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Another Voice: Proposed health insurance tax is unneeded and unwise

In an Op-Ed published last week by the Buffalo News, Business Council President and CEO Heather C. Briccetti, Esq. opposes a proposal in the Executive Budget which calls for a new tax on all fully insured health and dental insurance policies to help pay the cost of operating the state’s health insurance exchange.

In the Op-Ed, Briccetti writes, “New Yorkers are already reeling from new taxes imposed under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) as more than $1.7 billion was levied last year. It’s estimated that those taxes will grow and total more than $13 billion over the next 10 years. The governor’s budget would add to that burden as it calls for a new tax on all fully insured health and dental insurance policies to help fund the exchange.

“At a minimum, the tax will add $69 million in new costs to health insurance plans, a cost that will be reflected in higher premiums for customers. New Yorkers already pay some of the highest state taxes in the nation for health insurance, with more than $5 billion assessed each year.

“The governor has in the past called for funding the exchange through dedicated HCRA funding, a position that continues to make good sense based on the new revenues generated from millions of newly insured. New York can only sustain its exchange and foster economic development by better utilizing the dollars it currently raises. The state cannot and must not ask taxpayers to pay yet another new tax.”

To read the complete Op-Ed on the Buffalo News Website, please click here.

Business Council to join Small Business Day March 3

The Business Council of New York State will join with the National Federation of Independent Businesses/NY and a coalition of over a dozen pro-business organizations and associations to advocate for policies that protect and promote small business on March 3 at the New York State Capitol and Legislative Office Building.

“The Business Council is pleased to be part of Small Business Day 2015,” said Heather C. Briccetti, Esq., president and CEO. “New Yorkers need jobs, and small business is a job creation engine. We are participating in Small Business day to talk about issues that impose unnecessary costs and restrictions on small business and entrepreneurs, with the goal of improving the state’s overall business, investment and job creation climate.”

The Business Council’s legislative session priorities include holding state spending to under 2-percent growth, simplifying and easing the regulatory burden that large and small businesses face; reforming workers’ compensation regulations to reduce cost and preserve quality care repealing the state’s antiquated Scaffold Law by adopting a standard that assigns proportional negligence similar to that in place for other forms of liability.

Upstate development competition raises questions

Wall Street Journal reporters Mike Vilensky and Josh Dawsey report some upstate leaders are uncomfortable with the competitive aspect of the Upstate New York Economic Revitalization Competition included in the Governor’s Executive Budget proposal.

Under the plan, seven upstate economic development regions, excluding Buffalo which has its own $1 billion commitment from the state already, will submit regional economic development plans to a five-person advisory panel as part of a selection process to be managed by the Empire State Development Corporation.

The three winning plans will each be awarded $500 million in state funds that are part of the state’s $5.5 billion windfall from settlements.

The Wall Street Journal article notes, “Some upstate officials … say the … proposal is more like ‘”The Hunger Games,”’ forcing them into a brutal faceoff where some will be cast out.”

The proposal is subject to Legislative approval as part of the budget negotiations.

The Business Council supports legislation that assures new economic development project assistance is available to significant development projects statewide.

You can read the entire Wall Street Journal story here.

Indian Point ruling draws business criticism

A state ruling earlier this month that keeps alive the possibility that the Indian Point Energy Center nuclear power plant in Buchanan could be forced to stop producing electricity during part of the summer as a way to protect tiny fish and their eggs in the Hudson River is drawing criticism from a Hudson Valley business leader.

Deborah Milone, executive director of Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce questions the decision in a letter to the editor of the Journal News:

As New Yorkers struggle with energy costs and utilities work to upgrade the electric system, an administrative judge at the New York Department of Environmental Conservation thinks the state should continue to spend more taxpayer money on an inherently bad idea: closing Indian Point every summer to supposedly save fish eggs. With policy proposals such as the forced shutdown plan from the DEC, it is little wonder that New York ranks as one of the worst business climates in the country and has the second highest electric rates.

