Friday, May 29, 2009
On Wednesday, we sent a letter of opposition to the WNY delegation regarding protectionist "Buy American" legislation that Albany wants to attached to stimulus funds. How do you oppose "Buy American" legislation, you might ask? Well, first and foremost, the legislation does virtually nothing - it only reiterates the stipulations of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. That being the case, the legislation is more or less New York State sending a protectionist message to the world - most notably our economic partners in Canada. Since Buffalo Niagara is a bi-national economic region whose growth relies heavily upon CanAm trade - and since Canada is beginning to take opposition to the US protectionist measures - and since the US and Canada are the world's largest trading partners - and since over $1MM in commerce crosses CanAm bridge crossings every minute... We thought that this legislation would send a bad message.
Do we encourage companies and people to "Buy American"? Of course we do. In fact, we encourage people and companies to "Buy Buffalo Niagara"! We work very hard at making connections within our region and creating economic development incentives that encourage buying local. But once again - a reasonable premise is caught in Albany politics, which generally prefers mandating something over encouraging it. We understand that voting down legislation called "Buy American" is tough for any elected official to do, but in a state where over 500,000 jobs depend upon CanAm trade - sending a protectionist message is the wrong thing to do.
The second piece of legislation we opposed this week is expansion of unemployment benefits. Last week the entire state legislature (except for one downstate assemblyman) voted in favor of expanding unemployment benefits as per the ARRA, as was required for New York to receive the unemployment stimulus funds. Unfortunately, as New York is prone to have happen, the legislation passed superseded the ARRA requirements to make it even easier to get benefits. Now, there is legislation on the table that would further expand unemployment that would change the system from an experience-based model (you fairly pay depending on how much you use it) to a socialized system that would end up costing more for employers that pay higher wages.
Our point is simple: The more money that employers are paying for UNemployment, the less they'll be able to spend on hiring people. Albany seems to be hellbent on encouraging people NOT to work, which of course we see as inconsistent with a political platform of job creation. That being said, we're going to continue beating the job creation drum - which is why we're opposed to expanding unemployment.
Have a great weekend.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Before the bill passed, there seemed to be little public discussion. The reason: with passage of some version of the expanded bottle ball imminent, both sides were negotiating language that was acceptable. They reached an agreement, and went home trusting that the deliberations had worked.
Enter the "three men in a room," and suddenly, the new bottle bill passes - but with a number of parameters that had previously been negotiated out, including, most onerously, the requirement for bottlers to include (without details on how to do it) a costly NY-specific UPC code for bottles. The changes were made so secretively, in fact, that the state's beverage industry didn't realize what had happened for several weeks.
Confusion ensued, as the industry scrambled to figure out how to deal with the law. We participated in a press conference with the WNY Senate Minority delegation regarding the cost of the new UPC requirements to business. And a lawsuit was filed.
The good news is that the "Bigger Badder" Bottle Bill is on hold. U.S. District Court Judge Thomas P. Griesa ruled that the scheduled June 1 implementation date was too soon, and that the UPC requirement specific to New York State was probably unconstitutional. Another well-intentioned piece of legislation that turned into a "shoot for the sky" effort for special interests, and a cash-grab opportunity for state government - one that was so well thought out that retailers throughout the state were actually getting ready to pull bottled water off the shelves on June 1 because they hadn't been told what to do with them yet.
Where the bottle bill goes from here is up in the air - we hear that there will likely be a new implementation date and that there is consensus among the governor and two leaders to remove the NY UPC component of the legislation. But doesn't this all seem like items that should've been addressed prior to passage of the legislation? I don't know - they roll differently in Albany.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
I suppose the fact the Working Families Party is sticking fast to their mantra of high taxes and more government is good from one perspective: as people get angrier and angrier about the state of New York's economy, it'll be easy to know where to point the fingers.
We strive in all of our advocacy efforts to find stories, data and anecdotes that back up our message. That's not as easy as it sounds sometimes, for a couple reasons - (1) Sometimes data just isn't tangible - such as with apprenticeship requirements (it's impossible to know how much more taxpayers are paying because apprenticeship mandates skew the bidding process); (2) often "think-tank" information gets distorted by the perception that its source is either a pro-business or anti-business research firm; (3) respect for the privacy of private sector employers' and their employees' information; and (4) with new anti-employer legislation coming out all the time, sometimes the information won't be available for a while. The good thing is that we can use other states' examples, and here's a good one from Maryland about how costly it is to make up budget shortfalls by raising taxes on the "rich," as New York did in the 2009-10 budget. It's not unimaginable to see a similar trend happening in New York.
