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Unshackle Upstate 2015 agenda targets property-tax cap, infrastucture

By Eric Reinhardt


Unshackle Upstate, a Rochester–based business-advocacy group for the upstate region, would like to see the New York State Legislature make the 2 percent property-tax cap permanent.


That’s according to the group’s 2015 legislative agenda, which it released on Dec. 31.


Unshackle Upstate is a bi-partisan coalition of more than 80 business and trade organizations representing upwards of 70,000 companies and employing more than 1.5 million people, according to its website.


Besides a permanent 2 percent property-tax cap, Unshackle would also like to see more investment in the state’s “aging” infrastructure; and an expansion and extension of both the design-build program and the brownfield-cleanup program.


State lawmakers approved the property-tax cap in 2011, says Greg Biryla, executive director of Unshackle Upstate. He spoke with CNYBJ on Jan. 7.


“We believe it was the signature accomplishment for the governor and that legislature in terms of tax relief, particularly for Upstate,” he adds. 


The cap isn’t set to expire until 2016, but the issue was connected to the rent-control regulations in New York City, which are set to expire this year, says Biryla. 

Unshackle Upstate expects state lawmakers will debate the property-tax cap issue in the 2015 session as well. 


“We’re trying to make sure that [the property-tax cap extension] doesn’t become a casualty of some of the politics of Albany,” says Biryla.


Unshackle Upstate would also like to see the creation of a $3.5 billion infrastructure bank for more investment to fix the region’s roads, bridges, sewers, and transmission lines. 


“Those exist in every upstate city, every upstate suburb, and every upstate rural community,” he says.


The organization would like to see the state use an infusion of money from lawsuits against overseas banks to create the infrastructure bank and pay for repairs to New York’s aging roads, bridges, and other infrastructure.


The Albany–based Rebuild NY Now has made the same push with appearances in upstate cities, including one in Syracuse on Dec. 9.


Unshackle Upstate would also like to see the state reauthorize the “design-build” procurement program, which Biryla describes as a “project-delivery mechanism for large, government-infrastructure projects.”


“Design-build takes the whole process and brings it all under one roof, makes it far more efficient, and it delivers projects under budget, on time,” he says.


New York first authorized the program in 2011. It was set to expire in December and state lawmakers have yet to extend the program. 


In addition, the organization is also hoping the state expands and extends the brownfield-cleanup program, which the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) administers.


The DEC website describes a brownfield as “real property, the redevelopment or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a contaminant.”


Biryla also highlighted the organization’s opposition to a toll increase on the New York State Thruway and taxpayer-funded political campaigns, according to an Unshackle news release.



The news release also included reaction to the organization’s legislative agenda from upstate New York business leaders.


“Heading into next year’s legislative session, there are a number of important issues facing the construction industry including Scaffold Law reform, extending the design-build program, and stopping the proliferation of project labor agreements,” Brian Sampson, president of the Empire State Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, said in the Unshackle news release. “As we continue to rebuild New York’s economy, I strongly encourage our state leaders to review, support and ultimately put into action Unshackle Upstate’s 2015 agenda.”


Sampson preceded Biryla as director of Unshackle Upstate and remains a member of the Unshackle leadership board.


“Unshackle Upstate’s 2015 agenda is once again a common sense approach to achieving further economic growth in New York,” Garry Douglas, president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce, said in the Unshackle release. “The fresh recognition of the enormous importance of Upstate’s growing economic connections with neighboring Quebec and Ontario is especially welcome, supporting efforts to maximize this opportunity for international commerce and investment in the year ahead.”


“Despite the recent decision to ban hydraulic fracturing in the Southern Tier, it’s important to emphasize that several other states have managed to successfully strike a balance between their environmental concerns and economic needs,” Lou Santoni, president and CEO of the Greater Binghamton Chamber of Commerce, said in the release. “In addition to advocating for responsible natural gas development, we’re proud to continue the fight for lower taxes, controlled state spending and debt reduction. These policy proposals will undoubtedly grow the state’s economy.”


The Unshackle Upstate website also lists Santoni as a member of the organization’s leadership board.

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