Government Affairs Albany UpdateJune 6, 2008
- PEG Plans
- Executive Order Issued Sets New Standards Governing Use of Consultant Contacts by State Agencies
- Labor Department Issues Guidelines on Providing Options for Blood Donation
- Business Coalition Urges Governor and Legislature to “Fix Wicks”
- Washington Update
The Division of Budget (DOB) has posted approved “state operations” cost reduction plans for 23 state agencies. These were submitted in response to Governor Paterson's “Program to Eliminate the Gap,” or PEG, initiative, under which the Governor directed agencies to reduce operational spending by 3.35 percent this fiscal year.
These 23 plans, and the target cost reductions for all other state agencies, are available on the DOB web site. DOB has said that they will be posting additional plans as they are approved on DOB's web site. Updates will also be added to the site quarterly to show agencies' progress in achieving their savings goals, and all plans are expected to be approved no later than June 30.
Agency-specific plans approved to date cover the Departments of Health ($20.4 million), Tax and Finance ($13.5 million), Labor ($1.6 million) and Insurance ($9.7 million); SUNY ($148 million) and CUNY ($4 million plus $17 million reduction in local assistance); and others.
Governor Paterson issued an Executive Order on Friday which establishes stringent standards on the use of consultant contracts by state agencies and establishes a task force to review and report on agencies use of consultants.
The Executive Order applies to most consultant contracts where personnel costs exceed $1 million per year and recommends their use only if the contractor will be more cost effective, efficient or necessary to protect public health and safety. It requires agencies to explain why outside consultants, and not state employees, are needed to perform a specific task; requires agencies to post information on their web sites including a full listing of qualifying consultant contracts, along with availability of the actual contract via an agency's web site or upon request.
The Task Force will meet at least quarterly and evaluate contracts submitted for their review.
Last year, the Legislature amended the State's Labor Law to mandate that employers with 20 or more employees provide staff members who work at least 20 hours per week with time off to donate blood. The New York State Department of Labor issued guidelines, effective May 7, 2008, implementing the new leave requirement.
At an Albany press conference, The Business Council's President, Kenneth Adams, and members of the “Fix Wicks” coalition said that the recent changes in the Wicks Law that were called “reform” will actually drive up costs for public construction. The coalition called on Governor David Paterson and the legislature to take immediate action to repeal this costly legislation.
The coalition is encouraged by the sponsorship of legislation A.11397/S.8321 Assemblyman Schimminger and Senator Winner. The bill would repeal the PLA (Project Labor Agreement) mandate. Another bill sponsored by Senator Winner, S.8262 would also make the prequalification provisions applicable only to New York City.
The coalition includes: The Business Council of New York State, Inc., the Empire State Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), the Northeastern Subcontractors Association, the General Building Contractors of New York State, The National Federation of Independent Business, The Business Council of Westchester, the Buffalo-Niagara Partnership, the Rochester Business Alliance, the Otsego County Chamber, the Rockland Business Association, he Southern Saratoga Chamber, the Greater Binghamton Chamber, Unshackle Upstate and numerous minority and women-owned contracting firms from throughout the state.
- Obama, McCain Give Boost to Contract Data Legislation
Both presidential candidates are backing a bill beefing up federal contracting transparency. Obama joined Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., to introduce legislation to increase information available through USASpending.gov, a database of federal contracts and grants created under a bill the Senators co-sponsored in 2006. McCain and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Management Subcommittee Chairman Thomas Carper, D-Del., joined as original co-sponsors.
While USASpending.gov lists government contract and grant amounts, the bill would require federal agencies to include searchable copies of all contracts they award, details about the bidding process, assessments of work already done and information on civil, criminal or administrative proceedings against award recipients, among other categories.
Despite the relatively late date in the Session, Senate aides said the measure could move quickly given past passage of the database bill and its high-profile support. The measure may move alone or be attached as an amendment to another bill. While no companion House bill has been introduced, language has been shared with the staff of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Various provisions in the bill address government accountability themes adopted by both presidential candidates. The bill would require that the database indicate if contracts or grants resulted from congressional earmarks, for instance. The measure also requires that the Web site include information on contractor's tax compliance. It mandates enhancements to USASpending.gov through twice-yearly audits of data quality, a public error-reporting system and reviews of data samples by agency inspectors general.
- Time Out For Free Trade Agreements?
House and Senate Democrats, Wednesday, introduced labor-backed legislation to effectively call a time-out on free-trade agreements. The bill would require Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review existing trade deals by June 10, 2010, and an analysis of how the deals stack up against labor, environmental and safety standards enumerated in the bill.
If gaps are found by GAO, the President would be required to submit renegotiation plans for current trade pacts before negotiating new ones and congressional consideration of pending trade pacts. Committees of jurisdiction would then review the renegotiation plans.
While it is unlikely to become law this year, it does represent a level of unrest that does not bode well for the free-trade agenda. Three Free Trade Agreements are currently awaiting Congressional action: Columbia, Panama and South Korea.
- Mass-Layoff Bill Hitching a Ride on Trade Act Reauthorization?
Bipartisan Senate talks on reauthorizing the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program might include a labor-backed proposal to expand employee notification requirements in the event of pending layoffs.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, last year introduced a bill with the support of Senators Obama and Clinton that would broaden the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or "WARN Act," which became law in 1988 despite President Reagan's veto. Backers argue the law needs to be expanded to keep up with changing economic circumstances, increasing job losses and loopholes in the existing law.
The WARN Act changes, dubbed the "FOREWARN Act," would increase the notification period for mass layoffs or plant closings from 60 to 90 days. It would cover plant closings affecting as few as 25 workers, down from 50, and change the definition of a "mass layoff" to 100 workers, down from 500.
Employers are required to provide one day of back pay and benefits for each day under the 60-day window that they failed to notify employees they would be laid off; the Brown Bill would double the back pay requirement, while expanding the threshold to 90 days. It would also authorize the Labor Secretary or State Attorneys General to bring suit against an employer for violations.
Increasing the bill's chances is the fact that the House-passed a version of the TAA reauthorization which contains an amendment by House Education and Labor Chairman, George Miller, similar to Brown's measure.