rhys-yawn-wider-150x150-1549566Days after saddling New York employers with higher minimum wages and the nation’s most generous paid family leave mandate, Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders announced in early April that they had formed a temporary Business Regulation Council to come up with ideas for improving the business climate.

Including representatives of labor unions, corporations, retailers and farmers, the seven-member Council was handed a tight two-month deadline for making recommendations that could be considered by the Legislature before its current session ends on June 16.

The panel’s recommendations were issued late Friday—and they are unsurprisingly underwhelming.

Most of the 26 items on the list deal with narrow and non-urgent issues, including tweaks to obscure nuisance regulations.

To be sure, the Council did take forthright stands in favor of stuff like … encouraging localities to delay implementation of delays in laws regulating the use of “micro-beads” often found in cosmetic products, and … “achieving uniformity” of laws regulating the use of plastic bags in retail stores and chemicals in children’s toys, and … allowing people other than certified public accountants to be minority owners of CPA firms.

Probably the most significant gesture in a bolder direction was the Council’s call for “updating and streamlining New York’s State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) and other land use/project review processes.” The need for such action has been cited for years by economic development groups across the state.

However, possible SEQR changes were listed by the Council in the secondary category of “recommendations that may be accomplished in the long-term”—an obvious go-slow signal, at best, even though the Senate is now poised to pass a SEQR reform bill, and Cuomo’s own Department of Environmental Conservation has had a proposal to streamline the SEQR process sitting in rule-making review limbo for nearly four years now.

New York has the nation’s fourth highest workers’ compensation insurance premiums, 48 percent above average, but workers’ comp reforms were listed only in the third and final category of “recommendations that require further discussion and review.” No surprise there, since the Council included labor leaders who are fighting reform.

The Council also favored speeding up the phase-in of higher taxation thresholds under New York’s estate tax, which was reformed in 2014. However, since the law is already scheduled for full implementation within the next 30 months, a faster schedule would benefit very few New Yorkers—and have virtually zero measurable impact on the business climate. A more urgently needed follow-up—eliminating an ugly, confiscatory state tax rate “cliff” in the reformed law—was not mentioned.

On the energy front, recommendations in the least-urgent “further discussion and review” category included “expanding access to natural gas for manufacturing facilities”—a goal Cuomo actually undermined when he recently blocked an environmental permit for the proposed Constitution Pipeline across the Southern Tier.

The highest-ranking energy-related recommendation on the Council’s “short term” action category was “adopting a statewide standard for small scale, residential solar installations”— which will do little to help the business climate in general but certainly won’t hurt market conditions for SolarCity, the leading solar panel installer, whose massive new “Gigafactory” in Buffalo is receiving a $750 million state subsidy.

About the Author

E.J. McMahon

Edmund J. McMahon is Empire Center's founder and a senior fellow.

Read more by E.J. McMahon

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