As the legislative session comes to a close, the state Senate and Assembly are struggling to bridge the divide between their priorities, particularly on economic issues. The state Senate passed a package of bills in early May, optimistically titled the 2018 Jobs and Opportunity Agenda, that included legislation to expand tax credits for small businesses and ease regulations. However, these bills have languished in the Assembly and may be more likely to live on as a political statement than as enacted policy.
In the press release announcing the passage of the bills, state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan condemned Democrats for focusing more on politics than policymaking.
“While the governor and the Legislature’s Democrats race each other to the extreme left on issues that won’t improve the lives of everyday New Yorkers, the Senate Republican majority continues to focus on enacting measures that will create a more prosperous future for our residents and businesses,” Flanagan said.
Four of those bills specifically pertain to small business issues, including providing financial assistance for pollution prevention, having each agency designate a small business liaison, easing of regulatory fines for small businesses that are first-time offenders and extending the STAR property tax exemption to small businesses.
Democratic Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr., chairman of the Small Business Committee, and Republican state Sen. Phil Boyle, chairman of the state Senate Committee on Commerce, Economic Development and Small Business, both seem hopeful that the state Legislature will be able to come together on issues relating to small businesses.
“We’re open to discussion. We have five weeks left,” said Thiele, about working with his state Senate counterparts.
Thiele said bills related to funding for small businesses had already passed as part of the state budget, including a bill creating a task force to review online lending institutions. However, he was discouraged by the lack of progress on the state’s minority- and women-owned business enterprise program, which was extended by a year in the budget. However, the budget did not include any of the reforms suggested by the Assembly and the governor, such as implementing hiring goals for specific races and genders, due to opposition from the state Senate.
“The goals of our committee obviously are to continue to increase participation in the MWBE program, and I think that we would’ve liked to see more changes that fostered greater participation,” Thiele said.
Meanwhile, the state Senate proposed updating state MWBE contract requirements so that agencies would be required to contract with a number of MWBEs correlating to the percentage of MWBEs in a specific region.
“It’s an important program, it just needs some modifications,” said Boyle, who said he is now on a task force to study how to make MWBEs more efficient.
However, the two chairmen remain hopeful that they can find common ground on small business issues.
Boyle said that with the recent drama involving former state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and choosing his successor, the state Legislature hadn’t been as focused on other issues. He also said he was “hopeful” that Gov. Andrew Cuomo would sign some of the Republican bills.
However, it is unlikely that many of the issues presented in the Republican agenda will pass, especially easing regulations and requirements for MWBEs. Boyle and the state Senate Republicans also want to end the Start-Up NY program, which provides tax breaks for companies that create jobs in partnership with local colleges. As the program is touted by the Cuomo administration as a success, that dream is unlikely to be fulfilled.
Boyle also raised concerns that the Democratic gubernatorial primary could push Democrats more to the left, especially the governor.
“The further left that certain candidates are pushed during the political season, it may affect their efforts to overly increase regulation, and support legislation that’s going to hurt small business,” Boyle said.
The jobs plans
The 2018 Jobs and Opportunity Agenda
Earlier this month, the Republican-controlled state Senate passed its 2018 Jobs and Opportunity Agenda, a package of 18 bills that represents the majority conference’s economic agenda. Several of these bills have Democratic sponsors in the Assembly and may garner the support needed to pass. But it’s unlikely that the package will be adopted in full by the Democratic-controlled Assembly, or signed by the governor. Nonetheless, it gives Republicans an opportunity to present an economic alternative to voters this fall.
Consensus on some small business bills
Some of the bills passed by the state Senate in the Jobs and Opportunity Agenda have bipartisan support in the Assembly, including a bill on extending property tax breaks to small businesses, a bill on reducing regulatory fines for small businesses, a bill to create liaisons for small businesses in state agencies and a bill to provide funding to small businesses to prevent pollution.
Differing priorities with MWBEs
The state Senate and Assembly have also presented different legislation on improving the state’s minority- and women-owned business enterprise program. Assembly Democrats and Gov. Andrew Cuomo attempted to reform the program in the state budget, but the measures were opposed by state Senate Republicans. The program was simply extended one year. Meanwhile, a bill in the Jobs and Opportunity Agenda would scale back state targets in areas with fewer qualified MWBEs, instead basing targets on the percentage of such firms in each region.
Supporting local businesses
There are a few bills with bipartisan support in the Assembly and state Senate supporting local small businesses. One bill, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim and co-sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Tony Avella and Republican state Sen. Elaine Phillips, would expand financing assistance eligibility to dry cleaners and nail salons. Another, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. and Republican state Sen. Kenneth P. LaValle, would require state agencies to hold roundtable meetings about seafood marketing with relevant stakeholders. Both of these bills have passed in the Senate and are in committee in the Assembly.