Thursday, April 30, 2009
One of our biggest challenges in our advocacy efforts is engaging employees, and getting them not only to understand that Albany's decisions are affecting them negatively, but to get involved. In the political atmosphere in this state, which is decidedly ruled by organized labor, a definitive employer vs. employee stage has been set. And in the public message, the delineation between public and private sector employee doesn't seem to resonate. In fact, private sector employees continue to not say a word (and meanwhile continue to lose their own jobs) about the havoc Albany is wreaking while the public employee unions block every possible reform that would save the state money, lower the cost of doing business, and keep jobs here.
It's a conundrum, though. The governor talks about 8,900 layoffs coming up - and we were told that his departments have been told to prepare workforce reduction plans. From a very human perspective, now is not the time to put 8,900 people onto the unemployment roles. But from a very practical standpoint, until New York lowers the cost of government, private sector jobs - which employ the people who PAY for the public sector jobs - will continue to diminish. Something has to be done. As the governor pointed out many times - many in the state will "share the pain."
Of course, we find fault in the strategy that is being implemented with departmental layoffs, which, realistically, will end up being staff of programs that many New Yorkers use. First, reforms outlined by Unshackle Upstate in MANY communiques leading up to the budget and since - including Tier V pension, Medicaid and Wicks Law - would have substantially reduced state spending and mitigated the need for layoffs/program cuts. Second, it is very difficult to justify cutting programs throughout the state while the State Senate Majority sets up its overspending poster-child 10-person patronage office in Western New York. Still looking for vindication for that "in the taxpayers' face" spending.
I guess I just answered my own query - some jobs are more valuable than others. Until Albany realizes, however, that private sector jobs are the most valuable of all because they support the programs that require public sector workers, the end of this cycle of layoffs, tax increases and job loss is not near in sight.
For your enjoyment/frustration, I dug up a 2006 report by the Empire Center for New York State Policy on the comparisons between public and private employees. Former employees whose companies have left the state without them should know what their income taxes were paying for when they had an income.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
To get the negative out of the way, we heard from more than one source that the 09/10 budget is already out of whack - yes, less than a month into it - by as much as $2B. If that news is confirmed, it's a pretty safe bet that the state legislature will be back in session very soon to address what was ultimately an unsustainable budget they passed. Which makes it even more important than a month ago for the state to start making some changes.
On the positive side, it appears that not only will the governor propose what he called a "mandate relief package," but the Assembly will also propose what they're calling a "municipality relief package." In our discussions, we emphasized the importance of including the Unshackle Upstate priorities - Tier V pension, Medicaid reform and Wicks Law reform into those packages. The feedback we received indicated that those are probably the areas that proposed reform would target. In addition, we heard positive response to Unshackle Upstate's push for tax increment financing (TIF) legislation that was thwarted last year, and is a key economic development tool used in other states.
In addition, we had multiple assemblymembers take interest in Unshackle Upstate's concept of a Medicaid Commission to look at the Medicaid program from diverse points-of-view and provide recommendations to the state for the future. This would be a tremendous step forward in corraling this expensive program into a more manageable form.
All-in-all, it was a good trip. It sends a good message when our posse representing all of the regions of Upstate introduce themselves in a conference room - shows that we're all in this together working for the same thing. We have a lot of follow-up to do in the next eight weeks, and you can be sure we'll be calling on our members and the Buffalo Niagara community to get involved.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Our Unshackle Upstate coalition is in Albany today and tomorrow, doing some strategizing and lobbying. This afternoon, we met with some reps from the Department of Budget and Marty Mack, the governor's Deputy Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs to talk about the 09/10 budget. As you know, we've been ripping this budget up for a number of reasons - mostly for its lack of reform, absence of spending reductions and increased taxes.
