6.2 million. That’s the number of taxpayers in New York estimated by StateDataLab.org (if sales tax payers were included, it would nearly triple). Regardless of what the true number is, one would think that any group numbering in the millions would have substantial influence within their democratically elected government.
But this is New York: Mecca of special interests; birthplace of the backroom deal.
Yes, in this New York the desire of the few holds significant sway over the will of the many. A paradigm that has been on full display in recent weeks as New York’s governor and members of its legislature again appear ready to sell the state’s taxpayers (and their own constituents) down the river to please the powerful few.
The first instance centers around little-known New York State Labor Law 240-241, or “Scaffold Law” as it is commonly referred to. Scaffold Law was enacted almost 130 years ago when building skyscrapers was a rather new and dangerous undertaking. It holds that property owners, contractors and business owners are 100 percent liable for any “gravity-based” injury that occurs on a construction site, regardless of circumstances or negligence on the part of the injured.
An employee shows up to work drunk and falls off a ladder? Business owner is 100 percent liable…
Employee declines to wear safety goggles and falling dust particles injure his or her eye? Business owner is 100 percent liable…
Employee breaks into a job site after hours and trips in the dark? Business owner is 100 percent liable…
Beyond being patently unfair and contradictory to the American system of jurisprudence, it’s just bad policy. Absolute liability standards increase insurance rates on every construction project, public or private, dragging down the economy and increasing everyone’s taxes.
Thousands of New York City children are currently receiving lessons in makeshift trailers adjacent to their at-capacity schools instead of in classrooms. Why? Scaffold Law has raised the insurance premiums of the New York City School Construction Authority (NYCSCA) so high that money intended to be spent on new school construction must be diverted to pay insurance premiums.
In December, a NYCSCA spokesperson told Crain’s New York Business magazine: “As a result of Labor Law 240, which imposes strict and absolute liability on owners and general contractors for gravity-related accidents, the SCA’s insurance costs are three to four times greater than they would be for the same construction program in New Jersey, which does not have a similar law. The impact of the law on the SCA effectively results in the construction of fewer schools because the additional funds that must be spent on insurance will be unavailable for SCA capital projects.”
So why is New York State the last state in the nation to keep this statutory relic on the books amidst consensus that it’s bad public policy? The answer is special interests.
Two weeks ago, when meeting with the very same magazine’s editorial board, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo acknowledged that Scaffold Law was one of the “infuriating” things about doing business in the Empire State.
So why can’t it be changed?
“The trial lawyers are the single most powerful political force in Albany,” said the Governor.
Yes the trial lawyers. Plaintiff’s attorneys who rack up big paydays from scaffold lawsuits because the outcome is already decided. The business is 100 percent liable regardless of fault. The only question left to answer is how many zeros to write on the check.
And the hits keep coming.
There has been a push in recent years to implement a system of publicly financed political campaigns in New York similar to New York City’s.
The reasons funding private political activities with your tax dollars is a bad idea are many, but the most fundamental reason is that it is simply a waste of precious public resources.
Estimates indicate that implementing a system of taxpayer funded elections for four statewide offices and all 213 legislative seats would cost hundreds of millions per election cycle. We at Unshackle Upstate believe the money would be better spend on repairing roads and bridges after this brutal winter, improving healthcare and mental health facilities, or simply reducing New York’s highest-in-the-nation tax burden.
Most of you agree.
Independent polling conducted in November by Quinnipiac University indicates that 52 percent of New Yorkers oppose having their tax dollars pay for political campaigns while 38 percent support it. Those numbers mirror the historical trend since Quinnipiac began testing the issue in 2011.
But again the special interests get to have their voice heard while yours gets muted.
According to Capital New York magazine, Governor Cuomo met behind closed doors with top brass from the influential, labor-backed Working Families Party and leaders from other liberal advocacy organizations to hash out a new strategy for enacting taxpayer financed elections after Senate Republicans were largely successful in blocking the originally proposed system during state budget deliberations in March.
When do the 6.2 million-plus New Yorkers who pay the bills to run this government get to have their concerns heard?
The New York State Trial Lawyers Association represents 3,500 attorneys. Less than one percent of all New York voters are registered with the Working Families Party. Yet these are the interests that continue to dictate the direction of our state and our government.
We are 6.2 million and we too would like our meeting.