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Trio Of NY Legislators Discuss Issues With Local Business Leaders

Assembly members at Chamber legislative breakfast
Pat Bradley/WAMC
From left: Garry Douglas, State Senator Betty Little, Assembly representatives Janet Duprey and Dan Stec

The Plattsburgh North Country Chamber of Commerce held its annual legislative breakfast this morning.  The overriding issue capturing businesses’ attention is the governor’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
The legislative breakfast meeting is an opportunity for about 150 regional business leaders to gather to discuss the results of an annual survey of business and to hear from state representatives.  State Senator Betty Little and Assembly representatives Janet Duprey and Dan Stec, all Republicans, addressed the crowd and took questions.

Plattsburgh North Country Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Garry Douglas began the proceedings with an overview of their latest issues survey.  Querying 4,200 members in mid-February, Douglas reported a 15 percent response rate.  "The number one priority: opposing a $15 statewide minimum wage. Number two: workforce development. Number three: major state investment in infrastructure. And number four: small business tax reduction. Fifty-six percent oppose any action to further increase the state minimum wage at this time in any amount. Forty percent indicate they are open to some increase but that $15 is too much. Four percent support a $15 per hour statewide minimum wage. A very strong 93 percent believe that a $15 state minimum wage would eliminate jobs.  Eighty-six percent believe that minimum wage levels should be different between downstate and upstate.”

The survey results echo what state legislators are hearing from their constituents according to  45th District Senator Little.  "The $15 minimum wage we are hearing from everyone over it. Certainly if people made more money they would spend more money but there might be a lot fewer jobs for them to actually have. We’re hearing from the fast foods.  We’re hearing from the nursing homes, the hospitals, the ARC’s, so many people."

Senator Little, Duprey and Stec were peppered with questions, many focused on the wage question, which Governor Cuomo has been promoting around the state this week, or the opiate addiction crisis and the need for treatment centers and funding.  

Malone Town Councilor Mary Scharf expressed concerns about the tax cap with hopes it could be abolished. But Assemblywoman Duprey doubts it will be repealed.  "I don’t unfortunately don’t see a lot of changes happening.  So many of our members are from New York City where they’re not affected by it that it’s going to be a really, really heavy lift."

A question on what the Legislature is doing about ethics reform brought applause from the other businesses. Stec, from the 114th district, expressed frustration, noting that he submitted pension forfeiture legislation that remains bottlenecked long before former leaders Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver were convicted of corruption.   "I question whether our legislative leaders today really have the conviction to seriously move forward.  I think it sends the right message to allow judges to take pensions as part of a punishment. But for the life of me we haven’t been able to get that done.  We’re not going to let this go because we lose credibility with the very people that we’re asking to govern."

The North Country Chamber calculates a Business Confidence Index based on business activity expectations expressed in the survey.  The 92 percent total reflects 60 percent of businesses that expect increased business and 32 percent that anticipate steady business over the next year.  Eight percent expect business to decline in the upcoming year.

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