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No-Tax Initiative presented at SUNY Canton

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CANTON — Enthusiasm greeted Dierdre K. Scozzafava, deputy secretary of state for local government, as she made a presentation Wednesday at SUNY Canton for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Tax-Free New York Initiative.

Everyone talks about how to keep young people from leaving the state for jobs elsewhere, Canton town Supervisor David T. Button said. The governor’s proposal — which would give complete tax breaks to businesses that locate on or near SUNY campuses and other designated zones — could help accomplish that goal, he said.

“It’s going to take something pretty radical to keep them here, and this gets pretty radical in a positive way,” Mr. Button said. “We’re very supportive.”

Mr. Button was among more than a dozen people who listened to Ms. Scozzafava’s overview of the program and how area colleges might work it to their benefit and that of their communities.

Although the proposal has come under fire from both the left and the right charging special treatment and giveaways for businesses, Ms. Scozzafava said she believes passage by the state Legislature has a good shot. The proposal is in bill format and its language sounds as if some parts already have been negotiated, she said.

“I really think this could be a game-changer,” she said.

Under the plan, new or expanded businesses that moved to the designated zones mostly around college campuses would not have to pay property taxes, state corporate taxes or sales taxes for 10 years. Employees of the companies would not have to pay state income taxes for at least five years.

Money received by colleges that lease property to companies would go for tuition assistance or other academic purposes. Private colleges can apply, but their participation is more limited. Vacant land or closed buildings owned by the state also can be eligible for the tax breaks.

The plan is necessary to counteract recent ads by Texas to attract New York companies and to convince entrepreneurs that New York is not anti-business, Ms. Scozzafava said. Whether true or not, companies that think New York has high taxes and is too regulated may never give it a look, she said.

“The perception sometimes turns into the reality,” Ms. Scozzafava said.

The new paradigm of economic development ties higher education with public and private partnerships, she said.

“Now, we must bring all the pieces together,” she said. “New York high tax? No, we need to change that.”

Colleges often are centers for research and development that leave the state when it comes times to make ideas commercial, she said.

Businesses that would be eligible for the tax breaks would have to make a connection with the academic mission of their partner school.

An established setup for businesses would not be necessary, said June F. O’Neill, north county regional representative for the state Department of Labor.

“You don’t have to have an incubator on the campus. It’s wide open. This is about net new jobs,” she said. “I would think your alumni base and students would be excited. This is really a safe and attractive way for startup.”

Existing business incubators such as the one at Clarkson University in Potsdam could funnel companies to the designated zones, said Lenore E. VanderZee, chief of staff at SUNY Canton.

“It would be collaborative,” she said. “I think there’s some real opportunities there.”

The community and campus should work together from the get-go, acting SUNY Canton President Joseph C. Hoffman said.

“We have the talent. We have the support of the community,” he said. “Let’s talk about what’s best for all of us.”

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