Gimme (Tax) Shelter
by Jeff Kramer - Wednesday, March 19th, 2014
A possible tax break could add to plenty of comic relief.

One morning late last year I launched into a grumpy, pre-coffee tirade about the Start-Up NY program. I can’t recall precisely what set me off, but the idea of the state extending 10 years of tax-exempt status to qualifying start-up companies had all the earmarks of another scam. As the state’s disgraced experiment with Empire Zones shows, oversight of complex tax-relief programs isn’t one of Albany’s strong suits. The Albany hacktocracy does best when it sets modest goals…such as pleading not guilty in federal court.

“You know what I’m going to do!” I fumed, causing the kids to stare morosely into their cereal bowls. “I’m going to apply to Start-Up NY. I don’t want to pay taxes either.”

Uncharacteristically for me, I actually followed through on my promise. It took me maybe 10 minutes to fill out the Start-Up NY application form. I declared that I owned a freelance humor writing company, Marsby LLC, which was technically albeit not functionally, true, and that I desired to expand it, which was b.s. I clicked the submit button and forgot the whole thing.

But they didn’t. Weeks later in January I had just left the New Times parking lot when my phone rang. It was Empire State Development Corp. I pulled into the new Dunkin’ Donuts at Geddes and West Genesee to take the call. My heart was fluttering with embarrassment. What should I tell them? That it had all been a joke. That I had no business to speak of, no business model, no expectations of hiring a soul?

Instinct took over. Rather than confess to being a hoaxster, I opted to portray myself in such a dubious light that even the state of New York wouldn’t want to do business with me. I told the caller, Bonnie Palmer, a business development specialist with ESD, that I was a local humor columnist and occasional playwright, and that I wanted to hire an assistant or intern. I might have said several assistants or interns. I said I needed these workers to help me do “funny stuff.” I gave no specifics because I had none. I must have sounded mentally challenged. After a few minutes I could hear the enthusiasm draining out of Bonnie’s voice. Alas, my business did not sound like it would qualify for the program, Bonnie concluded. I wanted to shout: “Thank God!”

That is where it should have ended but as Oscar Wilde observed, “Bureaucracy expands to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy” — and isn’t that what programs like Start-Up NY are really about?

Flash forward to this past Thursday March 13th, when I received from Bonnie an email that I still can’t fathom. As it turns out, a 10-year exemption on state business, property and income tax for me and my employees might be a very real possibility. I just need to find a local college to partner with.
“In follow-up to our conversation, I checked with the Start-Up NY office, and it does appear that your freelance writing company may be eligible for the Start-Up NY program, “ Bonnie explained. “As part of the review process, the college and ESD are required to do a “competitor analysis” to be sure that assistance will not negatively impact any competitors, but you can certainly make application to your college of choice.”

Competitors like who? The Chiefs’ mascot Scooch?

Continued Bonnie: “Given the industry that you are in, there are several colleges that might be suitable for your company to associate with.” She provided a helpful web link to each institution, along with contacts, including one for Upstate Medical’s dean of the college of medicine David Duggan.

Of course, this changes everything. If the state of New York is prepared to grant me a 10-year tax waiver even though I’m promising next to nothing in return, who am I to turn them down?

My plan is to start slow with a single intern. Meaning no boyfriend, no spouse. That’s a joke. Obviously she doesn’t need to be attractive, but let’s be honest. It can’t hurt.

A template for how my jobs initiative will work can be found by databasing the term “Salad Boy” who was my greatest intern ever at the Orange Country Register in California years ago. Among Salad Boy’s many accomplishments, he accompanied me when I fled in brazen cowardice to Tijuana, Mexico at the outbreak of Iraq War II. The eduction Salad Boy received in that one crazy all-nighter south of the Border outstripped anything on the curriculum at his Catholic high school.

And yes, I do pay. The lucky college intern’s rate will be $1.50 per hour, even more than what got on my first internship in 1983.

My next step, according to Empire State Development, is find a partner school. The recommended administrators at each have received an advance copy of this column, so they can start crafting their pitches. Please, guys, don’t all call at once.

It’s all very exciting– and it gets even better, the letter informed me that I might be able to move my firm into a designated Start-Up NY workspace even prior to my application being approved. I need to find out if the keg hookup is already in place or if I need to install my own.

“Best of luck to you as you pursue your business expansion,” the letter concluded. “Feel free to contact me if I can provide additional assistance.  I would be interested to hear which college/sponsor you select and the outcome of your conversation.”

Suddenly I feel very positive about the future of New York State.

Don’t you?

Jeff Kramer

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