The proposal from the DEC would significantly harm New York’s economy by causing a significant rise in electricity prices and endangering electric reliability when the power is needed most — in the summer. This is all while the power plant on the Hudson has already been proven by independent experts to have minimal impact on the marine environment of the river.

Forced outages will create great uncertainty, especially for energy-intensive businesses in such sectors as manufacturing, restaurants, grocery and hospitality. Because of our fragile transmission network and expensive electricity, many companies already hesitate to expand in New York or relocate here.

The DEC should stop wasting funds by exploring outrageous ideas, and consider common sense. Instead, policymakers should get to work on supporting affordable ideas that will support healthy marine life and clean air in ways that will also promote a healthy economy for the region’s businesses.

Finch Paper boosts margins with new products, leadership

Business Council member Finch Paper has introduced an average of one new product a month since CEO Debabrata Mukherjee took over at the Glens Falls paper company in May 2013.

Mukherjee, is chief executive officer of Finch Paper, a manufacturer of uncoated paper that employs 617, making it one of the largest employers in the 11 county region. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of The Business Council of New York State, Inc.
Since taking over as CEO following the retirement of Joseph Raccuia, Finch Paper has seen earnings improve for six consecutive quarters.

Now, Finch is in the early stages of a $20 million project to purchase and install new equipment at its’ wood yard to reduce fuel and electricity consumption. The project also will replace a portion of Finch’s largest paper machine. New York State’s economic development arm awarded $1 million in December to help underwrite the cost of those improvements. The upgrades at the wood yard are expected to be finished by September.
Muhkerjee told The Albany Business Review’s Robin Cooper, “It’s about supplementing what you have with new talents, creating a culture of winning and bringing new products to market. I’ve done this before.”

Finch’s $20 million in upgrades will improve efficiency without reducing headcount, he said.

Those improvements come as Finch prepares to bring more products to market. In the past 18 months, Finch introduced 18 new products including tags for clothing and gift cards. The company also began making more paper for envelope manufacturers and has worked to increase its market share of paper used in books and uncoated magazines.

Please read Cooper’s complete story here.

Ginna Nuclear Facility generates $358 million per year for New York economy

A study of the economic impact of the R. E. Ginna Nuclear Power Plant in Ontario, NY, released today by the Washington, D.C.-based Nuclear Energy Institute, concludes the plant adds $358 million to New York’s economic output and nearly $450 million across the entire U.S. economy.

“This study confirms that Ginna greatly strengthens the local, regional and state economies through job creation, tax payments, and direct and secondary spending. In many ways, nuclear energy facilities and their employees are invaluable to the quality of life in the communities where they operate,” said Richard Myers, NEI’s vice president for policy development, planning and supplier programs.

The study analyzed the impact of Ginna’s operations through 2029—the end of its 60-year operating license. Spending, and thus the economic impact of the plant, is considerably higher in years with refueling and maintenance outages when an additional 800 to 1,000 skilled workers earn up to $25 million. Ginna performs this type of outage on an 18-month frequency.

The full study is available here.

“Operationally, Ginna is an outstanding performer and is recognized as a reliable generating asset in the nuclear industry,” said Maria Korsnick, chief nuclear officer, Constellation Energy Nuclear Group and senior vice president, Exelon.

“Ginna creates very positive financial impacts for the entire state of New York and, as this study shows, it is a very important asset for the local economy providing affordable, reliable, baseload electricity that New York homeowners and businesses can count on. Ginna also provides tremendous carbon-prevention benefits that are all too often overlooked. This study affirms Ginna’s importance as a powerful economic engine and a clean energy asset.”

The R.E. Ginna Nuclear Power Plant is located on 426 acres along the south shores of Lake Ontario in Ontario, N.Y., about 20 miles northeast of Rochester. Ginna is a Westinghouse pressurized water reactor with an output of approximately 580 megawatts—enough electricity to power 400,000 homes. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has licensed the plant to operate through 2029.

