tax-free-7194206It’s “big”!  It’s “bold”!  It “could really make a difference“!  It’s Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Tax-Free NY proposal, subject of some of the biggest, boldest gubernatorial rhetoric since … well, since Cuomo’s launch two weeks ago of round three of the state Regional Economic Development Councils, which in turn came on the heels of a resort gaming destination plan in early May, neither of which should be confused with the “new day” proclaimed by the governor at last year’s yogurt summit

The governor’s latest initiative would allow qualified start-ups, out-of-state firms or expansions of existing New York companies to operate on a completely tax-exempt basis for up to 10 years if they locate in designated zones at colleges, universities and “strategically located state-owned” property.  The focus has been on the 64 State University campuses, most of which are upstate, although the governor also says zones will be designated at private campuses.

News accounts say the governor has compared the initiative to the construction of the Erie Canal.

Well, let’s see. The Erie Canal, constructed by the state between 1817 and 1825, stretched 363 miles from Albany to Buffalo, opening the Atlantic seaboard to the new nation’s western interior.

Cuomo’s proposed Tax Free Zones at SUNY campuses will cover 120 million square feet — which, the governor points out, is more than the commercial space of San Francisco and Philadelphia combined.

But here’s another way to look at it: 120 million square feet equates to a total of 4.3 square miles, or about one-fifth the area of the city of Albany. To put that in further perspective, New York State as a whole covers 47,000 square miles of land, about 90 percent of which is upstate (i.e., north of Dutchess and Orange counties).

As first noted here last week, the one promising new wrinkle of Tax-Free NY is the focus on providing broad-based relief (in this case, the maximum possible relief) from all taxes.  The downside, of course, is that the tax break will be available on a very exclusive basis.

Indeed, by offering “tax-free” status solely to new enterprises willing to form partnerships with already tax-exempt government and private institutions operating on tax-exempt property, the governor can try to make a big splash while having zero direct impact whatsoever on the state budget.  The notion is fraught with potential bureaucratic and legal snags.  Nonetheless, if the Tax-Free NY hype motivates state lawmakers to start thinking seriously about broad-based tax reform and reduction benefitting all businesses, new and existing, that would be a good thing.

Unfortunately, Cuomo and the Legislature just got finished enacting a state budget that includes a net $5 billion in tax hike extenders, fees and other revenue-raising provisions over the next four years.

Meanwhile, a truly “game-changing” economic opportunity remains in limbo.

About the Author

E.J. McMahon

Edmund J. McMahon is Empire Center's founder and a senior fellow.

Read more by E.J. McMahon

You may also like

The Public Can Now See the Vaccine Task Force Recommendations that the Cuomo Administration Held Back

Even as Governor Cuomo touted vaccine approvals by a state-appointed panel of experts, his office was withholding the group's detailed findings from public view. The governor's six- Read More

New York’s Medicaid and Public Health Crises Get Short Shrift in the New State Budget

In spite of an ongoing pandemic and spiraling Medicaid costs, New York's health-care system received surprisingly little attention in the new state budget. On issue after issue, law Read More

Empire State’s new budget is a bridge to nowhere

Looking ahead to an uncertain post-pandemic recovery, New York’s newly enacted state budget for fiscal year 2022 raises spending by staggering amounts that—barring an unlikely rapid return to peak 2019 economic activity in New York City—can't possibly be sustained for more than a few years. The budget is a mid-2020s fiscal disaster in the making: an incomplete bridge over a deepening river of red ink. Read More

Lawmakers Mull Medicaid Proposals That Would Speed New York Toward a Fiscal Cliff

As a budget deal nears in Albany, reining in spiraling Medicaid costs seems to be the last thing on anyone's mind. Governor Cuomo is advancing only Read More

Tax hike and huge spending increase seem likely in next NY budget

New York state today began its 2022 fiscal year without an adopted budget—which, in itself, is not a big deal. The state government can continue to pay bills and employee salaries next week if either final appropriations Read More

Cuomo Pushes Budget Change Sought by Hospital Group Implicated in Pandemic Scandals

A hospital lobbying group at the heart of scandals plaguing the Cuomo administration is again getting the governor's help in pushing a late change to the state budget. Aides to Gove Read More

The Cuomo Administration Is Withholding Pandemic-Related Records Again

In an echo of the Cuomo administration's stonewalling on nursing home data, the governor's office has for a third time delayed releasing records of its vaccine review panel, this time until mid-April. Read More

Cuomo’s Schedules for the Peak of New York’s Pandemic Show Limited Contact with Outside Experts

As New York's coronavirus pandemic exploded last spring, Governor Cuomo's circle of regular contacts dwindled to a handful of close advisers, according to his recently released official schedules for March and April. Read More


Sign up to receive updates about Empire Center research, news and events in your email.


Empire Center for Public Policy
30 South Pearl St.
Suite 1210
Albany, NY 12207

Phone: 518-434-3100
Fax: 518-434-3130


The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.

Empire Center Logo "...the Empire Center is the think tank that spent months trying to pry Covid data out of Mr. Cuomo's government, which offered a series of unbelievable excuses for its refusal to disclose...five months after it (the Empire Center) sued, Team Cuomo finally started coughing up some of the records." -Wall Street Journal, February 19, 2021