Cuomo Creating Tax-Free Zones at SUNY Campuses to Boost Economy

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he will create 120 million square feet of tax-free zones at 64 public university campuses outside of New York City to bolster the upstate economy.

Companies and employees who work in the zones, which Cuomo said will have more square footage than the commercial space in San Francisco and Philadelphia combined, won’t have to pay income, corporate, sales or property taxes. State University of New York campuses include Binghamton, Oneonta, Cortland, Oswego and Buffalo. The program will also cover 3 million square feet (279,000 square meters) at private universities north of Westchester County.

The proposal is meant to bring economic development to upstate New York, a former industrial region that’s been in decline for decades, by tying the SUNY system to companies that could benefit from its research, Cuomo said. The plan builds on Cuomo’s wider effort to counter New York’s image as a high-tax state unfriendly to businesses.

“We have been in our own way,” Cuomo said today on the campus of SUNY Albany. “This is about getting out of our own way.”

From Nebraska to Louisiana, Republican governors are calling for the elimination of state income taxes. The tax-free zones will make it “so no state in this nation can offer any advantage that the state of New York isn’t offering,” said Cuomo, a 55-year-old Democrat and a potential candidate in the 2016 presidential race.

Yogurt Summit

Cuomo has taken several initiatives to help upstate New York, where he said the population fell 1.4 percent as the cost of government rose 47 percent from 2000 to 2010. In August, he held a meeting of state officials and business groups in Albany to find ways to make it easier for the yogurt industry to thrive among the region’s dairy farms. He’s since held similar summits on the alcoholic-beverage and tourism industries.

Meanwhile, landowners in the Southern Tier along the Pennsylvania border have criticized the governor for not moving forward with hydraulic fracturing, a drilling process that could tap the natural gas trapped in the Marcellus Shale. The rock formation stretches to West Virginia and may hold enough natural gas to supply the U.S. for about six years, according to the federal Energy Department.

Fracking Debate

In Pennsylvania, fracking on the Marcellus Shale added almost 24,000 jobs, $1.2 billion in income associated with drilling and $1.9 billion to the state’s economy in 2009, according to a 2011 study by Timothy Kelsey, a Pennsylvania State University professor of agricultural economics. Environmentalists say fracking, in which water and chemicals are injected into rock at high volume, could damage water supplies and make farmland unusable.

The tax-free zones will bring new businesses and jobs to every corner of the state, Cuomo said today. All New York residents live within 30 miles of a SUNY campus, he said.

Cuomo said businesses moving to the zones will return New York to the days when leaders dreamed up the Erie Canal, the waterway built in the 19th century that connected New York Harbor to the Midwest and became the lifeblood of the upstate economy.

“We are dreamers and we are a state of dreamers, but we also have the courage and capacity to turn those dreams into reality,” he said. “That’s what this generation has to do for this state once again.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.