Business group pushes for tax cuts, fracking to revive upstate economy

Sep 4, 2013

An upstate pro-business group says regions of the state north of Westchester need special attention in the coming months to help the floundering economy. The group Unshackle Upstate is proposing a series of tax cuts, as well as a start to hydrofracking as the remedy.

Unshackle Upstate’s Brian Sampson unveiled a five-point plan that he says could help revive the long troubled upstate economy.  The pro-business group wants to phase out the corporate franchise tax for upstate-based companies. They also want to repeal an energy assessment on upstate manufacturers. They advocate cutting the state sales tax in half in counties with the worst unemployment and population decline. They also want to make life easier for New Yorkers making less than $50,000 a year by reducing their taxes by 25 percent.

“The upstate economy is suffering, it’s teetering,” Sampson said. “We need help today.”

The plan comes amid reports that Gov. Andrew Cuomo, at a private fundraiser, said he expects to push tax cuts in 2014. State Senate Republicans, who lead the Senate in a coalition with a small group of break-away Democrats, are starting a series of hearings on tax reform.

Sampson says he believes chances are good for passage this year, noting that the money for the nearly $750,000 plan is there, even with the state facing another budget deficit.

“We’re talking about a legislature that somehow found close to a billion dollars this past budget to spend on education,” Sampson said.

Unshackle Upstate and other business groups have long called for regulatory reform and getting rid of some collective bargaining rules, including the Triborough Amendment in New York’s Taylor Law. Under the rules, public workers can’t strike, but they are allowed to continue to work under the terms of their previous agreements after a contract expires. Government employers are not allowed to cut back on pay or benefits for the workers.

After the presentation, Sampson admitted that with the 2014 election year fast approaching, it might be easier to win tax cuts than to convince the legislature to repeal regulations favored by labor unions, which he called political grenades.

“Tax cuts are black and white,” he said. “It’s a much easier thing to do.”

There is a fifth proposal that the business group is pushing -- the start of the controversial gas drilling process known as hydrofracking in New York, which they say would create thousands of high paying jobs. There’s been a de facto five year moratorium on the drilling. Most recently, Cuomo has said he’s waiting for his health commissioner to complete a health review, but Sampson says the process has dragged on for too long.

“This is an instance where the governor has waffled,” Simpson said.

He says while the political climate may be right in 2014 for tax cuts, he predicts it will not be the year hydrofracking is finally approved in the state.

But Sampson says he expects a pilot program in pro-fracking communities could start in 2015.