By Dee Richard
Last week I had one of the most interesting days I’ve had in quite some time. It was the Queens Chamber of Commerce’s annual Albany Legislative Lobby Day. It is its annual bus trip where it transports all interested chamber members to Albany to petition the legislators for help in solving Queens problems.
We met in the Queens Chamber’s offices April 25 in the Bulova Center at 6 a.m., where it had coffee and orange juice waiting for us. In addition, it handed everyone a brown paper bag containing a bagel, cream cheese and jelly and banana. We were told we could take an extra cup of coffee with us on the bus.
The bus left at 6:30 a.m. and we arrived in Albany at 9:30 a.m. We cued up in a coffee shop in the lobby of the Legislative Building where we were divided into three groups of five. The groups were then assigned original titles: A, B and C.
We were given a printed fact sheet with the names of our crew members and our time schedule, as well as the legislators our team was supposed to visit. The meetings with the legislators were scheduled at 15-minute intervals. We started at 10 a.m. and we finished up at noon.
We then all met for lunch and recounted to one another the responses we received from the legislators. Each team met with seven different legislators times three teams equals 21 electeds we were able to visit.
We were given a stack of a printed three-page list of the issues that were important to the Queens Chamber of Commerce and expressed our hopes that the legislators would consider the issues. Most of the proposed legislative plans were more long-term rather than short-term. The chamber believes Queens businesses are slowly improving and bringing new opportunities for growth within the region.
Topic 1 was tourism. Tourism is an economic driver in New York City. The chamber fully supports Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to build the nation’s largest convention center at Aqueduct Race Track.
Topic 2 was health care. The chamber applauds Cuomo’s creating the New York Health Benefit Exchange, which will allow New York to have greater control over how federal health care reform will affect its citizens.
Topic 3 was economic development. The Queens Chamber of Commerce supports an increase in funding and the extension of the motion picture and television industry tax incentives in the state.
Topic 4 was Energy. The chamber opposes the expansion of coverage of Labor Law Article 9 to cover all contracted service employees. Utility customers would be required to subsidize mandated wage rates that apply to just one class of workers and face increased energy bills. This bill will harm small and minority-owned businesses.
Topic 5 was regulatory reforms. The chamber would like to see established medical malpractice caps. The chamber supports a cap of $250,000 on non-economic damage awards, which would then reduce hospital and physician premiums across the state by 24 percent.
The chamber supports comprehensive and meaningful no-fault insurance reform. New Yorkers currently pay the fourth-highest premiums in the nation for auto insurance. No-fault fraud costs New Yorkers more than $200 million in 2010 and continues to increase.
The chamber opposes congestion pricing and the imposition of tolls on free bridges, user fees, increased street parking costs and high occupancy requirements for all vehicles in New York City. Any congestion pricing scheme would result in an additional annual loss of billions of dollars in economic output, tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in city and state tax revenues.
As you can see, the Queens Chamber of Commerce is diligent in protecting the interest of Queens businesses whether they be large, medium or small. Queens is a borough of many small businesses, the engine for providing most of our local jobs.
Thank you, Queens Chamber, for all the wonderful work you do.