The New York State Legislature ended its 2019 session with a flurry of activity. Unfortunately, much of it was bad for Upstate, employers, and taxpayers. The Buffalo Niagara Partnership was engaged on several major issues, including our ongoing effort to block an expansion of prevailing wage to private projects and a new climate law which will drive up the cost of doing business in New York.
Prevailing Wage Expansion Dead (For Now)
Buffalo Niagara’s momentum received a reprieve as an agreement between the Governor and legislative leaders to expand prevailing wage to private construction projects fell apart at the last minute. Prevailing wage is estimated to raise the cost construction projects in Buffalo Niagara by 20%.
The plan called for applying prevailing wage to any project receiving state/local assistance equal to 30% of the total project construction costs for projects over $750,000. Most insulting, the plan exempted NYC—the one region of the state that could realistically absorb the cost increases associated with such an expansion. The rank hypocrisy of the NYC carve-out was one factor in the plan’s defeat as member support fell away.
This is a significant victory and was the result of an aggressive collective advocacy effort. While we can breathe a sigh of relief today, this issue is not going away and the fight continues.
The Legislature and Governor agreed to new climate legislation which will have a significant impact on employers, especially manufacturers and other vital industries dependent on reliable and affordable (relativity speaking) base load energy. Along with a broad coalition, the Partnership opposed the Climate and Community Projection Act which would have mandated that all energy in NYS be generated by renewable sources by 2050, effectively banning natural gas.
A modified version of the CCPA did pass. While an improvement over the original, the new legislation—the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA)—will still present significant challenges for industry, raise energy costs, and deter new companies from setting up shop in NYS. The CLCPA calls for an 85% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 with the remaining 15% to be net zero. It also establishes 70% statewide electric generation by renewable energy systems by 2030, and 100% by 2040.
Buffalo School Board Elections
The Senate and Assembly passed legislation to move the Buffalo School Board elections from May to the general election date in November. This is a significant win for efforts to increase voter participation in school board elections. This past May when all nine school board seats were up for election, voter turnout was a paltry 6.6%. The Partnership has long supported the “date change” legislation along with a broad coalition of community and religious leaders in Buffalo. While the District has made great strides in recent years under the leadership of Superintendent Kriner Cash, the Partnership continues to believe that our community will never reach our full economic potential without a strong, high performing public school system in the city of Buffalo.
The effort to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in NYS also fell apart in the waning hours of the legislation session. This is a similar scenario to what played out earlier this year when this issue had significant momentum heading into state budget negotiations. The Partnership has advocated for strong employer protections in any legalization measure.
The Legislature and Governor did agree to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and expunge marijuana-related arrest and conviction records. Smoking marijuana would be prohibited in all places where smoking tobacco is banned but doing so would be considered a violation and not a misdemeanor.
Unemployment for Striking Workers
The Senate and Assembly passed legislation allowing striking workers to receive unemployment benefits after only seven days. This is the same standard that currently applies to workers who lose their jobs. Currently, striking workers are eligible for unemployment after seven weeks. NYS is one of only three states in the nation that provides unemployment benefit to striking workers.
This legislation nothing more than a thinly veiled effort to have employers subsidize union strikes. It represents yet another significant burden on businesses in New York, forcing employers to bear the cost of such strikes through rising unemployment insurance premiums. Simply put, shifting the cost of strikes to employers, and significantly reducing the suspension periods for striking workers to receive unemployment benefits is designed to incentivize more union strikes and increase their duration. We will be urging the Governor to veto this measure.
Rent Control in Upstate
The Governor and Legislature agreed to expand NYC style rent control to the entire state under an opt-in system for municipalities facing vacancy rates of less than 5%. The new law applies to buildings built prior to 1974 that have six or more units. This new law will make it tougher to recoup re-investment in older structures. Beyond expanding the rent regulation system to the entire state, the law put new limits on the Major Capital Improvement rent increase justifications, and establishes stronger housing security and tenant protection measures, among other things.
Farm Worker Mandates
The Legislature agreed to significant changes in farm labor practices. The Farmworker Fair Practices Labor Act allows farm workers to collectively bargain and mandates overtime after more than 60 hours per week. The legislation does not allow farm workers to strike. Strongly opposed by the agricultural community and many farm workers, the legislation does not reflect the realities of seasonal farm work and the costs demands associated with farming in 2019.