Here’s a call to action for local taxpayers, stakeholders, and concerned citizens: If you don’t like deal makers, particularly in the economic development space, see to it that the system propping this behavior up ceases to exist.
A gigantic overhaul of public spending will be needed along with a massive overhaul of who is elected to represent us. But across the state big changes will be necessary if any meaningful progress is going to be made.
A pair of recent headlines drew my attention. Both were in the economic development space and both were staunch acknowledgments of our broader circumstances here in the Finger Lakes. A new payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, was inked in Wayne County for the aging Ginna Nuclear Power Plant in Ontario. As the FLT reported, it’s been a significant source of tax revenue for Wayne County, the Wayne Central School District and the town of Ontario.
But this deal was admittedly an “end-of-days” deal, which seems like an oddly-fitting phrasing for a 581-watt nuclear power plant. That deal, which drew a range of reaction from local residents, runs through 2029, and shrinks by the year. In their defense, the market changed and ultimately spelled bad news for Ginna.
That said, some folks are still critical of the deal.
“Why should we keep this business afloat?” one reader wrote to me, after Steve Buchiere’s piece was published. The implication, not uncommon at all, is that taxpayers should not have to foot the bill to keep businesses going. Even some folks in the small business community — who haven’t benefited from a PILOT program — are critical of these deals.
There are good deals. There are bad deals. There are deals that have worked. There are deals that have failed miserably. That isn’t much more than the balance of life. We can probably all think of a few things that we’ve done — good and bad — that either went exactly, or not-so-exactly to plan. Good outcomes, bad outcomes — they’re all part of the puzzle that is life.
The people who work in economic development are not setting out to steal taxpayer money or spend it arbitrarily on businesses. They’re spending money based on measured data, which is often handed down by the entity that has the most control over this whole, disastrous system. That’s right. I defended the people who are working in economic development offices across the region and simultaneously called the system they’re operating under a complete disaster.
To be clear, no one wants to play in this ridiculous sandbox. But when the state is losing more and more each day to other states, and other places, that are far more friendly to employers, employees, and taxpayers-at-large, economic development folks are left with two incredibly unappealing options:
1) Do nothing and be viewed as the cause of lackluster economic development; or
2) Do something and be viewed as the villain for trying to create economic development.
SPOILER ALERT: They always do the latter.
Businesses aren’t better in New York because of the massive burden they face for simply existing here. They don’t magically put more money in employees’ paychecks, or grow at a faster rate. There is no meaningful return on investment for businesses to fund the various programs that the state pays for on its dime. The ask only grows larger, each-and-every year, as the state decides that spending more — on various, unrelated programs — is the only way to make New York better.
If you’re a frustrated local taxpayer, keep your eye on the prize. Focus that frustration on pushing back against representatives at the state level who don’t advocate strongly enough against a system that is destroying local communities by the day. This is an issue that frustrates Republicans and Democrats alike. There is more than enough frustration in this state to manufacture meaningful change.
And at that moment of change New Yorkers will have the ability to affect the way businesses and individuals are taxed.
Finally, ask your local economic developer this question: Would you like to work in an environment that wasn’t at a 15-20 percent competitive disadvantage to practically every other state in America?