Unshackle Upstate, a pro-taxpayer education and advocacy organization, has released its 2021 Advocacy Agenda. The group again takes issue with taxes, prevailing wage mandates and the Scaffold Law, but this year also addresses the pandemic.
“Given the state of New York’s economy, embracing a pro-growth mindset in 2021 is essential to the future. Over the last year, countless businesses have closed, more than 1 million New Yorkers have lost their jobs and more than 100,000 residents have fled to other states. We’re not just dealing with a public health crisis, we’re also in the midst of a historic economic crisis,” said Unshackle Upstate Executive Director Justin Wilcox. “Our 2021 advocacy agenda offers a map that will get New York on the road to recover. Fast-tracking the proactive measures in this agenda will provide relief to our small businesses and revive our communities. It’s time to stand up for upstate and get our economy growing.”
The organization’s key priorities for the 2021 legislative session include:
• Reducing the income tax rate, corporate tax rate and sales tax rate for localities with fewer than 1 million residents;
• Creating an upstate legislative caucus;
• Enacting COVID-related protections for employers;
• Pausing future minimum wage increases until the upstate economy recovers;
• Reforming Prevailing Wage calculations; and
• Enacting a 5-year moratorium of the Scaffold Law.
The organization noted that statewide, roughly one in four small businesses remain closed since January 2020, according to an analysis from Opportunity Insights — a joint effort between Harvard University, Brown University and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Additional data from the U.S. Census Bureau found that New York lost nearly 1.4 million residents to other states since 2010. According to the latest unemployment figures from the New York state Department of Labor, more than 1 million jobs have been lost since December 2019.
The 2021 agenda states that embracing a pro-growth mindset will be essential this year.
“Now that countless employers and employees across the state are working remotely, they’re realizing they don’t have to live in New York state,” the agenda states. “While many residents will undoubtedly join the 1 million New Yorkers who’ve fled over the last 10 years, those who can’t afford to leave will be left to shoulder the nation’s largest state and local tax burden.”
In addition to reducing income tax, corporate tax and sales tax in communities with fewer than 1 million people, Unshackle Upstate is advocating for a pause on future minimum wage increases until the Upstate economy recovers. Continued increases would lead to business closures and job losses, the group contends.
Unshackle Upstate is supporting legislation that would exclude unemployment charges caused by the impact of COVID-19 from being used to calculate an employer’s experience rating. The group also suggests that employers who act in good faith and follow rules and regulations must be protected from COVID-19 lawsuits.
Unshackle Upstate continues to address reforming how New York’s prevailing wage is calculated in this year’s agenda. Among other things, the organization would like to see a return to the federal Davis-Bacon standard so that prevailing wage reflects the wage of 50 percent of the labor force in a given trade or a weighted average for each construction trade, not New York’s 30 percent standard. And the agenda also addresses what it calls New York’s “antiquated” Scaffold Law, which it contends increases the cost of general liability insurance on every construction project in the state, and serves as a drag on economic development.
Some of the items Unshackle Upstate supports include: maintaining fiscal responsibility within the state budget; enactment of small business tax relief; employer protections regarding marijuana legalization; expanding tax reforms for manufacturers; continuing workers’ compensation reforms; continuing upstate investment initiatives; and expanding broadband and cell phone service access throughout Upstate.
The organization said it opposes increases on existing taxes, fees, assessments or creation of new taxes; creation of a single-payer health system; weakening of the 2 percent property tax cap; use of regionally mandated project labor agreements; over-regulation and product bans on the chemical industry; and reclassification of gig workers from independent contractors to employees.
“The facts about New York’s business closures, population decline, job losses speak for themselves,” Wilcox said. “The question now is simple and stark: Will Albany take the necessary actions to rebuild the state’s shattered economy and reclaim our status as the Empire State?”
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