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Chamber president pens op-ed: "Business at a breaking point: Owners struggle to survive as the city adds on more and more regulations"

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

By: Jessica Walker

Published in the New York Daily News

The local economy appears stable today because of the high number of jobs and low unemployment. But tomorrow is not guaranteed. In fact, there are storm clouds ahead, because the value proposition of starting and maintaining a business in New York City is dwindling.

Too much of what is currently happening at City Hall and in the Capitol is harmful, damaging and destructive to the small- and medium-sized businesses our chamber represents, and which are the primary source of jobs in New York.

Most recently, the City Council passed legislation that will fundamentally change the way trash is picked up at businesses — businesses that have to pay for that service. We proposed viable alternatives to achieve stated safety and environmental goals. The Council amended their bill and refused to hold a subsequent hearing on how those changes might impact businesses. All five of the borough-wide chambers of commerce — representing the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island — urged the Council to delay its vote for further discussion. They rammed it through anyway.

That’s only one of the fights we are now facing. There are numerous others, such as mandated paid vacation and elimination of the tip credit for restaurant owners. Local government is putting out a dizzying array of problematic legislative proposals without considering the severe implications that they pose for employers.

How are small and mid-sized businesses supposed to generate good-paying jobs in this costly, burdensome and tone-deaf environment?

Something has to change. That is why our chamber is launching a new agenda on behalf of small- and medium-sized businesses throughout New York City. It has five critical components designed to ensure that the voices of business owners are heard in the policy-making process.

First, every elected official in the city (at both the city and state levels) should immediately hold a town hall meeting with small and middle-market business owners to hear directly from them about their issues and concerns. They do not feel heard or supported by government. This disconnect must change.

Second, the city must create the Small Business Advisory Board that was recommended in the mayor’s 2015 Small Business First report. Comprised of city personnel, elected officials and small-business owners and their representatives, it was supposed to act as a sounding board for potential new initiatives and ensure that the impact of legislation on business owners is a formal consideration in the legislative process. This input is needed now more than ever.

Third, the City Council must implement a formal system to understand the economic implications of policy proposals before they are voted upon. The Council’s Finance Division should establish a system for economic impact statements to ensure that trained economists are able to provide robust data-driven analysis before any law is adopted. And the Legislature should also do more in this vein.

Fourth, until the above items are implemented, the city should impose a moratorium on legislation that would add costs or burdens to small- and medium-sized businesses. These businesses are still absorbing several mandates that have been imposed over the last few years, including a higher minimum wage, paid sick leave and paid family leave, among others. Many are getting crushed under the weight of these mandates. Now is not the time to pile on more without first understanding the cumulative impact that these business owners are already facing.

Finally, the city must work to bring down the cost of doing business in New York. There are numerous reports out there with good ideas that have not been fully explored, including recommendations from Controller Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, the Center for an Urban Future and a report on retail diversity released by former Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito just days before she left the Council.

We must increase dialogue and foster understanding to reach the common goal of generating more good jobs and ensuring a strong economy for years to come. And we must stop piling straws on the camel’s back.