The Post Star
August 1, 2018
By: Michael Goot
GLENS FALLS — There seemed to be a bipartisan consensus Wednesday that New York state has more work to do to make it a friendly environment for businesses.
Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, said he worries that New York is going to “be left by the roadside” and not take part in the economic growth the country is seeing if it does not improve its climate to attract and retain businesses.
“If it’s cheaper to make it just over the line in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, that’s where they’re going to go,” he said at Lunch with Your Legislators held Wednesday at The Queensbury Hotel. The event was sponsored by the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Taxes, regulations and infrastructure were among the topics that came up during the hour-long discussion.
New York needs to take a closer look at its overall $168 billion budget, according to Stec. Florida has more people but has around a $90 billion budget.
Stec said he does not think New York can attribute such a large difference to “better schools and winter.”
He suggested one area the state could look at saving money would be increasing investigations of Medicaid fraud, which a report says is costing the state $5 billion to $10 billion every year.
Assemblyman Jake Ashby, R-Castleton, who won his seat in a special election in April, agreed that the Legislature needs to review what the state is getting for its money in the overall budget.
“I think there’s some programs that we have put forth a lot of capital on and we weren’t having the success we were hoping to have on it,” he said.
However, Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, said there is an interest group for every program in the budget. When she was working on workers’ compensation reform, she said the state Department of Labor received 10,000 individual letters from people opposed to making any changes. By contrast, there were fewer letters received in support from large groups such as chambers of commerce.
“Each of you as individual businesses and business owners needs to write a letter in support of that priority,” she said.
Woerner said she helped to pass workers’ compensation reform, which is estimated to save a billion dollars statewide. More reform of liability statutes is needed, she said.
Holding the line
Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury, said the state has lowered the manufacturing tax to zero percent, so these firms have more capital to invest. New York must continue to keep down other taxes, she said.
“I know a lot of people don’t like the 2 percent tax cap, but it has been amazing for New York state,” she said. “The people who are not in the schools and municipal business really like it and it has helped.”
Another issue that state and federal officials agree on is the need for money for infrastructure.
U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, said the federal government needs to support local counties’ and municipalities’ efforts to obtain sewer and water funding.
“The good thing about infrastructure is it’s bipartisan,” she said, adding that President Donald Trump is excited about building projects, given his career as a developer.
Little said $200 million was included in this year’s state budget for water and sewer projects for local communities, which particularly helps communities in her district. Funding for road projects is particularly important for tourism.
“You need to have good roads. Nobody is going to go to a place that looks like a dump,” she said.
Among the topics that came up during the question-and-answer period was the lack of year-round residents in the North Country, which is hindering growth.
Little added that communications infrastructure is important.
“You are not going to get them unless you have broadband and cell coverage,” she said.
The recently passed Farm Bill has $500 million for broadband in rural areas, according to Stefanik.
Another reason for lack of residents in some areas is access to health care facilities, according to Woerner. Many rural portions of Washington County are without health care practitioners.
“I think the accessibility of heath care is going to be a real brake on growth,” he said.
Stefanik said she has obtained funding for Hudson Headwaters Health Network, which is a model for rural health care.
Another big issue is transportation. Woerner said bus routes are not extended out into rural communities because there is not enough ridership to make it work.
Lake Luzerne Supervisor Gene Merlino, during the question-and-answer period, said he believes the state has to reform its unemployment system. The benefits are generous and it creates a dis-incentive to work, he said, adding that people should be required to have to work 20 hours to access benefits.
Little said she agreed, noting that she met with a man who lost a good job with a correctional facility. She suggested he become a truck driver because trucking companies are always looking for drivers. He told her he collects $400 a week not working.
Stec said when legislators like him bring some of these points up, there is pushback.
“It’s astounding how quickly some of our colleagues will dig their heels to make sure those changes never happen,” he said.
Michael Grasso, a vice president of the Cool Insuring Agency and chairman of the Warren County Republican Committee, asked a question about the news that the state Public Service Commission is looking to force Spectrum to turn over its internet customers in New York state to another provider because it has not met targets to expand service to rural areas. He said he is concerned about the impact on businesses.
Little said she thought that was likely a threat, but everything is at a standstill.
Chamber President Michael Bittel said the overarching problem seems to be that New York looks at issues as one size fits all.
“The North Country is not like Suffolk County,” he said. “It’s vastly different. We have vastly different needs, wants, populations, resources.”