DOB, as you would imagine, had a little different take on the budget, highlighting what they see as $9B in recurring spending reductions going forward, and a budget increase of $10B that actually includes $7.2B in stimulus money and $1.4B in increased Medicaid caseload (which is the direct result of a poor economy). Our understanding is that the $9B is money that the state wanted to spend, but elected not to - as opposed to specific reductions in current spending. They will be issuing a report shortly on the increased spending and the reductions. We're looking forward to seeing it to validate/interpret some of this information.
One thing they said particularly caught our ears, however - that that governor will be putting forth a proposed "mandate relief" package that he wants to see passed by the end of this legislative session. They said the package would include the Tier V pension changes, property tax cap and Wicks Law reform - among other things. Now, we're not kidding ourselves that such reform doesn't have a long road to travel in the state legislature, but it's certainly time for some positive movement on what we feel are long overdue reforms. I'll pass this package along when we see it.
Tomorrow, we have a slew of meetings with various state legislators and staff. We'll be discussing the items that we've outlined as priorities for the rest of the legislative session.
Since “Hardline with Kevin Hardwick” is a politically focused show, we talked more specifically about what the program is doing to educate young professionals about why the advocacy process is so important to both their personal lives and for the companies they work for. I pointed out that it’s important to get involved, because if we’re going to be that next generation of business leaders making hard decisions on behalf of companies in NYS, we need to have an influence on the policies that affect the success of our workplaces and the quality of our lives. Craig Turner gave specific examples of the issues the Partnership and Unshackle Upstate are focusing on right now, like holding legislators accountable for the just-passed state budget.
BN360 members April Sroka of Greatbatch, Inc. and Ryan Grady of Freed Maxick & Battaglia, CPAs, PC gave great examples of how the program has helped them both socially and professionally, ranging from the networking and business development opportunities the program offers through its monthly events, to knowing that there is a strong community of young professionals right here in Buffalo Niagara.
Since we talked about the NYS budget, I was asked whether BN360 was going to incorporate more advocacy discussions within the coming months. The answer is absolutely: we will be encouraging BN360 members to get more engaged in Government Affairs events. The Partnership’s upcoming Congressional Briefing Series will feature Rep. Chris Lee on May 1st and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on May 4th, plus many others. This is a great way for young professionals to get up close and personal with their elected representatives!
Friday, April 24, 2009
The legislation passed by a 9-6 vote yesterday, which is significant. County Executive Chris Collins has insinuated that he will veto this legislation, and the nine supporters are not enough to override that veto.
The Partnership supports the creation of the Erie County Planning Board as part of the recommendations of the Framework for Regional Growth. If history in Buffalo Niagara has shown us anything, our ability to think as a region will not happen if the guidance remains solely in the hands of elected officials who, frankly, need to be re-elected by a typically non-regional group of constituents. Since New York is a "home rule" state, and development and planning decisions are made by the municipalities, the EC Planning Board would be the entity that takes a bigger picture look at regional development - a team of professionals appointed by both the county executive and the legislature to ensure balance of expertise (and politics). We all know we need to think regionally - making it happen in our political environment is a heavy, heavy lift. The Planning Board is a start that we, honestly, don't think is all that oppressive to the towns - in fact, we think it can offer political cover to town officials in development decisions.
Our concern in this is that the Framework's effectiveness as a planning document to guide development and growth in our region relies heavily on "buy-in." A regional plan is only effective if the region as a whole is following it, and we hope that Legislator Whyte and the legislators supporting this legislation make securing the buy-in of the rest of the community (including the County Executive) their focus.
In addition, while the EC Planning Board is a key component of the Framework, it's not the only important piece. There are several other advocacy efforts on-going to complete the Framework picture - including adoption of the Framework by the other municipalities throughout Erie County, adoption by the six (Erie County and five towns) IDAs of a "tiered incentives" program to more strategically grow our region, and the creation of a bi-county working group to oversee the Framework. In the hub-bub surrounding the EC Planning Board, we must not forget that the Framework is a regional plan - and that Niagara County is waiting more than patiently for Erie County to engage with them.