The Working Families' op-ed describes Stachowski and Thompson as "courageous" for making their tax-heavy votes. As a comparison, I want to point you to California, where Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger announced $5.5 billion in proposed cuts in government spending just yesterday. Take a look at what is being proposed for spending cuts in California. Do I believe that in the end, they're going to cut welfare-to-work programs and children's health care? No, I don't. But to us, "courage" is much better defined as looking at everything on the table - as awful as it is to do so - and then being creative in finding solutions. Anyone can raise taxes.
But, I guess we should probably take the writer's suggestion, and send thank yous to everyone who "courageously" voted for this state budget...
Thank you for the higher taxes on health insurance, that will make coverage unaffordable for many New Yorkers.
Thank you for the higher taxes on energy - a double hit for taxpayers who will have to pay higher costs on their own household energy costs and the costs that will be passed on to them through higher prices on consumer goods and services.
Thank you for increasing taxes on small businesses through the Personal Income Tax hike, which will cost people jobs.
You know what? That did feel good.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
In yesterday's Buffalo News, Governor David Paterson announced that his re-election hopes rest on job growth in New York State (actually, in the story he calls it re-election, but isn't it just "election"?). From our perspective, if that's the case, there's an awful lot that has happened in a past several months that need to be fixed before "job growth" in NYS will be a selling point to voters. Given what's already taken place this year, I would say that the same-old same-old message of delivering for public employees union and Albany special interests would be a better strategy for someone who wants another term.
First, there was this disastrous budget (here's another casualty), that increased spending and raised taxes on the backs of the state's job creators - including an "income tax" hike that nails 3/4 of small businesses across the state. Second, over $700 million in new taxes on health insurance. Third, over $500 million in new taxes on energy costs. Fourth, last week's expansion of unemployment benefits allowing claimants to receive benefits based on "any compelling family reason" - which will have employers paying more for unemployment and less for salaries. Fourth, changes to the Empire Zone program that will ultimately eliminate companies currently receiving benefits. Fifth, promised layoffs in bloated state government that apparently aren't happening. That's all in addition to a host of other pieces of anti-employer legislation that are floating around the state legislature.
We don't see job creation right now - we see job suppression. In the story above about Science First, the state of Florida was eager to point out its advantages over New York State. You don't think that's going to continue to happen? In our Unshackle Upstate conversations, we discuss weekly which companies have mentioned their disgust with doing business in New York and are looking elsewhere. Other states are ready to pounce on the opportunity - and the more stories like this come out highlighting New York's cost disadvantages, the worse it will be.
So, if the governor is thinking that job growth is going to carry him back into office in November 2010, New York needs to not only dig out of the hole that the recession created - but now also out of the deeper hole that Albany created. It's going to take a complete change in the mindframe of our state government - the governor's going to have to beseech the state legislature to make "job growth" a priority, because right now it decidedly is not.
To be honest, though, we hope that we'll be having this conversation that Paterson wants us to have on the eve of election night next year. It means something will have changed.
Friday, May 22, 2009
New York State appears to be taking a step forward in making it easier to consolidate or dissolve local governments or special districts, spurred by legislation proposed by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. The proposed legislation, which reportedly has support from all "three men in a room" and bipartisan backing throughout the state legislature, would "amends and supersedes outdated statutes and establishes in a single article of the General Municipal Law uniform and all-inclusive procedures under which local government entities2 may be consolidated or dissolved." The text is specific about now mandating consolidation of any kind - but its intent is to remove legal roadblocks that are currently pervasive and detrimental to any progress.
In short, the proposed legislation sets up the opportunity for affected citizens to initiate a consolidation or dissolution effort by petition, ultimately to be sent to a referendum. A local government body could also initiative an effort - but don't you think that would've happened by now? It's likely that any proposal will come from residents - but that's an educated guess. The Attorney General's sponsor memo is an interesting read because it addresses a lot of the "table talk" issues that we discuss so often here in Buffalo Niagara.
