ALBANY—The Business Council of Westchester held its annual Lobbying Day in Albany on March 3 as two dozen Council members made the all-day trip to lobby state legislators and members of the governor’s staff on economic development, energy, health care, transportation and creating a more competitive business environment. In addition, I shared results of the Council’s recent member survey on the economy and public policy issues. The trip was planned by the BCW’s Governmental Action Council, chaired by James O’Toole.
Highlighting the day were meetings with Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) and Larry Schwartz, newly appointed Secretary to the Governor. In the meeting with Majority Leader Smith, Council members made clear their opposition to the proposed corporate payroll tax, commonly known as the “Mobility Tax,” as a means of closing the MTA’s budget gap. “The proposed payroll tax is a job killer for Westchester,” noted Paul Vitale, the Council’s vice president of government and community relations. “It is not being proposed for neighboring Connecticut and is yet another example of making our business environment less competitive.”
The Business Council, along with other chambers throughout the mid-Hudson Valley, signed on to a strategy advanced by state lawmakers, including Majority Leader Smith, demanding that the MTA complete a forensic audit to reveal details of the agency’s financial position. The audit is needed with taxpayers being asked to foot the bill to bail the MTA out of its current crisis. The groups insist that particularly in this difficult economy, “belt tightening” is an absolute necessity for everyone — especially for the MTA, given the ever-changing size of its financial shortfall.
We told Senator Smith and other legislators that the Business Council was opposed to legislation that would harm the state’s economic development efforts, including prevailing wage or cost of living mandates for IDA financed projects (A3659/S1241) and the recertification requirement for companies receiving Empire Zone benefits included in the Executive Budget. “Having companies recertify is akin to changing the rules in the middle of the game and will damage our credibility going forward,” noted GAC Chairman O’Toole.
Our group also met with Brain McMahon, president of the New York State Economic Development Council and Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson on economic development issues.
I discussed the results of the Council’s quarterly member survey with Secretary Schwartz, noting that by a ratio of 3:1 business owners think the state should get more fiscally responsible, with 75 percent calling for a reduction of spending and service cuts to address the state’s $13 billion budget deficit as opposed to 25 percent who favored increased taxes and fees.
I also noted that two-thirds of the business owners surveyed chose taxes, health care and economic development and incentives as their top legislative issues.
The survey results were a key topic of conversation in a meeting with Hank Greenberg, council to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and legislative policy advisor Jim Malatras. When business owners were asked what services they would be in favor of consolidating in order to reduce state spending, 94 percent chose local government with 80 percent further choosing to consolidate school boards, sanitation and maintenance departments. The Attorney General’s office is currently working to establish a legal framework for municipalities to eliminate or consolidate more than 10,500 taxing authorities and agencies at the local level. Existing law makes such reorganization insurmountable. The Business Council has pledged its support to the Attorney General’s efforts to empower local governments to reorganize if that is their choice.
The BCW pushed its energy agenda in meetings with Deputy Energy Commissioner Paul DeCotis and Senator Vincent Leibell. The agenda includes, among other items, support for the relicensing of Indian Point, the adoption of a new broad-based Article X power siting law, continued investment in transmission and distribution infrastructure and support for the state’s sustainability and efficiency goals.
Deputy Commissioner of Health Deborah Bachrach addressed the group on health care issues, saying New York State is “spending too many dollars on the wrong type of care.” As evidence, she noted that New York State ranks 30th in terms of quality and 39th in terms of hospitalization nationwide. Bachrach went on to say the Paterson administration was working on moving dollars from in-patient care to outpatient services and emphasizing primary care as a way to lower costs and improve quality. She also remarked that the federal stimulus package would increase Medicaid reimbursement for New York, with some of the dollars used to reform the system. The group held a follow-up meeting with Senator Suzi Oppenheimer on health care in the afternoon.
Transportation Commissioner Astrid Glynn spoke to the group about the federal stimulus package and said the state was well organized to competitively compete for shovel-ready projects such as high-speed rail across the state. To the extent federal stimulus funds are available, this will free-up money for new projects, including the Tappan Zee Bridge, according to Glynn.
Fiscal reform and a review of the Governor’s Executive Budget were the focus of a presentation by E.J. McMahon of the Manhattan Institute. He alerted Council members to pending legislation that would impose a $6-billion annual increase in personal income tax levies. One such proposal, S2021, would give New York a 10.3 percent top personal income tax rate, the second highest in the nation.
For information about how you can become involved with the Business Council’s advocacy agenda, contact Paul Vitale at (914) 948-2110 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Marsha Gordon is president and chief executive officer of The Business Council of Westchester.