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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.

Energy tax repeal included in Senate Budget

With a little less than three weeks left before the April 1 deadline for passage of the FY 2016 state budget, both houses of the Legislature have now staked out their positions in one-house budget bills.

As one would expect, the Senate budget focuses more sharply on economic growth and job development. The Business Council was especially pleased to see a provision calling for the full repeal of the 18-a temporary assessment on electricity which adds millions of dollars in costs to all residential and commercial electric rates across the state.

Last week, The Business Council joined with the New York Alliance for Reliable Affordable Energy (NY-AREA) and the Independent Power Producer of New York (IPPNY) to support the repeal of 18-a.

Heather C. Briccetti, president and CEO of The Business Council made the case for repeal of the tax in this interview with NYSNYS.

Like much of Upstate, economic recovery hasn’t reached Southern Tier

In Sunday’s Binghamton Press Sun-Bulletin, reporter Jeff Platsky writes, “An economic black hole cuts through the middle of New York state.

“The nationwide economic recovery has largely bypassed an area from Utica-Rome to Syracuse and down to Binghamton and Elmira. Only Ithaca has pulled ahead and added jobs during the past 10 years.

“While metropolitan regions in the nation were boosting private-sector job counts at a brisk clip since the recession’s end, the job hemorrhage continued across central New York. And the situation may get worse before showing any signs of improvement.

An analysis of private sector employment in New York State last year by The Public Policy Institute (PPI) found jobs in the manufacturing sector declined by more than 40 percent during the period from November 2008 and November 2014.

“Job growth in upstate has lagged,” said Heather C. Briccetti, chief executive of the Albany-based The Business Council of New York. “And the losses have been in the higher wage sectors.”

“The loss of manufacturing jobs has killed upstate,” Briccetti said. “The business climate has made it very difficult to do business in upstate,” citing taxes, utility costs and regulations as the reasons for the flight of manufacturing jobs.”

In his article, Platsky points out the Southern Tier will have to find ways to reuse abandoned industrial sites for new development, possibly by using some of the $1.5 billion pledged for Upstate redevelopment in the Executive Budget.

A strategic plan being developed by the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council passes on a return to the manufacturing base. Rather, it values a knowledge-based approach concentrating on developing new industry around Binghamton University research, energy and pharmaceuticals, also centered on the university’s new pharmacy school now on the drawing board for Johnson City.

“Like it or not, the Southern Tier is going to have to transition to a new model,” said Gary Keith, a Buffalo-based economist for M&T Bank, adding that any future economic improvement will come in “singles and doubles, not home runs.”

Please click here to read to full story on Pressconnects.com

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.