Tuition Free NY is NOT Free

Assembly candidate Rich Cocchiara responds to James Skoufis’ so-called “tuition free” proposal

Ask New Yorkers what they regard as the most daunting challenges facing New York and you will invariably hear TAXES and JOBS. Certainly it is a message I hear loud and clear as I campaign for the New York State Assembly.

Those living on fixed incomes, such as seniors and retirees, can’t afford the taxes on homes that they have owned most of their adult lives. Many are trapped in a fiscal vice because they can’t sell their homes, thanks to the dismal state of our economy. Those lucky enough to find a buyer also pay a price—often leaving behind children, grandchildren and loved ones as they flee New York.

Scores of our young and recent college graduates are also being forced to leave the State because New York’s taxes and regulatory climate are stifling economic growth, and the creation of new jobs that pay a mortgage.

Now comes Assemblyman James Skoufis with a proposed solution to our skyrocketing tax burden…more taxes to fund what he calls ‘Tuition Free NY.’ Unfortunately, Tuition Free NY is far from free.

This program will dramatically increase the tax burden for New Yorkers, even for those who don’t have children in college or have already paid to help their kids through college. By his own admission, this program will cost 1 percent of our current State budget which adds nearly $1.5 billion to New York’s tax burden, already one of the highest in the nation.

And there is a big catch for those supposedly lucky kids who will be the beneficiary of the Skoufis tax increase. His program requires students to attend a SUNY/CUNY school and ‘remain’ in New York for five years after graduation. What if they can’t find a job in New York? His program requires that recipients ‘give back’ 250 hours each year (the better part of one workday a week). What New York bureaucracy is going to define what is and what isn’t an appropriate ‘give back,’ and dispatch the thousands of state paid regulators required to enforce ‘give back’ rules?

I have a better idea to solve the tuition and tax problem. Instead of increasing our taxes beyond the breaking point, let’s enlist the job creators to help pay for college educations using the taxes they already pay.

How? By allowing a business to take a tax credit equal to the amount they pay towards the student loans of any employee. The student gets help with a loan, the business owner gets a well-educated young person and sees their taxes at work in the form of an employee instead of a tax hike.

Businesses would have an incentive to hire and students get a good paying job after college. I’ve spoken to several business leaders who agree that this would create new incentives to hire more people while not costing them anything more in taxes than they pay now. More importantly, taxpayers avoid a massive tax increase that will force a new wave of emigrants to bolt New York.

This is a win/win for everyone: students, job creators, taxpayers…and we won’t need a new bureaucracy or a fresh regiment of regulators.

I don’t have a fancy name for this program. Call it a common sense solution to skyrocketing taxes and tuition costs. It is the same fiscally prudent approach I have used as a Town Councilman in Hamptonburgh, where we have not raised tax rates in 29 years; the same type of innovative approach I used at IBM for 31 years to solve complex problems and the same straight forward approach I have used as a local small business owner.

It’s time we send some people to Albany with experience in the real world of problem solving, and retire those career politicians whose only notion of good is to tax more, spend more, and regulate more. It is the kind of common sense I will take to Albany if elected to the New York State Assembly in November.

Rich Cocchiara is the Republican-Conservative-Independence Party candidate for the 99th District, New York State Assembly.