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June 13, 2008

 

DiNapoli Releases Brownfields Report

Tax Credits Only Part of the Solution

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli today released a report on New York State’s Brownfields Cleanup Program (BCP). DiNapoli’s report found that while the State has had moderate success cleaning up former industrial sites the State needs to consider refining the tax credit incentives for brownfield clean up and broadening the scope of its policies.

“Tax credits are not a magic broom that can sweep clean every brownfield in the State,” DiNapoli said. “Other states have cleaned up more of their brownfields using tighter tax credits. Right now, New York faces a potential $3.1 billion tax credit liability for brownfields clean up and redevelopment. The State needs to target these tax credits to make sure we get the right bang for all those bucks.”

DiNapoli’s report found that based on its performance over the last four years, the State’s BCP has achieved a number of measures of success, including:

  • Attracting a significant number of sites from economically distressed communities;
  • Achieving rough parity in numbers of sites from upstate and downstate;
  • Drawing applications from all regions of the State.
While the program is attracting interest and supporting the redevelopment of brownfields, it is currently on track to address roughly the same number of sites as the voluntary cleanup program (VCP) it replaced, despite the generous financial incentives offered by the BCP; the VCP offered no financial incentives.

In addition, DiNapoli noted that New York’s program has cleaned up far fewer sites than programs in neighboring states. New York State’s financial incentives are widely recognized to be both generous to applicants and costly for the State. Massachusetts (the state with the largest number of sites cleaned up), New Jersey and Pennsylvania have cleaned up more brownfields with more modest financial incentives.

DiNapoli said any efforts to reform financial incentives should be based on the BCP’s objectives of cleaning up and redeveloping former industrial sites in every region of the State. In addition, since the cost of cleanup of BCP sites is generally lower than redeveloping sites, the State could cut costs by following the tax policies of neighboring states.

DiNapoli’s report presents a number of options for improving New York’s cleanup program:

  • Cleanup Tax Credits Reform: structure tax credits to encourage cleanups that do not require restrictions on future land use. Under New York State’s Brownfields Cleanup Law, sites that are not cleaned up to “unrestricted use” require ongoing State agency oversight to ensure that use restrictions and engineering controls are maintained. This oversight imposes a cost on the State.
  • Redevelopment Tax Credits Reform: to provide additional incentives for cleanup and redevelopment of sites in economically distressed communities, redevelopment tax credits could be awarded to sites based on need as demonstrated by a site’s location in economically distressed regions.
  • Cost Mitigation Efforts: to mitigate the fiscal impact on the State, several amendments to the tax credit pay out structure could be considered, particularly the refundability of tax credits. Tax credits could instead be allowed to carryover to succeeding years. Another measure that could be considered is to defer tax credits until after the redevelopment project has been completed and is successfully producing tax revenue.
  • Eligibility Expansion: program eligibility should be based on objective criteria regarding the presence of contamination on the site in concentrations exceeding state standards. Current exclusions for contamination resulting from historic fill could be reconsidered.
  • Program Certainty: the success of the BCP depends on voluntary participation. Costs of preparing an application to the BCP can be significant. Eligibility requirements should be clearly defined and agency discretion in applying these requirements should be limited.

Click here for a copy of the report.

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