ALBANY The Business Council has urged legislative leaders to use a December session to pass an aggressive package of bills called the "Upstate Agenda for Growth."
The Upstate Agenda would reduce energy costs, accelerate existing tax cuts, enhance workforce development, repeal mandates in order to lower property taxes, pre-approve potential business sites, and promote New York's economic progress to businesses and economic development professionals both inside and outside New York State.
"A December session of the Legislature would provide an early opportunity to stimulate growth in the single remaining area where New York still lags the nation economically: upstate," said Business Council President Daniel B. Walsh in letters sent this week to Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and to Assembly Minority Leader John Faso and Senate Minority Leader Martin Connor.
The Upstate Agenda is motivated by a sense of opportunity created by positive changes Gov. Pataki and the Legislature have made in recent years-changes that are paying off upstate and statewide, Walsh said.
"Jobs are at a record high, as are new business locations. The key manufacturing sector has stabilized, after years of losses," Walsh said, noting that recent business climate improvements have helped upstate add 44,000 jobs in the last three years. "But there is more to do."
The Upstate Agenda would:
- Reduce energy costs: Walsh urged lawmakers to accelerate to January a cut to the gross receipts tax (GRT) now set for 2000, and to prevent unintended tax hikes on energy bills.
The unintended taxes stem from utility restructuring, which exposed new utility holding companies to taxes never intended to affect utilities. If left unaddressed, Walsh noted, these taxes will force utilities to pass more than $50 million in new taxes on to customers.
Despite deregulation and Power for Jobs (which grants lower-cost power to employers that use it to create or retain jobs), New York's average cost per kilowatt-hour in 1997 was 11.13 cents, 62 percent above the national average, Walsh wrote.
- Enhance workforce development: Walsh urged lawmakers to allocate $50 million a year, including $10 million in the first quarter of 1999, so consortia of employers can develop, and oversee delivery of, employer-focused training programs that target all workers, including incumbent workers who need retraining. He also urged the state to provide $10 million annually to help community colleges provide training programs to individual employers.
- Cut property taxes by repealing mandates:Noting that property taxes are "the largest single competitive disadvantage now faced by New York State businesses," Walsh urged lawmakers to enact further mandate relief to help local governments and school districts reduce taxes.
- Walsh urged passage of Gov. Pataki's mandate-relief proposal. That bill would reform the Wicks Law, which requires municipalities to use multiple contractors on projects over $50,000, and would authorize the use of federal asbestos safety standards that apply to private-sector construction projects on public-sector projects.
- Pre-approve business sites:Many potential industrial sites with key infrastructure in place (such as water and transportation) are less attractive for development because they have solid waste, petroleum-based or hazardous substances on them, Walsh said. Lawmakers should create environmental and economic incentives to make it faster and easier to remediate and redevelop these sites.
- Promote New York's progress: Despite New York's recent progress cutting taxes and enacting other business climate improvements, "my conversations with business executives both in New York and elsewhere make clear that we've been hiding our light under a barrel," Walsh wrote. He urged lawmakers to put $10 million in start-up funds in a private sector-led marketing campaign to tell potential investors, site-selection professionals, and others about New York's progress.
Other business priorities, such as tort reform and broader tax cuts, will remain atop The Council's agenda for the 1999 session.
The Business Council is New York's largest broad-based business group, representing more than 4,000 member companies large and small across the state. Based in Albany, it lobbies for a better business climate and offers cost-cutting services to its members.