Harris reputation poll: Wegmans has a better reputation than any company in the country

Business Council member Wegmans beat out a number of well-known and well-regarded companies, such as Apple and Google, when it comes to reputation. The grocery chain tops a list of the 100 most visible companies in Harris Poll’s 16th annual Reputation Quotient Study.

Michele Mehaffy, a Wegmans spokeswoman told the Buffalo News, “This really supports what we have always believed. If we meet the needs of our employees, they will take care of our customers.”

The study evaluated data from 27,000 respondents as to their perceptions of different companies’ products and services, financial performance, workplace environment, social responsibility, vision and leadership, and emotional appeal.

Wegmans led the pack, followed by Amazon.com, Samsung, Costco, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Foods, L.L. Bean, Publix Supermarkets, Apple, Google, Berkshire Hathaway and the Walt Disney Co.

Wegmans’ reputation score totaled 84.36, beating out Amazon’s 83.72. A score of 80 or above is considered “excellent.”

You can read the more detailed Buffalo News story here.

In statewide TV interview Business Council President and CEO analyzes Governor’s proposed budget

Business Council president and CEO Heather C. Briccetti, Esq. was a recent guest on the Time Warner Cable News interview program Capital Tonight. Host Liz Benjamin’s questions covered a range of issues starting with the Governor’s budget.

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Ms. Benjamin: “The Governor’s budget did seem to be a bit of a mixed bag for business. You have a wide range of members, what do they think of the proposals.”

“This budget represents another year of fiscal responsibility  and to The Business Council that’s a huge positive”

Ms. Briccetti: “There are a lot of positives and I always go back to controlling spending. I was just recently at a meeting of the heads of many of the state chambers of commerce from across the nation and in many cases they are dealing deficits in their states and going into a budget cycle looking at what are the least damaging taxes their states could raise. And we’re not in that position. To me that’s a testament to four consecutive years of spending control. Yes, some of the surplus that the state has is the result of settlements, but some of it the result of fiscal responsibility. This budget represents another year of fiscal responsibility  and to The Business Council that’s a huge positive because it alleviates the need to go looking for new revenue when business in the state is still trying to dig out of the recession.

“The bottom line is raising the minimum wage does not create jobs.”

On the Governor’s proposal to increase the minimum wage:
“The bottom line is raising the minimum wage does not create jobs. It is a disincentive to job creation. If you just look at U.S. Census data for 2013, which is the last year that is available, 60 percent of people who live in poverty don’t have a job. This [raising minimum wage] doesn’t do anything to assist them. In fact, it is counter-productive because it creates pressure on small business to eliminate jobs, because they can’t afford the increased cost of the new minimum wage. So I would argue, let the economy recover. Let the pressure to fill positions drive up wages, which is happening in other states. There are states that have a higher average weekly wage, but don’t have a higher minimum wage—they have the same minimum wage as the Federal government and wages are going up because they have full employment. The problem is that raising the minimum wage has been identified by supporters as a way to eliminate poverty and it is not. The way to end poverty is to create more jobs.”

“I think you have to look at the core issue of job creation.”

On competition-based upstate economic development:
“We support good projects, so I don’t think the alternative of saying ‘we’re just going to each region a fixed amount’ regardless of what kinds of projects they have in the works is a reasonable way to allocate economic development dollars. I think you have to look at economic development projects on kind of an individualized basis. Competition could  exclude good projects because overall that region’s plan isn’t as good as the one next to it would be unfortunate and we’d hate to see that happen.

I think some evaluation of the individual projects rather than the overall package that the region puts up would be good because sometimes they be tempted to add frills to make the package look shinier. And that is maybe unnecessary spending. I think you have to look at the core issue of job creation.”

