STATEN ISLAND — New York State Assembly members vowed Tuesday to continue to fight to ease taxes and fees for small businesses.
Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn) and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb (R-Canandaigua/Ontario County) said that this year they have made it easier for small businesses to stay alive in New York, but will continue to focus on the issue next legislative term.
"The famous saying that's going around right now is that New York State is open for business," Kolb said outside a Grant City hardware store. "Well, I think the door is opened but not quite all the way open. We still need progress to be made."
There are nearly 50,000 pages of regulations on small businesses in New York State, Malliotakis said. She said a major focus will be looking through them and seeing which can be changed or eliminated.
"We need to start looking at these one by one and looking for some we can appeal to make New York a more friendlier business environment," she said.
New York has lost 1.6 million small businesses in the last 10 years, Malliotakis said. She blamed this drop on heavy state regulations and taxes.
Malliotakis said some fees she will focus on are high tolls and utility bills.
Last year, Malliotakis sponsored a bill to cut the percentage of fees included in utility bills that are paid by businesses and residents and used for the state's general fund. The bill did not move forward this year, but Malliotakis said she would continue to fight for passage next session.
"When you have people that complain 'My electric bill is so high,' it is partly the fault of government that has put all these taxes and fees and surcharges making up 33% of the average utility bill," she said. "We feel it's just one more burden on small business community."
Some business owners complained that the increase in tolls across bridges has made it harder for them to stay competitive with New Jersey businesses.
Bob Cutrona, owner of Project One, a building maintenance and construction firm, said he expects to pay $80,000 more this year as a result of toll hikes.
"That's two full-time employees that I can't hire [because of] the fact that we're spending more money in tolls," Cutrona said.
"Not only is it eroding our bottom line, not only does it leave us less money to hire people, but also I'm no longer competitive with my fellow business men in New Jersey."
Malliotakis said that this, along with the proposed toll hike on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, will make it harder for businesses to leave Staten Island and residents from other boroughs to visit shops here. The MTA has proposed lifting the westbound-only toll to as high as $15, up from $13.
Dean Balsamini Sr., director of the Small Business Development Center in Willowbrook, said the regulations and fees, mixed with the poor economy, make it incredibly hard for new businesses to get started in the borough.
"It's very difficult in an environment right now, when the economy's so tough, to be able to try to expand and create more jobs when we have the various taxes," he said.
And for Carlo Saccheri, owner of Hylan Hardware, who started working in the store when he was 10 years old, any cuts in taxes and fees from the state would be a welcome relief.
"If you can cut that in half, everybody would get an automatic raise," he said. "It's so simple I don't know why nobody figured that out."