Editor’s Note: The following are opinion columns written by a two people in the area about a tax abatement being considered for local development downtown.

The Voice published a column today in support of that abatement. For more background on the topic, see here.

To submit additional or dissenting viewpoints, contact me at jstein@ithacavoice.com. The letters below are from speeches read at a press conference held Wednesday in opposition to the development.

— Jeff Stein

Why I shop downtown — Marty

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From Pete Myers of the Tompkins County Workers Center:

“… There are particular aspects of our communities’ tendency to grant tax abatements without any appreciable benefits being rendered onto the community from the corporation asking for and receiving such abatements.

To take one instance, the TCWC has long worked for the requirement that any recipient of a tax subsidy in Tompkins County and any of its locales, MUST pay all of its workers (either while the project is being constructed, or afterwards when the business that was constructed is operating) a Living Wage. We started out as a Living Wage Coalition 13 years ago and organize consistently on this issue. No one should work full-time and have to rely on the welfare system to help them make ends meet.

In recent years, we have joined our clarion call about Living Wages with that call of the local Building Trades unions who insist that the labor that is utilized to construct a tax abated project should necessarily use primarily local labor. And we at the TCWC agree entirely. (I am happy to be joined today by my brothers from the IBEW and the Plumbers union.) In fact, such a call dovetails very nicely with the Local Ithaca movement that has grown so nicely in Ithaca.

Thirdly, the TCWC, in our call for a reasonable Community Benefits Agreement to accompany tax subsidies, also believe that the construction and subsequent business that operates after construction, should have a Diversity Hiring Plan in place to account for and be fair to the vast diversity of people that comprise our community.

Now we are excited to be joined by a number of other people today who have traditionally organized more on issues that are central to a healthy environment. After all, if we ever ARE able to get to a place of economic and social sustainability, but our environment has gone to hell in a handbasket, where are we?!?

The bottom line is this: I have heard so many people over the years complain about tax
abatements, especially and including small business owners. They and we complain that people of economic means are ‘gaming’ the system where you only have to be rich enough and powerful enough to get a tax abatement.

What about those who physically work on a project and it’s development? Don’t they also deserve to reap the benefits of being self-sufficient, as represented by a Living Wage? Don’t the people who live in our own community deserve the jobs to built our tax-abated projects? Doesn’t everyone, regardless of race or gender, deserve to work in our tax-abated projects?

As a community, I do believe that we can figure out a way to ensure that all economic
development–especially that development that is subsidized by us, the taxpayers–can truly be considered a benefit to the entire community, and not just a few wealthy individuals.

From Marcus Williamee, representative for Plumbers and Steamfitters local 267:

“…As a Tompkins County Taxpayer and a Business Representative for Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 267, it is our stance and always will be, that Local labor should be mandatory on any tax abated project and that real sustainable economic development be achieved using our local workforce and that they are paid a living wage.

In 1893 local Plumbers were granted a charter to be a union under our international, United Association, in Ithaca where we have remained at 701 West State St. for 121 years. We currently have over 100 members in Tompkins County alone not counting the 7 surrounding counties and 600 more members that we also represent. Currently 50 members in the Ithaca area are unemployed and current tax abated projects are employing out of town labor.

When a local workforce is employed on a construction project the workers are not only affected monetarily but emotionally. Any building constructed here by local craftsmen is built with a sense of pride and dignity. Also, the earned dollars are spent in the community in which they were earned.

Sevenfold is the amount of times the money is transferred in the community. Our members, who work here, earn here, shop here, spend here, hire here, live here, and pay taxes here.

Therefore any project that is endorsed by the TCAD or TCIDA, for any such tax abatement, should, at minimum be required to Hire Local Labor and Pay a living wage, not only to the workers building the project but also the people that will work on there for years to come.

It is also our stance that any tax abated project also require contractors to have and maintain a certified state approved apprenticeship. This ensures the customer gets a quality product that will provide a real sustainable economy for years to come.

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.