Monday, December 21, 2009
Now, we've been saying for quite some time that implementing wage mandates on projects in New York State will cost us private sector jobs. We've rode that wagon train for years in an effort to stop Albany and local governments from taking action to dictate private sector salaries, yet there is a consistent push by organized labor and a host of state and local legislators to try to force wage mandates.
Now, all of a sudden, the reality comes to light - as NYC unions are realizing that the Council's insistence on sticking to their wage mandate guns has now cost them over a 1,000 jobs at Kingsbridge Armory. As you might imagine, they're not happy about it. But here's the question - Aren't you happy that your elected officials held the line on wage mandates, as your unions support? Isn't it a labor victory in the end, despite that fact that your members will be sitting at home longer now when jobs are at a premium?
It's ironic to see the other side upset about the same things the private sector has been saying for a long, long time. We work a lot in the intangible - we know that wage mandates will cost Upstate New York jobs, but in many cases, those are jobs that could've been in the future (had the wage requirements not been implemented). When we do find a development project, or an employer, that will suffer from wage mandates enough to not proceed - or proceed in another part of the country - we hammer that message home. But this story is very tangible, easily traceable to electeds' insistance on wage mandates, and a very unfortunate one for New York.
I'm not expecting that this will change organized labor's thinking on its statewide IDA "reform" - you can only hope that losing 1,000 jobs would be an eye-opener. But you can bet this story will become a staple of our advocacy repertoire.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
In his comments, Lazio for the most part said all the right things. Several of our members commented that "we've heard all the right things before," but asked how the kind of change he was discussing could be implemented given the politics of the Assembly and Senate. Those answers were less clear - though, truthfully, you have to consider the notion that one person - even the governor - can't single-handedly change the culture in Albany. In a brief media event after our session, you can see what the media took from his comments from the various headlines covering his Buffalo visit (including the Buffalo News' "Lazio Backs Paterson on Cutting Deficit"). While Lazio insisted he wouldn't have been in the mess that the current administration and state legislature has caused, a challenger doesn't want to see himself backing the incumbent in the paper.
For us, the key point in the session with Lazio was when he was asked a number of times about cutting personnel at the state level to balance the budget, which he didn't answer specifically. From the private sector - which has been forcibly cutting personnel since the recession began - the concept of not looking at personnel cuts in state government is inconceivable. We continue to hear that "tough cuts" have to be made, but have yet to find anyone willing to make them.
Unfortunately, in the conversation, Lazio fell into rhetoric that seems to be the standard answer to that question - that the Partnership or Unshackle Upstate calling for personnel cuts is an indictment on public employees. Which is 100% not true - just as any private sector employer who's had to make staff reductions during hard times is not pinning an indictment on its own employees. Do we think that the state's compensation and benefits packages for public employees can be excessive? Yes, we do. And we believe that's one of many reasons that the state is in the mess it's in - and that personnel reductions are even necessary. But does that mean that state workers aren't hard-working and don't provide valuable public service? Not in the least bit.
Of course, there are poster-child state jobs that we think highlight the personnel problems. Just this month, the Senate Democrats hired two former high-ranking Working Families Party staffers to fill political positions in the Majority. Yes, I know what you're going to say - isn't the state in a hiring freeze? That was a nice press release when it came out, wasn't it? Why we're adding to the state's payroll with more political appointments is beyond us - and exemplifies the need for sweeping change in Albany.
Rick Lazio or another challenger candidate that emerges may represent that change - but they need to show us. Employers throughout the state are making real-life tough decisions every day as the economy tries to regain sure footing. The state should be following suit - and the candidate that demonstrates to the Upstate business community that they understand that and will make private sector-type tough decisions if elected with most certainly get our attention.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
We achieved our goal, as the Region unanimously approved a resolution in support of NY's high speed rail request as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (for clarity, the resolution is expected to be ratified and finalized later this month). We believe that the support from Canada only enhances a very competitive application put forth by New York State in that it emphasizes the bi-national desire to see a New York to Toronto passenger corridor established. For our regional purposes, we see the high speed rail line as pivotal to the Greater Golden Horseshoe economic region reaching its full potential.
