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Chamber president calls on City Council to study economic impact of bills

Friday, November 3, 2017

What scared me about the City Council speaker debate

Candidates pledged to let members advance legislation, but how about studying it first?


By Jessica Walker, president and CEO of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce

Published in Crain's New York Business, November 3, 2017


This week I attended the Crain's breakfast forum where the eight candidates for City Council speaker squared off in a debate. Several expressed a desire to help their colleagues draft legislation and move bills forward with fewer restrictions from the speaker’s office. Some also want to give committee chairs more autonomy in selecting the issues to hold hearings on and the legislation they will push. All of this makes sense. But it can only work if these empowered council members and committee heads have the information needed to make informed decisions.


As the president of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, which acts as a guardian of small businesses and startups in the city, I want legislators to fully understand the impact of their policy proposals on businesses. New York is a complex, costly and competitive place in which to operate. Lawmakers must be aware when policy proposals threaten to exacerbate these burdens or harm job creation.


That is why I am calling on the next speaker of the City Council to implement a process that helps legislators understand the potential economic impact of legislation before it is adopted.


New York City does not have a formal process to analyze the effect bills may have on jobs and businesses. The council's Finance Division conducts reviews of the fiscal implications of some proposals (i.e., the impact on the city’s budget), but not the broader ramifications for our local economy.


By contrast, San Francisco has an Office of Economic Analysis that identifies and reports on all legislation introduced at the board of supervisors that might have a material economic impact on that city. Not all bills introduced are analyzed; only those flagged as having a potential impact on the economy. The office, staffed with three economists, analyzes these likely impacts on business attraction and retention, job creation, city revenue and other matters relating to the comprehensive economic health of San Francisco. Its analyses are submitted to the board of supervisors prior to the legislation being heard in committee.


The next council speaker should commit to developing a similar capacity in New York. This function could be developed with support from the Independent Budget Office, the city comptroller, and academic and private-sector experts. Such a process will ensure that City Council members have the data they need to weigh the pros and cons of a proposal.