Jan. 24, 2019 – Binghamton, NY – Starting the day off early, members of the Greater Binghamton Chamber of Commerce gathered for an annual breakfast. Part of the focus of the event was an opportunity to speak with local elected officials directly. In addition, the event featured Michael Kracker of Unshackle Upstate speaking about the impact of the agenda revealed by Gov. Cuomo in the recent State of the State.
Mr. Kracker opened his statements with the 2019 agenda of Unshackle Upstate. Their efforts are directed to reverse the trend of business unfriendliness that has suppressed business in the State. Critical for success includes maintaining taxes at current levels if reduction is not possible. Matched at the same time is the need for a limit on the spending of the State Government, which has burdened business. These factors can be seen in the 2% tax cap, and the opposite in the expansion of prevailing wage, and adding public funding of elections. Expansion of these and other programs, like single payer healthcare, hurt businesses and by extension consumers, Mr. Kracker noted.
“The reality is that 5-6% of the population without insurance in New York. We believe a more responsible path is to find common sense ways to expand coverage for that group without abandoning our current health care system. Imposing hundreds of billions of dollars in new taxes. And forcing all of New York’s residents onto Government sponsored health care.”
Another key focus for Unshackle Upstate, is the improvement in workforce development. They are seeking to encourage a focus on the needs of local business by local government. This is to help train the skills that local employers are having trouble finding in applicants throughout Upstate.
Chamber of Commerce
President of the Greater Binghamton Chamber of Commerce, Jennifer Conway spoke addressing the costs hidden in the proposals from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. She highlighted that over $100 billion in spending had been identified while funding to cities and towns across the State were cut, obviously placing a burden on everyone. But spending was not the only concern.
Equally there is the issue of energy costs, which businesses of all sizes seek to constrain. The reluctance and dearth of natural gas, one of the most abundant and clean energy sources, adds to the challenges that must be overcome for residents and business alike. A challenge that has yet to be faced by the Governor.
Additional complications that are anticipated, based on the direction of the State Government, was identified in the example of the new move to embrace legalized marijuana – which the Chamber is not taking a stance on. But the details, described in over 200 pages, indicate that employers are entitled to a drug-free workplace and yet must prove the detrimental impact of high employees without tools or support from the Government to do so.
“One of the key things that we are going to have to watch as an organization is continuing to be able to communicate the impact of some of the NY City labor regulations that we [Gov. Cuomo and Legislature] are making a full State priority… All of those things that happen pretty quickly but have a much more larger economic impact on Upstate than they do in Downstate.”
These opening thoughts were then followed by the elected officials in attendance. NY-122 Assemblyman Crouch, NY-123 Assemblywoman Lupardo, and NY-52 State Senator Akshar each addressed the general mood of State legislature, and the upcoming issues being debated. But the real emphasis of the event was the next step.
This was the opportunity for the 50 or so large and small business owners to be able to speak directly to the officials. Share they did, in fact lasting longer than the breakfast and opening speeches combined. Conversations posed to Senator Akshar included thoughts that the tinkering and over-regulation from Government was in fact proving to be counter-productive. Assemblywoman Lupardo and Assemblyman Crouch heard the frustration of employers as they not only sought skilled workers, but those same workers who actually appeared for work.
A request all the politicians present received was to have Cuomo and the Downstate legislature slow down their efforts. To allow for the chance to see the results of the legislation forced on business. To adjust for the mutual benefit of public and employers. A common subject by many was how the current top-down approach, dictates from on high, has negated the voice and concerns of business. More than once, politicians were reminded that the question of continuing to be in New York, versus far more lucrative and friendly environments is a constant current battle.
“Did you know that it costs $12 for a meal at the Subway. I can go to Montrose [Pennsylvania] and get the same meal for $8. That’s a big deal, for me and the employees.” – Southern Tier business owner
State and local economy
Overall, while the conversations were civil, there was no question of the passion behind the words and the circumstances that were offered to the elected officials. Each official took notes, addressed the general or specific legislative action surrounding the concerns, and promised to share the experience with their colleagues – Upstate and Downstate. Attempts to convey this to the Governor were also noted as intended, though none were sure how such messages might be received.
After the event, Jennifer Conway noted the importance of this direct communication in getting effective changes where possible. In addition, the need to share with the public the “devil in the details” that may be missed in the sweeping comments by the Governor.