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PARTNERSHIP TAKES AGENDA TO STATE LAWMAKERS

With state budget talks under way in earnest, a group of members from the Buffalo Niagara Partnership spent Monday pressing lawmakers to further cut taxes and reduce regulatory burdens imposed by Albany.

"We feel that you constantly have to remind our legislators that small business owners need their consideration, especially in the areas of tax relief," said Richard Romer, chairman of the group's small business council.

Romer, a partner in Romer & Castiglia, a certified public accounting firm in Williamsville, said he and two-dozen other regional business executives met with legislators and their staffs to also press for more financial assistance to help start-up companies.

"We want to try to get the Legislature to try to realize that we need to reduce our taxes, and we need to create more jobs so that we can turn the economic situation in New York state around," Romer added.

For certain, taxes are going to be cut as part of this year's state budget. Unclear, however, is precisely which taxes -- Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats have different priorities -- and by how much.

But Romer said the Legislature should include deeper cuts in estate taxes before it adopts a budget, possibly in the coming weeks. While estate taxes were lowered last year in New York, they still are higher than other states to which wealthier business owners are increasingly relocating.

But the trip wasn't all about taxes -- like most journeys for business groups.

Romer said the group also discussed changing the way the state defines when a person is considered -- for tax reasons -- an independent contractor or an employee of a firm. He said the state's narrow definition of such situations, as compared to the federal government's interpretation, can end up costing small and emerging companies hundreds and thousands of dollars in taxes.

Such "nuisance taxes" don't help a firm just starting its business, he said. The group also pressed lawmakers on regionalism, the concept increasingly used in other states in which localities share their services on everything from police to garbage pick-up.

The business group's trip to Albany was particularly well-timed, whether planned or not. The Legislature has broken up into nine separate conference committees to help resolve differences between the Senate and Assembly fiscal plans. Had the group come to Albany a few weeks later, as some interest groups have already planned, their pitch may well have been moot.

"We certainly believe it's an important annual trek to Albany to deal directly with our legislators one-on-one," said Elizabeth Pujolas, government relations director for the partnership.

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