If the problem is property taxes, then creating subsidies for select groups is not the answer because it doesn’t drive down taxes.”

On the Governor’s proposed property tax plan:
“If the problem is real property taxes and we would agree that it is. It’s the largest tax that most small businesses pay and businesses are the largest property taxpayers in the state. If the problem is property taxes, then creating subsidies for select groups is not the answer because it doesn’t drive down taxes. I think we need to take another hard look at mandate relief [for local government]. The property tax cap will take time but is a good and very effective tool in controlling the growth of property taxes. I agree with the Governor overall in his mission of consolidating layers of local government to start peeling away some of the unnecessary spending that drives up real property taxes, but there’s also a need for mandate relief. Let’s do scaffold law reform that is a substantial burden on everyone, every homeowner, every business, and every municipality.”

You can watch the entire interview here. Please note, a Time Warner Cable subscriber login is required.

Cornell Tech Announces $50-Million Naming Gift for Verizon Executive Education Center

Cornell Tech today announced a $50-million gift from Business Council member Verizon for the development of one of the innovative aspects of its Roosevelt Island campus, the Verizon Executive Education Center.

The center will be part of the first phase of the campus, which began construction last month and is due to open in the summer of 2017. When fully completed, the campus will include two million square feet of state-of-the-art buildings, more than two acres of open space, and will be home to more than 2,000 graduate students and nearly 280 faculty and staff.

“This is a transformative gift that will help enormously to advance our mission of bringing academia and industry together,” said Cornell University President David J. Skorton. “The campus will welcome everyone interested in using technology to advance the economy and to make the world a better place, and the Verizon Executive Education Center will be at the center of it.”

Cornell Tech is a revolutionary model for graduate education that fuses technology with business and creative thinking. Cornell Tech brings together like-minded faculty, business leaders, tech entrepreneurs and students in a catalytic environment to produce visionary ideas grounded in significant needs that will reinvent the way we live.

Cornell Tech’s temporary campus has been up and running at Google’s Chelsea building in New York City since 2012, with a growing world-class faculty, master’s and PhD students, and postdocs who work with tech-oriented organizations and companies and on their own startups.

“Our donation to Cornell Tech is an investment in the future and fits perfectly with our mission to use communications technologies to solve big challenges and make people’s lives better,” said Verizon Chairman and CEO Lowell McAdam. “The Verizon Executive Education Center will be a magnet for developers, entrepreneurs, educators and innovators across all industries, building on the great talent and creativity we already have in the tech sector in New York City.”

In addition to the Verizon Executive Education Center, the first phase will include the First Academic Building with an open plan and collaborative work spaces, taking its cue from the tech world. It is designed to be among the largest net-zero energy buildings in the United States, with all of its power generated on campus. A corporate co-location building will also be located on campus. The co-location building will fuse academia and industry by providing space for established tech companies and startups to locate on campus. A residential building will be constructed for faculty, staff and students to ensure the campus is active 24/7.

To read the complete announcement from Cornell Tech, please click here.

New York schools among least efficient when it comes to educating fourth and eighth graders

A survey rating the efficiency of the nation’s largest public school systems finds many in New York are among the least efficient.

Wallet Hub, a social media company that allows people to search for and compare financial products and that also does all kinds of public data-based state and local rankings, is out with a new ranking of the most and least efficient public systems.

They used a simple method to calculate efficiency — measuring fourth and eighth grade test scores and pitting that against the cost per-student. They did, however make adjustments for poverty, median income, single parent families and families where English is not the primary language.

What they found is not encouraging for New York: Five of the 10 least-efficient school systems were in the Empire State, with Syracuse, New York, Buffalo, Yonkers and Rochester taking those low spots.

The most efficient were largely in the Sun Belt or South, though several large northern cities with socio-economic pressures similar to the New York schools, were significantly more efficient than the New York districts including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania and Grand Rapids and Detroit in Michigan.

You can find the full report on the ranking here.