Press-Republican

February 13, 2013

Business coalition leaders outline budget issues

DAN HEATH
Press-Republican

PLATTSBURGH — Reform of unemployment insurance and Workers’ Compensation are key 2013 legislative priorities for two business-advocacy coalitions.  

Unshackle Upstate Executive Director Brian Sampson and Business Council Vice President for Government Affairs Kenneth Pokalsky were in Plattsburgh recently, and they said both coalitions support Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2013-14 budget proposals addressing those issues.

They oppose, however, an increase to minimum wage.

UNEMPLOYMENT

According to the governor’s website, unemployment-insurance changes would increase both minimum and maximum weekly benefit rates for claimants and lower total costs for employers. A savings of up to $400 million is predicted over 10 years, should the measure be put in place.

Claimant benefits would be based on the two quarters with the highest earnings of the last five, rather than the single highest. Pokalsky said that would save about $150 million a year in payments.

A Business Council fact sheet states that New York’s Unemployment Insurance Fund is about $3.5 billion in debt and has borrowed that amount from the Federal Unemployment Insurance Fund so it can continue to pay benefits.

The budget would increase unemployment taxes in the short term to pay off that debt, Sampson said.

It would also eliminate a policy in which an employer who terminates an employee for cause remains responsible for a portion of unemployment payments even if that worker gets another job and is then fired.

“Employers that are doing things the right way are going to be held harmless,” Sampson said. 

WORKERS’ COMP

Sampson said 2007 measures to reform Workers’ Compensation were intended to lower how much an employer has to pay in, yet increase the amount a worker can receive. The new measures are intended to speed that process.

Businesses presently pay into the system based on how much risk of injury is seen in the jobs they offer. That would change to payment based on how much their workers collected in the past, a benefit to companies with the most effective safety programs.

Another provision would allow the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York to issue bonds to create a program to purchase liabilities caused by defaults by self-insured trusts. The measure would also eliminate mandatory deposits to the Aggregate Trust Fund. It was originally meant to cover workers in the event that an insurance carrier defaulted, which is now covered by the Workers’ Compensation Guarantee Fund.

Other proposals include closure of the Reopened Case Fund and transfer of assessment reserves held by the State Insurance Fund to the Workers’ Compensation Board, which could release up to $250 million for general operating purposes and up to $500 million for capital purposes.

“Overall, these changes are expected to save about $900 million a year,” Sampson said.

MINIMUM WAGE

While both coalitions are opposed to the minimum-wage increase to $8.75 an hour from $7.25, they realize the votes are in place for its passage.

Pokalsky said it is expected to cost businesses about $1.3 billion a year.

The Earned Income Tax Credit is a more effective way to help those who earn less, his organization believes.

They will fight to gain something to counter the effects of the increase, he said, such as asking that it be phased in. 

REGIONAL VOICES

North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas said many of the new ideas resulted from the Chairman’s Committee for the Regional Economic Development Council Program, which has about 40 members, including the co-chairs of each regional council, and labor and business leaders.

“That gives each region more of a voice in developing these policy decisions,” he said.

Email Dan Heath: dheath@pressrepublican.com

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TO LEARN MORE

For more information about the coalitions, visit www.bcnys.org or www.unshackleupstate.com.