MAHONEY: New York businesses hope to dodge more Albany bullets

Joe Mahoney

ALBANY — The spread of coronavirus is already changing many people's travel and vacation plans. And there is growing concern across the upstate region, particularly among tourism-sensitive businesses, about the economic fallout from this health emergency.

Stock market indexes in recent days bounced around like yo-yos as investors reacted to the uncertainty. The state's economy, for better or for worse, is acutely sensitive to the alternating bear and bull markets of Wall Street.

At the state Capitol in Albany, lawmakers will soon be making decisions that will impact the bottom lines of the businesses that provide the jobs and the foundation for the tax base that keeps schools open and allows families to provide for the needs of their kids.

Against this backdrop, the state's business community is imploring the elected representatives from every region of New York to refrain from saddling more costly mandates on employers.

One legislative imitative advanced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo — a proposed ban on Styrofoam products — could threaten 2,000 manufacturing jobs in the upstate region, according to the Business Council of New York State.

Ken Pokalsky, the council's vice president, told me the measure would have a minimal impact on New York's waste stream. The polystyrene material in question, he said, can be recycled more readily than the lined paperboard product that would replace it as a packaging product.

"Even if (the legislation) doesn't immediately ban their ability to produce in the state, it's hard to imagine that a company with multiple plants throughout the Northeast or even the U.S. would put additional capital in a plant in a state that bans its product," Pokalsky said.

Among the upstate manufacturing firms that could be hit by the proposal is Pactiv, which has plants in Plattsburgh and Canandaigua.

Cuomo stressed environmental concerns when he pitched the Styrofoam ban in December. "From take-out containers to packing peanuts, this material is everywhere and it will continue to pollute our waters and harm our for generations to come if we do not act," he said.

Beyond the producers of the products, the proposed ban would create havoc for packaged dairy food producers, said Alex Walsh, director of communications for the Northeast Dairy Foods Association.

"We have a lot of members who use Styrofoam for packaging, whether it's ice cream or other products that need to be kept cold for transportation and serving purposes, especially in schools, hospitals and senior centers," Walsh told me. "Banning this would require our members to seek out alternatives, which would cost them an exorbitant amount of money. If we need to cut our bottom line to deal with this, it could result in job losses for our members."

Another skirmish taking place in the halls of power involves the business community's pushback against Cuomo's proposal to require every New York employer to provide employees with mandatory, job-protected sick leave.

In a memo opposing the measure, the Business Council states: "These mandated plans add a significant administrative burden and additional costs to employers as they try to comply with a myriad of compliance requirements that often interfere with effective staffing needed to meet customer needs."

The Cuomo administration argues the proposal will yield benefits, stating in a briefing book issued with the governor's 2020 agenda: “The implementation of guaranteed paid sick leave echoes the promise of a secure and thriving workforce."

Cuomo, citing the outbreak of coronavirus, said recently he wants to expand his proposal to provide protections for people who call in sick at their jobs because they may have been sickened by the virus.

The governor has shown a preference to wrap in policy initiatives that have little or no consequence to the state treasury in the budget, where they tend to be obscured by other measures. Lawmakers could slow down both the Styrofoam ban and the sick leave mandate by insisting those issues be tackled after a deal gets worked out on a state spending plan.

It's sausage-making time in Albany, and we expect to see the final ingredients by month's end.

   

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com.

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