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Was The 2016 N.Y. Legislative Session Bad For Business?

Mike Groll

Business leaders, particularly those in upstate New York, say the 2016 legislative session, which recently concluded, was the worst for small businesses in quite some time.

Business owners say that a session that saw the minimum wage increase, to eventually $15 an hour in New York City and $12.50 upstate, along with a phased-in partial paid family leave, will be costly to smaller employers who operate on the edge in a shaky economy.

Heather Briccetti, president of the Business Council of New York State, said there’s a long “list of things that could have been done that didn’t get done” that would have benefited businesses and the upstate economy.

The governor and legislature failed to agree to expand ride sharing services, including Uber and Lyft, beyond New York City. A temporary commission to cut business regulations was formed in April and issued a report in early June, but Briccetti said so far most of the recommendations have not become law.

“All of this was stonewalled,” she said.

In addition, the Senate and Assembly approved a bill, spurred by the water crisis in Hoosick Falls, that would increase the statute of limitations and give anyone who becomes sick from toxic exposure three years after a Superfund site is declared to file a lawsuit.   

Briccetti says she sympathizes with the village residents whose water has been contaminated, but says the bill is poorly constructed and was hastily approved in the final days of the session.

“It seems like a very inartful solution,” Briccetti said.

Many farmers are also upset by the policy shifts made in the past few months. The New York Farm Bureau’s Steve Ammerman said the final straw was when Governor Cuomo decided not to defend the state in a law suit by the New York Civil Liberties Union, which, if successful, will allow farmworkers to unionize.

“It’s disheartening and very, very discouraging for our family farmers,” said Ammerman. “They’re just saying, ‘Well, what’s next?’”

The Farm Bureau has gone to court, seeking to intervene in the case and offer a defense. They are awaiting word from the state supreme court.

The New York Civil Liberties Union’s Donna Lieberman, speaking at a rally at the Capitol in May, says her group expects success in the case.

“The state’s constitution protects the fundamental right to organize,” said Lieberman. “And we are going to assert that right in court, and we’re going to win.”

A spokesman for Governor Cuomo said “equal rights and equal pay” for farmworkers is not incompatible with the administration’s commitment to “continued growth of the state’s agricultural industry.”

Cuomo’s aides also point out many steps that they say made the session a good one for business, including a tax cut that they say will provide relief to nearly a million small businesses, and “record” investments in roads, bridges and public transportation.

But spokesman Rich Azzopardi, in a statement, says the governor makes “no apologies” for trying to lift people out of poverty with a higher minimum wage, and he points out that paid family leave will be funded by the workers.

Briccetti, with the Business Council agrees that not everything was bad for business—she credits Cuomo and the legislature for continuing to stick to a self-imposed 2 percent state spending cap.

She said holding the line on spending means fewer opportunities to raise taxes.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.
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