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New York Times faults opt-out movement

A New York Times editorial board piece published on Friday, (“Opting Out of Standardized Tests Isn’t the Answer”, Aug. 14) raised concerns over New York’s 20 percent assessment opt-out rate for students in grades 3 through 8. The Times referred to the opt-out movement as an “ill-conceived boycott” that could seriously harm education reform.

The main culprit behind the damaging, heavily publicized opt-out movement has been a massive media attack by the teachers unions, whose anger over the student-growth component of evaluations has driven a campaign filled with misinformation aimed to induce anxiety among parents and students.

The Business Council has been at the forefront of support for both higher education standards and quality assessments, pointing to employers’ difficulty in finding qualified workers with skills such as critical-thinking and problem-solving. The annual assessments in grades 3 through 8 are a necessary “check-up” tool to ensure that students are being prepared for college and the work world.

While student gains in English Language Arts and math tests this year were incremental overall, it is critical that New York stick to the implementation of higher education standards and aligned assessments.

The Business Council agrees with the Times editorial board that political leaders must be vocal in their support for the tests. We also believe that additional steps should be taken to ensure that teachers and parents are able to adjust to the new, more rigorous assessments.

How are high energy costs affecting job growth?

The U.S Chamber of Commerce is out with a terrific piece highlighting the negative effect high energy costs are having on job growth throughout New England. The story is familiar to anyone who has tried to own and operate a business in New York.

One of our own member companies, Kinder Morgan, which is in the process of securing approvals for a natural gas pipeline which would run through portions of New York State, receives a mention in the post.

“Pipeline companies are itching to extend their lines to bring plentiful gas into Massachusetts; Kinder Morgan KMI +0.87% has already signed up long-term buyers for the gas it would haul in via its stalled $3.3 billion Northeast Direct line.

But that’s not going to happen, at least not anytime soon. Despite the fact that Western Massachusetts’ GDP plunged 3.6% from 2007-13 (while the U.S. overall expanded 5.6% over the same time), opposition by small, well-organized groups to any new pipeline remains as ferocious as it is irrational. “We want to prevent the overbuilding of gas infrastructure and overreliance on gas, for economic reasons and climate reasons,” says Kathryn Eiseman, head of Massachusetts PipeLine Awareness Network advocacy group. Yet thanks to her group and others like it, in January 2014 New England’s power companies, lacking gas to make electricity, resorted to burning 2.7 million barrels of emergency fuel oil–more expensive and far more toxic, pumping out twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas. So much for “economic and climate reasons.””

New Yorkers know all too well the negative impact NIMBY-activism can have on economic growth. We encourage you to take the time to read the entire piece and let us know what you think.

Brief highlights impact of $15 minimum wage

The Manhattan Institute, a highly-regarded, nonpartisan, independent research and educational organization is out with a new issue brief examining the economic impact of raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

This is an issue close to the mind of many New Yorkers after the recent decision by the state Labor Department to recommend raising wages for fast-food workers to $15 an hour by 2018 in New York City and 2021 in the rest of the state.

According to the executive summary, The Manhattan Institute concludes:

“We find that increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020 would affect 55.1 million workers and cost 6.6 million jobs. Aggregate income among low-wage workers would rise by $105.4 billion, after accounting for income declines from job losses. However, only 6.7 percent of the increase in income would go to workers who are actually in poverty.

Because the exact effect of the minimum wage on employment remains unsettled, we check the robustness of our results by employing a range of estimates from the literature that imply modest, moderate, and severe employment consequences. In each case, we analyze how the change in earnings resulting from a minimum-wage increase would be distributed across income levels.”

We find it particularly interesting that the brief finds less than 7 percent of the projected increase in worker income would go to people living in poverty. Especially since advocates often cite lifting workers out of poverty as the primary reason drastic wage hikes are necessary.

We encourage you to read the Manhattan Institute’s full report and let us know what you think.

Panel discusses higher standards

The Manhattan Chamber of Commerce last week hosted a panel discussion on higher education standards, the value of assessments and business engagement in education at the Microsoft Technology Center in New York City. The event—sponsored by the Public Policy Institute of New York State (PPI) and the Committee for Economic Development—featured a panel of local stakeholders: Cass Conrad, executive director of School Support and Development at CUNY; Tenicka Boyd, director of organizing at StudentsFirstNY; Neal Gorka a teacher at Democracy Prep Charter Middle School; and Robert Patterson, business development manager at Progressive Computing Inc.

