The New York Republican Party, which has long sold itself as businesses' best friend, is now calling for an end to corporate welfare.
The news, out last week as part of the state GOP's new "Jobs Agenda," even caught some of its own leaders off-guard.
"That's kind of a little bit harsh," said Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Republican from Syracuse who chairs the New York State Senate's Finance Committee.
Ed Cox, the party's chairman, said he employed the corporate welfare phrase in the party's "Jobs Agenda" because he thinks it's the most straightforward way to sell the idea of ending benefits to the few and spreading tax relief among all taxpayers.
"It's a very succinct way of saying, that in fact, some corporations are benefiting from government welfare," Cox said late last week. "It's welfare for corporations for those who get those benefits."
Sen. John DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, agrees with the idea, if not the political rhetoric Cox borrowed from progressives to sell the idea.
"I would not term it corporate welfare," DeFrancisco said, then warmly added: "That sounds like (Sen.) Liz Krueger."
Krueger, D-Manhattan, is DeFrancisco's frequent sparring partner in the Senate, where she serves as the ranking minority member on the Finance Committee.
But here, key Republicans are joining with a more traditionally Democratic idea to take a look at the estimated $1 billion New York is giving away in targeted tax breaks for selective businesses and industries.
It's significant that Republicans are not only warm to the idea but out selling it as part of their expected 2014 legislative agenda, says E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center for Public Policy in Albany, a conservative think tank.
"They have been enthusiastic promoters of targeted tax breaks," McMahon said of the GOP lawmakers. "It's significant to see the state Republican Party saying, in general, something like that."
Only a fraction of New York's businesses access economic subsidies, according to a report out from the Alliance for a Greater New York and the Getting Our Money's Worth coalition. The report said 96 percent of businesses are shouldering the tax burden for the 4 percent that get the subsidies.
DeFrancisco put the idea of critically reviewing targeted tax breaks in a Senate report last month. The report estimated eliminating all of the state's targeted tax breaks - like extra breaks to the film industry and businesses that claim to cleanup brownfields -- could pay for a drop in the corporate franchise tax rate from 7.1 percent to 5.3 percent. Cox repeated the message in his jobs agenda releases on Monday.
For many, it's the film tax credits that have become the poster child for tax breaks gone bad. This year, the state is set to award the industry about the more than $400 million in tax credits. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's economic development agency has aggressively defended the fund. Still, a commission created by the governor Cuomo found that the state is paying television and filmmakers more money in tax credits than the studios owe to New York.
Plus, most of the film tax relief is going to benefit businesses in the New York City area rather than more economically distressed Upstate areas, points out David Catalfamo, a Republican strategist who served as a top aide to former Gov. George Pataki.
"There's a larger question: Is the economic benefit going to the part of the state that needs it the most?" Catalfamo said.
Frank Mauro, of the progressive Fiscal Policy Institute, is reserving judgment on the conservatives' talk about ending tax inequity.
"Well, that's nice of them," he said of Cox's pledge to end corporate welfare. Mauro said not all conservative-leaning groups are behind the idea. Notably, he said, the Business Council of New York is not in favor of a full repeal of the array of tax breaks.
And neither are Cox or DeFrancisco. Cox pointed out that he does still support tax relief for manufacturers, an industry he says are still deserving of taxpayer help because of economic pressures to relocate elsewhere. Both Cox and DeFrancisco's reports also called for scaling back much of the tax code, from estate taxes to utility fees.
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