Hugh Reynolds: The irony of Tax-Free New York

Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe)

Given long-standing state fiscal history, Andrew Cuomo’s calling his upstate economic development plan Tax Free New York, the name since quickly changed to Start-Up New York, was ironic. New York consistently ranks either Number 1 or Number 2 (trading places with New Jersey) as the highest-taxed state.

Announced with the usual gubernatorial fanfare, the plan was to establish tax-free economic development zones at upstate college campuses. Only a handful of the usual sycophants bought into the ill-defined proposal. And changing the name to Start-Up NY didn’t help, at least according to a recent budget update from the administration itself.

According to a report in the Albany Times Union, the administration, in what amounted to a midnight press release (6:45 p.m. last Friday) determined that Start-Up, supposed to generate fresh revenues for the state as proclaimed by the governor at a series of press conferences last spring, will also cost Empire State coffers $323 million if fully implemented.

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That would be quite a carrot. E.J. McMahon, resident curmudgeon with the right-leaning Empire Center for New York State Policy, concluded that based on the administration’s own analysis “we would have got the growth without the program.”

Marrying colleges with business in a concerted strategy, which come to think of it was why community colleges were established 50 years ago, was not a bad idea to help out that economic wasteland called upstate New York. Obviously, though, it needs more than reinvented slogans.

Acting mayoral

It would appear that combative Kingston Mayor Shayne Gallo may actually learn from some of his mistakes. Rejoice, Kingston! There is hope after all.

Case in point. Gallo, a smart guy who does some really dumb things, has allowed himself to become embroiled in public debate with a candidate in a ward primary. This is akin to Harry Truman arguing foreign policy with freshman congressman Dick Nixon. It elevates the latter and demeans the office of the former.

When Gallo got into a street fight with Fourth Ward primary candidate Nick Woerner on ward issues, he did nothing but validate the former Town of Ulster supervisor, which is probably why Woerner baited the bear in the first place.

The latest exchange had to do with a block-party meet-the-candidate event hosted by Woerner rival (and Gallo favorite) Nina Dawson last Saturday. Closing off a street requires mayoral approval, which led Woerner to accuse Hizzoner of playing favorites.  Gallo, wisely, offered no comment.

Blowing the whistle

Choo-choo Chuck Schumer, senior senator from New York, seems to have an affinity for Kingston trains. The senator visited the Colonial City again last week to warn of potential disaster if any of the hundreds of tanker cars that roll through town every day should derail.

“I don’t mean to demonize the railroad,” Schumer was reported as saying at a trackside press conference in midtown, while pointing to potential danger. But of course. There’s danger in stepping off the curb. To use an analogy, jet liners fly over the city every day. What if one crashes?

A spokesperson for CSX said 99.9 percent of trains arrive at their destinations without incident. Perhaps Chuckie-Choo would better serve his constituents, as opposed to scaring their pants off, by more closely monitoring those federal agencies with strict oversight of railroad safety.

At the risk of appearing uber-conspiratorial, it might have been no coincidence that the senator chose Kingston to showcase train safety at this point in time. Joined at the hip with the senator as always when the big cheese comes to town, was County Executive Mike Hein. One of Hein’s missions in life these days seems to be to demonize the Catskill Mountain Railroad and its volunteers as not only deadbeat county tenants (CMRR leases them county-owned tracks) but with their lead-paint encrusted rolling stock a clear and present danger to public health.

On second thought, maybe that’s a stretch. Nobody could be that calculating.

Holding grudges

The latest exchange between Hein and Assemblyman Kevin Cahill on the sales-tax issue (another boring repetition of previous reports) is noteworthy in at least one respect.

The Freeman reported (again) that Cahill, who had sent the paper a letter to the editor defending his actions, did not return phone calls for further comment. In fact, the Freeman reported that Cahill hadn’t returned a phone call since 2007! Talk about a grudge.

The year before Obama was elected president, the Freeman was editorializing about the “dysfunctional” state legislature, a favorite target of newspaper opinion writers and good-government groups. The only hope for reform, the editorial concluded, other than booting out all the bounders, was for rank-and-file legislators to challenge leadership.

This was unlikely with Cahill, the paper concluded, given the local assemblyman’s close relationship with Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver. The paper called Cahill a “lickspittle.”

Hugh Reynolds.

Hugh Reynolds.

One can only imagine the assemblyman’s blood pressure spiking at that, lickspittle being one of those disgusting out-of-use words that means exactly how it sounds. Ugh.

Cahill might have lived with “toady” or “sycophant.” Describing him as a willing ally well rewarded would have been more accurate, but the spectre of his lapping saliva off Shelly’s chin went too far.

Compared to that, Hein calling Cahill an extortionist and an obstructionist is nothing.

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