Beyond Empire Zones

May 11, 2009

In these trying times, employing smart and effective policies to stimulate economic development is more important than ever. That's why the New York State Senate is revamping a key economic development incentive program to make it work better for New Yorkers across the state by launching the "Beyond Empire Zones" Task Force.

The Empire Zone program was changed significantly in 1999 to improve tax benefits for business development.  The current program includes real property tax credits, wage tax credits, sales tax credits and potential utility rate reductions to catalyze entrepreneurs and business. However, it also has serious shortcomings that must be addressed, including basic issues like accountability and ease-of-use.

The Senate is introducing legislation that will "reboot" the Empire Zone program by keeping in place the elements that made it so successful, but also address the problems.  A new "Beyond Empire Zones" task force will develop a revised or replacement program that will effectively target state support for growing businesses, ensure stability in program administration, and ensure effective use of public money for taxpayers.

The Task Force will consist of 29 members with appointments from the Governor, the Majority and Minority from both the Senate and the Assembly, as well as relevant state agencies. These leaders will in turn recommend the best way for the State to funnel resources to the front lines of our economy: the businesses, unions, universities, business organizations, non-profits and business improvement districts. Senator Darrell J. Aubertine (D-Cape VIncent), chair of the Upstate Democratic Caucus, said, "As the primary tool for economic development in the state, we need the Empire Zone program to be more open and effective so it can provide businesses with the support they need to thrive, but also keep them accountable."

The formation of this task force follows on the heels of a new sunset date for the current Empire Zone program put in place during the 2009 budget. This sunset date pushes the Legislature and Executive to work together to tackle this issue now. The "Beyond Empire Zones" Task Force will submit their recommendations by the end of this year, giving officials time to incorporate them into the foundation for next year's budget.

The Senate is taking the lead on this issue by recognizing that New Yorkers cannot afford to delay conversations on the future of this important program. As Senate Majority Leader Malcolm A. Smith said, "Creating jobs during times of economic distress is our top priority. The Empire Zones program has always had the potential to be a valuable economic development program, but it has not always met our expectations."

New Yorkers deserve an Empire Zone program that is straightforward, transparent and effective; one that will encourage real business growth and job creation throughout the state. The "Beyond Empire Zone" task force would be the first step towards making that goal a reality.