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Natural gas pipelines are good for business

Darren Suarez, our director of government affairs and an energy policy expert, sat down with Liz Benjamin of Capital Tonight, on Wednesday night to talk about several natural gas pipelines proposed throughout the state.

“When we have additional natural gas supply it helps to bring down overall electricity costs, and that helps all companies. That helps with all jobs, and that’s why we’re supportive,” Suarez explained.

The discussion focused on the Northeast Energy Direct Project, led by one of our members, Kinder Morgan. The project would connect parts of the existing Tennessee Gas pipeline system in New York and other states. Suarez also discussed the roughly 20 additional pipeline projects that are in varying stages of development around New York.

“We’re really going through a revolution in terms of our energy production and in terms of people’s choices for energy,” said Suarez.

The full interview is linked below. Please note, a TWC ID may be required to view the clip.

Natural gas pipelines are good for business

Verizon named best for vets

Fantastic news for one of our member companies! Verizon just took the top spot in the Military Times’ Best for Vets: Employers 2015 rankings.

The top five are:

  1. Verizon
  2. USAA
  3. Lockheed Martin
  4. BAE Systems
  5. Charles Schwab Corp.

According to USA Today: “More companies than ever before responded to this year’s survey, which explored each employer’s recruiting, culture and policies.”

“Service members have an accelerated learning curve,” said Evan Guzman, Verizon’s head of military programs, and he explained the goal isn’t only to bring in talent, but also, “to make sure we at least give them some guidance and support”.

We want to congratulate Verizon, and thank them for their dedication to our military. The USA Today article referenced above can be found here.

Tax foundation out with new tax map

Just in time for tax day, the Tax Foundation is out with a new map highlighting the top marginal income tax rates in each state. It will come as no surprise to residents of New York State that we have among the highest top income tax rates in the country. In fact, only six states plus the District of Columbia rank higher.

Just in time for tax day, the Tax Foundation is out with a new map highlighting the top marginal income tax rates in each state. It will come as no surprise to residents of New York State that we have among the highest top income tax rates in the country. In fact, only six states plus the District of Columbia rank higher.
Top State Marginal Individual Income Tax Rates in 2015 (as of April 15, 2015)

In addition to the above map, the foundation’s page has some really great information broken down by state.

We encourage you to spend some time and check it out.

IBM aims to shake up the health care industry

Forbes.com is out with a very interesting story about how IBM, a member company, is making a significant foray into the health care industry.

According to the story, “IBM’s pitch is that it will be able to create a new middle layer in the health care system – linking the old electronic records systems, some of which have components dating back to the 1970s, with a new, cloud-based architecture, because of its deep breadth of experience.”

The article goes on to say that as part of the effort, IBM is acquiring two companies, Cleveland’s Explorys and Dallas’ Phytel. The computing giant also announced strategic partnerships with Apple, Johnson & Johnson (also a BCNYS member), and Medtronic.

The entire effort centers around IBM’s Watson computer. You probably remember Watson from its famous appearance as a contestant on Jeopardy! a few years ago.

The article states the jury is still out on whether Watson is up to the task, but IBM is convinced the technology is ready. Stay tuned!

The Not-So-Curious Case of John Burke

There’s a story in today’s Times Union that should anger every taxpayer in Albany County and across the state. Unfortunately, the story won’t cause the outrage it should – and that’s because it’s become all too common. The case of former Albany County sheriff inspector John F. Burke Jr. is the direct result of a broken workers’ compensation system that leaves New York state taxpayers holding the bag.

Brendan Lyons of the Times Union does a terrific job describing the circumstances of Mr. Burke’s claim. We encourage you to read the full article here. But, we did want to highlight one section:

“The fact that the claimant voluntarily separated from employment does not preclude him from awards, provided he is able to demonstrate reattachment to the labor market,” Loughlin said in a 12-page ruling. “I find that the claimant has demonstrated that he has searched for work since his separation from employment.”

County officials said they were stunned by the decision and will suspend any payments to Burke pending an appeal to the Workers’ Compensation Board.

“I firmly think this is a disgrace and this is what’s wrong with the system,” Sheriff Craig Apple said. “They’re telling us we did everything we needed to do to prove our case, and yet they’re still going to give him $40,000 a year.”

So, what can we do to fix this systemic waste and abuse? The harsh reality is that a legislative fix is just impractical. The state Assembly is not interested in rectifying the problem. Candidly, they don’t even view it as problem. But, The Business Council is working to put real pressure on the Cuomo administration to get this right.

What can you do to help? Contact the Governor’s office, reach out to our in-house workers’ comp expert, Lev Ginsburg (lev.ginsburg@bcnys.org), and send us stories of similar fraud and abuse. The only way we will get the wholesale changes needed to protect New York taxpayers is by making our voices heard.

New York businesses observe Earth Hour

Many New York businesses participated in Earth Hour on March 28 by turning out and dimming lights to emphasize energy-efficiency awareness.  The Empire State Building dimmed its lights, while theaters on Broadway also toned down the neon.

Business Council member Verizon turned off the lights in nearly 500 of its buildings in 37 countries around the world. In all, Verizon darkened 25 million square feet of building space around the world—the equivalent of nearly 12 Empire State Buildings.

Since 2010, Verizon and its employees around the world have participated in the Earth Hour movement, helping the World Wildlife Fund to promote sustainable living, expand energy-efficiency awareness, and take a stand against climate change. Verizon promotes sustainability in its employee culture, encouraging participation in Earth Hour and community-environment events. As a result, thousands of employees — many of them among the 17,000 member Verizon Green Team, the company’s largest employee resource group—have pledged to darken their homes in 25 countries during Earth Hour 2015.

