The 2013 legislative session produced mixed results for Rochester and the business community. While we are pleased to report that progress was achieved on several agenda items, there are key areas where the legislature failed to take action.
State Budget: The 2013-14 budget was delivered on time for the third year in a row and closed a $1.3 billion deficit. However, the legislature also increased the minimum wage and extended the 18-a energy surcharge.
Unemployment Insurance: The budget included reforms that will eliminate the current $3.5 billion deficit, provide a slight reduction in cost to employers over time, and increase claimant benefits.
Workers’ Compensation: Estimated to save employers $800 million, the budget addressed the workers’ compensation assessment process, closed the Reopened Case Fund, and established a bonding program to resolve the insolvent group self-insured trust crisis. During the session, our lobbying efforts helped defeat two pieces of legislation that would have added significant costs to employers and the overall workers’ compensation system.
START-UP NY: The Governor and Legislature passed a new economic development initiative targeted to create jobs by eliminating state taxes on qualifying start-ups affiliated with universities and colleges. While RBA supports efforts to bring back jobs lost to friendlier tax and regulatory climates, New York still must not lose sight of the need to provide current employers in the state relief from burdensome regulations.
Despite aggressive lobbying efforts by the business community, two key employer issues failed to advance this session:
Wage Theft Prevention Act Annual Notification Repeal: In May, more than 60 employers attended our member meeting with Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle to express their concerns with the burdensome annual notification requirement of the Wage Theft Prevention Act. In addition, over 150 members sent nearly 1,800 emails to legislative leaders as part of our e-advocacy campaign on this issue. While the Senate passed the reform bill at the end of session, the Assembly failed once again to take action.
Scaffold Law: A “hidden tax” that has cost taxpayers billions on construction project insurance, a number of business and construction groups throughout the state advocated for changes to the costly, outdated Scaffold Law. RBA joined over 150 others at a Lobby Day in February and continued to push for common-sense reforms throughout the session. Despite indications of growing support for this reform, the legislature failed to take action.
On the plus side, key gains were achieved on a number of the priorities of the Rochester Community Coalition on its 2013 Rochester Community Agenda.
Pension Stabilization Program: The budget included a pension-smoothing program that provides much-needed near-term relief to cash-strapped municipalities.
Interest Arbitration Reform: For “fiscally eligible localities,” arbitration panels will have to base 70 percent of their decision in police and fire union negotiations on the locality’s “ability to pay.” While there are some concerns with the enforceability of this agreement, the reform measure is a “step in the right direction.”
Non-Profit Revitalization Act: The Legislature passed the Non-Profit Revitalization Act, which will help to reduce unnecessary duplication and achieve increased efficiencies for nonprofits. In May, members of the Coalition testified at a state hearing regarding this issue, and we submitted a letter to Senator Michael Ranzenhofer supporting a number of key provisions.
Regional Economic Development Council Priorities: A third round of regional economic development competition funding is included in this year’s budget. In addition, the state is creating an Innovation Hot Spots program and an Innovation Venture Capital Fund, both of which will help foster innovation and encourage the formation of new businesses.
Eastman Business Park: As the Regional Council’s top priority, the recently announced deal with the state addresses concerns regarding environmental issues, park operations and infrastructure, which will reduce uncertainty and pave the way for future development and job creation.
I-390/Kendrick Road Project Funding: Coalition partners have received assurances from the state Department of Transportation that funding for the remaining phases of this project are guaranteed and will be received in a timely manner.
So overall, a mixed outcome with some positive developments for the Rochester region and its Community Agenda, but little change on the regulatory reform front. Rochester Business Alliance and its advocacy partners, including Unshackle Upstate, will continue our work in the coming months to ensure employer concerns and community needs are recognized and addressed by our legislative leaders. For more information on any of the issues outlined above, please contact RBA Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy Chris Wiest at Chris.Wiest@RBAlliance.com.