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Ad war starts over Cuomo's tax free zone plan

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been traveling the state, promoting his plan to create tax free business zones at college campuses. He’s also running ads, paid for by the New York State Democratic Party. Now, one of the state’s largest unions is countering that effort with its own message.

Cuomo has gathered local government leaders and business groups to the Capitol to demonstrate support for his idea to create the tax free zones at public colleges, some private universities and some state-owned properties.“This is a game changer,” Cuomo said. “It can transform the dynamic of the upstate economy.”

The governor is also traveling to nearly every part of the state to spread his message. And he’s using funds from the state Democratic party to broadcast television ads.

“Now there’s hope because of Gov. Cuomo’s bold new proposal,” a narrator intones. “It will create dozens of tax free areas with millions of square feet all across upstate New york.”

The plan has not been universally praised, though. The state’s largest public workers union, the Civil Service Employees Association, is out with counter ads of its own.

“Cuomo’s got another special give away to business,” a sarcastic sounding actor says in the ad.

“Again?” a woman asks, skeptically.  “Well he’s really spinning it.”

The CSEA’s Steve Madarasz says Cuomo’s plan would unfairly create a two-tiered tax system in the state, for both individuals and businesses, and points New York in a “dangerous direction.”

“We believe that the foundation of democracy is actually based on people having confidence that there’s some fairness in the system,” said Madarasz, who said having “special categories” of employees who don’t have to pay taxes creates an imbalance.

He admits that union members rely on public taxes for their salaries, but he says the CSEA workers also pay taxes, too.

Madarasz says Cuomo’s intense focus on the tax free plan, which he has promoted in 10 different events in just over a week, is political. He says the governor wants to boost his poll ratings with upstate voters, where Cuomo has been faltering recently.

“The governor has a lot of pressure on him do deliver on the economy as he’s looking forward to his reelection next year,” Madarasz said. “He knows he’s vulnerable on that issue.”

Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi, in a statement, says it’s the union that is part of the problem.

“CSEA’s fight to preserve the status quo is a fight to continue a decades-long deterioration of the upstate economy.” Azzopardi said.

He says Cuomo’s tax free zones would “reverse that trend and “create new jobs and strengthen the economy for all New Yorkers.”

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.