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April 24, 2013

'Unshackle Upstate' director speaks to local group

By Richard Whitby
The Daily Star

---- — New York State’s budget is a case of “the good, the bad and the ugly,” Brian Sampson, executive director of Unshackle Upstate, a business lobbying group, told an Otsego County audience Tuesday morning.

Speaking before about 50 members of Citizen Voices, a local pro-business group, at the Carriage House in Oneonta, Sampson, praised the budget for making changes in the unemployment insurance and worker’s compensation programs that he said will benefit business and labor and for extending a middle-class tax cut.

But he also criticized it for increasing the minimum wage and extending an energy surcharge.

Sampson said the jury was still out on some other initiatives, such as changes in the Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities.

“We’ve been very clear that we’d rather have a late good budget than a bad on-time budget,” Sampson said, adding that the two budgets preceding the latest were were good and on time.

“I think this year, it was on time,” he said.

Sampson praised the budget’s funding of the state’s 10 Regional Economic Development Councils, which provide money to development projects within their regions.

“We believe that the decisions should be done at the community level, not in a tower in Albany or down in New York City,” Sampson said.

He also said that reforms in unemployment insurance and workers compensation were positive developments that would benefit business and labor in the long run.

Sampson said Unshackle Upstate had long opposed increases in the state minimum wage.

“This is really, for us, an upstate issue,” he said. “When you look at the bulk of minimum-wage earners in the state of New York, they are not in what’s classically referred to downstate — that beyond the Tappan Zee Bridge (between Rockland and Westchester counties).”

“Raising the minimum wage by 22 percent isn’t going to do anything to help our upstate businesses, predominantly our main street businesses dealing with keeping their costs down,” he added. “Ultimately, what a minimum-wage increase means is … added costs to you and me as end-users.”

“For us, though, the bigger concern was what was the impact it was going to have on employment,” he said. “If you look at a Cornell study that they conducted with San Diego State University, the last time New York raised its minimum wage, we lost 20 percent of the jobs we had for people between the ages of 16 and 29.”

Sampson said Unshackle Upstate and its allies had managed to eke out some concessions, such as phasing in the increase rather than making it in a single jump, avoiding inclusion of workers who earn tips and not indexing the minimum wage to inflation.

“Our fear was if you take minimum wage and you index it to inflation, you have guaranteed that we’ll never be able to come back to the table and negotiate.”

He also criticized extension for another four years of the “18a” energy surcharge, which was due to expire in 2014.

“If you go home today and you look at your energy bill, you’ll be able to calculate that somewhere between 22 and 26 percent of your bill, depending on where you are in the state, is taxes,” he said.

“It hurts our manufacturing, it hurts our farms, it hurts our homeowners and, more specifically, it hurts our seniors,” he added.