On Monday, April 4th, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bills for the $15 minimum wage and 12-week paid family leave, thus effectively ending for business the Budget Battle of 2016.
However, we need to carefully monitor the effects of these initiatives as they progress through their phase-in periods and we must continue to voice strong concern over the anti-business rhetoric used to justify them. To that extent our efforts continue.
Clearly, this year, business was not the big winner. But, we were not without our victories.
The creation of the Minimum Wage Reality Check coalition, of which we were a founding member, had a strong impact on portions of the budget. Coalition efforts provided “encouragement” to lawmakers to mitigate some of the more onerous aspects of the budget. No one expected the original group of 26 to grow into a powerhouse of 57 organizations, to include 27 of the most influential chambers in the state.
Through the Take Action initiative on the coalition’s website we generated 272,160 e-mails to state lawmakers in only three weeks. We enjoyed 514 editorial placements across the state on television, radio, online and in print. In my 30 years of political involvement, I have never seen the business community so galvanized and so willing to speak out. We need to keep this coalition alive. We believe an omnibus name change and an outreach to an even more diverse group of organizations can lead to a truly major advocacy force for business.
For us in Rockland, not being attached to New York City or Westchester relative to the phase-in of the new minimum wage was a major win. For what might be the first time, Rockland was appropriately included in the designation of upstate counties. As a result, we will be increased to $12.50 by 2021 and then will be indexed to $15 based on a still to be determined formula administered by the Budget Division. And, there will be mandatory evaluations of the effect of the increase and the state of the economy before increases above $12.50 can be put in place.
Another win for Rockland, and our region, was the removal of the Canal Corp. from the oversight of the Thruway Authority, a move that could result in a $40 million net gain for the Thruway budget. This will improve the Thruway’s standing with the financial community resulting in improved credit ratings and less expensive bonding. The Authority also will be getting a $700 million distribution that could provide much needed assistance for the TZ Bridge project.
The middle class tax cut which will result in a $4.2 billion personal income tax (PIT) reduction can be very beneficial to the many micro businesses in our community who declare their business incomes on their 1040s. For those concerned that this could cause a budgetary shortfall, I would like to note that our colleagues at the Business Council of NYS have shared that if state operating funds (SOF) continue to grow at 2 percent and PIT continues to grow as it has over the past 10 years, “this is very doable.” Admittedly, those are big “ifs,” but they are not unreasonable.
There were many legislators around the state who worked hard to mitigate the negatives in the budget and we are grateful to them all. However, we need to particularly express our gratitude to Sen. Bill Larkin and Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski for their efforts.
My last point regarding this year’s budget battle has to do with the rhetoric used to justify the issues of the Left. “Fair share,” income inequality,” “wealth gap” and “economic justice” were all used to perpetuate a prejudice toward business. I find it very disturbing that these slogans (and that’s all they are) seem reserved for attacks, no matter how veiled, on business executives, but are never invoked regarding the, more often than not, outrageous salaries paid in other sectors. I ask all our elected officials to consider a different level of presentation regarding these issues. They just might find that business isn’t an enemy.
President, Rockland Business Association