Sick time bill: New York ‘going in wrong direction’ for jobs, expert argues

May 10, 2013

This is a reprint of a column by Dan Orlando a reporter for New York Business Journal:

New York City is now the largest metropolis to approve a bill that mandates paid sick leave for employees. The measure which will provide approximately 1 million more workers up to 5 paid days off is tentatively scheduled to launch in April of 2014 for businesses that employ 20 or more people. In the fall of 2015 fit will take effect for business sporting between 15 and 19 employees.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has publicly stated his displeasure with the now passed bill, expressing concern for what it could do to small business owners.

Michael Saltsman, research director at the Employment Policies Institute in DC, agrees with him.

“New York is going in the wrong direction,” Saltsman told me. “The policies are well intentioned but will have unintended consequences, especially in the service industry and the entry level job market.

Saltsman argues that forcing small businesses with narrow profit margins to fund time off for part-time workers could lead to fewer available employment opportunities.

“When you mandate something like this, companies need to scale back on part-time help,” he said.

Saltsman referred me to a study he published this past February that looked at Connecticut’s recent statewide passing of similar sick-leave legislation.

The report indicates that 31 of 156 Connecticut businesses that were surveyed “scaled back on employee hours, and another six reduced employee wages.”

Also mentioned are 19 businesses that increased consumer prices, 6 that laid off workers, and 16 that “indicated” that they cancelled plans to expand within Connecticut.

Of the businesses surveyed, 38 said that they would provide less job openings because of the added cost of paid time off.

City Council Speaker, Christine C. Quinn, recognizes the potential pitfalls that Saltsman and his study warn against but— despite her previous opposition to the bill—she is now confident that the legislation will “make a positive impact on the lives of New Yorkers.”

“This legislation fully recognizes the importance of protecting the city’s economy,” said Quinn before the official vote took place, “and locks in protections to ensure that its implementation is pegged to continue recovery.”

Gale A. Brewer, council member and the lead bill sponsor, added to Quinn’s sentiments, saying that “Approximately 1 million New Yorkers will now have the fundamental right to a paid day off when they or a family member falls ill, and no worker will be fired if they must stay home. This is a tremendous accomplishment of which all fair-minded New Yorkers can be proud.”

The bill passed with enough votes to negate a veto from Mayor Bloomberg.

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Moral Relativism Strikes Again

April 14, 2013

The nation has been justly horrified at the news out of Albany New York concerning a social studies assignment in which high school students were asked to write an essay justifying Nazi treatment of Jews. The teacher was suspended, which was the right thing to do, but the district announced they will hold diversity workshops to help students get over whatever trauma they suffered.

Given that one-third of the students refused to participate in the assignment, it’s good to know that not all students thought this was a useful academic enterprise. The adults, however, in suggesting the need for workshops forcusing on diversity and tolerance, are missing entirely the source of the problem.

This exercise and other similar examples that have been reported in other states reflect the fact that the teacher in question took to the extreme a core tenet of 21st century social science which says anything is permissible as long as it is done in support of politically correct positions. This is a fundamental violation of almost every ethical and religious doctrine, but unfortunately it has become a foundation of modern political behavior.

Taken to the extreme, diversity has come to mean that all viewpoints are equal. I wouldn’t be surprised if the ACLU defended the teacher’s right to conduct such an exercise.

A critical definciency in 21st century social science and its political counterpart is the lack of belief in evil. If there’s no such thing as evil––just winners and losers––then all things are permissible in the pursuit of one’s goals. That means thinking like Nazis or Islamic Jihadists can be a legitimate learning experience.

A fundamental principle of ethics and religion is there are boundaries one may not cross in one’s personal or public life. To most of us that starts with the Ten Commandments. Of course, the Ten Commandments may not be taught in public school. Instead teachers praise leaders for whom the end justify the means and teach that one shouldn’t let one’s religious or personal beliefs interfere with what’s “good” for society. Example? Those who argue you’re intolerant if you don’t support gay marriage or amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Instead of focusing on diversity, the Albany schools might ask students to puzzle out what kind of thinking allowed Adam Lanza to enter the elementary school he attended with the goal of killing children he did not know? That could have led to a discussion of whether it’s possible for either mental health professionals or government agents to determine who is likely to resort to violence, which is what much of gun control legislation purports to accomplish. That in turn could have led to a discussion of individual responsibility and whether a society where anything goes will long endure.


Mandate Relief: A Proposal

February 23, 2013

Localities across NYS have been begging for ‘mandate relief’ for years, but their appeals have fallen on deaf ears in Albany. Until now governors and legislators have been loath to give localities a break on requirements they felt were necessary when they passed them. The concept threatens to open a Pandora’s box of allowing localities to ignore Albany’s dictates whenever they feel like it.