We're glad to see the legislation passed. We'd hoped it would've passed with universal support - particularly in the Rath Building, where buy-in on this issue is most important.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
For me, the most interesting part of the meeting was the theme that dominated most of the discussion - that we need to encourage companies in Buffalo Niagara to buy locally. Now, that wasn't a particularly surprising message coming from law firms, accounting firms and printers - they exist on providing services for companies throughout the region. The interesting thing was that it was the SAME message that we heard in both the logistics and agribusiness industry roundtables we held earlier this year. Sounds like there's a problem.
Fixing that problem is tough simply because you can't force a company to ignore their bottom line or waver from their business strategy to keep their contacts local. At the Partnership, we've engaged in this effort through our "Buy Local" campaign, our networking atmosphere and our Member-to-Member and Cost Saver programs. But, as brought up this morning in the discussion, those making purchasing decisions for companies are not paid to promote the community, but to get the best value for the best price on behalf of their employer. How do you introduce a "for the good of the community" philosophy into that equation?
As these issues come more and more to light, you can bet we'll be discussing ways to make it happen. It's not difficult to see the benefit of providing work - aka jobs - to local companies rather than shipping them elsewhere - and with the internet, you can now ship work to just about anywhere on the globe. For now, though, the effort will rely on word-of-mouth, people taking advantage of networking opportunities, and a continued message on the importance of "buying locally."
Wouldn't that be an awesome platform for any of a host of Buffalo Niagara elected officials?
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
This is an interesting topic and one that comes up in our discussions often - how to get young professionals, aka the future leaders of our community, state, country - involved in advocacy. I can tell you from personal experience on political campaigns that - at least before last year's presidential election - when candidates at any level of government are looking for "crunch time" votes, they never direct their attention at young people. When they go to the well, they go to unions, senior citizens, veterans... And the reason is simple - when it comes to politics and advocacy, that's where the action is.
That's something that needs to change. The future of our community, state, country is being shaped by elected officials responding to people who are not the future of our community, state and country. We see what the results are - ever-increasing taxes, government overregulation, out-of-control spending. In the private sector, we're talking about doing business leaner through better technology, sounder planning and strategy and programs like Six Sigma. Government has not followed suit. The state budget that was passed earlier this month was done solely with the present time in mind - no thought was given to the future. As young professionals, we need to take a stronger stance against that happening again.
I urge you to tune in on Sunday morning, and to get involved in the discussion here at the Partnership as part of Buffalo Niagara 360. Let's talk about how young professionals get involved, and more importantly, why we should!
Monday, April 20, 2009
I had the privilege of teaching a course last week to Leadership Niagara as part of its "Energy Day," and we discussed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. My part of the program was to put together a "role-play" scenario to talk about the advocacy side of alternative energy - that while it's easy to proclaim the merits of alternative energy... making policy changes is not always the easiest to accomplish. I separated the class into five groups - four lobby groups and one government. Each lobby group - environmentalists, business, labor and "clean coal" advocates - had five minutes to give their pitch. Every group was given essentially the same facts and figures, and it was their job to use that information to best make their point. It was a great exercise and basically demonstrated how different interpretations of data can mean different things to different entities with different causes.
As far as spin, goes, however, we have to bow before whomever put together Senator Bill Stachowski's editorial in Saturday's Buffalo News. You say the Senate staffers don't deserve raises? Anybody that could spin this disaster of a state budget into something positive deserves a bump for their creativity and fortitude.
The editorial is a retort to an earlier piece submitted by Senator George Maziarz, which is an interesting strategy. I don't remember too many cases of elected officials from the same body of government calling each other out on the editorial page. Anyway, we won't get in the middle of that here (though we can't ignore that Maziarz' "no" vote on the budget was the right vote), but I wanted to highlight one particular piece of the spin...