I'll be curious to see what the reaction is by taxpayers given more freedom to make these kinds of changes. We definitely have a protectionist mentality in this region when it comes to towns and villages, particularly. I suppose it could be said that had the populace supported these consolidations and dissolutions in government, there would've been movements already, but it'll be interesting to see.
Of course, I think some changes would be easier lifts than towns and villages, themselves... Did you know that NY state law allows for the creation of a special district for the disposal of duck poop (which Suffolk County has put into effect)?! Maybe we start there.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Much of the conversation focused on workforce issues, and the need for skilled labor. We see this a lot - the overall sentiment that "there are no jobs in Buffalo," but manufacturers clamoring for skilled employees to fill vacancies. We heard some creative ideas on how manufacturers find, recruit and try to hang on to quality employees, but clearly there's a need for more focus from a community-wide economic development perspective. We discussed a number of programs in the region to educate high school students on job and career information; getting young professionals involved in economic development and target industries through the Buffalo Niagara 360 program; and the work we're doing on national immigration reform through the Great Lakes Chamber Coalition.
Another point raised was how manufacturers can connect with resources in our region - much of which focused on our academic institutions. Specifically, how to tap into the innovation, technology, workforce and other resources that are available. We talked a little bit about the UB2020 program, and how the expansion of UB will be a part of making that happen, but the point is well-taken as to how do we make employers aware of programs, incentives, grants and any other resources that might be available to them? We do a lot of this through our council and other programming, but definitely this request by the industry will spur more conversation going forward.
Interestingly, one of the topics of concern for manufacturers is one of the topics of concern for every resident of the region - the construction of a new Peace Bridge. Our manufacturers reported delays so onerous that some Canadian companies have turned away from American suppliers to save the cost of delay. This issue was raised as part of a larger discussion on the need for transportation infrastructure funding, which is a staple item on the Partnership's annual agenda.
This morning's discussion was so productive, in fact, that we ran out of time. We left with a desire by the manufacturers in attendance to pick up where we left off - which we'll do in another session on Monday, June 8 (8-9:30 a.m. at the Partnership). If you're in advanced manufacturing, I encourage you to join the discussion.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
The message spread quickly across the state, including onto the NY Daily News web site. To take a more active role - or just to keep up to date on what's happening in Albany and what Unshackle Upstate is doing - make sure to visit Unshackle Upstate's Facebook page and "Become a Fan."
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Defeat of Card Check - while the union leaders paint it differently, of course - would be a victory for America. Ultimately, the deciding factor in support for Card Check seems to be that enough elected leaders thankfully feel that taking away secret ballot in ANY form is a bad thing. We know how government works - one thing leads to another. It's a good thing that enough of our reps are not willing to start that ball rolling.
Of course, now come the compromise proposals. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is reporting that a number of "options" have been floated:
Quickie elections - Would preserve the use of the secret ballot process, but on a compressed time frame. This would put the employer at a disadvantage in communicating with employees, even though unions will have had weeks and months to do the same during the drive to get cards signed.
Mail-in voting - Would have workers send in their ballots by mail. However, because unions are legally permitted to visit workers' homes, they could pressure workers to sign and mail the ballots in front of them, taking away any private vote. In addition, such organizing activity could be conducted without the employer ever knowing that a union campaign was going on.
Union access provisions - Would require employers who call meetings with their employees to discuss unionization to give unions equal access to their employees - on company time and on company premises. Unions already enjoy the opportunity to meet with employees in a wide array of locations, including their homes (employers must provide the unions with employees' addresses) in ways that the employer is prohibited, and have no restrictions on what they can say as employers do. Obviously, this would be disruptive to business operations and expose workers to harassment, particularly since pro-union employees would be able to approach coworkers on the issue during the workday.
Baseball-style arbitration - Refers to a form of binding arbitration used to settle contract disputes in baseball: both sides present their best offers and the arbitrator picks one or the other with the hope that both sides would present proposals that are most likely to be picked, rather than including provisions which have no chance being accepted. However, the baseball analogy is a misrepresentation - arbitration in professional baseball is mutually agreed to by contract; this proposal would use the force of federal law to require businesses to submit to government arbitration. Like the current Card Check, this undermines the fundamental concept of collective bargaining and the ability of employers and employees to have a hand in shaping the contract under which they will operate.
