The biggest labor issue of 2017, arguably, is close to being done even before the legislative session starts.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a deal this month between the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York and the Real Estate Board of New York to renew the controversial 421-a program, which provides tax incentives aimed at creating affordable housing. The program expired in January after stakeholders were unable to broker an agreement that included a prevailing wage requirement for construction workers.
The new agreement would require average wages of $60 an hour, plus benefits, for construction workers on projects in much of Manhattan that contain 300 or more rental units, and $45 an hour for similarly sized projects on the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront. It also extends the affordability requirements for an additional five years for 421-a projects, capping rent increases for 40 years. In return, tax exemptions would be in place for 35 years.
The state Legislature must now approve the deal, which would pave the way for the release of $2 billion for affordable housing projects. Cuomo has urged the state Legislature to return to Albany before January to approve the deal, although it’s unclear if they will.
“We want to look at it and hopefully we can get to that sooner rather than later. I don’t know how long it will take, whether we do it during a special session or whether we do it in January when we go up,” said Assemblyman Peter Abbate Jr., who chairs the Assembly Committee on Governmental Employees and also serves on the Assembly Labor Committee. “I don’t think anyone’s ready to put a shovel in the ground right away, so I’d rather read it before we do anything.”
State Sen. Martin Golden, a Republican who has been serving as chairman of both the Science, Technology Incubation and Entrepreneurship Committee and the Civil Service and Pensions Committee, agreed that 421-a renewal is the biggest labor issue facing the state Legislature.
“I’m glad that the governor has made some agreements with the different groups, but it still has a lot of work to be done to get that passed, so that’s going to be one of the priorities,” the Brooklyn lawmaker said. “By letting that expire, we’ve lost over a million dollars on the streets on new construction, new jobs, new opportunities and new housing. That is lost money.”
Assembly Democrats plan to meet in the first week in December to discuss their priorities for next year’s legislative session. Apart from any specific bills, Abbate said the conference will continue to work to help the state’s working men and women, including addressing the rising costs of health care for workers and provide fair wages for people.
“One of the other issues we’re always looking is outsourcing,” Abbate said. “My belief is that the people within the state workforce can do a better job than when we outsource it to private firms. It seems like every time we outsource something, a job doesn’t get done right, it gets delayed and there’s always a cost override.”
Other than 421-a, the labor agenda in the state Senate is up in the air. Senate Republicans are hopeful they will have a majority, but Democrats say it’s too soon to tell which party will be in power, citing a couple of close Senate races that are too close to call. Even if the GOP maintains control, it’s unclear who will chair the powerful Labor Committee next year. The current chairman is outgoing state Sen. Jack Martins, who opted not to run for re-election, instead making a failed bid for an open congressional seat on Long Island.
Golden said ensuring workers have fair health care costs and wages are top priorities as well. State Senate Republicans will also push to extend the state’s Film Tax Credit Program, which expires this year.
“We need to make sure we keep that alive,” Golden said. “That’s an industry that we’ve seen a $4 billion to $9 billion industry, hundreds of thousands of jobs, we’ve seen where there’s been a real return of investment on this tax credit.”
Golden also wants to create jobs at the Brooklyn and Staten Island waterfronts and work with higher education, including SUNY and CUNY, to create digital tax credits to allow for the industry to grow.
“We have less dollars today,” Golden said. “We’re going into a downturn in state funding, so we need to be able to build up that state funding and the way you do that is digital tax credits and other tax credits that will bring in jobs and create job energy and create a tax base from the employees.”
Regardless of who chairs the state Senate Labor Committee, Abbate said he is not worried about the conference obstructing the Assembly Democrats’ labor goals.
“(State Senate Republicans) might say they’re not going to do it in the beginning of session, but by the end of session they sort of realize that it’s the right thing to do and they come around 90 percent of the time,” he said. “Most of our agenda does get done. Just a good example, when you looked at the minimum wage and family leave, they got done last year just when everyone was saying they wouldn’t get done. They got done.”
WHAT GOT DONE:
- $15 minimum wage
- Paid family leave
- Veteran-owned farm program
WHAT’S ON THE AGENDA:
- Finalize the 421-a deal
- Rising costs of health care and fair wages for workers
- Extending the Film Tax Credit Program
- Expanding digital tax credits