It’s last call in Albany.
The final scheduled week of the Legislature’s 2022 session is underway. Interest groups and issue advocates are engaged in a final all-out push to get the Senate and Assembly to move a wish list of stalled bills to the Governor’s desk before lawmakers skip town and head home to campaign for the primary elections set for later this month.
In these final, frenzied days, bills thought dead and buried can appear suddenly on hastily assembled floor vote agendas. Some could make it to the Governor’s desk.
But elected officials should beware of the law of unintended consequences.
Major statutory proposals introduced but unenacted this year tend to be in limbo for good reason. Many entail complex, far-reaching policy changes. Some of the reforms are untested in this state or any other. They carry consequences that are either highly unpredictable — or predictably harmful. Such measures require careful consideration. Adopting them hastily could cause the state enduring economic damage.
A sampling of such bills (the following is an incomplete list – we’ve written in this space about others not listed below):
-A new employer mandate putting future annual minimum wage hikes on autopilot. Atop the ongoing burden of a 2016 state minimum wage law weighing on the state’s tepid recovery from pandemic-related job losses —a metric on which New York lags virtually the entire nation—the bill would layer on a new, annually increasing tax on hiring.
-A universal health care bill (New York Health Act) that would require state taxes to more than double in order to entirely replace New York’s existing health care delivery system with an ill-defined, government-run monopoly.
-A measure shifting the responsibility for recycling from municipalities to manufacturers. Approved in April by a Senate committee, the “extended producer responsibility act” would require companies, acting either alone or as part of cooperatives, to create, administer and finance processes that ensure packaging they sell to consumers is recovered and recycled. The mandate’s cost is “to be determined” per the sponsor, Senator Todd Kaminsky.
-A 21st Century Anti-Trust Act that redefines business monopolies in a way that neither Teddy Roosevelt nor the Federal Trade Commission would recognize. The new definition would capture small companies engaged in no anti-competitive practices that have nevertheless secured a forty percent share of a particular local market. The Senate just approved the bill last week.
-A bill putting a moratorium on an entire industry, cryptocurrency mining. The measure, adopted in April by the Assembly, would cost jobs and create a chilling precedent for business broadly: What activity could next be deemed an unlawful obstacle toward achieving the clean energy targets lawmakers put in statute in the 2020 climate law?
-A measure to essentially export New York City’s phenomenally unsuccessful rent control regime to the rest of the state. The long-standing shortage of affordable housing in Gotham isn’t preventing housing advocates from pressing for a “Good Cause Eviction” law that would cap rent increases arbitrarily, essentially transferring property rights from the state’s landlords to tenants and judges — while potentially overwhelming the courts with eviction cases.
Notably, it was at session end in 2019 when former Governor Cuomo signed into law a damaging renewal and extension of rent regulations that facilitated the current housing shortage
So, what should the Legislature do prior to adjourning?
In these final days, it would do well to simply adopt a few wise, non-partisan measures that will reliably yield tangible benefits.
Charter schools in New York City have a great track record of improving student achievement, but available seats are artificially limited below the intent of the Charter Law cap because unused charter licenses are not recycled. Allowing that via statute —as was done once before —would enable the parents of about 10,000 mainly low-income and minority kids to secure the charter seats they covet for their children.
Similarly, the Legislature could encourage job restoration by reducing the inflated payroll taxes that New York employers are scheduled to pay due to the state’s heavy pandemic-induced job loss. That would require using some of the $12.7 billion in American Rescue Plan aid the state received for just such a purpose to pay down a portion of the debt the state unemployment insurance trust fund owes the Federal Treasury.
Adopting these simple measures would make the state a better place to live and work.
Just as importantly, adopting these bills would certainly do no harm. And that should always be a top priority for the Legislature.