Council board sets legislative priorities; members, staff to develop strategies; 1999 focus: broader tax cuts, tort reform, health costs, and workforce development


Director of Communications

The Business Council's Board of Directors has approved a 1999 legislative agenda that will focus on these priorities: further tax cuts, tort reform, health-care cost containment, and improved workforce development.

The Board also designated the campaign for reform of government mandates as the top priority for The Council's research affiliate, The Public Policy Institute.

The Board of Directors chose these priorities Sept. 16 at The Business Council's Annual Meeting in Bolton Landing.

"Our Board has set our course for 1999, and now our members and staff will develop plans that specify how we intend to win on these issues in the legislative session," said Business Council President Daniel B. Walsh.

The Business Council's issue-management strategies include grassroots efforts to build momentum for business-friendly policies, research, public relations, and personal advocacy with elected officials and key legislative staff in the Capitol, Walsh noted.

Some key business wins in recent years have been made possible by such strategies, Walsh noted. Examples include comprehensive workers' compensation reform, sweeping cuts in personal and business taxes, and unemployment insurance reform.

Walsh emphasized that The Council will also work on other issues related to the environment, energy, education, the costs of benefits, and taxation.

"Our strong focus on key priorities often creates opportunities for us to make gains in less visible areas," Walsh noted.

Here is background on the top 1999 priorities:

Tax cuts: With strong Business Council support, lawmakers in 1998 made historic tax cuts that are returning $743 million to taxpayers, including nearly half a billion dollars in business tax cuts.

However, the corporate rate cut from 9 to 7.5 percent excluded banks and insurers.

The Council will urge lawmakers to expand these cuts to include insurers and banks, which are a major part of New York's economy.

The Council will also urge lawmakers to accelerate already scheduled reductions, eliminate unintended taxes on newly deregulated power utilities, and cut or kill various industry-specific taxes, such as the truck mileage tax.

Tort reform: Through New Yorkers for Civil Justice Reform, a coalition of organizations representing business, local governments, not-for-profit organizations, physicians, farmers, architects, and many others, The Business Council will continue to urge lawmakers to enact comprehensive civil justice reform.

The Public Policy Institute documented the abuses of New York's "lawsuit industry" in a comprehensive report released this spring entitled An Accident and a Dream. The report showed that New Yorkers pay $14.3 billion each year-nearly $800 for every person in the state-to support this industry.

Specific reforms advocated by The Council include: a repeal of joint and several liability; a cap on non-economic damages in tort cases; a statute of repose to limit product liability to 10 years; and a measure to let employers defend themselves for worksite injuries when plaintiffs can be shown to be negligent.

Health costs: New York's health-care costs are estimated to be more than 22 percent above the national average-and climbing. A 1998 Public Policy Institute study showed that these high costs are the main factor cited by the uninsured as the reason they lack insurance.

The Council will urge the repeal of "temporary" taxes to support graduate medical education, and will urge lawmakers to reject various mandates that would drive up these already high costs.

Workforce development: A 1998 survey by The Public Policy Institute showed broad concern about the quality and availability of New York's workforce.

The Business Council will urge lawmakers to streamline New York's many disjointed training programs into a more coordinated training approach that is employer-focused and that includes training programs for incumbent workers.