After a decade when many bankers thought New York State was out to get them, a year of Gov. George Pataki's pro-business policies seems to have bolstered their confidence.

At their annual conference in New York City, bankers said tax cuts and regulatory reforms by the first-term Republican have already helped the state's economy and its 212 banks.

"The governor's been very responsive to our concerns about programs, efficiency, and regulatory burden," said Michael Smith, president of the New York State Bankers Association, at the conference last Thursday.

"The direction is very positive. We have had a very receptive year, both at the state level and the city," Mr. Smith said.

When Democrat Mario M. Cuomo was governor, companies often cited high taxes and burdensome regulations as reasons for moving to other states.

Candidate Pataki campaigned on a platform of opening the state to business. Since he took office in January 1995 the state has cut corporate taxes, hotel occupancy taxes, and personal income taxes; reduced spending on government housing and other programs, and streamlined regulations.

A survey of 1,100 business executives, conducted by the Public Policy Institute of New York State, showed that 88% believed the governor's program would help their companies grow. And 58% said they view the state more favorably than before Gov. Pataki started his initiatives.

The governor's moves are "very positive and will result in a lot more lending to businesses in New York State, as well as to businesses attracted to New York state," said Carol Parry, managing director for community development at Chemical Banking Corp. "This is a starting point, but a very significant starting point."

The state is also trying to reduce the cost of workers' compensation, which is 62% higher than in other states even though New York offers only 10% more in benefits.

Some of the changes stemmed from a series of regulatory relief recommendations submitted by the Bankers Association to the governor's transition team shortly before he took office.

Bankers say the trade group has also had several successful meetings with Pataki administration officials. And the state's Empire State Development Corp. has now appointed an official to work with the state's banks on government programs.

"I am very encouraged that for the first time in recent years there is a dialogue between the state and the banking industry," said state Superintendent of Banks Neil Levin, who works closely with the development unit.

The changes have already spurred growth in employment. Since Gov. Pataki took office, more than 100,000 jobs have been created in the private sector, a Pataki spokesman said.

The state remains in what First Albany Corp. senior vice president Hugh A. Johnson termed a "growth recession," in which economic growth is occurring, but at a level below the average of the last 20 years. But the bankers and other businessmen say they're at least encouraged by the efforts, even though the full benefits aren't likely to be felt for a while.

"If the consumers are affected, there's more disposable income," said G. William Ryan, president and chief executive of Cayuga Lake National Bank in Union Springs. "They're out there buying a house, looking for that second car. It just spurs the economy."

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