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Q: This week Unshackle Upstate described the state budget as "a step backward for upstate." Why?
A: This year's budget is a step backward for the region due to the inclusion of the minimum wage increase and extension of the hidden 18a energy tax. The minimum wage increase will have a twofold adverse impact on the upstate economy. It will erode employment opportunities for younger, less educated workers. A 2012 study published in Cornell University's Industrial and Labor Relations Review shows that the state's last minimum wage increase led to a 21 percent decline in employment of younger, less educated individuals. At a time when 32 upstate counties have an unemployment rate greater than 10 percent, this is simply unacceptable. It will also drive up the costs of goods and services for all consumers. In order to offset the impact of this wage mandate, businesses will have no choice but to increase the costs of goods and services at a time when we can least afford it. The extension of the 18a energy surcharge-a hidden tax on all energy consumers-is symptomatic of the over-taxation that plagues New York State's businesses and taxpayers. It contributes to our anti-business tax climate, which is the worst in the nation.
Q: Your organization lobbied hard against the Temporary State Assessment Surcharge. Why was this such an important issue, and why did the sunset not happen?
A: One of Unshackle Upstate's core principles is the reduction of taxes. In order for existing businesses to thrive and attract new business, we must ease the burden on employers and taxpayers. This hidden tax was supposed to expire in the spring of 2014. One less tax on the books would have sent a positive message to the business community. Despite our best efforts to have this senseless tax removed from the budget, it has been extended through the 2017-18 budget. You'll have to ask our elected leaders in Albany why the 18a surcharge was extended and why we shouldn't consider it a new tax.
Q: The organization supports some of the budget. What in it do you see as particularly beneficial for upstate?
A: We successfully advocated for important changes to the state's unemployment insurance and workers' compensation programs as well as a tax rate reduction for manufacturers. Unlike the minimum wage increase and the 18a energy tax extension, these items will lower the cost of doing business in upstate. Lower overhead costs mean more jobs and more investments; that's a good thing. We remain committed to working with Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature to advance similar measures that will strengthen the upstate economy.
Q: Given your disappointment over the budget agreement, what is the focus ahead for Unshackle Upstate?
A: We'll continue to advocate for pro-business, pro-taxpayer measures that will ease the burden as well as policies that will help make our communities more affordable. This year's budget, when compared to the last two, certainly is a step in the wrong direction, but that will not stop Unshackle Upstate and our pro-business/pro-taxpayer allies from marching forward and fighting for our future.
3/29/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email email@example.com.