At the same time, we know that many of these same localities are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Just this week Moody’s Investors Service reiterated its negative outlook for local governments across the country. (See: http://www.moodys.com/research/Moodys-Outlook-for-US-local-governments-remains-negative-in-2013–PR_266803) Facing heavy public safety budgets and rapidly expanding pension obligations they cannot afford, localities are screaming for help.

Gov. Cuomo’s solution is to allow them to borrow against future savings. Not only is this questionable in terms of whether the NYS Constitution allows it, but it’s another short-term solution. What happens if that’s not enough?

Here’s a solution that addresses both short term and long-term needs.

The Governor and Legislature should offer temporary mandate relief to localities in proportion to the extent to which they move either to share services or merge with other jurisdictions.

In other words Albany ought to offer this carrot: We’ll give you a break on certain mandates if you show us that you are capable of finding solutions to local governance that cost taxpayers less while improving the quality of the services you deliver.

Mandate relief ought to match up with the specific efficiency improvement employed. In other words, if two school districts merge there ought to be a list of education mandates the combined district can choose to ignore for the next three or five years while they manage the transition. Same with towns, villages, cities or counties that incorporate other jurisdictions. So, if the city of Schenectady dissolves its governmental functions into the County, the County would be given temporary relief from having to comply with cumbersome mandates to help it digest the added obligations.

The State must continue to offer consolidation assistance so that localities don’t offer the excuse of they don’t know how to do it.

I would not, however, like this concept to defer the State from looking at mandate relief that it can offer across the board. There are surely some requirements that no longer make sense in proportion to the cost imposed on the localities. Some mandates, however, ought to be retained and state officials will be able to make a stronger case for those when unneeded mandates are eliminated.


Consolidation is still the best solution

February 21, 2013

The focus of the debate today is on the tax cap. NYSUT has gone to court to overturn it; while the Business Council opposes that move. Both have their points. A rigid tax cap doesn’t allow for local needs. Although the 2% limit can be breached, there’s a cost in terms of people power and money to do so. On the other side without a cap, local government administrators lack any incentive to increase efficiency.

Gov. Cuomo’s solution––borrowing from future pension savings––has not won over a number of mayors and other officials. (See Stephanie Miner’s op ed “Cuomo to Cities: Just Borrow” in the New York Times)

The long-term solution is still consolidation. I’ve made this argument many times before. So if you don’t like my reasons, consider another data point offered by UB Prof. Bruce Fisher. Writing in ArtVoice, Fisher points to the success the cities of Toronto and Montreal have had with regionalization — merging small inefficient local governments into their regional structure. (See “Bashing Cuomo, Ducking Mergers“)

Let’s review the facts:

    Current jurisdictional lines–city, village, town and even county boundaries–no longer reflect current demographic and technological conditions. They lead to underutilized equipment and personnel, to gaps and duplication, to bureaucratic and political infighting, poor management, fraud and the bottom line poor service delivery.
    Those who oppose consolidation are the primary beneficiaries–those whose personal pockets are lined with cash today and in retirement. They get to act like kings and queens in the name of their subjects. I thought we’d gotten rid of royalty two hundred fifty years ago!
    Consolidation can result in lower taxes and better services. Examples abound (see Fisher). But we’re not just talking about something that would be nice to have happen. For Upstate New York, consolidation is a necessity!
    In review, lots of individuals and business owners in Upstate New York would rather be elsewhere. To keep them where they are taxpayers are taking on the chin. In order to make Upstate desirable we need fewer government entities, lower energy prices and lower taxes. Consolidation gives us two out of the three.

The State Department and our friends at the Government Law Center of Albany Law School and the Rockefeller College are doing their best to help local governments face the music, but the progress is too slow. Read the Comptroller’s audit reports of local government financial management and you’ll see that too many tax dollars are being mismanaged if not outright stolen.

The solution: Increase the incentives AND the penalties for not consolidating. Also, we need political leaders who will carry this water. Tell your constituents that they’re putting nails in their communities’ coffins every day they delay in merging with other jurisdictions. That includes some counties which ought to merge given how few people live within their borders.

Final point: Isn’t consolidation a solution both NYSUT and the Business Council could agree on? Wouldn’t both win with stronger school districts and a friendlier climate for the business community?


School Safety and the Meaning of Comprehensive

January 31, 2013

Protecting Children in Schools

The State Legislature has been trying to address the problem ex-service people are having finding work. There is a way to provide useful and needed work to ex-service men and women. Employ them as school security personnel.

The tragedy at Newtown made it very clear that current safety measures are inadequate. The buildings themselves need to be made more secure including systems that speed-up police response times. It took 20 minutes for the police to respond in Newtown. If they’d arrived sooner, there would be less focus today on the number of bullets allowable in a gun magazine.

