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New Yorkers Tighten Purse Strings

WAMC Photo by Dave Lucas

The recession may be over, but many New Yorkers say they still feel a pinch in the pocketbook, paying more for just about everything on stagnant salaries. For many it's another day, another bill. People in high places have heard citizens' cries.

GOP gubernatorial hopeful Rob Astorino has been holding a mirror to citizen sentiments with his campaign mantra.   "We're losing more people to other states than any other state in the country. 400,000 people in the last four years.  We are losing because we have the highest taxes in America. And it's not even close."

Those who stayed behind and braved the bitter winter got shocked when they opened their electric bills. That's prompted U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer to call for an investigation into soaring electricity prices.     "For families with a small budget, for seniors with a fixed income, for young people working on their first job, these electric bill increases have been a shock to the system and a jolt to their bottom line.   Like you, I'm concerned that utilities are using the cold weather and the demand for natural gas to justify skyrocketing rates. We can't let these factors protect these multi-billion dollalrs from scrutiny."

According to a press release from Schumer’s office, it’s estimated that National Grid rates rose more than 60 percent.  The New York Democrat says he's concerned electric bills seem to be rising faster than the price of natural gas used in many power plants.

National Grid spokesman Patrick Stella did not return calls for comment. He told media outlets Wednesday that the utility supports a review of the price increases, which it has blamed on high natural gas demand and a long, cold winter on the East Coast.

Schumer says consumers have complained to his office about monthly bill increases of as much as 100 percent. Stella counters National Grid doesn't mark-up wholesale electricity costs and that it is working to gradually phase-in the increases to assist customers.

Schumer is asking the Federal Trade Commission to look at whether utility prices have been artificially inflated.   "The time is now to get the feds involved to make this process more transparent. And to ensure consumers are paying a fair price, not lining the pockets of utilities and energy companies."

Schumer added the New York Public Service Commission and Independent System Operator also have asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to investigate.

Aside from high energy bills, New York has the fourth-highest auto insurance premiums in the nation.

The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) has released a new analysis showing that some of the state’s largest auto insurers charge higher rates to drivers with less education and non-professional, non-managerial jobs. NYPIRG’s research reveals that for the minimum liability coverage required by New York State, three of the top five auto insurers — Geico, Progressive and Liberty Mutual — considered education when setting premiums, and two, Geico and Progressive, considered occupation.

NYPIRG Consumer Advocate Andy Morrison says  “Auto insurance rates should be based on how you drive, not who you are.”   "For instance, we found that Geico charged a retail cashier with a high-school degree and a flawless driving record 23 per cent more than a college-educated bank executive who caused a crash 3 to 5 years ago and 24 per cent more than a college-educated bank executive who go two speeding tickets wihin the last one to three years. Our analysis shows that insurers are using factors that discriminate against many low and moderate income New Yorkers, the very New Yorkers who can least afford such high rates."


NYPIRG noted that State Farm, the state’s third leading writer of auto insurance, does not use education or occupation to price insurance.

NYPIRG, in a letter being delivered Thursday, urges the New York State Department of Financial Services to immediately undertake a thorough review of rate-setting practices by private passenger auto insurers.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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