Please click here to watch as Verizon observes Earth Hour.

Commentary: Another way to make New Yorkers pay more for something they don’t want or need

Nobody enjoys receiving annoying automated “robocalls” or negative campaign mailers every time an election rolls around. Imagine if those same voters had to foot the bill for the overwhelming barrage of unwanted political solicitations through taxpayer-funded campaigns. Estimates of the impact to taxpayers ranges from $125 million to more than $300 million per election cycle.

That is money that could be better spent on schools, roads, bridges, public protection, or reduced taxes.

The proponents of public funding offer it as a panacea for addressing corruption and a way to invigorate democracy.

New York City has had public funding since 1988 and based on that experience, public funding misses the mark.

Public funding has done little to curb corruption; instead it has proven to be a new source of misdeeds. For example, last year, one New York City Council member was indicted for appropriating $11,500 in public matching funds through a shell company and a nonprofit that he controlled. Some of the taxpayer money that he siphoned off went to the purchase of a $750 Louis Vuitton handbag.

If voter turnout is a measure of a democracy’s strength, then public funding has failed that test as well. In the most recent New York City mayoral election, a record low 24 percent of registered voters participated. Barely 1 million of the 4.3 million registered voters cast a ballot in a city of nearly 8.5 million people.

Worse yet, taxpayer funded campaigns have not resulted in more competitive elections. Out of 51 New York City council general election races in 2013, only one was considered competitive. In 2009 races, only two general election races were considered competitive.
Some of the strongest voices in support of public funding are public employee unions, which are also advocating ”reforms” that would significantly limit the voice of business in the political process by reducing business contributions from the current $5,000 per candidate limit to $1,000. The largest single source of campaign spending has been labor organizations and in particular, public employee unions. These proposals do nothing to limit those contributions.

Public employee union political contributions in the election process should be of particular concern to the public. As Victor Gotbaum, a former leader of District Council 37 of the AFSCME in New York City once boasted: “We have the ability, in a sense, to elect our own boss.”

There are better approaches to reform. For example, the State Constitution should be amended to allow four-year legislative terms as a means to reduce the permanent campaign cycle and the seemingly endless cycle of fundraising.

Such a reform would produce real change without burdening taxpayers with additional government spending or unreasonably limiting political speech in the name of reform.

New tax to fund state health exchange faces questions from some lawmakers

Some lawmakers, and The Business Council of New York State, are challenging the Cuomo administration’s push for a new, $69 million annual tax to fund the state’s health exchange.

The Republican-led State Senate eliminated the proposed tax from its one-house budget.

Cuomo set up the exchange through an executive order after the Senate refused to consider creating it. The order Cuomo issued dictated that the exchange was to become self-sustaining by this coming fiscal year.

But lawmakers are questioning why the tax, which would be funded through an increase in the Health Care Reform Act (HCRA) assessments paid by insurers, is necessary and wondering whether the money to fund the exchange can be found within the $5.5 billion the HCRA tax already generates each year.

Heather C. Briccetti, president and CEO of The Business Council raised that question and other regarding the proposed new tax last week during a statewide television interview with Capital Tonight host Liz Benjamin.

State gaming commission approves request for applications for possible Southern Tier casino

The state’s Gaming Commission has approved a request for applications (R.F.A.) for new casino applicants in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes region. The action gives final approval for bidders to seek a fourth and final casino license in New York’s upstate regions.

Capital New York’s Laura Nahmias reports the R.F.A. will be largely similar to the one used to select the three licenses the state’s casino siting board recommended awarding in three different regions last December. Two developers in the Southern Tier region were passed over in that selection process, and Southern Tier area lawmakers pressed Governor Andrew Cuomo to urge the Gaming Commission and the siting board to reopen bidding for the fourth license available under the state’s casino law.

In his letter, the Governor said the commission should start a process to accept new applications for the fourth and final casino license in the “true Southern Tier” after the region was passed over Dec. 17 for a facility in the Finger Lakes.

“Indeed, as this would be the last license issued in New York state, it may excite national competition by interested parties that submit even better applications than the first round,” Cuomo wrote.

Editorial: Ouster of reform-minded Regent puts politics before education

In an editorial, The Buffalo News says the ouster of long-time Western New York Regent Robert M. Bennett is, “a triumph of politics over education.”

Four new members of the Board of Regents were selected earlier this month by the State Legislature. The Regents are selected from regions across the state. Bennett, who had served for 20 years, withdrew his name from consider when it became apparent that he did not have support to be reconfirmed.

Quoting from the editorial:

“The machinations and intrigue that led Robert M. Bennett to withdraw from the effort to retain his seat on the Board of Regents deprive New Yorkers of a true champion of education, an advocate for learning by all students and a passion for the kind of reforms that education needs in New York – no matter how much the teachers unions and their lawmaker lackeys cluck otherwise.

“Bennett said all students can learn. Parents – some of them – said the sky was falling. Bennett said the Common Core learning standards would help make New York students competitive. Teachers and politicians – many of them – said the sky was falling. On Sunday, they ducked.

“With the news that Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, had engineered the nomination of Buffalo educator Catherine Collins and that new Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie would forward Collins’ name, Bennett bowed out and politics, rather than education, became the dominant consideration.

“Bennett was far and away the best choice for this seat. He deserves the thanks of all New Yorkers for his 20 years of service on the board. That is especially true of Western New Yorkers, whom the Tonawanda resident represented on the Board of Regents. He was perhaps the only public official that New Yorkers could trust implicitly. He had no agenda beyond providing the best possible education for New York students.”

Read the complete editorial here.