After an extremely successful budget season for Buffalo Niagara (Proceeds and Roswell Park) as well as Upstate New York (Tier VI and responsible budget), the top of our Albany-focused economic development advocacy over the next two months will be the implementation of a list of economic development process and business regulatory reforms developed in conjunction with other major business organizations across the State and subsequently included in the recommendations of virtually every one of the State’s Regional Economic Development Councils (REDCs), including ours in WNY.  A primary agent for moving along these reforms was supposed to be the REDC’s “Chairman’s Council,” established last summer, which met for the first time last week (it’s obviously long overdue).

Whether via the Chairman’s Council or the legislature, the top priority reform items are:
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DELIVERY SYSTEM (these are “low hanging fruit”, as their implementation is within purview of the administration, not requiring legislative action and the political tradeoffs usually entailed.)

·         Agency Coordination: Whether it’s the REDC’s approved projects or Buffalo’s $1 billion, actual job and investment growth is not going to happen unless the State agencies which actually impact economic development – both at the Albany and regional levels- function in a much more streamlined and coordinated fashion.  They need to be customer friendly, development savvy, and quarterbacked by Empire State Development.

·         SEQR reform: The state’s environmental review process is perhaps its biggest impediment to private investment. It is time-consuming and expensive and stifles development – and is a distinct competitive disadvantage against other states. More efficient coordination among state agencies and strict timetables for approvals is critical to making SEQR less of an impediment and creating a “business-friendly” environment in New York. Since reform of the SEQR process was cited across the state as an item necessitating reform, we feel the conversation surrounding it will be as amplified as it has ever been.

BUSINESS REGULATORY REFORM

·         Workers’ Compensation: We need to see improvement in the administration and operation of the workers’ compensation program, and avoid undermining the important reforms achieved in 2007. New York must fully implement the agreed upon medical guidelines to ensure consistency for employers and injured workers.  Further, treatment protocols must be implemented to lower the cost of care and get injured employees back to work.

·         Health Care Mandated Benefits:  We need to address the issue of mandated benefits, which drive up the cost of health insurance premiums by 12.2% per year.  This prices people out of the private insurance market, forcing many of them into the state’s Medicaid program.  Currently, New York does not allow health plans to offer a variety of comprehensive individual products.  The lack of choice limits consumers choose between two very costly policies, which include the expensive state mandated benefits.   Additionally, allowing insurers to offer “mandate-lite” health care plans to customers under age 45 could reduce the number of uninsured by reducing premium costs.

·         Repeal of the Wage Theft Protection Act: Employers across the state have decried a new regulation which requires them to provide an extra piece of paper to each employee listing his or her salary. The act has created a tremendous paperwork and time burden for employers (especially employers with fleets, we’re finding) and has been a unanimous target for advocacy by every business group across the state.

For the full list of reform items prepared for action by the Chairman’s Council, click here.

The Partnership, in conjunction with our partner business organizations across the state and Unshackle Upstate, will continue to push for swift implementation of these reform recommendations. A change in approach by the state is a critical way to make certain that the current positive job and investment policy momentum continues.