Simon St.Laurent: October 2007 Archives

Tax-Free Zones

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Albany, NY - All of New York State's Empire Zones converted to tax-free status at midnight last night, giving businesses that operate in them complete freedom from state sales, income, and property taxes.

"This is a proud day for the Empire State," said Governor Sweetwater, who was standing in front of the Albany Steamworks as the clock ticked past midnight. "New York has outpaced all competing states with a very simple offer: come here, and there aren't any state taxes, no questions asked. We're able to cut our regulation of the system drastically, simply demanding proof of actual operation in the Empire Zone, and businesses can grow without the red tape they faced before."

Reaction around the state was mixed. Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Abigail Connors lauded the move, saying that "At long last I believe the Empire State has come to understand the value generated in its Empire Zones." While she expressed concern over possible increases in other taxes to make up for the lost revenue, she predicted that "state and local governments just can't keep raising one tax to make up for another. We're finally going to see the reductions in government we've been demanding for nearly seventy years."

Carl Jeffers of the Fiscal Policy Institute was less enthusiastic. "The next step, I guess, is to pay companies to come here, risk-free, with no oversight at all. Of course, it will be hard to do that, as tax revenue continuously falls. Previous iterations of the Empire Zone program had major corruption issues but also didn't do very much to increase New York's employment rate, and it's hard to imagine this doing much better. It's an impressive new step in selling out New York State's remaining citizens, though."

Schenectady Mayor Thomas Curler, in a prepared statement, congratulated the Governor for his "bold steps toward reviving New York. With the help of these enhanced zones, we'll be able to quickly rebuild our state's economy and free it from the excessive taxation that has burdened it for over a century." Curler held his own celebrations with General Electric Chairman Ross Trantor, who compared the new freedom from taxes to the "Six Sigma" achievements of earlier generations at his company - "There are a lot fewer defects in New York State now!"

In Buffalo, waterfront manufacturing is expected to get a boost, with raw materials coming in and finished goods going out - all by water, to export markets, with no other connection to taxable activities in the state. Workers coming and going from the zone will have to pay state taxes, but nothing else in the zone will. Similar facilities are opening in Rochester, Oswego, and Massena, though some uncertainty remains over the impact of rising federal tariffs.

Inside a wall


I've never been outside the wall. I was born in here, in the home my parents chose. The world was too broken for them, as strife and disease spread through the land. They and about a hundred friends bought a series of old farms, and we control the whole valley. The quarry provided rock for the walls, a few acres of solar panels provide power, and we grow the rest of what we need here.

I know practically every inch of our home, and every human inhabitant. All of the gardens, the places in the wall where the rock changes, the inventory in the warehouses, the books in the library. Everyone sees everything, inside of our wall.

When I was a child there were strange birds in the sky - fixed wings, leaving behind a line of white, usually, and sometimes noisy creatures that hovered and floated through the sky. We haven't seen any of those in ten years or so, which has made my parents relieved. The wall mostly defends itself, but we'd prefer that no one look in on our home.

They might want to join us - but we're at capacity. They might bring the germs and violence of the old world into our new world. It's better that we stay here, and they stay there.

Escape from Rochester


Senator Trujillo: Commissioner Sorenson, let me be blunt. This committee has lost its patience with your dissembling and that of the Governor's office. The news from the Greater Rochester Correctional Facility continues to get worse, despite the many promises your office has made.

Commissioner Sorenson: Apparently you aren't reading the statistics we have been producing at your request.

Senator Trujillo: Reading, yes. Trusting, no. In a period when we know that there is open warfare among prisoner factions, you show substantial declines in prisoner against prisoner violence.

Commissioner Sorenson: The prisoners are more organized than they used to be, more disciplined. They do a better job of killing each other because they want to, but less killing because they had nothing else to do at the moment.

Senator Trujillo: When we established this new concentrated prison twenty-five years ago, we were assured that prisoners would never be allowed to organize militarily...

Commissioner Sorenson: I can't speak for promises made by previous administrations...

Senator Trujillo: Perhaps you shouldn't, as prisoners hadn't organized in this way until well after you became commissioner. You promised cost-cutting, but we've seen an increase in state incursions into the prison, and more casualties among guards as a result - leading to some pretty incredible costs.

Commissioner Sorenson: Those costs are not the responsibility of my department, Senator.

