WNY Lawmakers: Renewed Brownfield Program Essential

WNY Lawmakers: Renewed Brownfield Program Essential

WNY Lawmakers: Renewed Brownfield Program Essential
March 31, 2015

State lawmakers from Western New York are breathing a sigh of relief after learning that the state’s brownfield tax credit program, set to expire at the end of the year, would be extended by a decade under the budget deal agreed to by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders this weekend.

The program, which offers tax breaks to developers who remediate toxic sites before building on them, has wide support in both the state Senate and Assembly, and across party lines in Western New York.

Assemblyman Mickey Kearns, a Buffalo Democrat, said the program has created hundreds of jobs in his district and is “essential” for upstate New York.

“It’s probably one of the most important things for me in the budget,” Kearns said when reached by phone in Albany Tuesday.

Legislators say that many projects in the area—the $5 billion RiverBend project that will see Elon Musk’s SolarCity open one of the world's largest solar panel factories in Buffalo and the $430 million Greenpac linerboard plant in Niagara Falls, for example—would not be economically feasible without the incentives.

Western New York’s industrial past has left the region riddled with contaminated land unfit for development without costly remediation. The area was a major producer of steel, chemicals and other industrial products for about a century, bearing the environmental costs of that economic activity, particularly in the decades before those industries were closely regulated.

Kearns says creating jobs on revitalized land is a particular necessity in urban districts like his, where high poverty rates often mean people have limited access to transportation, which can keep them unemployed.

“Not only do [brownfield] projects have potential for revitalization and cleaning up the land, they provide jobs for people in the neighborhoods,” Kearns said.

Downstate lawmakers have raised concerns about abuse of the original program, particularly in New York City, where developers were taking advantage of the incentives to build high-end condominiums and hotels, projects that almost surely would have succeeded without the tax breaks.

As part of the program's extension included in the budget deal, New York City projects deemed eligible for the tax abatements will be subject to more restrictions than projects outside the five boroughs, according to The Buffalo News.

Republican State Sen. Patrick Gallivan said he was happy that Cuomo and the leadership were able to work out an agreement addressing the concerns of both critics and proponents of the program.

While Gallivan understands the misgivings of some of his downstate colleagues about abuses of the program, he said towns and cities in Western New York need it to keep up the economic momentum they've built in recent years.

“There would likely be areas that we would not address and the properties would likely sit there vacant,” he said.

Gallivan, whose district stretches from the suburbs of Buffalo to the suburbs of Rochester, said that while he is happy about the extension, he hopes lawmakers can work on letting the program run indefinitely.

“I would like to see it made a permanent program,” he said.

Justin Sondel
is a freelance reporter in Buffalo.