Since its adoption by the New York State Board of Regents in January 2011, the Common Core has been conflated with a host of unrelated issues, namely teacher evaluations, which include a student-growth component centered on state and local assessments.

Higher Education Standards panel
Courtesy: Manhattan Chamber of Commerce

Boyd, who is a strong supporter of both the standards and Common Core aligned-assessments, told the audience about her background growing up in a low-income neighborhood in Milwaukee. There, Ms. Boyd told how she was inspired by her third-grade teacher, Mr. Smith, who made a huge impact on her life and the lives of her classmates. She also noted that the opt-out movement—which has been wrought with misinformation— was not prevalent in lower-income and minority communities.

In regard to the current workforce’s preparation for 21st century careers, Patterson noted that job applicants often lacked “soft skills,” including working in groups and critical thinking.

Event attendees all received copies of PPI’s Common Core Standards: What Every New Yorker Needs to Know and Partnering with Schools for College and Career Readiness: Resources for the New York State Business Community.

We would like to thanks the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce for partnering with us on this great event.

Con Ed report highlights emissions cut

This is truly incredible news. Con Edison recently released their 2014 Sustainability Report 2014 Sustainability Report (read it here) and they are touting some eye-popping numbers. Since 2005, Con Ed has cut greenhouse gas emission by 45 percent. That’s the same as removing 500 thousand cars from the road.

Other highlights taken directly from the report include:

  • As one of the largest consumers of municipal water in New York City, we purchased over 3.6 billion gallons of water, approximately 100 million of which was used for basic water and sewage services at our facilities while the rest was used to generate steam.
  • The wise and effective use of natural resources is one of Con Edison’s five key EH&S objectives. We continue to focus on reducing, reusing, and recycling to minimize consumption. This applies to our use of materials as well as our use of energy and water and we were proud in 2014 to again have a recycling rate of 90% for our non-hazardous waste.
  • Our primary impact on habitat and biodiversity is on our overhead transmission rights-of-way (ROW) and in 2014, we continued to enact our Land and Vegetation Management program which was developed, in part, to encourage biological diversity along these passageways. We’ve also undertaken an initiative in partnership with the New York DEC to reduce the spread of invasive species in ROW.
  • Our seven climate change principles help guide our work, and in 2014 we reached the halfway mark in our four-year, $1 billion plan for storm hardening investments to adapt our system after two of our most significant storms within two years (Hurricane Irene in 2011 with over 200,000 outages and Superstorm Sandy in 2012 with over 1 million outages) and improve our resiliency.

(source: Con Edison’s 2014 Sustainability Report)

We are proud to have Con Ed as a member and congratulate them on making and keeping their commitment to improving corporate sustainability.

Soccer club shutout by comp costs

It’s one thing to say Worker’s Comp costs are out of control, they are. But what are the practical implications? Well, for one Central New York soccer club, the sky-high costs mean they simply cannot survive.

The Syracuse Post Standard has a fascinating, and disheartening story about how the Rochester Lancers, a professional indoor soccer club, will no longer be able to field a team after their Worker’s Comp costs ballooned from 20k per year to more than a quarter of a million dollars.

From the article: “Lancers owner Salvatore “Soccer Sam” Fantauzzo has posted a letter on his team’s website that explains his team is ceasing operations because of a hefty worker’s compensation bill.

Fantauzzo said the team’s premium rose from $20,000 to $277,000, an increase way beyond the team’s means.

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported that Fantauzzo wrote a letter to the Professional Arena Soccer League that said “we allowed players to milk the system.” He told the paper that disability payments were paid to players who in some cases were still actively competing. The state neither informed the Lancers of those claims nor fought the awards, he said.”

The Business Council of New York State has repeatedly called for reform of our bloated Worker’s Comp system. You can read more about our proposed reforms and cost-saving measures by reading Fix New York: The 2015 Legislative and Regulatory Agenda.

USA Today says yes to fracking

Less than two weeks ago New York State officially banned fracking. The decision was not unexpected. In fact, we’ve known it was coming since last December. We remain dismayed that state officials chose to ignore the evidence that fracking can be done safely, including a detailed report from the EPA.

A holiday weekend editorial in the USA Today says it best: “Any debate about banning it should take a hard look at what that would cost the nation and at facts that aren’t always part of the discussion.

Those facts are spelled out in a recent report from the Environmental Protection Agency on fracking and groundwater. One of the harshest charges against fracking, often leveled with apocalyptic intensity by its foes, is that it indiscriminately contaminates vital drinking water supplies.

