Friday, February 26, 2016

New York Farm Bureau Sets Legislative Agenda; Fighting Minimum Wage Hike is Number 1

From Empire Farm & Dairy magazine:

New York Farm Bureau released its 2016 state priorities Jan. 27 that focus on improving conditions in New York state to allow for agricultural growth. 

New York Farm Bureau President Dean Norton laid out the legislative agenda during a press conference call with the media that included NYFB’s Public Policy Director Jeff Williams.

The number one issue for New York Farm Bureau this year is to strongly oppose the $15 minimum wage. The plan would dramatically impact farms competitiveness and cost farmers an estimated $500 million in additional annual labor costs alone. That would be crushing in a year like this one, when milk and commodity prices are significantly lower.

Norton said the average agricultural wage in New York state is $12.39/hour, well above the current minimum, but an increase will force wages up across the board, including those already making more than the minimum based on skill and experience. Additional costs will rise as well for payroll taxes like unemployment insurance and FICA. 

Other expenses will come from increased costs for goods and services that farms must purchase.

“The governor’s minimum wage proposal makes New York completely uncompetitive with the other agricultural states,” Norton said.  “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.”

State funding for critical farm programs is also a top priority for NYFB. The governor included a number of items in his budget plan to help the farm industry, including money for the Environmental Protection Fund, which will assist farms with water quality, conservation and farmland protection programs.
Norton said Farm Bureau also remains committed to securing money to assist schools in starting new FFA programs and  agricultural education programs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates there will be 60,000 new jobs a year in the farming and food industries, and the state will need to have a workforce ready to meet those demands to help grow the industries right here at home.
“We have an abundance of school districts looking to add chapters and this funding would help get those chapters off the ground and started,” Norton said.
A third priority related to the budget is the investment in roads and bridges for upstate New York. 

The governor is committing $20 billion to match infrastructure efforts happening in and around New York City. The parity in upstate-downstate funding remains a priority because our farms need access to good roads and safe bridges in order to transport their goods to market.

“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,” Norton said. “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.”

Another new priority is support for transferring farm assessment functions from the Department of Taxation and Finance to the Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Agricultural land assessments are determined by Agriculture and Markets under Agricultural District Law. However, when it comes to administering the assessments, it falls to Tax and Finance, which can create some confusion for assessors not well versed in Agriculture District Law.

“There is a real sensitivity and understanding of our industry in the Department of Agriculture and Markets and we feel that assessment program and functions would be much better served in that department rather than Taxation and Finance,” Williams said.

Finally, energy is another major priority. Reducing costs and increasing efficiencies for farms, while also helping farms transition to renewable energy sources, provide many benefits for agriculture. 

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.

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.

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