Destito clarifies 'Tax-Free NY' proposal

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Joe Schwartz
RoAnn Destito and Kathryn Boor
Blaine Friedlander/Cornell Chronicle
RoAnn Destito, left, commissioner of the New York State Office of General Services, speaks with Dean Kathryn Boor prior to the "Tax-Free NY" presentation.

To explain details on a bold, new initiative, RoAnn Destito, commissioner of the New York State Office of General Services, presented particulars about New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed “Tax-Free NY” program to the Cornell community June 14.

In her presentation, Destito explained the initiative in three words: “Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.” The governor, she said, wants to battle the perception that New York is a high-tax, anti-business state and promote a new economic development environment of regionally based public and private partnerships driven by higher education.

The proposed Tax-Free NY program is designed to entice companies to invest in upstate New York by offering new businesses an opportunity to operate completely tax-free – meaning no state income tax for employees and no sales, property or business taxes for a decade, while partnering tax-free zones with SUNY colleges and private universities.

Earlier in the week, Cuomo sent a memorandum to both houses of the New York State Legislature to amend state laws on economic development, property tax, and education to establish the Tax-Free NY initiative.

On June 3, Cornell President David Skorton addressed the Tax-Free NY summit of college presidents and regional economic development councils in Albany.

Kathryn Boor, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, introduced Destito at the Ithaca event. Boor explained that as one of the world’s leading research institutions, Cornell has “worked hard to ensure that the incredible talent and ingenuity available at this university serve as a force for economic development and prosperity creation in our region.”

Cornell has an abundance of expertise in Ithaca, the satellite campus at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva and at extension facilities throughout the state, Boor said.

The university “offers a rich and unrivaled wealth of resources, innovation and know-how that numerous New York businesses have tapped to grow and prosper,” Boor explained. “That is why we believe the governor’s Tax-Free NY initiative represents such a bold and important step forward for the people of New York.”

After Destito’s formal presentation, questions from the audience ranged from how businesses would qualify for the program, the distances from the businesses to campus, how off-campus Cornell property would qualify, how the proposed program might affect local governments, and other concerns about unintended consequences. Destito said she would take audience concerns back to the governor.

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Blaine Friedlander