So, in other words, we need to keep up the fight because none of these options are acceptable. Actually, from one perspective, the fight becomes even tougher because to suggest compromises, you need to come up with a better argument than "we need more unions" (the standard defense of Card Check). So I would expect the national debate on labor issues to pick up. We're ready. We know that taking away secret ballot no matter how you try to mask it and the government forcing its influence into decisions that should be made by employers and employees are un-American and would put both employers and employees at a competitive disadvantage.
Monday, May 18, 2009
This afternoon, Unshackle Upstate will hold a press conference (read the press release) in collaboration with two key employer community partners - the Business Council of NYS and the National Federal of Independent Business (NFIB) calling on state lawmakers to take action on curbing spending and tax hikes in New York State. We'll be announcing the "Agenda for an Affordable New York," which includes support for the following proposals:
- Gov. David Paterson’s proposed state spending cap. The cap should be enacted in statute and then put forward as a Constitutional amendment;
- The property tax cap and mandate relief proposals put forward by the Commission on Property Tax Relief;
- Local government consolidation proposals consistent with the recommendations of the Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Tier V pension reform.
The assault on employers continues in New York - wage mandate legislation, unemployment and paid family leave expansion, tax increases on energy and health insurance... It is time to make changes at the root of the problem - the size and cost of state government. These measures, which Unshackle Upstate and the Partnership have been forwarding for some time, are a step toward accomplishing that seemingly unreachable goal. The discussion surrounding these initiatives seems to be growing to a fever pitch - and we look forward to any progress surrounding those discussions.
Friday, May 15, 2009
"There is no greater generator for the economy than unemployment insurance, but for food stamps,” Paterson said.
Wow. What happened to "Small business is the backbone of our economy"? Or "Job creation is our #1 focus"?
Of course, in a recession such as we're in, we need as a society to have enhanced concern for people who have lost jobs. That's what the federal stimulus funding for unemployment benefits does. But Albany is attempting to take advantage of the stimulus funds to expand the program further. What they fail to mention in the midst of a very human, empathetic message of taking care of those out-of-work is that expansion of the program to levels out of synch with other states is ANOTHER New York tax on employers. Unemployment is 100% employer financed, and if employers' costs are rising due to paying for UNemployment - how can they create employment to get us out of this recession?
We are sifting through a host of bills related to expansion of unemployment, and will keep you posted. If you have input on what you'd like to see come out of any reform of unemployment insurance or benefits, please send it along to me.
We talk a lot about how the state's business climate drives away employers and jobs. Fortunately, at this point, Golisano is keeping his companies in New York, but his announcement yesterday was a very dramatic example of everything that we're talking about - and we generally don't even talk a lot about the impact on income taxpayers (with the exception of the recent personal income tax hike, which also affected thousands of small businesses). We, through Unshackle Upstate, are putting together a tally of such stories, and you can bet that the jobs and people lost as a result of this state budget will be well-advertised over the next 18 months.
On a positive note, we had a GREAT session this morning as part of Partnership 101 - which is our "get to know the Partnership" event for friends and members, new and old. Over 40 people attended, and we had a very enthusiastic crowd. A lot of great feedback on our advocacy efforts and programming. These are worthwhile events because those in attendance get a full picture of the spectrum of services and value that they get with Partnership membership - something of which I think many aren't aware. I urge you to check the schedule - we generally do these sessions about every other month - to see when the next one is.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
We're looking forward to this discussion. Much of our effort in opposition to the state's tax-heavy budget was focused on Senator Stachowski and the other four Upstate Majority senators. As you know, the budget passed with no opposition from anyone in the Senate Majority, and while we all agree that Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith did a great disservice to his Upstate senators and Upstate taxpayers in general by boxing them into a vote - we're going to have lots of questions for Senator Stachowski about how this happened.
To his credit, Stachowski not only is coming to face our members at the Movers & Shakers session when it's rescheduled, but he sent along a detailed response to our members who participated in our most recent VoterVoice campaign. This is a lot more effort than most take in response to our members' outreach. That being said, we disagree with some of the Senator's takes on the budget, which we outlined in a letter to him on May 12.
