Director of Communications

ALBANY — Chambers of commerce and other business groups from Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, and Schenectady today urged lawmakers to enact an "Upstate Agenda for Growth" proposed by The Business Council.

At a press conference at the state Capitol, Daniel B. Walsh, president of The Business Council was joined by representatives of the Greater Buffalo Partnership, the Rochester Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Fulton County Chamber of Commerce, the Schenectady Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Rensselaer County Chamber of Commerce, and the Albany-Colonie Chamber of Commerce.

"The Upstate Agenda is a message of hope, not of gloom and doom," Business Council President Daniel B. Walsh said. "In the last four years, New York has cut taxes, reformed regulations, reduced costs of workers' comp and unemployment insurance—all winning moves that are paying off in new growth both upstate and downstate."

"But there's more to be done, and employment statistics that consistently show upstate lagging behind the rest of the economy should give lawmakers special motivation to act quickly and decisively on this agenda," he added.

The Upstate Agenda is a package of proposals designed to address issues at the core of New York's problems competing with other states in attracting new jobs and retaining existing jobs.

Specifically, the proposals are designed to 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.

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.

In addition to the groups expected to participate in today's press conference, the Upstate Agenda has been endorsed by business groups from across the state, including: the Niagara Falls Chamber of Commerce; the Niagara Business Alliance; the Broome County Chamber of Commerce; the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce; the Plattsburgh Chamber of Commerce; the Fulton County Chamber of Commerce; the Orange County Chamber of Commerce; the Livingston County Chamber of Commerce; the Genessee County Chamber of Commerce; the Poughkeepsie Chamber of Commerce; and the Manufacturers' Association of the Jamestown Area.

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.

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