Similarly to the belief that Canadian support enhances the competitiveness of our application, Canada has its own high speed rail program in the making, and success in the development of the "Empire Corridor" is anticipated to provide leverage for funding for the project in Southern Ontario. The bi-national collaboration is a tremendous opportunity to further economic development cooperation on both sides of the border here in the Buffalo Niagara region.
We're looking forward to more conversation on this connection between New York's and Southern Ontario's rail plans, and will continue to push the federal government that the cooperation makes our program a very attractive one for investment of stimulus funds. One issue that will cross our paths is easing rail border crossing in regards to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), but we are already engaged in raising the issue as part of the high speed rail discussion. More to follow...
Senator Skelos spent a significant amount of time discussing the importance of moving UB2020 forward, and the economic impact that UB2020 would have on our region. The economic development initiative, which has been passed by the Senate, subsequently stalled in the Assembly. Senator Skelos indicated that pending legislation allowing other SUNY schools to have similar flexibility may encourage Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to soften his stance on supporting UB2020, so we are hopeful that the project will continue to progress forward.
It was also important to note that part of the discussion centered around Senator Skelos' acknowledgement that the Senate Republicans somewhat lost their way over the past few years, a point that we could not agree with more. Many of the relationships that the Senate Republicans cultivated over the past 6-7 years run contrary to the core philosophies of the Republican Party and more importantly for the sake of this discussion, run contrary to the needs, goals and objectives of the employer community. Their straying from those beliefs is a significant factor in their repeated election losses over the past few election cycles, and a key ingredient in their loss of the majority in the 2008 elections.
That being said, while acknowledging recent mistakes of the conference, Senator Skelos assured the audience that the current conference leadership and its membership have learned from those mistakes and are getting back to their mission of promoting legislation that is business-friendly, as opposed to the repeated legislation that comes from the Democrat's conference which impedes the ability of employers in the region to remain competitive.
While we are cautiously optimistic of the renewed focus on building relationships with the employer community, the recent unanimous passage of the economic development-impeding public authorities legislation by the Senate continues to give us cause for concern.
We do appreciate Senator Skelos taking the time to meet with members of the Buffalo Niagara employer community - it is a strong sign of his willingness, and the willingness of his conference, to mend the relationships with the employer community that have been damaged over the past 6-7 years. That being said, simply saying that you want to work together will not suffice. We need substantive legislation brought and passed that will encourage employers to continue to invest in this region.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
The link above raises a number of questions:
- When can we expect 32BJ to be fined by the Commission on Public Integrity (CPI) for holding the legislative reception, and how can the regulations be taken seriously when the governor, himself, is attending high-powered lobbyists' functions?
- What pertinence do the desires of a NYC-based labor union have to the Upstate economy? We understand that they'll have the clout and cash to make a difference (otherwise they wouldn't be announcing that they do), but our Upstate reps need to remember that workforce in NYC and workforce in Upstate are two different animals - and our economy can't withstand the kinds of "big city" mandates 32BJ wishes to place on employers.
- How does requiring employers to pay government-prescribed wages, increase payments and provisions to unemployed workers, use union labor for all state-incentivized projects and increase sick time for their workers create jobs? Like I've said before in this blog, this kind of agenda screws with jobs that already exists, but the reality is that it doesn't create a single new one.
I do have to admit, I like the idea of the "ride-along" they suggested in their news release. We can do that, too, though - we'll have the state legislators sit in an economic development meeting while we explain to a manufacturer comparing New York and North Carolina to locate why this year's 18-A assessments will cost them a couple hundred thousand more a year in energy costs here.
Friday, December 4, 2009
On one hand, we have to give the state legislature credit for reducing the state deficit without resorting to new taxes and fees as it did earlier this year. On the other hand, they didn't do much to fix the long-term fiscal problems the state faces before heading home from Albany. The budget fixes instead were a menu of shifting funds and fiscal gimmicks, which will - on paper - get the state through the end of the year... But not much further than that.