One of the questions that we certainly intend to ask is how none of the "Upstate 5" were able to leverage their deciding votes on this terrible budget into something useful for Upstate? To us, this is Politics 101. Our first choice was a "no" vote on this budget, but we would've hoped that at least something was negotiated in exchange for casting a vote they felt they had to cast... Funding for Upstate economic development... Even some kind of higher-level leadership position for Stachowski would've been more acceptable than nothing. Now, we're mired in the same debate over the recently-approved Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) funding, which breaks tradition for the state by finalizing downstate transportation funding without complementary Upstate funding. Upstate has been "assured" the funding is coming. We'll see. Another leverage opportunity missed.
I worked in the Erie County Legislature when there was an 8-7 majority. I will tell you that I can scarcely remember any big 8-7 vote that that 8th vote wasn't able to wrest some kind of community center funding for the district or important influence on a separate vote in exchange for his or her support.
We certainly understand the notion of sticking with the Majority caucus and maintaining relationships with the Majority Leader - but what has it gotten us, and what has it gotten Stachowski? He was (for lack of a better word) screwed out of the powerful Finance Committee Chairmanship, he gets to run next year now on a platform of insane taxes and overregulation, and right now, there's no light at the end of the tunnel for his constituents.
Is using political leverage the best way to run a government? Probably not. But it's politics. It'd be nice to see it in action to Upstate's benefit.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Tuesday, June 2nd
UB Center for the Arts
103 Center for the Arts, Buffalo, NY 14260
Join the Buffalo Niagara Partnership and the Buffalo Bills celebrate the regional companies that are truly our very own Endurance All Stars. Learn how these companies have thrived through the ups and downs and six recessions of Buffalo Niagara's past five decades. Plus don't forget top shelf open bar, delicious tastings from local restaurants, valet parking, and networking with members of the business community, Partnership board of directors, and Buffalo Bills staff, and select Bills players and coaches.
Tickets: $100 Each
12th Man Pack: 12 tickets for $1,000
The 50-year path of Buffalo Niagara’s most enduring companies:
A guide to thriving in today’s economy
presented by Andrew J. Rudnick, Partnership President & CEO
1959-2009: State of the Bills
presented by Russ Brandon, Buffalo Bills COO/General Manager
Tasting & Networking Party
featuring DJ Mike Setlock, interactive "tip stations" to learn how to recession-proof your business, and fantastic food from
And, Bravo Cucina Italiana, Curly's Grill, Dessert Deli, Ilio DiPaolo's, McCullagh Coffee, The Melting Pot, Shanghai Red's and So's Ingegrity Catering.
After party hosted by Verbena Grill.
To learn more and purchase tickets go to
As a refresher, legislation creating an ECPB was passed by the Erie County Legislature in April, but is expected to be vetoed by the County Executive. Having passed by a 9-6 margin, at this point there are not the votes to override that veto when it happens - always subject to change, of course. The implementation of an ECPB is a staple provision of the Framework for Regional Growth (as is the creation of a bi-county working group), which the Partnership was instrumental in crafting, and fully supports as a roadmap for strategic development and growth in Erie and Niagara counties.
Here's why we think an ECPB is important:
(1) There is no entity guiding development in Erie County from a truly regional perspective. We like to use Transit Road as an example. Portions of Transit road have interests in Amherst, Clarence, Cheektowaga, Lancaster, West Seneca, and Elma. Each of those towns have plans for their portion of Transit Road, but no one is looking at Transit Road as a whole. If you have the opportunity to drive Transit, it will be no mystery to you why it's considered a poster child example of the need for regional planning.
(2) The ECPB already exists in one form - the same projects that would go before the ECPB for review are already going before the Erie County Department of Environment and Planning (DEP) Commissioner. Same timeframes. Same deadlines. While we have no doubt that the current commissioner and staff are more than capable, we see a board of professionals representing various viewpoints on development as superseding politics that can arise among appointments. It also ensures consistency and clarity as administrations and legislators change. Our developers report that one of the heaviest roadblocks to smart growth is a lack of consistency with changing regimes; while the planning board members will change over time, of course, that change - given the staggered terms - will happen more slowly and less dramatically than in a November election.
