Taxpayer priority: Control state spending
Controlling spending was the main concern brought to three New York State Assembly members in Plattsburgh Tuesday.

Members of the Assembly Republican Task Force on Small Business in New York State — Chairman William Reilich (R-Greece), Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward (R-Willsboro) and Assemblywoman Dierdre Scozzafava (R-Gouverneur) — listened to local concerns.

Reilich said 98 percent of the business in New York is small business, and they employ 52 percent of the workforce.

"That's millions of New Yorkers," Reilich said.

As the Task Force has toured the state, the No. 1 issue has been property taxes, he said.

It's a tough fight, he said, because about two-thirds of the Assembly resides in the Greater New York metropolitan area, where property taxes are not an issue.

North Country Small-Business Development Center Business Adviser Tony Maglione said it isn't enough to just slow the increase of property taxes. He said New York's average of 4 percent of assessed value is nearly twice the national average.

"It's not just the young people who move away; it's also retirees. They just can't afford it."

Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas said the state needs to be careful it doesn't simply shift the tax burden from residential to commercial taxpayers.

Even though the state spends billions and billions on incentive programs, such as Empire Zones, Sayward said, the real problem is spending and high taxes, which need to be controlled on the state and local level.

"If we could lower the fees and taxes, we wouldn't need to dangle that carrot out there."

Sayward said that in the long term, the state has to take responsibility for shifting education funding away from property taxes. Reilich said he plans to introduce legislation next year that would use income taxes for that purpose.

In the short-term, the state needs to cap spending, Sayward said. She encouraged local taxpayer groups to continue reaching out to groups from other parts of the state to try to present a unified voice.

Assemblywoman Scozzafava said there are too many levels of government.

"There has to be some level of consolidation of government services," she said.

Douglas noted State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) has led local efforts in that area.

Health insurance has been the No. 1 concern in a chamber business survey for the last several years, Douglas said, but the state continues to address the issue only at the margins.

He said Franklin County is down to one major provider, and Clinton County is in danger of the same.

"There is a crisis. It is not recognized enough in Albany yet to cause systemic reform," Douglas said.

Brenda Thornton, program manager for ComLinks Women's Entrepreneurial Business Center, said many of her clients are not hiring employees.

"They are using contractors. They don't need to give them any form of insurance."

Crossborder Development Corp. President Mark Barie said small businesses owned by Canadians are very important for this area, where more than 260 such companies exist. Insurance, not just health insurance, is a concern for his clients.

"My Canadian and foreign-investor friends experience sticker shock" when they discover the costs of the types of insurance needed to do business in New York, he said.

Reilich said the Task Force is committed to improving the state's workers-compensation system. It is the worst the nation, he said, with the highest premiums and lowest payouts.

This was the latest in a number of discussions being held around the state to hear what's on the mind of small-business people, Reilich said.

The Task Force expects to put out a report sometime in January detailing pending and possible legislation to address those issues.

"I ask you again to rally around the bills that address the concerns you've raised," Reilich said.

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