Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposals to require the prevailing wage be used on all projects involving public money and to cut state aid for municipalities could make infrastructure upgrades more expensive and raise local properties taxes, say advocacy groups.
Cuomo said in his State of the State address on Tuesday that he wants to expand the requirement that contractors pay prevailing wage from just being for public works projects to all public construction projects.
Unshackle Upstate said the prevailing wage requirement would be a “death sentence for upstate economic development initiatives.”
“Under this mandate, efforts to fix our crumbling infrastructure would be far too expensive to pursue,” the organization said in a news release.
EDC Warren County President Edward Bartholomew said there needs to be further conversations with legislators about what the impact of the prevailing wage requirement would be. In urban areas, the prevailing wage is not much higher.
Bartholomew would like to see the state implement something similar to what it did with the minimum wage — varying wage increases in the different regions of the state.
Another issue is the requirements for a certain percentage of minority and women-owned businesses on projects, according to Bartholomew.
“What’s happening now is we have to go out of our region for many of our services,” he said.
Travel expenses raise the overall cost of these projects, Bartholomew added.
Another concern is Cuomo’s proposal to cut a section of the budget known as aid to localities by $59 million, from $714.7 million to $655.5 million. Cuomo proposes to set aside $40 million for countywide shared services initiatives.
The New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials blasted Cuomo’s proposal.
“When it comes to local governments and the property tax, the governor’s budget fails to abide by its theme of ‘justice,’ as it would eliminate state aid for the vast majority of New York’s smallest local governments,” said Executive Director Peter Baynes in a news release. “If the goal this legislative session is to enact progressive tax reform, it will not be achieved by cutting local aid and removing municipalities’ ability to follow through on their goal to reduce the regressive property tax burden.”
Mayor Dan Hall had said previously that increasing this aid was a priority of the group. State aid to the city has been flat for about a dozen years.
Village of Lake George Mayor Robert Blais had hoped to obtain some funding for the local wastewater treatment plant project in this line item.
The Association of Towns also criticized Cuomo for not delivering more aid to communities.
“Town officials are committed to making smart investments in communities statewide while keeping taxes in check. But any proposal to make the tax cap permanent must also take into account the fact that municipal aid has not increased in 10 years, and infrastructure funding through the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program has not kept pace with inflation,” said Executive Director Gerry Geist in a news release.
Michael Bittel, president and chief executive officer of the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he was disappointed he did not hear much about relief from state mandates such as the Scaffold Law, which puts all of the liability for accidents on the employer, and causes higher workers’ compensation insurance premiums. The state also has not provided relief from Medicaid costs that are straining county governments, Bittel added.
Instead, new mandates have been added. He cited the increased cost for public defenders for counties because of the “raise the age” requirement and requirements for representation for defendants at arraignment hearings in which there is the possibility of jail time.
Bittel said the high tax burden does not make New York a business-friendly state.
“We didn’t hear in general about tax cuts for businesses that are already here. Upstate New York and our region need to be competitive with not only the rest of the country, but the rest of the world. It’s tough for us to be competitive when we continue to be number one in most-taxed state in the country,” he said.