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heed small business

Legislature should
heed small business

I am a partner in a small business that employs 18 people. As president of the Small Business Council of the Greater Rochester Metro Chamber of Commerce Inc., I work with more than 400 small-business owners on a range of programs to promote small business in this community.
The council consists of a wide variety of manufacturers and service providers, and some deal directly with the state as vendors, subcontractors and grantees. But most of us have little contact with state government, other than paying our taxes.
On March 30 I will be among a contingent of SBC members traveling via buses to participate in Small Business Lobbying Day in Albany. Each spring about two dozen of us take an unpaid leave from our businesses and at our own expense spend a day listening to speeches and visiting legislative offices. Each year our trips become less productive.
Whether the top-of-mind issues are workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance reform, tax cuts or utility rates, our members are usually told by legislators that these issues cannot be addressed until the budget is passed. These lawmakers then proceed to voice their frustration and empathy for our frustration. We leave Albany each year tired and discouraged, our pockets several hundred dollars emptier, knowing no more than we did when we arrived.
Small-business owners are pragmatists by nature. We live by the cash-flow statement; we often die by uncollectible receivables. Individually we may be insignificant, but collectively we are a mighty economic force. While Rochester is known for Eastman Kodak Co., Xerox Corp. and Bausch & Lomb Inc., it is important to note that 86 percent of Rochester-area businesses employ fewer than 20 people. These same businesses are creating more than 80 percent of new jobs in the area. Since 1982, more than 100,000 jobs have been created by small businesses in this region, of which 6,500 have been launched since 1994.
For these economic reasons alone, small business should be nurtured and engaged by state government. If meaningful citizen input is solicited by the Legislature, small business is a ready source. We will put in the time and effort to help deliver a sound, on-time budget, but we don’t have time to waste.
Albany is a lonely outpost to Rochesterians. Budget hearings should be held statewide. Electronic town meetings using public broadcasting are another means to engage more citizen participation.
Clearly, a budget as large as New York’s needs continual review and development. Changing the fiscal year to June 1 or July 1 is probably the most direct means to jump-start the reform process. This process should begin in January with the release of the governor’s budget, followed by statewide hearings, committee deliberations and house budget bills by May 1, culminating in a new budget by June 1 or July 1. Stretching out the process would make long-term planning and forecasting more feasible.
Perhaps the most important reform is the simplest to effect. The Legislature should open up the process by disseminating the budget in an understandable format. It should use the new media, particularly the Internet, to share timely data. Finally, legislators should listen more closely to the small-business constituency.
A late budget has led to bad lawmaking. A voting flurry at the end of the session often is characterized by flawed, unpopular and unread bills becoming law.
An unfortunate effect of the budget process has been to minimize the role of legislators. The Rochester delegation has fine, dedicated, intelligent members, who frankly have little to do with the budget. They can only empathize with frustrated constituents and take the heat. Their role could be significantly enhanced by an open budget process, one in which they would gather and evaluate citizen input.
The budget logjam can be broken. The small-business community stands ready to assist in the effort.
(Raymond A. Martino is a partner at Martino Flynn LLC, a Rochester-based advertising and public relations firm, and president of the Small Business Council of the Greater Rochester Metro Chamber of Commerce Inc.)


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