News tax credit is an investment in local communities

When we talk about the need for government transparency and the battle to keep government open and honest, there’s a part of the conversation that’s usually left out.

It’s that one of the most effective tools in the battle for government transparency and accountability is disappearing: the reporter on the beat.

There are few things more valuable to the citizens than having journalists holding public officials accountable, calling them out for closing meetings or shutting down public access, demanding disclosure of public records, questioning their actions and overall informing the public about their activities.

Local journalists also keep the public informed about community events, elections, sports, entertainment, business and feature news. Studies show that communities with vigorous local news organizations have lower taxes, less extreme partisanship and higher citizen engagement.

Studies show that communities with vigorous local news organizations have lower taxes, less extreme partisanship and higher citizen engagement.

But in many places, reporting staffs have significantly dwindled, as daily and weekly newspapers have closed or scaled down due to declining advertising and subscription revenue.

This situation has left many New York taxpayers shortchanged of an important advocate in the fight for honest and open government.

A bill pending in the state Legislature (A2958/A0625A) would help these struggling newspapers and other media organizations afford to hire reporters, by providing a modest tax credit to owners that hire local reporters.

The bill is sponsored by local Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner and cosponsored by local Sen. Michelle Hinchey.

The bill stipulates that for all salaries up to $50,000, newspapers would receive a credit of 50% of the difference between the payroll taxes paid by the organization and the $50,000. The refund, in the form of a check, could be up to $25,000 per journalism employee, with a cap of $1 million per newsroom.

The credit will help news organizations afford the ability to expand and retain their reporting staffs.

Let’s be clear: We’re not talking about a handout here. The news tax credit is an investment in local journalism, an investment in good government and an investment in civic engagement.

It’s also an investment in the local economy. The tax credit could only be used to hire local reporters, not out-of-state employees who take their money elsewhere.

These reporters pay state and local taxes, support local businesses, raise families and contribute directly to the local economy.

And compared to the many other ineffective tax credits offered by the state in the name of economic development, this will have a relatively small impact on state taxpayers — about $150 million per year for five years.

This tax credit is a tangible investment in local journalism and in the local economy that will pay dividends far beyond the dollar amount of the credit.

We urge the Legislature and the governor to include this credit in this year’s state budget and provide this valuable benefit to all New Yorkers.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion, Opinion