The one that stands out, of course is "nearly 90,000 new private sector" jobs. I have to say we haven't seen evidence of that yet. In fact, we joined in a press conference on Friday to talk about Buffalo Coca-Cola losing 30% of its workforce due to the "Bigger Badder Bottle Bill," which a "yes" vote included in this budget. Increased health insurance taxes, increased energy taxes, increased small business taxes... Yeah, we're going to need some clarification on where those 90,000 new jobs are.
In truth, Senators Stachowski and Antoine Thompson - and the other three Upstate senators - wouldn't have been backed into such a corner had their Majority Leader, Malcolm Smith, had the State Senate put together its own budget this year (also known as "doing his job"). The Senate went into negotiation with Sheldon Silver - who we know always has the interests of the taxpayer foremost in his mind - with no starting point other than what they were given. He hung his Upstate senators out to dry, essentially. Now, we don't buy that any of them "had" to vote for this budget (in fact, we would be heralding their defense of our community had they not!), but they would've had a little more flexibility had the Senate, as a body, done its job and created its own budget proposal.
Next they'll be saying that this budget made NYS a more attractive place to do business.
Friday, April 17, 2009
There's an editorial in the Buffalo News today about the unions picketing Assemblyman Sam Hoyt over his vote against the state budget and his willingness to look at public sector layoffs. The News captured the sentiment that we face every day very well:
"Public employee unions don’t much care about financial meltdowns or taxpayer burdens or anything but their ability to maintain their situation, no matter the consequences. That’s because, unlike a private sector business, they don’t have to worry that the state will go out of business, and because state labor laws, passed by a compliant Legislature, make it advantageous for them to refuse all compromises."
That philosophy sets the tone for every battle we fight. Things would be a lot easier in this state if we were all fighting for new private sector investment and job creation - and simply disagreed on the best way to go about achieving it. But we're not. Our opponents on the business issues we advocate for honestly don't care about private sector job creation. There's no "big picture" mentality - their job is to protect their members and grow their ranks. So, when we tell our elected officials that actions they're taking will lead to the loss of jobs - the other side isn't even addressing that argument because it's inconsequential to them.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit on a Small Business Advisory Board hosted by Congressman Chris Lee. It was a group of about 30 members of the business community who chatted about issues facing business - trying to focus on federal issues that the Congressman could address, but, of course, the conversation kept shifting to the burden of doing business in New York. While health care costs dominated the substance of the discussion, the dialogue was carried by themes similar to what we're talking about here - how to get government to understand that removing the barriers to doing business and creating jobs is the only way out of this recession. Congressman Lee gets it, and to his credit he's mounting an aggressive campaign to get that message into the hands of his colleagues.
Eventually government will be forced to listen. Eventually the self-serving needs of special interests and refusal to compromise will simply become too costly, and the system itself will fail. We're advocates of reforming when it's smart to do so - not when it's an emergency.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Our federal reps are home this week. There's a strategy to whether you approach state or federal elected officials at home in their districts, or in Albany or Washington. For all intents and purposes, the battle over EFCA is being fought in Washington in a much "bigger picture" sense - in fact, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced a $1 million ad campaign this week in opposition to Card Check. But what's going to end up making the difference on this terrible legislation is employers getting involved and telling their stories. It's easy to stand at a union rally and talk about the merits of unions in America (note that even in THAT setting will people not talk about the legislation itself!), but facing the employers and employees whose lives will be changed dramatically by this the worst of government overregulation is another story. That's why we urge you to send letters to our delegation this week - while they're home in their districts.
Is this an employer vs. employee issue? We don't think so. EFCA makes things worse for everyone except the nationwide effort to create dues-paying union members. We've focused a lot on what it means to employers, but it's important to note that taking secret ballot away from employees opens them up to all kinds of intimidation tactics by those seeking their signature on a card. How would you like to be the one hold-out the union organizer has targeted, and get that knock on your door when you're home with your family? With secret ballot, there's no "hold out" vote for anyone to know about. No targeting people who haven't "turned" yet. Everyone gets a private vote, and no one - not the employer or the union - can say whose vote made the difference. Why should that be changed?
