William P. Barrett wrote a very interesting piece in Forbes magazine in 2000 called “Willis Carrier’s Ghost.” The article pointed out that while “much of America practices tax-driven renewal schemes . . . few places have woven the tactics more into their social and psychic fabric than Syracuse.” It also clearly pointed out that this “addicting largesse” (over $2 BILLION in the five years before 2000) has not benefited our community.
Being a business magazine, Forbes of course talks about the punishing tax climate faced by businesses in Central N.Y. However, it is interesting to note that they do not ride the usual Rebublican hobbyhorse of tax/spend liberalism, but rather lay most of the blame on tax incentive programs.
The money quote:
“Contributing in no small measure to the high tax rate is the huge economic development program. A stunning 60% of all Syracuse real estate is tax-exempt, tax-abated or otherwise not pulling full weight, so the taxpayers who have not wangled a deal get hit hard.”
It’s time to flip the equation. We compete with other localities for businesses by handing out tax breaks by the millions, slashing our tax base and our ability to provide the public services that make a town liveable. Instead, Syracuse should invest in itself and make people want to locate here. The backlash against municipal services such as wireless internet shouldn’t stop municipalities from investing in public services that will attract people to the city and make everyone’s lives better.
Besides wireless internet, I see a real need to create a municipal power company, something that Solvay has done locally. Provide attractive services, create new jobs for municipal workers and entice businesses and homeowners with reduced costs. WIN, WIN, WIN.
For the naysayers and people ready to call me a communist–look at the job done by the Syracuse Water Department. It takes a basic need of the community, employs local folks to manage its distribution and takes advantage of a wonderful natural resource to provide a reasonably priced service of very high quality.