The EPA’s timely report essentially said that’s overblown.”

The Business Council remains hopeful that as more and more reports come out that fracking can be done safely the state of New York will reverse its misguided ban. The residents of the Southern Tier deserve the chance to join in on the economic opportunities hydraulic fracturing has created in many communities around the country.

It’s time to make way for a sharing economy

It is rare that New York State moves to pass legislation that would have an immediate and positive impact on the Hudson Valley economy. It is even rarer that the bill would not cost taxpayers a penny and has bipartisan support in both houses. Fortunately, such a piece of legislation (A.6090/S.4280) exists and is supported by a number of organizations, including The Business Council of New York State. This particular piece of legislation, which would help regulate the growing “sharing economy,” specifically as it pertains to automobiles and insurance companies, should be passed before the end of the year.

The “sharing economy” is perhaps best exemplified by companies like Lyft and Uber, but there are a whole host of businesses just waiting for New York State to give them the regulatory tools necessary to open up shop. Passing this legislation, sponsored by Assemblyman Cahill, would give New Yorkers the services they want while at the same time giving insurance companies the assurances they need.

Anyone who has lived and traveled in cities like Poughkeepsie, Albany, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo knows that the current transit options are woefully inadequate. The lack of consistently reliable public transportation stifles economic development and leaves visitors with a negative impression of our communities and our state.

Ride sharing and other “collaborative consumption” innovations have several benefits to consumers and the economy as a whole. The utilization of underused assets allows ride-sharers to spend less money and moves more people with fewer vehicles. Ride-sharing saves resources, energy and physical space.

The growth of the “sharing economy” is indisputable. A recent report in Forbes Magazine estimated that the revenue flowing through the “sharing economy” surpassed $3.5 billion, with growth expectations that exceeded 25 percent. New York should be at the forefront in encouraging new economic models in a safe and responsible manner. By requiring that group policy insurance be in place for vehicles taking part in ride sharing, the Cahill bill provides a balanced approach to the necessary protections for consumers, insurers and the public at large.

New York has a history of leading the nation when it comes to adopting legislative policies that affect real change in the way we all live and work. Unfortunately, when it comes to the so-called “new economy”, New York’s policies are falling woefully behind. It is time for the Empire State to show true leadership and allow its citizens to take advantage of the benefits technology is affording us all.

Heather C. Briccetti Esq.
President and CEO of The Business Council of New York State, Inc.

*a version of this OpEd ran in the Poughkeepsie Journal on 6/17/15

Assembly clarifies SLA authority

Earlier today, the New York State Assembly passed A.5920. The legislation, supported by The Business Council, clarifies the State Liquor Authority’s (SLA) ability to penalize licensees in certain situations.

The bill, born out of dispute between a Capital Region retailer and the SLA, would clarify the SLA’s legal authority in enforcing the laws of another state. More specifically, it would remove the ambiguity that exists in current law and end the perception of selective enforcement.

The alcohol industry remains a vital and growing part of the New York State economy, providing tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity. A predictable regulatory environment will help ensure this important industry remains strong and continues to experience the growth we have seen in recent years.

We applaud the state Assembly for passing this legislation and encourage the state Senate to do the same.

Rochester tops summer jobs list

How about this for some great news? Forbes magazine is out with an article today highlighting a recent survey by the ManpowerGroup that finds that Rochester, NY has the best job outlook of any U.S. city this summer.

Overall, the study found that employment opportunities are improving nationwide. According to the Manpower Group survey and Forbes, the net employment outlook is 16%, which is an improvement of 2 percentage points from the same point last year.

Getting to Rochester specifically, the state’s third largest city has a net employment outlook of 35%. Forbes spoke directly with Bob Duffy, the former Lieutenant Governor and current CEO of the Rochester Business Alliance, to find out why things are looking up in Rochester.

“According to Duffy, the precision manufacturing industry in Rochester is particularly strong at the moment with companies like Gleason, a machine tool builder, adding employees. Kodak is also on the upswing. Plus Rochester has its share of growing startups. One, data backup and recovery outfit Datto, has plans to have 100 Rochester-based employees by October. The call center company Sutherland is also expanding—so quickly, in fact, that it cannot build new buildings fast enough to house all the new workers that it wants to hire, Duffy says. “We have the highest per capita concentration of patents in the United States and 19 colleges and universities that contribute tremendous brainpower,” he says.”

Rounding out the rest of the list are: Nashville, TN; Provo, UT; and Tucson, AZ.