In addition, once the union is formed, if a contract isn't reached between the employer and the new union within 130 days, it goes to mandatory binding arbitration. At that point, the negiotiation is taken completely out of the hands of both employers AND employees. Whatever is important to either of those groups is out the window, and the government will set the nature of their relationship going forward. Sound good?
EFCA is burdensome to everyone, particularly because it takes away a basic American right - secret ballot. It's refreshing to see some elected officials across the nation begin to stand up against this bill. We wish ours would, because political paybacks for union campaign supporters are not worth changing the basic principles of what makes us America.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
I'm not writing today to have a partisan debate - but the article brings up some interesting points about the rigid inflexibility of the Working Families Party, suggesting that many of the now Majority senators are concerned about the fact that they're getting pulled too far to the left side of the political spectrum. Reading the comments by the state party's chairman, it looks like if you're aligning yourself with the WFP, that's exactly where you're positioning yourself.
The interesting thing for us is that historically their inflexibility on issues has actually helped our cause. People talk about compromise on these issues all the time - from the IDA bill or Wicks Law at the state level to "card check" at the national level. But the thing is that the other side - the WFP - doesn't want compromise. It appears that they're patient enough to wait out another election to see if they can't put the right people in office to make it so they won't have to compromise. As a result, each victory we have seems to be asterisked by "for now."
There was going to come a time when these extreme philosophies finally tread on the average voter in a visible sense - this state budget was probably it. Things like IDA reform, Scaffold Law, Wicks Law - they don't necessarily touch the average voter's mind... At least, it's difficult to make the literal connection between these bad state policies and high taxes. But this budget, and its "share the pain" philosophy (which we now know only meant taxpayers sharing the pain), has now reached down to Joe Voter. Joe wanted a better budget, and because of the inflexibility of certain special interests in Albany, he didn't get it. As a result, he's now going to have to vote for a better Legislature.
For us, the WFP remaining as inflexible as possible is probably to the advantage of state taxpayers long-term. Even in New York, the general rule of politics is that closest to the center is the best place to be. The state senate majority, in its first budget, strayed far from the center, and it's very possible that it will cost some of its members their jobs next year. We'll continue to oppose the extreme platforms and philosophies because they'll only lead to disaster. It's good to see that some state legislators are beginning to understand that.
Point in question... Check out our editorial in today's Buffalo News on IDA "reform."
Monday, April 13, 2009
This editorial from Sunday's Washington Post on the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) is an interesting look at both sides of the debate. There are a slew of folks here - labor, business, policy wonks and elected officials - offering their insight into the bill that would revoke an employee's right to a secret ballot election in union organization efforts and impose binding arbitration on employers once a union is formed.
Right off the bat, the AFL-CIO gets into it: "Seventy-three percent of the public supports" what they're calling "labor law reform." In my role here I work in a lot of circles, and I've been doing straw polling on this issue (because sometimes I have a hard time talking about anything else but EFCA, IDAs and the Yankees... Want to hang out?!). I assure you that FAR from 73% of the people I've asked about this topic are in support of taking secret ballot away from anything. In fact, the only people I've spoken with who HAVE been in favor of it have been colleagues and friends of mine who have something to do with union leadership - either on the labor side or the elected official side. Now, I'm sure there's some poll somewhere where they got to that 73% number, but given the response I'm getting in a pro-union town in a very Democratic state, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that's a little ridiculous.
Bottom line is that the proponents of EFCA still believe it can become reality, despite a number of Senators announcing their opposition to the bill in the past couple weeks. Which means that the employer community needs to continue to weigh in on it. The battle remains in the Senate. While the U.S. Chamber has targeted specific senators in states far from New York, and it's not likely that we'll be changing the minds of our representatives, we need to continue to get the message to them that job creators in the Buffalo Niagara region are opposed to this "game-changing legislation."
