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Empire Zone reform lite

The state budget modifies -- I hesitate to use the word "reforms" -- the Empire Zone program while sidestepping any measures that approach a fundamental revamping of the program, widely regarded as, ah, something less than a success.

The Syracuse Post-Standard has a story that provides details.

State leaders agreed to kick out of the program any businesses that do not match $1 in investment for every $1 in tax breaks and any that used paperwork gimmicks to qualify for tax breaks they did not deserve.

Paterson also set out to ban from the program retail stores, utilities and real estate businesses -- industries that are under no threat of leaving New York. But those industries are not targeted in the new plan.

Allowing for the continued use of Zone benefits for retail makes the program a favorite for the likes of Home Depot -- not exactly what the framers of the original legislation had in mind

The proposed ratio was $20 in benefit for every $1 in tax breaks, so you can see, Gov. David Paterson and the Legislature have really eased off. In the business world, I'm not sure anyone is putting up $1 to make $1. There has to be a better return.

But hey, this is New York State, which perhaps ought to change its motto from "The Empire State" to "A billion here, a billion there -- whatever."

There was a bit of good news for reformers in the budget. The expiration date for the program was moved up one year, to June 30, 2010. Not that I'm expecting the program to simply sunset. Too many corporate  interests -- and campaign donors -- benefit from it for that to happen.

The Post-Standard has a nifty look-up table on its Web site that enables readers to look up Empire Zone beneficiaries by company name. This is worth mining, folks.

For example:

GEICO'soffice operation in East Amherst enjoyed $24.9 million in tax breaks in 2007, the most of any participating company in the state. GEICO  employed 1,180, paying an average of $14 an hour. GEICO, owned by Warren Buffett and company, appears three times in the database; here is the largest of the entries.

M&T Bank received the most tax breaks of any participating business in the City of Buffalo, worth some $3.4 million. The bank is headed by Bob Wilmers,who is also chairman of the Empire State Development Corp., New York's leading economic development agency. ESD oversees Empire Zones and presumably had input into the changes just enacted -- or not -- to the program.

Interesting what you find on the public record.


Economic Development | State government | Subsidies
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