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State must act to preserve region's auto industry

As the big three car makers in the country continue to downsize and restructure, New York has to move quickly to protect the more than 230,000 auto-industry related jobs that are the foundation of many communities in Western New York.

General Motors, Ford and Chrysler are deciding which plants are going to stay open and which are going to close. New York has to act immediately to make us more competitive with other states so we can protect jobs. This is a competition for jobs that New York simply cannot afford to lose.

The economic crisis in the auto industry is not just about Detroit; it's about Tonawanda, Buffalo and Cheektowaga and how competitive these and other upstate communities are compared to plants in Tennessee, Kansas, Michigan and other states.

A report this week in the Wall Street Journal quoted a GM worker in Tennessee who is worried about a sister plant in Tonawanda because it makes the same engine. We need to do everything we can to make sure GM decides to keep the jobs of people who are making those engines in Tonawanda.

Unlike other states that are moving aggressively to reduce taxes and offer incentives to create and retain jobs, Gov. David A. Paterson did not propose any economic development incentives in his budget. He did propose raising taxes for small businesses located in Empire Zones in Western New York that supply parts to auto manufacturers.

The governor and Democrats in the Legislature just approved an increase in health care costs for these same businesses, and approved taking almost half a billion dollars from the New York Power Authority, which provides low-cost power to auto-related businesses in Western New York. Low-cost power saves these businesses $2 million a year. Those funds could have allowed the authority to dramatically increase its commitment for low-cost power.

When I spoke to the Business Council at a meeting in Buffalo last fall, I proposed an economic development plan that would provide tax credits tied to the creation of new jobs, eliminate state taxes on many manufacturers and protect existing benefits to small businesses that lose them under the governor's plan and redirect funds into additional tax cuts.

We have to protect auto industry jobs in New York. We need to look at all the factors that can make or break the future of these plants, including the cost of energy, the impact of property taxes and the burden of business taxes on manufacturers.

As we begin negotiating a new budget and discussing how to best use federal economic stimulus money, Sens. Mike Ranzenhofer of Amherst, Dale Volker of Depew, George Maziarz of Newfane and the other members of the Senate Republican conference will be pushing these and other measures to protect auto industry jobs that drive the economy in Western New York.

Dean Skelos is minority leader of the New York State Senate.

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