Stay tuned this week - we'll be asking you to get involved and give you some tools to do so. Until then, if you're a Facebook user you can join the Virtual March on Washington to protect the secret ballot.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Mark Cieslinski, VP of Marketing and Sales, told of how a local company founded in 1889 selling soaps and skin care remedies has transformed into a global provider of non-prescription pharmaceuticals, beauty products, and health supplements. As a subsidiary of Japanese-based Rohto Pharmaceutical Co., LTD, Mentholatum has been able to harness opportunities provided by the world’s 18th largest pharmaceutical company and positioned themselves as niche providers of names we all recognize in our medicine cabinet like Oxy and Softlips.
Council members learned about the shift in culture working as a subsidiary of Rohto. When Rohto purchased Mentholatum in 1988, it presented new opportunities and began a new learning process about working within a new corporate culture in not only their business model but also within the Japanese culture. Mark stressed four important pieces of advice about the business culture in Japan: attention to detail, patience, silence (or quiet contemplation) in meetings is normal, and the importance of the team and working towards a common goal.
The Mentholatum story was inspirational to be sure, and offered some important lessons in working within the Japanese culture. Stay tuned for more opportunities from the Manufacturer’s Council to access Buffalo Niagara’s successful manufacturing companies.
"Calibrated to the Legislature’s estimate of $131.8 billion in "all funds" spending under the enacted budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year, the Empire Center's "Spend-O-Meter" spins at the following rates:"
$4,179 per second
$250,761 per minute
$15,045,662 per hour
$361,095,890 per day
$2,534,615,385 per week
$10,983,333,333 per month
That's your money!
Have a great Easter - though we think there's a tax in the budget on colored eggs.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
HeathyLakes reached out to us again last week in putting together a story on Buffalo's relation to the Great Lakes from an economic development point-of-view. It's an interesting tie-in with our work with the Great Lakes coalition.
At a reception held by the coalition of Great Lakes chambers of commerce in Washington in February, special guest speaker Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers (R-MI) said that he believes in 20 years fresh water will be to America what oil is today. We have no doubt that fresh water will continue to become increasingly important in the future (which is why the rest of the country wants ours!). That will offer great opportunity for business development and research opportunities in fresh water technology and water-based development. Stay tuned!
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Of course, we sounded the warning siren that this would happen. Why would employers - given an already unfriendly business environment - continue to stick around and endure Albany's punishment for doing business in New York? New taxes on small businesses, utility costs and health insurance should just about break the camel's back for many. Truthfully, if Albany were on its game, the state would impose a tax on businesses leaving.
It was a godawful budget - everyone knows it. Our elected representatives failed us - particularly the Upstate Majority senators who could've stopped it from happening. But politics are about power. Did we show our reps that we were angry enough about what this budget proposed for them to stop it? Did we send enough of a threat that their actions in April, 2009 will mean their political demise in November, 2010? Apparently, that's the only leverage that works.
It is regrettable that for many businesses saying that it's time to leave New York State, it's the first time they're weighing in on the advocacy effort. During the two weeks leading up to the passage of the budget, we ran a VoterVoice campaign, urging employers to take 90 seconds and send an e-mail of opposition to their reps. Collectively, members of Unshackle Upstate chambers sent about 12,000 e-mails to Upstate state senators. Not a terrible showing, until you consider the fact that our opponents on these same issues send that many PEOPLE to Albany on buses in their advocacy efforts. In a state of 18 million people, 12,000 e-mails is not enough to scare state legislator into making the right decision.
Through Unshackle Upstate and the Partnership, we continue to present the business community's perspective on behalf of our members - and we regularly have victories. But our message is tremendously strengthened by having employers, themselves, weigh in on the issues. We, of course, understand how busy everyone is - which is why we put the VoterVoice program in place. This budget should be a kick in the pants to all of us - get involved now, and not just when you're crossing the state line looking for greener pastures.