(3) The Framework for Regional Growth was purposefully crafted with input from all sectors of the community - municipalities, developers, environmentalists, conservationists, the business community, labor... It is imperative to continue to include all of these perspectives in development conversations in the effort to achieve "smart" growth. Not just whoever happens to be in office at the time.
(4) Many towns do not have their own planning boards. An ECPB comprised of professionals would be a resource for those towns that could use guidance on strategic development decisions. For towns that do have planning board, the same policies that exist today with DEP would govern the ECPB's role in development.
We're a little confused about the County Executive's assessment that the ECPB would cost taxpayers $500,000. The legislation passed last month calls for the hiring of an executive director for the ECPB - if it pays that much, I'm going to submit my resume immediately - however, in the negotiations, the proposal was put forth to have the county's DEP commissioner serve automatically as executive director. If that were to be agreed upon, we don't see any cost at all for the ECPB.
Finally, the County Executive talks in his piece about the failure of the planning board in the past leading to its elimination 20 years ago. Unfortunately, development in Erie County over the past 20 years can not be described as "smart" growth. While our population has continued to decline, our footprint as a community has continued to grow - the "sprawl" that the County Executive describes.
1960 regional population - 1,306,957. 2000 population - 1,170,111 (-10%). Yet we continued to develop outward from the city center in into rural areas. From our perspective, THIS is what happens without a regional plan - and without an entity to guide the regional plan... And remember, this trend will have us spending an extra $911,000,000 on new infrastructure by 2025 if it continues. Given the fact that the County Executive is writing an editorial in opposition to the ECPB, we anticipate the veto. But we will continue to push for the much-needed implementation of a planning board in Erie County.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Yesterday Governor Paterson posted detailed information on the Upstate Regional Blueprint Fund on the state's web site, which includes the guidelines for projects and applications/deadlines. This is important funding for Upstate from last year's budget that many considered in jeopardy due to this year's state budget problems. It's good to see this money allocated for its intended purpose.
Last Monday, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand visited the Partnership and spoke with our members. While she was here, she presented her "Guide to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009." It's a good breakdown of the federal stimulus bill.
Finally, Unshackle Upstate now has its own Facebook page. I encourage you to "Become a Fan" of the Unshackle Upstate program to receive updates on what we and our partners are doing in Albany to stop anti-business legislation and create a business atmosphere in Upstate that is attractive for private sector investment and job creation. We look forward to seeing you there (on Facebook).
Monday, May 11, 2009
Why does the business community have an interest in Buffalo school board elections? For an easy answer, check out these facts:
- Buffalo is the nation's third-poorest city, according to the U.S. Census.
- The Buffalo metro area has the highest black male jobless rate (51.4
percent) among American's 35 large cities, according to figures cited by
Professor Marc V. Levine of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
- Nearly two-thirds of adults in Buffalo function at the two lowest levels of literacy,
meaning they can't function at the minimum level of literacy employers in our
region require for any job higher than entry level.
- Thirty-five percent of Buffalo Public School children don't graduate high school.
There was 5% turnout in last week's school board election (low enough to warrant a change in date to November) - which favors special interests tremendously. If the general public does not care about the election, it leaves victory completely in the hands of those who can get their "troops" to the polls. Currently, there are 800 absentee ballots to be counted to determine the final seat, but the balance of the school board has shifted toward Phil Rumore and the teachers' union, who unfortunately traditionally have opposed reforming a system mired in those statistics above. We'll be paying close attention to how things shake out.
Friday, May 8, 2009
Our latest that we weighed in on in a letter to the governor yesterday is the proposed NY Wetlands Bill. This bill is unique because it would infringe on U.S. Constitution-guaranteed rights, that being the right to private property. Essentially, what this bill does under the guise of protecting wetlands - which is something I think we all think is important - is lower the jurisdictional threshold on wetland from the current 12.4 acres to one (1) acre. Which means every project - including those on property already privately owned - will have to undergo wetlands review if it's over one acre. On top of that, there's no clear definition of wetlands, so that review will be subjective.