Having security personnel in schools would also serve as a deterrent to those who would behave badly––parents irate about students’ grades or a teacher’s approach to a subject, fired teachers wanting to chew out an administrator, or a mentally ill person capable of inflicting bodily harm on children or teachers.

Adding trained security personnel would counter balance the fear now felt by millions of school children who were exposed to the Newtown story. They would see that their country cares enough about them to protect them.

In my opinion these security personnel should not wear uniforms and their weaponry should not be prominently displayed, for to do so only adds to children’s fear level. It’s enough that they know that person is there to protect them. Monies should be taken from the TSA program, which was a huge over-response to the problem and needs to be down-scaled, and if not enough former military personnel are available to work in schools, hire ex-TSA monitors.

Political Dictionary: The Meaning of Comprehensive

You may think you know the meaning of comprehensive, but if you apply the standard meaning to the political realm, you’re going to miss what’s really going on.

When a politician calls for a comprehensive approach to a problem, such as health care or immigration, here’s what s/he is saying to the members of the other party. “I’m going to hold up a needed change, which I happen to agree with, as a bargaining chip because your constituents want it more than mine.”

Too abstract? Let’s take an example from the current discussion of immigration reform. The business community would like to be able to hire more skilled workers than they are able to find domestically. They would like to offer unfilled job openings to non-US citizens, but the quotas are too small to meet the need. Making that change, which has nothing to do with ILLEGAL immigration, has been held up and tied to a comprehensive solution. Why? Applying our understanding of the meaning of “comprehensive,” it must be that the Republicans want it more than the Democrats and the Democrats won’t deal with it by itself because they think they can use it as a bargaining chip to get something they want.

Hence, whenever you hear anyone in Washington call for a comprehensive approach to an issue, you can bet your last dollar that legislation with bi-partisan support is being held up in hopes that it can be used to get someone to support legislation favored by only one party.


Who Needs Predictions: I’ve Got the Facts

January 3, 2013

Instead of predictions for 2013, I’m here to give you the facts (and nothing but the facts).

1. Further restrictions on the sale of certain types of firearms will pass both the NYC Council and NYS Legislature in 2013. They will not reduce the number of people who die in NYC subways which currently averages one a week––some as a result of people with mental health issues either jumping in front of trains or pushing someone else off the platform.
2. New Yorker taxpayers will not be told how much federal Sandy relief aid will come out of their pockets. Gov. Cuomo will not inform the public that every dollar in federal relief will be borrowed money that taxpayers will have to pay back in higher federal taxes for decades.
3. The 2013 State Budget will be balanced as the law requires, but Gov. Cuomo and the NYS Legislature will use budgeting tricks, mirrors and slight of hand to accomplish it.
4. More than one locality will file for bankruptcy in 2013.
5. Voters will reject as many school district consolidation votes as they pass, refusing to see the writing on the wall––that it costs more to run two separate small school districts than one combined district and results in inferior instruction to boot.
6. More Democrats will join the Independent Democratic Conference in the NYS Senate when they realize membership gives them more power.
7. At least one daily newspaper will switch to a bi-weekly or weekly publication schedule.
8. Hillary Clinton announce that she will not be a candidate for the Presidency in 2016.
9. The Buffalo Bills will not make the playoffs in 2013.
10. The Empire Page will find a new owner in 2013 and Peter Pollak will retire (once again) to write more novels.


The prevent defense, the “war” in Iraq and Roundabouts

October 25, 2012

Remember the prevent defense in football? Teams with the lead towards the end of the game would allow their opponents to move down the field with little opposition until they got close to the goal line. That technique failed as often as it worked.

If Mitt Romney loses the election Nov. 6, it will be because he went into a prevent defense during the foreign policy debate when the score was tied.

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President Obama keeps saying he ended the war in Iraq. What war is he talking about? The fact of the matter is that our pulling out of Iraq didn’t end the civil war that has been raging since we removed Saddam Hussein. Pulling out our troops also pulled news stories about the ongoing violence in Iraq out of our news media.

Need proof? Here’s one statistic: “Al-Qaida in Iraq has more than doubled in strength and carries out about 140 attacks a month, up from 75 a month earlier this year.” (http://www.opposingviews.com/i/politics/myths-iraq-and-afghanistan)

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From national to local: Some people in Malta, NY oppose adding more roundabouts (also known as traffic circles) to major intersections (http://www.dailygazette.com/news/2012/oct/25/public-rises-halt-roundabouts-malta/). They prefer sitting at red lights instead.

I’d put that opinion in the league of those who want us to trade in our cars for horses and buggies. Traffic circles reduce serious injuries as well as pollution (cars and trucks coming to a halt, then starting up again use extra gas and put out extra emissions), not to mention improved traffic flow. That means people get where they’re going sooner and safer. Oh! Earth to taxpayers! Traffic signals are also very expensive to purchase and maintain. Maybe those who favor electric signals ought to have the cost added to their property taxes.