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Questioning tax breaks for businesses

December 12, 2012

I’m proud of the Sullivan County legislators who hosted last week’s budget meeting and the work they’re doing.

For whatever it’s worth, though, the constant level of attention brought to state mandates and tax exempts is more understandable than helpful, because we continue to lack a county strategy that deals with them where they need to be dealt with—in Albany. It also distracts from our ability to address matters we do control.

I commend legislator Cindy Geiger and others for addressing Medicaid fraud. They should do all they can. But Medicaid, in particular, has become a whipping post, and the whisper campaign is troubling.

If you live long enough, you get old and need care. That’s not a problem; it’s what happens. If you don’t understand that, eventually you will. If you’ve never hit hard times you may not appreciate things beyond your control. That’s not a blank check for dependency, but it should be for compassion. How to pay for that compassion is the question in search of an answer.

But compassion isn’t the only bill that needs paying, a point more and more residents are making. The ire against tax-privileged properties expressed at the meeting was rightly expanded to include businesses receiving county Industrial Development Agency (IDA) tax breaks that may not be necessary. Without a needs-based assessment, we really can’t know if they are necessary.

Those tax breaks deserve the same scrutiny as service programs assisting residents. If they aren’t needed, they shouldn’t be provided. I’m talking about need, not eligibility. And let’s be clear, a cost-benefit analysis says nothing about need; that’s the oldest trick in the book.

A recent but not the only example is Ideal Snacks. They’re already located here. Did their expansion require a tax break to proceed? It sounds like we’ll never know, yet there are rational ways to approach the matter.

Reducing residents’ services without a deep dive on county tax breaks protects a sacred cow. Albany isn’t doing that to us—we’re doing it to ourselves.

Dave Colavito
Rock Hill, NY