City Councilman John G. Accardo on Monday will ask the Council's backing for two resolutions he plans to carry to Albany on Tuesday when he attends the annual legislative lobbying day at the state capital.
One of Accardo's resolutions asks state legislators to approve Gov. George E. Pataki's plan to eliminate the gross receipts tax on utilities. The other asks for $5,332,000 for restoration or replacement of the railroad overpass at Main Street near Ontario Avenue and the rail crossing on Highland Avenue near College Avenue.
The Democrat said he agrees with the Republican governor that the gross receipts tax, and the burden it places on both electric and gas customers, is destroying industry in Niagara Falls and Western New York.
State energy taxes are deadly to upstate's manufacturing economy, Pataki's chief economist Stephen Kagann told about 60 people during a business breakfast sponsored by the Niagara Business Alliance at Niagara County Community College last week.
Upstate New York pays 42 percent of the state's total gross receipts tax, while only accounting for 27 percent of the state's economic activity, Kagann said. And, utility companies in New York State are taxed at twice the national average. Niagara Mohawk customers alone would save $100 million a year on their electricity bills if the state eliminated the tax, according to the electric utility.
"I think it would be major boost to our economy to eliminate the gross receipts tax," Accardo said. "With the amount of savings companies could realize it would give them an opportunity to reinvest and create more jobs. If they're creating jobs even elsewhere in Niagara County, I think it would help Niagara Falls out tremendously. That's what this area needs -- creation of true industrial jobs that pay in excess of $20 an hour with very good benefits, jobs that people can raise a family on," Accardo said.
In addition to state representatives from this area, Accardo said he plans to see Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, "and that will be on the top of my list to talk about." Accardo said he also will send copies of his resolution to all legislative bodies in the county asking that "they support this measure and pass it on to state officials."
Accardo said he is not suggesting that the city repeal its 1 percent tax on utilities, which yields the city about $1.45 million a year in revenues.
"Any time you repeal a tax it has to made up someplace," Accardo said of the city's tax. But, on the state's tax, he said, "Why place that burden on the backs of industry? Pataki has put that forth in his budget so he's obviously making that up someplace. Maybe we can spread that out and take it from places that have been ignored over the years."
Accardo's second resolution urges Pataki and the Legislature to set aside $5,332,000 for Niagara County rail infrastructure projects. Accardo said Niagara County's Planning, Development and Tourism Department has identified the five worst viaduct problems in Niagara County and two are in the city. Accardo said the crossings are eyesores and at least need painting and restoration if not total replacement. A Main Street initiative to revitalize the struggling business district also has identified the Ontario Avenue rail bridge as a priority.
While it is not on the agenda, Council Chairman Anthony F. Quaranto said he will ask the city controller's office to audit the books at the Convention & Civic Center. The question of expenses and revenues at the center came up in two separate meetings last week between city officials and representatives of Niagara Falls Redevelopment and Ogden Entertainment, which operate the center under contract with the city.
The operators cited high labor costs among other factors that hamper their ability to attract events and reduce the center's deficit. The city has asked the operators for financial reports and cost analyses.
Quaranto said he also will ask the controller to start auditing hotels and motels to determine if they are collecting and submitting full bed taxes to the city. The hotels have not been audited in many years, raising periodic questions as to whether the city gets the full amount of bed taxes it has coming. The bed tax is used to fund the Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Festival of Lights and other activities.
"That way if anyone does raise a question we'll have a benchmark to go by," Quaranto said.
Also back on the agenda is Mayor Irene J. Elia's request to restore a junior account clerk's position to work on the Community Faire and Festival of Lights. The Council tabled the request two weeks ago after questions were raised about what the clerk's full range of duties would be and whether Elia's plan to fund the position out of bed tax dollars was allowable.