Senator Trujillo: But they are of your making. Worse than the costs you are creating, however, is the apparent failure of your incursions to establish order.

Commissioner Sorenson: It's no worse than the previous order, Senator. Yes, there's damage and death. There always has been damage and death. But when the State created this prison, we did so to save money, not to be kind to criminals. That said, this new regime may even be helping prisoners to develop clearer social structures than they've had before, something we hope will lead to a more stable prison environment in the long term.

Wine Country


Come visit beautiful Upstate New York, the new center of American wine production!

After decades specializing in German and more northerly varietals, New York State has taken the lead in producing the finest red wines, with rich flavors that you're sure to remember. By combining New York's long-time expertise in viticulture with the arrival of vintners leaving behind the scorched deserts of California and disease-troubled France, local wineries have grown from a largely tourist business serving local markets to a world center for wine.

The vast vinyards are still a tourist paradise, with trains connecting wineries large and small. Farms produce fine artisan cheeses and fresh produce, making the area the heart of quality food in the United States. Whether you can come for a visit or are just browsing your local market, remember Upstate New York!

Remembering 2012


[by Steve Balogh.]

I just renewed our lease on our apartment for another year, at a 15% increase. Demand for quality rental property, inflation, and my unwillingness to start a relationship with a new (and possibly shady) landlord made the decision to re-sign easier. I am hoping that my efforts to help our landlord renovate the home and bring up its energy efficiency will pay off in defrayed costs. Jim and I replaced the dinosaur of a boiler in the basement last fall, after I talked him into a pellet/biomass boiler with the capability to burn wood pellets, corn, or recycled paper. Jim had to move back in to his rental property after he could no longer hold on to his mortgage on his primary residence. Given the property tax increases we've faced to keep the schools running, I'm not sure that my monthly rent will help defer even half of his current payments on the 2 family house - so, again, I don't begrudge him the bump in the rent. Another 15% next year, and we'll be considering "consolidated housing" ourselves. Many of our friends and family have had to do the same, moving in together, or back in with family to help keep a roof over their heads.

It's amazing how quickly public perception can change. After the "consolidated housing" meme hit the cover of Time and Newsweek eight months ago, the stigma was lifted, and what was a terrible housing market became even worse as a flood of young professionals, families, and struggling friends gave up their homes and moved in together. Aging baby-boomers welcomed their families back in with open arms, as their meager retirement savings are now a shell of their former selves. (A good number of privileged people are also a "shell of their former selves" as well, as dreams of 5 day a week golf and winters in Florida have faded...)

Our winter preps are nearly complete, many of the changes pragmatic rather than aesthetic. Windows with no appreciable solar gain have been taped off, packed with old newspapers and draped with heavy blankets. We keep at least one window in each room uncovered for natural light, but keep furniture and beds against inside walls to fend off the cold. We could afford to heat the home to 68 degrees all winter, but we decided as a household that daytime heating would be keep at 65 degrees and nighttime temps allowed to drop to 62. The little things like sealing out all drafts, additional insulation on the windows, and our project this winter to seal around all pipes and insulate electrical outlets will allow our house to hold onto that heat longer and reduce the heating portion of our budget. We also fill large bladders of hot water at night and keep them below (and sometimes in) our beds to stay toasty at night.

Tompkins rural trolley


Trolley bells can be annoying, but after a while you don't hear them. It's convenient to have one right in front of my house, though, since the trolley lines and the bike paths next to them are the only reliable transportation we have left.

When I walk down to the trolley, I can get to Ithaca or Freeville without changing trains, and Groton, Dryden, and Cortland are an easy connection away. There's no real express service until you get to Cortland, but once you're there, Syracuse and Binghamton are just a ride away.

My favorite part of watching the trolleys is actually the freight they carry: special cars for concrete from Saunders and gravel from various places around here. Boxcars and the occasional refrigerated car carry food down to Ithaca and come back empty.

I'm lucky to have two hamlets within biking or even walking distance. Varna has a pharmacy and dry goods, while the greenhouse zone to my east has produce year-round. If I go up to Freeville, I can get barrels of grain, which fit neatly onto the trolley's cargo system. My own garden helps, of course, but it's convenient to get the help.

It's getting toward sunset now - time to get ready for bed!

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This page is a archive of recent entries written by Simon St.Laurent in October 2007.

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