In his first official appearance in Westchester County, New York’s economic development chief told a business audience that Albany’s novel show of fiscal discipline this spring sends “a powerful message” to businesses whose investments and jobs will spur economic recovery in the state.
Kenneth Adams, president and CEO of Empire State Development Corp. and state economic development commissioner, was in White Plains recently to solidify the business sector’s support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s legislative agenda as the state Legislature enters the home stretch of its session that ends June 20. Cuomo and his top officials began touring the state this month on the governor’s People First campaign to enlist grassroots support for the real property tax cap, state ethics reform and same-sex marriage legislation Cuomo is pressuring lawmakers to enact.
Hosted here by The Business Council of Westchester, Adams was in familiar company. He had served five years in Albany as president and CEO of the Business Council of New York State when the newly elected governor tapped him for the economic development post.
Giving a “first-quarter report” on the Cuomo administration, Adams said its major achievement was the state budget adopted in April, which eliminated a $10 billion deficit without raising taxes or state debt.
“The budget itself was a message to employers of fiscal discipline,” Adams said. “Business leaders that I know were waiting to see that get done.”
Adams said that discipline now must be applied at the local level with the governor’s 2 percent cap on property tax increases. The bill, which limits municipal tax hikes to the lesser of that 2-percent ceiling or the annual inflation rate, has been passed by the Republican-controlled state Senate but has stalled in the Democratic-controlled Assembly.
In 2009, Adams said, businesses in New York paid $16 billion of the statewide total of $44 billion in property taxes, about five times more than the $3.1 billion in corporate income taxes those businesses paid that year.
When measured by the assessed value of homes, tax rates in 15 counties in New York ranked highest in the nation, said Adams, citing a Tax Foundation survey for tax years 2007 through 2009. Measured by absolute dollars, tax bills in Nassau County were highest in the nation, followed by Westchester. Rockland County ranked fifth highest in the country.
The tax cap, said Adams, “has got to happen.”
With that cap, local municipalities should no longer have to bear the costs to implement programs mandated by the state, he said. Cuomo has appointed a mandate relief task force – whose members include Westchester County Association President William M. Mooney Jr. – to address the issue.
“We can’t talk about the property tax cap without a serious commitment to mandate relief,” said Adams.
The commissioner outlined five strategies for long-term economic development in the state:
- Reduce the state’s high business costs.
- Address the needs of small business.
- Expand opportunities for minority- and women-owned business enterprises.
- Leverage New York’s higher education institutions to create jobs.
- Promote workforce training.
“Economic development starts with pulling back and reforming and improving that business climate” in the state, Adams said. It requires a balance of both project-based work and advocacy on business issues, he said.
Adams said state government invests only about $1 billion in development projects, which amounts to one-tenth of 1 percent of the state’s roughly $1 trillion state economy. “Unless we take on the broader business climate, we don’t affect the state economy on any significant scale,” he said. To do that, owners of small and medium-sized businesses are needed to create job growth at a time when at least 800,000 New Yorkers are unemployed, he said.