How? VoterVoice is the easiest way to get involved - we should be sending hundreds of thousands of e-mails to state legislators (which we know we can because Unshackle Upstate did it in support of workers comp reform in 2007). Making phone calls or visits to legislators is even better. Participating in a Partnership/Unshackle Upstate press conference. How about inviting Sens. Stachowski or Thompson to your plant or shop and show them in person how state regulations and taxes are affecting you and your employees?
The Partnership can help with all of these things... Use us however, whenever, and if ever you need us in your advocacy effort. But get involved while the issues are on the table - not when you're hiring movers.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
It's interesting, because we've been trying very hard to get Albany to implement some reform. Unfortunately, in this budget, they went completely the opposite direction - using federal stimulus money to justify and INCREASE in spending. So, for now, at least, we look to local government for reform opportunities.
The Erie County Legislature has actually created an avenue for reform in the 21st Century Commission - a commission designed specifically to look at reform opportunities. We have to give Leg Chairwoman Lynn Marinelli a great deal of credit for stepping out ahead on this. Interestingly, while the Giambra administration tackled a lot of the recommendations of the ECSP report after its release, for the items regarding the Legislature there was always the caveat that they "would not tell the Legislature what to do." As a result, this is the first time that 2005's recommendations regarding the Legislature are having their day in court.
If you're interested, you can read the recommendations in the .pdf report above. One of the things I pointed out in my comments yesterday was the poor excuse that is often given for not reforming - that specific reforms are simply "symbolic." Cutting legislators' salaries is always dismissed as "symbolic." Closing district offices, the same. After all, what's $300,000 in a $1 billion budget? Unfortunately, as these "symbolic" dismissals pile up, so do the cost-of-government savings opportunities. It's time we really look at some of these "symbolic" reforms and get them implemented.
We look forward to the recommendations of the 21st Century Commission, and will continue to urge the Erie County Legislature to examine itself as an entity and make changes that will benefit taxpayers.
Monday, April 6, 2009
If you remember, last year, there was reason to believe that Albany would make some reforms to Wicks Law (the law that mandates local governments use multiple prime contractors on public works projects). Instead, Upstate economic development was literally forgotten as a backroom, midnight deal on Wicks Law was passed that blew our minds. We knew there was some problems with it though, because the changes were severely skewed against open-shop (non-union) contractors, and particularly against Upstate. When our hopes were high, we somehow ended up with a bill that was even more burdensome and exclusionary than before.
Rather than uniform policy statewide, the new Wicks Law created different thresholds in different regions, that are unprecedented and discriminatory against Upstate. It is blatantly apparent that last year’s Wicks Law changes are directed at excluding non-union contractors from public works projects. As if that isn’t bad enough, the measures within the changes then exclude virtually all minority- and women-owned businesses from work on significant public works projects.
Wicks law has forced almost $9 billion in additional costs on New York taxpayers over just the past 30 years by raising the cost of construction between 20 and 30 percent. Given the state’s fiscal situation, what could we do with that extra $9 billion now?
Unfortunately, as last week's budget highlights, the notion of something being “ill-advised” or “detrimental to the Upstate economy” is seldom and argument that gains traction in Albany. So, we've gone the other way, taking our belief that last year’s Wicks Law changes are unconstitutional to the courts. We'll keep you posted.
Here's our press release from last week.
Friday, April 3, 2009
Unshackle Upstate responded almost immediately to the bad news.
Some good quotes from the budget in the past few days:
The idea for the addition of a cost-saving Tier V to the state's pension system was turned down because, according to Governor Paterson, “…the unions did not like the proposal…”
"I would ask the public to understand that we did the best we could under a difficult situation." - Majority Leader Malcolm Smith.
"There are different parts of this budget that I absolutely hate, but we don’t have any room for margin." Senator Bill Stachowski.