We have worked very hard in Buffalo Niagara on taking a more strategic approach to develop and grow our region through the Framework for Regional Growth. Obviously included in that effort, a development plan crafted by all sectors of the community - business, labor, environmental and municipalities - are provisions to protect farmland and wetlands. One of the tough things about development in New York State is that subjectivity when it comes to wetlands. There are many examples of projects in our region that went through due zoning and planning process only to find out that the state's wetlands interpretation nullified the efforts. Even worse, there are examples of projects in our region that were already underway when the state CHANGED its wetlands interpretation mid-course, interrupting the development. Lowering the threshold of sites that will require the state's evaluation will only make development that much tougher - some developers say, virtually impossible. Obviously, there are some in NY who would prefer no development - but it just doesn't seem wise to us to give those people the keys to the kingdom. Not when we desperately need to preserve and create jobs.
This is another of those pieces of legislation that even the talk of it is a deterrent to new private sector investment. Knowing that the rules in New York State are so fickle that you can't depend on them to stay the same - and this is one of a number of proposals that demonstrate this (think 09/10 taxes, Empire Zone) - our government continues to tell the rest of the world that we are closed for business. We hate to continue to be the bearer of bad news, but at some point, someone in power in Albany is going to have to wake up and realize that creating jobs is the most important thing we can be focusing on right now. Tougher regulation and higher taxes are most certainly not the answer.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
So now a spending cap... This is an interesting concept, and one that we support in principle. I say "in principle" specifically to note that we think that a spending cap instituted after the most expensive budget in New York State history is a bad idea. Right now, there are no details associated with such a spending cap - specifically what that cap would be - so there's nothing really on which to comment. However, we know that an inflated cap painted by overspending and stimulus money is not the answer.
Here's a thought - and I can only say this because we uniquely face it here in Buffalo/Erie County... We have control boards in both Buffalo and Erie County, and through those boards the state requires that the local governments prepare and balance not only the annual budget, but a 4-year-plan. That process has actually been successful in bringing spending under control and both entities have built fund balances as a result. As it is every year, this state budget was built with a lot of short-term thinking and Band-Aid® solutions. A cap is nice, but forcing the state to look ahead would be beneficial to everyone!
In our meeting with the state's Department of Budget last week, we got a lot of "we don't know what the future holds" comments. Well, just because we don't know what the future holds doesn't mean we can't plan for it. Every household and business in the state is.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Take "Card Check" at the federal level. Right now, the legislation could best be described as "faltering." Our reps in the U.S. Senate thankfully don't seem to have it in them to yank away the American right of secret ballot from workers. That's good. Enter NY Governor David Paterson and his executive order - sorry, it's NOT an executive order, he's insisting, but an agency policy - that we announced yesterday related to "labor peace." This order guarantees unions will get contracts on hotel and convention center projects in which the state has a financial interest (in exchange for the unions playing nice), and will allow "card check" union authorizations for employees hired at these facilities once the projects are complete. Did we miss something? The federal government won't pull the trigger on taking away secret ballot - but here in New York, guess what we get?
Another great example - labor has pushed for expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act for years, to allow 12 weeks off to care for seriously ill family members, including children, spouses, siblings, domestic partners, parents, grandparents or in-laws. The legislation would be a tremendous blow to employers - particularly small businesses who would be forced to sustain not only the cost of the paid time off, but the hole in their workforce. To date, it hasn't passed - but the word is that the new Senate majority will be taking it up before the end of session. If that fails, labor has another option: in the legislation expanding unemployment benefits as prescribed with the federal stimulus money, of course, New York is stepping out ahead, seeking to expand those benefits to... You guessed it - people who are off to deal with a "compelling family reason."
Remember that old Atari game, Asteroids (see how it works - pretend thats labor-backed legislation coming at you and you'll see what we do on a daily basis!)? That's what it feels like - the asteroids keep coming at us and we blast them to whittle them down to as little as possible and hopefully destroy them entirely, but there's another one coming right behind it. The business community is not the favorite son of government right now - and we spend our time reminding Albany and Washington that the things they're doing are costing our community private sector jobs. Know that we're keeping an eye on all of this, evaluating and analyzing, and then advocating. If you can get involved, we urge you to!
