WASHINGTON – The congressional and state legislative delegations from the region have their marching orders in two agendas from the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.
As they ought to be, these are business-oriented lists that include resistance to reforming the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision by the Supreme Court on campaign finance.
Some items refer to big-ticket spending on Peace Bridge infrastructure and Roswell Park Cancer Institute. However, requests for large new spending for the region will be affected by the $60 billion-plus that is being asked for remediation of the damage done to the New York metro region by Superstorm Sandy.
In the meantime, here are modest proposals, which would not cost much, that the delegations can take up that deal with creation of wealth and jobs:
1) Unapologetic pressure for repeal of New York’s notorious Triborough Bridge Amendment.
2) Creation of a professional, strong public agency, probably an authority, to take over development of Buffalo’s outer harbor.
3) A note of caution to Congress to be careful not to limit deductions for charitable gifts or mortgage interest in any new tax/budget settlement.
“Triborough” is code for a bad 1982 law that puts public employee unions in the driver’s seat in all negotiations with local and state governments. It says when contracts expire, all pay and other provisions remain in force, including future step pay raises. This makes contract talks farcical. Because of the leverage this gives public unions, it is the single-biggest reason why New York has the highest state and local taxes in America.
The partnership does urge Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo not to automatically renew codes requiring binding arbitration for public employee unions when it expires next summer. But it appears to pass off the job of jawboning for repeal of Triborough to a related organization, Unshackle Upstate. Unshackle in turn depends on a subsidiary group, Let New York Work. Outright repeal of Triborough is not on that organization’s 2012 short list. Instead, Let New York Work would tinker with it by freezing pay step increases. That’s not enough. This whole distorted law has to go, and it won’t be repealed unless business ardently demands it.
This column does not favor the shredding of all collective bargaining rights for public (or private) employees. However, successful union rollback moves in Wisconsin, where unions lost collective bargaining rights, and Michigan, where the closed union shop was outlawed, ought to encourage Buffalo Niagara business to be a lot bolder in what it asks for.
On the waterfront, an annoyed Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, father of the sector’s new outlook, demanded that the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority sell its vast acreage to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. for $2. Good idea. Higgins and others in leadership can go further.
The Harbor Development Corp. was assembled to deal with a range of inner harbor issues, and there it has done pretty well. But the outer harbor is among the largest undeveloped urban tracts left on the Great Lakes, and it begs for a bigger, bolder organization. Its future need not be left to the varying views and associations of a congressman, a mayor, a county executive and an agency that runs airports.
With help, the Erie County Harbor Development Corp. can evolve into an independent agency that can professionalize and hire a world-renowned land-use firm like, say, AECOM, to study and lay out the best options for this massive tract. A modern agency peopled with established skill sets could replicate the success of Battery Park Authority in Manhattan. Why not upgrade the Harbor Development Corp.? Everything else has been tried and they’re still quarreling.