Editorial: State should scrap plan on Empire Zones

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Our leaders in Albany are haggling over proposed reforms to the Empire Zone program, which provides tax incentives to businesses that invest in their operations and create jobs.

Gov. David Paterson’s office is re-evaluating companies’ suitability for the program, and a number of them could lose eligibility to receive the tax breaks.

State Senate Republicans, however, believe this approach will be hurtful to companies across the state and are arguing against the reforms.

Here’s a third, and better way: Scrap the Empire Zone program. In its entirety.

Virtually the entire state, and certainly all of upstate, could rightly be considered a zone in need of help in creating new jobs. Our manufacturing base has been diminished. Our high-technology sector is not nearly what it could be. And far too many well-educated young people are leaving for other states.

After two decades, it’s time to acknowledge the Empire Zone program has been a failure. It’s directed plenty of money at companies, but it hasn’t substantially changed our deteriorating economic picture. Part of that is because many of the companies have failed to meet job and investment goals, but the larger issue is that the concept is flawed.

Tax breaks are too often an artificial incentive. What’s needed instead is a true commitment to lowering the cost of doing business in New York state. That means creating a stronger infrastructure of fiber-optic lines, highways and water systems to serve companies.

That means finding ways to cut energy costs and reward energy efficiency.

That means identifying potential industrial and commercial sites and marketing them effectively to

companies across the nation and world.

These steps have been talked about for a generation and some are even under way, such as Ontario County’s fiber-optic ring. But too often the follow-through, especially from Albany, has been lacking. So the governor and the state Legislature need to have the courage to get rid of the failed existing Empire Zone program and instead demonstrate the creativity and leadership needed to once again place New York state at the forefront of economic growth.

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