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Opinion: Long Island's SUNY presidents see better future in Tax-Free NY

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks during a news

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks during a news conference at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the University at Albany in Albany. Cuomo wants to create tax-free entrepreneurial zones tied to State University of New York campuses. (May 22, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

Even powerful engines of innovation, like the 64 campuses of the State University of New York, can use a tuneup now and then. By rolling out his ambitious new Tax-Free NY plan to attract businesses to our campuses, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has given those engines a chance to really roar.

And it comes at a time when Texas Gov. Rick Perry is specifically targeting New York, in an effort to lure jobs to Texas. His ad campaign pulls no punches in its effort to laugh at our state -- and at our governor's emphasis on economic development.

It is precisely to blunt the "higher taxes" problem that our governor has proposed Tax-Free NY. It has generated some controversy, partly because too many companies given tax breaks for job-production in the past have not delivered on their promises. But this plan is different: It not only gives tax breaks, but it ties those incentives to a willingness by businesses to locate at SUNY campuses and a smaller number of private colleges, to link innovation with capital.

Another controversy has been that the governor's bill benefits SUNY more than it does private institutions. But what's a better expenditure of taxpayer dollars: public assistance for those without jobs, or temporary tax breaks for businesses that will create jobs, reducing the number of people who have to seek public assistance? The answer is pretty clear to us.

Tax-Free NY would help get new businesses going and growing. Start-up companies are both exciting and perilous. New businesses, taken together, provide hope for the economy. But they start out as fragile individual enterprises that need help to grow into permanent, thriving, profitable employers.

The SUNY campuses on Long Island would help with the basic ingredients: exciting ideas that can make life better in many dimensions -- bioscience, neuroscience, energy and communications, to name just a few -- and incubator space for start-up firms to begin growing safely in their most tender stages.

Now, Gov. Cuomo has added a potent new way to help start-ups: a full decade of sweeping tax freedom for enterprises that choose to locate on or very near a SUNY campus or a few private colleges upstate, where the economy has been suffering for many years.

This plan may not win legislative approval in the brief time remaining in this legislative session, but once the State Legislature does adopt it, businesses that qualify would pay no sales, property or corporate taxes for 10 years. And their employees would pay limited or no state income tax. The tax-freedom zone would include 200,000 square feet within a mile of the campuses.

The eligibility definition includes businesses with strong relationships to the academic missions of the campuses and businesses that will create new jobs. This applies to both new companies and out-of-state businesses that choose to move to New York, and may include companies that expand in New York.

Tax-Free NY is an almost startlingly generous benefit. The plan may have a minimal impact on state and local government revenues, so legislators will look at it closely. But the additional property tax revenue generated through new employees as they settle into our communities should more than offset any property tax break offered to businesses in the tax-free zone.

This initiative will also mean significant job growth for Long Island, where it will help launch hundreds of new businesses. The regional office of the state's economic development agency, Empire State Development, has already identified a list of both start-ups and existing businesses that could benefit from it.

From the start, the governor has focused heavily on economic development. Through a statewide competition, the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, one of 10 the governor created, has brought to our region many millions of dollars in state funding for a variety of high-impact projects. Now he has gone a smart step further-tying job production to academic excellence and innovation, products that roll in a steady stream from our campuses.

Tax-Free NY offers a plan as innovative and exciting as the ideas it is designed to turn into economic growth. We welcome the challenge it offers: Keep producing great innovations, and the state will help them grow and prosper on and near SUNY campuses.

Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. is president of Stony Brook University. W. Hubert Keen is president of Farmingdale State College. The Rev. Calvin O. Butts, III, is president of SUNY College at Old Westbury. Shaun L. McKay is president of Suffolk County Community College.


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