Fair Competition Panel Clears Senate

James L. Seward

June 23, 2008

The New York State Legislature has approved legislation that would begin levelling the playing field for private owners of recreational facilities who compete with state attractions, Senator James L. Seward said today. Senate bill 6835B was approved unanimously by the senate and approved by the assembly earlier today.

The bill would create a state panel to evaluate whether governmentally-owned recreational facilities constitute unfair competition to golf, ski, camping and other recreation businesses operated by private entrepreneurs.

"Public facilities like state ski areas or golf courses don’t have to turn a profit, pay workers' compensation or unemployment insurance," Seward noted. "They are funded with tax dollars, buy equipment using state contracts, pay no sales taxes and are often exempt from state health or environmental regulations that raise costs for private entities. In essence, taxpayers subsidize lower costs for public facilities, and they then compete with private operations."

S. 6835B establishes a state commission to examine unfair competition in the outdoor recreation industry. The panel would be charged with evaluating the extent of the competitive edge enjoyed by government facilities and offering recommendations and methods that would promote fair competition.

"I’m very excited about the passage of this legislation and we want to thank Senator Seward for sponsoring this bill. We see this as the first step for helping to level the playing field between the privately owned outdoor recreation facilities and those operated by the state," said Hunter Mountain Manager Russ Coloton.

"I’m thrilled this bill has cleared the assembly after passing the senate earlier this week, and look forward to its submission to the governor," said Assemblyman Pete Lopez (R/C/I-Schoharie). "Senator Jim Seward has shown tremendous leadership on this issue, as has my Assembly colleague Roanne Destito. I am pleased to be working with them to make sure that our public dollars are helping the private sector and not hurting it."

"This bill is one of the best things that has ever happened in the recreational industry in New York State," said Greenville golf course owner Walt Birmann. "This is a pretty popular issue not only in New York State, but throughout the whole country. If we don’t get some relief in this, it’s going to reduce the quality of life throughout New York State because we can’t compete against the public sector. Senator Seward is a big hero to the small business owners in this state."

The outdoor recreation industry is a significant segment of New York's economy. The state's private golf, skiing and camping facilities contribute millions of dollars to the economy, pay local property and school taxes, and employ thousands of workers. Ski facilities Hunter Mountain and Windham Mountain employ 2,000 workers, support payrolls of $12.5 million together, and pay state and local taxes of $3 million. Their economic impact is estimated to exceed $200 million. Local golf courses and campgrounds swell those numbers. The public ownership of similar facilities, offering cut-rate admissions divorced from the need for a revenue stream needed to sustain them, raises competitive issues that should be examined.

"Not far from Hunter Mountain and Windham we have a state ski facility that offers discount prices that a private company struggles to match," Seward noted. "We need to look at the effect of government competition on the businesses paying property taxes, creating jobs, and supporting our schools."

The bill will go to the governor.