Given that, we have to say that we think Governor Paterson's assessment of the state's fiscal situation for 2010 on WBEN this morning is a little optimistic. It seems like he's saying "if everything in New York State was different than it is in reality," then everything will be just fine. We agree, of course - but the likelihood of a 180 degree switch by the state legislature is unlikely. Points in question:
- Unshackle Upstate has been lobbying for the implementation of a "Tier 5" in the state's pension system for future public employees as a cost-saving measure, and this week, the state legislature voted to put it in. However, in order to see it through, they bent over backwards for organized labor, lowering retirement ages, failing to enact a defined contribution plan and making guaranteed lifetime retirement healthcare benefits for current and former employees permanent.
- Also, the state legislature somehow unanimously supported a "labor peace" agreement on hotel and convention center projects associated with state initiatives, raising the cost to taxpayers and establishing roadblocks for projects such as Buffalo's Canal Side development.
- Though a statewide business community effort last month was able to squelch a horrific proposal by unions to impose expensive wage mandates on any companies receiving IDA incentives, legislators continue to face enormous pressure from organized labor to pass what they call IDA "reform," which they interpret job-killing mandates to be.
- And, of course, the budget itself, with deficits projecting into the tens of billions in the coming years that no one in Albany seems to want to seriously address.
So, any spin on the state's finances you might hear - I urge you to take it with a grain of salt. Next year is an election year, and with 213 seats up for re-election (including the governor's), you can bet that there will be a concerted effort to minimize any damage the legislature will have to inflict on any constituency - it's not unreasonable to think that the approach in 2010 will be much the same as it was this past week. Which, of course, is unacceptable, because the problems only get deeper. It will be incumbent on NYS voters to remember the failures of Albany this year when next year's elections come around.
Interestingly, I make this point often - regardless of how you feel about the politics of the Buffalo and Erie County Control Boards, there is one specifically good thing that came out of the pieces of legislation creating them, and that's that under control board guidance, both Buffalo and Erie County are required by statute to prepare and update four-year plans. Which means that our two largest local governments, uniquely in New York State, are forced to look ahead to see what decisions today mean tomorrow. That's a big part of why both have been able to right the ship. If only a mandate could be placed on Albany to plan ahead - taxpayers wouldn't be subject to the here-and-now decision making that is only setting us up for future fiscal calamity.
Buffalo Niagara 360 worked closely with other young leader/professional groups to bring this opportunity to Buffalo and looks forward to keeping the collaboration going. We are also hoping that we can take what people told us last night to our elected leaders and employers and have a strong voice in regional policy and decision-making processes. It was clear that the young people who came care about Buffalo and making a living here, but also want to be a part of the solution. The real challenge now is figuring out how to channel these sentiments into an actionable plan.
Stay tuned for what comes next. In the meantime, take a look at some of the press young people in Buffalo generated last night in the Buffalo News and on WIVB.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Point-in-question, today the State Senate passed legislation to reform the state's public authorities (the Assembly passed it last week). It passed both houses unanimously, which is reasonable to expect for "good government"-type legislation.
Problem is - this particular "good government" legislation is very bad for economic development, particularly in the Buffalo Niagara region. Moments before the Assembly passed it last week, language was slipped into it that dealt with "labor peace" on hotel and convention center projects related to NYS public authority-related projects, i.e. Buffalo's Inner Harbor development. What this means is if hotels developing as a part of these projects commit to using union workers, they won't have to worry about organized labor taking action against them. In other words, we now limit our options to attract the hospitality industry to those employing union workers, which unfortunately changes the competitive process. As hospitality is key to the project, this legislation is a detriment to our region's efforts in waterfront development. In addition, many of the regulatory changes will impede momentum on the waterfront, which is now (finally) moving along at an encouraging pace.
Now, we never accept "I didn't know it was in there" as an acceptable excuse for passing bad legislation, but if the Assembly got duped at the last minute, the Senate was well aware of this provision before voting today.
So where was the opposition? How does every GOP legislator in New York State allow a legislative gift to organized labor to taint legislation that was based on a reasonable reform premise? How does not one legislator from WNY oppose legislation that will delay the long-awaited progress we're making in Buffalo's Inner Harbor?
We are well aware that it's difficult to find heroes for Upstate in Albany. A 212-0 vote on a special interest olive branch is inexcusable when there are reps out there who are supposed to be defending us against this sort of thing.