We like the Rural and Agricultural Jobs Act that Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner authored and ushered through the state Legislature, so we were unhappy when Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed the act late at night the day before Election Day.
When we read his explanation, we were bewildered, and even Woerner admitted she was a bit perplexed. In his last-minute veto message, Cuomo said the bill wasn’t ready. He cited some obscure technical issue, involving conflict with a federal law that applies to something called the “franchise tax.”
Woerner’s bill would have tapped private investors to establish a $100 million fund to develop small businesses that are agricultural or located in rural areas. Investors would be motivated to participate by the granting of state tax credits.
It sounded to us like a great, badly needed program. It isn’t clear to us that the issue Cuomo raised is the obstacle he says it is. Woerner said other states have set up similar investment funds without conflict over federal law regarding the franchise tax.
When it was suggested to Woerner that perhaps the governor opposed her bill because he wants his own programs, such as the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, to be the focus of upstate development, she said she wouldn’t speculate about his motives.
We won’t speculate either. We will admit Cuomo has taken an interest in upstate development, through his own initiatives, although we haven’t seen a lot of energy and creativity from his administration when it comes to protecting and promoting farms. Farming is a critical part of the upstate economy, and in some counties, like Washington County, it is by far the most important industry.
Unfortunately, farmers are struggling to survive. Woerner has been responsive to their plight and has worked to find creative ways to help, including this investment fund. Her efforts should be supported by the Cuomo administration.
For now, we will take the governor at his word. In his veto message, he said he wants to work with the Legislature to develop a program that creates rural and agricultural jobs. The quickest way to do that would be to work with Woerner to fix whatever issues he has with her bill and approve it.
Cuomo’s attention to farms shouldn’t end there. Agriculture is still important to the state’s economy, and although small family dairy farms have been struggling, farmers in Washington County and elsewhere have found some success with organic and specialty farming in goats, sheep, cheeses, vegetables and more.
Farms should be as high a state economic priority as downtowns. We’re not advocating for another competition for development funds, but we would love to see the Cuomo administration invest energy and effort in making sure our agricultural heritage, too, is sustained.