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Cuomo wants brownfields tax credit reform

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When Governor Andrew Cuomo presented his 2014-15 budget earlier this year, he called on the Legislature to renew and reform the state's brownfield tax credit program. Critics say the help isn't going where it's really needed, to distressed communities.

The program provides tax credits to developers who clean up and reuse contaminated properties. It's set to expire in 2015, and both environmental groups and developers want the program to continue.

Cuomo's budget would extend the program for 10 years, but with substantial reforms. Tax credits for clean-up would no longer exceed what a developer spent to do the work. And brownfield redevelopment tax credits would only be available for priority economic development projects, properties that have been vacant for a decade or more, and sites that are worth less than the cost of cleaning them up.

But a coalition of developers, consultants, and business policy groups is pushing back at the governor's proposal. In a press release, the Developers Brownfield Alliance didn't directly oppose Cuomo's reforms, but said New York's existing brownfield tax credit program should be a national model.

Programs in other states often award credits only for clean-up work, not construction, the coalition said. And New York's program outperforms those programs in terms of investment, job creation, and project completion, it said.

The group released a report to back up its assertions. The report said that developers have completed 142 brownfield projects statewide. Ninety-six of those projects resulted in $7 billion in investment, 15,000 permanent jobs, and 42,300 construction jobs, according to the report.

The report also provides examples of successful brownfield redevelopment projects, such as the $34 million Erie Harbor and Hamilton Tower development on Mt. Hope Avenue. The site, which had a long history of contamination, received $2.3 million in state brownfield tax credits for clean-up and construction, which resulted in 333 new market rate and affordable housing units.

A city official, as well as the project's developer, Conifer Realty, said the project wouldn't have happened without the tax credits, according to the report.

But statewide environmental groups praise Cuomo's proposed changes to the brownfield programs. The credits were initially passed to encourage clean-up and reuse of contaminated properties in distressed communities, they said, but they haven't fulfilled that goal. Too often, the credits go to projects in healthy real estate markets on sites that probably would have been redeveloped anyway, they say.

Often, brownfields are concentrated in poorer neighborhoods, particularly in cities. The governor has said that his proposed reforms are meant to better target the credits to higher-need areas.

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