“Tax-Free” Program Touted on Campus


“Tax-Free” Program Touted on Campus

SUNY Cortland would become a launchpad for new business development and job creation in the Cortland area under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed Tax-Free New York program, according to a Cuomo administration spokesman who presented the plan on campus this morning.

Matthew Driscoll, president and CEO of the state’s Environmental Facilities Corporation, pitched the plan to create completely tax-free zones for new or expanding businesses on or near SUNY’s 64 campuses to College and community leaders in the Corey Union Exhibition Lounge.

“The new economy is growing from higher education,” said Driscoll, a former Syracuse, N.Y., mayor whose agency finances environmental infrastructure projects. “It’s about transferring academic research and experience to the business arena and making sure those businesses stay here.”

The proposal would allow SUNY institutions to designate up to 200,000 square feet on or within a mile of their campuses as tax-free zones for businesses that support their academic mission.  

At SUNY Cortland, that could encourage new enterprises related to renewable energy, sustainability, teacher education, kinesiology, and health or fitness to name just a few. It could be a boon for the College’s new entrepreneurism program, the still-developing downtown business incubator and other SUNY Cortland partnerships.

“As the largest employer in one of the poorest counties in upstate New York, SUNY Cortland is extremely excited by the opportunities this program will create for economic growth in our community,” College President Erik J. Bitterbaum said. “It will give businesses additional incentives for locating in Cortland, and it will provide opportunities for faculty to develop research projects with commercial applications. For students, it could turn Cortland into a living laboratory for studying business and entrepreneurism and offer competitive employment opportunities after graduation.”

Bitterbaum is traveling outside the country and made his comments through a written statement. He and the presidents of four other Central New York SUNY institutions - SUNY Upstate Medical University, Onondaga Community College, SUNY Oswego and the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry - drafted a letter in support of the initiative that was sent to regional news media this week.

All SUNY presidents had previously signed a public letter endorsing the plan, which would shelter qualifying businesses for 10 years from all state and local taxes. It would also exempt all of a participating company’s new employees from state income taxes, creating a powerful incentive to attract and retain high-quality people in Central New York.  

Certain businesses - such as retail establishments, restaurants, law and other professional offices - would not be eligible for the program. SUNY-owned property is already tax-exempt, and any tax-paying property designated as tax-free would still have to make payments-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOTs, to local taxing jurisdictions, Driscoll said.

“The campuses are going to work very closely with mayors and councilors to make sure these programs fit each community,” Driscoll said. “The governor does not want to see any property that pays taxes coming completely off the tax rolls.”

The Tax-Free New York proposal requires the approval of the state legislature. Driscoll was hopeful to get a vote during the current legislative session, which ends June 20. He was one of several people designated by Cuomo to promote the plan in communities throughout the state.