Imagine being a government official or business leader in a struggling upstate municipality that is desperate for some help from state government. Now imagine getting a phone call from an aide to the governor saying he has a bold new job-creation plan and he needs you to publicly pledge your support for it — right now.
That's a tough request to turn down. But much to their credit, that's what officials in Cayuga County have done the past couple of weeks. And it's unfortunate that more of their colleagues around the state have not shown the same restraint.
The truth about Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Tax-Free NY Initiative is that we still don't know enough about the details of the program to say that it's going to have a net positive or negative impact on the upstate economy. There's also the key unanswered question of how it will impact the state budget, which continues to be a challenge to balance even though it's in better shape than a couple of years ago.
Despite a lack of detailed analysis on the Tax-Free NY Initiative, the Cuomo administration has put forth a massive public relations campaign to convince people this is the answer to upstate's longstanding woes. Since the initial announcement, the governor and his staff have held about 15 media events across the state and issued 10 press releases, as of Friday afternoon. They've also secured the blessings — and in many cases a glowing quote to attach to a press release — of dozens of elected and appointed government officials and business leaders from around the state.
But do the people who said yes to this request for an endorsement really know what they're supporting? Here are just a few key questions that need answers:
• By making employees of Tax-Free NY-eligible companies exempt from income taxes, are they putting existing employers at considerable disadvantage when it comes to recruiting and keeping skilled workers?
• How much is the income tax exemption going to cost New York in its budget, and what will make up for those lost dollars?
• How much bureaucracy will be needed to manage this multifaceted program and what will that cost?
It's quite possible the answers to these and other questions will adequately justify the risk that would come from moving forward with this initiative.
But it's crucial that deliberative thought and statewide public input go into the legislative process before it's railroaded into law by a promotional machine.