In preparation for Legislative Lobby Days in Albany, New York FB President Dean Norton and NYFB’s Public Policy Director Jeff Williams spoke at a press conference to inform people of priority issues concerning the Ag community.
Topping the list of priorities is NYFB’s opposition to the minimum wage hike.
Norton said that currently the average agricultural wage is above $12 per hour and commented that New York State could not compete with other states to sell Ag products, when farms would be forced to raise their prices even higher to accommodate paying their employees higher wages. He pointed out that New York State already has a higher minimum wage than other surrounding states, and competition for marketing out of state will be even more negatively impacted if the minimum wage is increased.
“The Governor’s minimum wage proposal makes New York completely noncompetitive with the other agricultural states,” remarked Norton. “When Pennsylvania’s minimum wage is $7.25 and New York’s is $15, how can our farms and other businesses compete? The answer, unfortunately, is to reduce labor costs or shut down.”
This would also affect costs across the board from increased payroll taxes, unemployment insurance and FICA to increased costs in all services and merchandise purchased.
Norton emphasized that law makers will be held accountable. “We will continue to fight this!” he said firmly.
Supporting increased funding for the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) and other farm programs, including assisting farms with water quality, conservation and farmland protection programs, was also listed among the priorities.
Williams explained that EPF is not just for farm issues, but includes other categories as well. “We are very supportive of the money the Governor has for the EPF.” Governor Cuomo has proposed $300 million for the EPF for this coming fiscal year.
Norton stated with an estimated 60,000 new positions opening in the agricultural community and food industry, supporting and advocating agricultural education continues to be a priority for NYFB. He emphasized that schools must be equipped to instruct youngsters by supplying programs such as the FFA and NYFB will continue to help secure funding to start up and continue these critical programs “We must prepare our youth!” Norton commented.
The need of funding for infrastructure in upstate NY is an important priority issue that NYFB will contend with.
Norton noted that increased weight limitations on rural bridges, because of structure deterioration, are making them inaccessible to farm equipment.
“Many of the bridges that cross the Erie Canal are no longer accessible to agricultural equipment and vehicles because of the weight limit and restrictions,” said Norton. “This increases time and costs for farmers who may have to travel miles out of their way to get to a farm field or deliver milk.”
It is well noted in any news arena that Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has committed to the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge (at an estimated $3.9 billion) over the Hudson River between Rockland and Westchester Counties, and an overhaul of La Guardia Airport (estimated $4 billion). Other projects he has committed to in and around New York City brings the balance to about a total of $20 billion.
Norton and Williams both commented that there should be an equal commitment to rural New York State in funding for infrastructure improvements. “It all comes down to parity,” said Williams. “The parity in upstate-downstate funding remains a priority.”
Transferring farm assessment functions to the Department of Agriculture and Markets from the Department of Taxation and Finance is a new priority.
Assessors from Tax and Finance may not be familiar with Agriculture District Law, which results in some confusion when assessing Ag land. Passing the entire process to the Department of Agriculture and Markets will be beneficial to all involved and NYFB will support that process.
“There is a real sensitivity and understanding of our industry in the Department of Agriculture and Markets,” said Williams. “And we feel that assessment program and functions would be much better served in that department rather than Taxation and Finance.”
The last issue that is on the list of priorities at this time involves helping farms transition to renewable energy sources, benefiting all areas of agriculture.
New York Farm Bureau Public Affairs Manager Steve Ammerman explains, “The Governor’s initiative, known as Reforming the Energy Vision or REV, is looking to be a more market-based plan than current energy policy incentives. In the past, NYSERDA has worked with farms to open up opportunities for solar, wind energy and biomass as well as increasing the use of anaerobic digesters on dairy farms. The digesters convert animal nutrients into electricity that is returned to the grid. New York Farm Bureau will work this year to ensure REV is implemented in a fair and effective way so that rural New York is able to take advantage of the programs available — and farms can contribute to a more resilient grid and power their neighborhoods.”
“We are watching this process very closely,” Williams said. “We want to make sure that farms who want to employ more renewable energy technologies are making out equally in rate pricing and that their efforts are economically viable.”