The New York Farm Bureau released its priorities for this year’s legislative session during a conference call Wednesday.
State funding for agricultural programs is always crucial for members of the Farm Bureau. The state’s largest agricultural trade organization wants money for agricultural education programs in schools. The group wants administration of the Agricultural Assessment Program moved from the Department of Taxation and Finance to the Department of Agriculture and Markets. Farmers also want greater opportunities to participate in renewable energy initiatives.
But the primary issue that the Ag sector wants Albany to address this year is the governor’s proposal to increase New York’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. New York Farm Bureau President Dean Norton is adamantly opposed to the idea. “The plan as proposed by the governor is basically a $500 million tax increase upon agriculture. We get those figures from our federal organization, the American Farm Bureau Federation. Their economists have looked at the proposal and they have come back and said $500 million to fully implement it would be the annual cost to agriculture in New York. You know, we’re not opposed to our workers being paid a very good wage. When you look at what the average agricultural wage is in New York we’re already over $12 an hour. And if you factor in all the benefits that go with that we’re already well above the minimum wage.”
Norton added that the higher minimum wage would severely curtail competitiveness. “When the Wage Board met it was all about fast food workers in that industry. New York Farm Bureau didn’t really have a place at the table to have those discussions. If we end up with a $15 minimum wage the goods that we produce here in New York become very uncompetitive when we’re having to compete against states like Ohio and Pennsylvania and New Jersey and Connecticut whose minimum wages are already less than New York’s. We believe for us to be competitive and for us to have a fighting chance, so to speak, the minimum wage needs to be at the federal level.”
The Farm Bureau does support some budget initiatives, including full funding of the state Environmental Protection Fund, or EPF. Public Policy Director Jeff Williams: “There are a number of different categories within the EPF, or Environmental Protection Fund, that we hold near and dear and the governor has proposed big increases for those categories which we are definitely thankful for. I mean they’re needed in order to meet regulatory requirements. So we’re being able to be put in a situation to succeed to achieve that regulatory compliance.”
The governor’s budget plan dedicates $20 billion to infrastructure in and around New York City. A priority of the Farm Bureau according to Williams is to equalize upstate-downstate funding. “We can give you numerous occasions where bridges are closed or have weigh restrictions because they need costly work forcing milk trucks, forcing farmers to drive 15 – 20 miles out of their way every time they need to go to a field. We are advocating for a similar amount in upstate New York.”
On Wednesday afternoon, New York Farm Bureau officials delivered banners signed by their members calling for the defeat of the $15 minimum wage to the Capitol offices of the governor, senate majority leader and assembly speaker.