“You can always vote no. But we’re part of leadership." - Senator Antoine Thompson.
All valid reasons, I think, to punish people for living and doing business in New York State.
This bill has been out for a number of years now. We've obviously opposed it, and with the help of the former Republican State Senate majority, were able to defeat it every time. Unfortunately, being held hostage in the battle has been the right for IDAs to provide benefit to schools, hospitals and nursing homes - an un-renewed provision that is holding up over $2B in projects statewide (and countless more in stimulus money that NYS could be spending right now). Through it all, though, while we've used projections and think-tank studies to discuss the impact of the bill - we've been looking for that one piece of juicy fodder that would without question back it all up.
We've got it. In January, after two years of the Ulster County (New Paltz) IDA existing under a prevailing wage policy and receiving ZERO projects, the IDA board voted to suspend the policy for one year. Today is April 3 - since the suspension on January 28, Ulster County has already taken on three new projects, one of which is already completed. Pretty strong message that wage mandates are a deterrent to private sector investment.
Doing policy work, I spend a lot of time researching what the other side is saying, and I am consistently astounded. You need to look no further than the NYS AFL-CIO home page to understand what advocates of economic development are facing here. About half-way down the page, they talk about how they oppose the bill that authorizes IDAs to incentivize civic facilities (the aforementioned hospitals, schools, etc.) - remember, over $2B worth of projects that would put their members to work ($112MM in Erie and Niagara Counties) are at stake. Moreover, they call for a moratorium on ALL IDA projects until they get what they want.
So let's get this straight... In an economy where people are losing jobs, and we're (supposedly) doing everything we can as a nation to create more jobs, including pouring trillions of dollars from Washington into the economy in the form of "stimulus," the AFL-CIO of NYS wants to not only hinder, but completely halt, a program that is designed specifically to create jobs? Sometimes I think I'm oversimplifying that notion - but it's the reality. AFL-CIO members could be at work on over $2B worth of projects right now that are being held up in Albany with their leadership's support. It's very difficult to comprehend.
We're putting a lot of effort right now into urging Senator Stachowski to oppose this ridiculous state budget. But we have to give him credit for forwarding an IDA bill (S.2898) that would actually put people to work. Do you know how many jobs $2B in projects would create? Why oppose it?
Thursday, April 2, 2009
As the Senate debates, we continue to weigh in urging our five Upstate senators to vote down the budget. Today, we issued a press release via Unshackle Upstate heralding the Assembly members who voted "no" on the budget (or at least most of it), including all the Republicans and Assemblymembers Hoyt, Schimminger, Gabryszak and DelMonte. Of course, the point of the press release was to get the Upstate Majority Senators to follow suit.
Interestingly, we've heard from our partners marketing our region at the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) conference in Colorado that site selectors from across the nation are already bemoaning what this state budget will do to business in New York State. These are the people who advise clients on where they should locate their business. This is happening already - even before the budget outcome is known. It's easy to get the "cheap pop" on new taxes on water bottles and fishing licenses, but this really puts things in perspective - when people responsible for making recommendations that will lead DIRECTLY to jobs and investment here are telling our reps "Why would anyone go to New York?"
Keep the pressure on.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
This is simply more fodder for why this disaster of a budget should be shot down by the Senate today. Only a month after sweeping hundreds of millions of dollars destined for economic development from NYPA, they're at it again. For many IDAs across the state - which are going to be all the more important now given that Albany seems intent on raising the cost of doing business in Upstate New York even more - this money that they "owe" will be the difference between continuing operations and insolvency. They are bound and determined to put this valuable tool of economic development out of business one way or another.
We need to be very cautious next year as voters, and pay meticulous attention to what incumbents in Albany are using as platforms for their campaigns. Anyone who votes for this budget had better not try to campaign on the notion that "job creation in New York State is their #1 priority."
Check out today's "action" in the State Senate. See if dysfunction or heroics win the day.