Monday, May 4, 2009
Already, this policy has gone by the wayside. The NY Times reports today that the governor has taken union organization matters into his own hands by issuing an order making it easier for labor unions to organize thousands of workers at some of the state's largest new hotel and convention center projects. The "labor peace" agreement that will go into effect will ensure that unions will not strike or do anything else to halt projects that include taxpayer investment. In return, unions will get the stipulations they want (we're awaiting an actual copy of the executive order - we're assuming a combination of project labor agreements and wage mandates), and be able to organize as easily as possible through a "card check" (no secret ballot).
What a great spin! In order to make the unions play nice on these projects, taxpayers hand over the keys to the kingdom. This quote from the Times article is priceless:
“What the governor is basically saying with this order is if the state has a proprietary interest in a hospitality project, we need to take steps, just like any responsible private investor would, to forestall the possibility of any future disruption to revenues to the state associated with those projects,” said Neal Kwatra, the director of political and strategic affairs for the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council.
Fear is a great economic development driver, isn't it?! Come do business in New York State, where we've not only made it pervasively costly, but where we can (and will!) turn your operation over the unions at the whim of the governor!
Rest assured, we'll be asking the governor what happened to his own executive order from ONE WEEK ago.
Saturday, May 2, 2009
To be cliché, I was the one with all the luck and had a conversation with Scott Behrend, a young professional who started this theater from the ground up – really inspiring. Scott promised to welcome us all back for the next season but in the meantime, make sure to stop in and catch The Man Who Had All The Luck through May 17th. Visit BN360’s Facebook page to see some pictures of all the fun you missed if you weren’t there!
Community Outreach Director for NYS Assemblymember Sam Hoyt
I can’t talk about my current job without talking about how I ended up in Buffalo in the first place. I moved here in May 1999 on the day I graduated from college with a plan to live here temporarily until I got married that September to a Buffalo native. I had this vague idea that I wanted to work in government somehow, and I chanced upon an internship with Assemblyman Sam Hoyt. To say I was a reluctant transplant to the Queen City is something of an understatement. I would have picked a dozen other places before I would ever have thought of moving here. And yet I have stayed for a decade now, and I love it here. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I think part of my love for this city came from my first summer working in Sam’s office; you cannot work in his office without developing a love for this city. I know that’s part of why I decided, ultimately, to stay in Buffalo after that first summer.
Eight years after that internship ended, I jumped at an opportunity to become Assemblyman Hoyt’s Community Outreach Director. Being here gives me a sense of purpose, working with community organizations, businesses, and everyday people of this city. I interact with diverse groups of people on the West Side of Buffalo and develop policy and legislation that relates to everything from better housing to a more accessible waterfront. I also get to help individual constituents with questions and concerns. There is so much energy and excitement in Buffalo right now and I get to see firsthand what exciting and innovative grassroots work is moving this city forward. For example, I work with organizations like People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH) or Buffalo ReUse, who are creatively rethinking our infrastructure and our vacant property crisis. My job is to work with those who have figured out how to move beyond a vision of what could be and create something special. Together, these projects are laying the groundwork for what Buffalo will become in the 21st century. With creativity and hard work, we can remake this city into something extraordinary. This is a city of hidden gems, and working together we can blow off the dust, invest a little elbow grease, and make Buffalo shine.
Friday, May 1, 2009
That seems to be the trend, and it's actually worked to our (the taxpayers') advantage to some degree. Labor seems to be willing to wait out another election cycle on some legislation - such as NY's IDA "reform" bill, which has seen six separate business community compromise proposals in the past few weeks all roadblocked - hoping to put the "proper" elected officials in place to make it happen. As a result, we've been able to stop some pretty awful legislation. The catch is that with the trend in elections, they're eventually going to get what they want - particularly if Card Check is successful. If it passes, organized labor will grow its ranks quickly and exponentially, and it's not difficult to figure out what that means for local, state and federal elections.
Clearly, the opposition to this bill is resonating. The "we need more unions" platform of Card Check supporters doesn't hold water - at least not enough to take away workers' right to secret ballot. Which means there's a desperate need for anyone who believes that secret ballot is the fairest way to decide something as important as a union organization needs to continue to weigh in, and drill this bill into defeat. You can still send a letter to the WNY Congressional Delegation or join the U.S. Chamber's Virtual March on Washington. Let's put the final nail in the coffin of the bill that treads on our rights as Americans.