Tells Merchants of Third Ave. times are still tough
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Take one at the new television commercial touting New York State’s positive business climate, a spot that boasts about corporations moving here that don’t have to pay taxes for 10 years and you’ll think the economy is on the upswing, said Mike Durant, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business.
“The commercial says, ‘It’s a new New York.’ And ‘New York is open for business.’ It’s not true,” Durant bluntly told members of the Merchants of Third Avenue in Bay Ridge on Tuesday.
Durant, whose organization represents 350,000 small business owners across the country, including 11,000 in New York State, was the guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the Merchants, a group that looks out for the interests of more than 200 store owners on the avenue between 69th and 94th streets. Durant’s speech was part of a special program sponsored by Merchants member Patrick Gilbride, a financial advisor with Edward Jones.
Durant disputed contentions by Governor Andrew Cuomo and others that things are improving for business owners in the state. He pointed to the commercial as an example, saying that the state’s economic incentive policy is aimed at luring businesses to move to the state from elsewhere. “It favors companies that are new to New York. It does nothing for the hardworking small business owner who’s already here and who’s struggling to stay in business,” he said.
And corporations that benefit from not having to pay taxes for a decade won’t necessarily stay in New York over the long-term, Durant said. “What happens after 10 years? Are they going to take 10 years of no taxes and go to Texas?” he asked.
“Those commercials are a poison,” Durant said. The television spots have the dual effect of making people believe the economy is rosy while at the same time getting pro-labor forces fired up and ready to fight for higher wages for workers, he said.
Durant, whose organization is composed primarily of business owners employing seven workers or less, said small merchants usually pay personal income tax for the business, as opposed to corporate taxes, so the state’s highly touted effort to lower corporate taxes won’t help the little guy.
“Broad tax reform is needed,” Durant said. “It will spur organic economic development. Right now, New York is not an equitable state.”
If the climate doesn’t improve, the state and city will an increase in the number of businesses closing up shop and leaving for greener pastures in other states, Durant predicted.
The city is becoming less hospitable to small business owners, he said, pointing to the mandatory paid sick leave law and efforts to mandate merchants to provide paid vacation days to workers as major setbacks.
Merchants President Bob Howe said his members feel the crunch between doing right by their workers and being burdened by over-regulation. “It’s a very tough job to be a small merchant. You’re under constant assault from regulatory agencies,” he said.
The National Federation of Independent Business fought to lower the proposed increase in the minimum wage, citing the effect on merchants’ bottom line as a reason. A substantial increase in the minimum wage would have meant a 20 percent jump in labor costs for the average small business, an increase most owners simply can’t afford, Durant said.
He urged store owners to contact their city and state elected officials and complain about things they don’t like. “Educate those who represent you. You need to make your voices heard,” he told the group.
The federation’s job is to look out for the best interests of its members, Durant said. Each member pays an annual $180 membership fee.
The federation filed an amicus brief in the court case last year against former mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on restaurants and movie theaters selling soft drinks larger than 32 ounces. The organization was also a plaintiff in the federal lawsuit against the Obama Administration over the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The US Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the law was constitutional.
Durant said the federation doesn’t back away from big fights. “We are always David but we don’t shy away from Goliath,” he said.