the Arts.
“We form the businesses and then they leave and go to a state with a lower tax environment,” he said. “We lose them in the first year.”
The proposal is Cuomo’s latest effort to jump-start struggling upstate economies, many of which have been declining for decades. The governor has previously pledged a billion dollars in economic-development funding for Buffalo.
The plan announced Wednesday, which Cuomo dubbed “Tax-Free NY,” centers on the 64 SUNY campuses, only eight of which are in New York City or on Long Island.
The proposal turns unused space on the state’s public universities, colleges and community college campuses, along with up to 200,000 square feet of designated adjoining space off-campus, into tax-free communities. Private colleges in upstate New York also would be able to compete for similar tax-free zones that could cover a total of 3 million square feet of space.
To be eligible for “Tax-Free NY,” companies must have a relationship with the university and be working in an area that is related to the school’s academic mission. The program is open to new businesses, out-of-state companies and existing concerns that are expanding their operations within the state to create new jobs.
“There is no state in the country that will have an advantage over these areas,” Cuomo said. “There’s no reason to leave. No one can offer you a better tax package than we can on that site.”
In a visit to the Editorial Board of The Buffalo News, the governor said: “I want a little shock and awe here.”
Cuomo’s proposal must pass the State Legislature, but the initiative, or some version close to it, seems likely to be approved. The governor and legislative leaders have been negotiating on the plan behind closed doors for several weeks as the 2013 legislative session approaches its conclusion June 20.
He announced the proposal in a three-city upstate tour Wednesday, something he would be unlikely to do unless the plan had political legs in Albany. It was noteworthy that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, and Senate co-leaders Dean G. Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, and Jeffrey D. Klein, D-Bronx., all appeared Wednesday morning with Cuomo at the University at Albany – where the governor stopped to first announce the idea before his events in Buffalo and later in Syracuse.
Silver, who for 20 years has pushed a successful high-technology partnership between major private companies and the University at Albany, was the most effusive among the legislative leaders in praising the plan.
But Skelos said that there is still work to do on the idea. Scott Reif, a Skelos spokesman, said the proposal “has the potential to increase economic-development opportunities, but has to be part of a comprehensive economic-development strategy that includes business tax cuts and getting rid of regulations.”
Upstate New York also faces challenges beyond its high taxes in becoming a hotbed for startup companies. Cuomo acknowledged that New York’s overall cost of living is higher than in many other parts of the country.
The Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, which has made turning Buffalo Niagara into a vibrant entrepreneurial center one of its top priorities, also has noted that the area suffers from a severe shortage of the venture capital that fledgling firms often rely on during the years it can take to turn an idea into a viable commercial product.
“I understand the synergy between academia and business creation,” said Howard A. Zemsky, the local council’s co-chairman. “We’re investing in projects that can spur spinoffs” such as the Buffalo Science Productivity and Research Catalyzer that will help turn innovative developments in life sciences to the market.
Cuomo’s “Buffalo Billion” initiative also is backing a $5 million competition that would provide extensive aid to a handful of companies selected in a nationwide business plan contest.
Satish K. Tripathi, president of UB and co-chairman of the local council, said the proposal “has tremendous promise for advancing the work of research universities, like UB, in generating ideas, discoveries and innovations that spur job creation and attract new businesses to our communities.”
But Jordan A. Levy, a local venture capitalist who built his own successful startup more than two decades ago and co-founded the Z80 Labs technology business incubator in Buffalo last year, said entrepreneurs often look beyond taxes in deciding where to locate their business. They look for locations with a vibrant core of fledgling businesses in their industry, an environment to support early-stage firms and a pool of talent they can draw upon – all factors that take longer and are much more difficult to develop.
“The real issue for startups,” he said, “is creating an environment that’s nurturing.”
Cuomo plan at a glance / Seeking to jump-start N.Y. economy
What: 10-year tax moratorium for startup companies and out-of-state firms that set up operations allied with SUNY. Designed to counteract state’s high tax profile.
Where: Areas surrounding 64 campuses of the SUNY system. Space on or near campuses would be available to companies.
When: Proposal being negotiated and could go to State Legislature soon. No timetable on when the program would start.
News Albany Bureau Chief Tom Precious contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org