With just six days remaining until the 2011-12 State Budget is due (as of this column being authored), there has been a lot of back-and-forth speculation in the media about whether New York's spending plan will be on time. Frankly, nobody knows for sure whether the State Budget will be passed by the April 1 fiscal deadline. What I do know is that my priorities for a fiscally responsible spending plan remain unchanged: no new taxes; unfunded mandate relief for localities and school districts; structural reforms to costly programs like Medicaid and ensuring upstate does not bear a disproportionate share of the painful cuts. While the last minute Albany budget power plays continue to unfold, I want to focus this week's column on the issue of power - specifically, the Empire State's high cost of electricity and how it hurts our economy.
ELECTRICITY COSTS IN NEW YORK ARE AMERICA'S THIRD HIGHEST
Here in New York State, we pay a hefty price for our electricity. In fact, New York is third in the nation in terms of the average retail price of electricity (to ultimate consumers) in cents per kilowatt-hour: only Connecticut (2) and Hawaii (1) rank higher than the Empire State. This translates into our having electricity costs that are 66 percent above the national average, based on 2007 and 2009 data compiled by the Energy Information Administration. Residential consumers and businesses shoulder these nation-leading costs.
You don't need to rely on statistics from some government agency to realize the steep cost of electricity and its negative impact on New Yorkers - just look at your most recent electricity bill: there it is in black and white. This is certainly true for business sectors such as manufacturing that are highly energy intensive and thus bear an even greater share of the costs, making it harder for New York's private sector companies to be profitable.
NEW YORK'S ELECTRICITY PRICES MUST BE MORE COMPETITIVE WITH STATES LIKE VIRGINIA, OHIO, SOUTH CAROLINA & GEORGIA
High electricity prices are a significant financial disincentive to businesses that would otherwise look at New York to invest, considering our well-educated and highly skilled workforce. However, here is the inescapable economic reality: if a company can locate its operations in Virginia, Ohio, South Carolina, Georgia or even Minnesota - all of which have electricity rates that rank well below New York's - and save substantially on its energy costs, then it has a major built-in financial incentive to do so. How many private sector jobs has New York lost over the years because our electricity rates are America's third highest? While such a figure is almost impossible to quantify, the fact that our state has nearly 800,000 people unemployed is a good indication that the lost jobs - and missed opportunities - have been plentiful.
RECHARGE NY - AN IMPORTANT STEP TOWARD LOWER ENERGY PRICES & MORE PRIVATE SECTOR JOBS
Fortunately, we have an opportunity to take a step toward fixing this problem - and making New York's electricity rates more competitive over the long-term - by enacting the "Recharge NY" power program. Recharge NY (Assembly Bill A.5021 and Senate Bill S.3164) would serve as a permanent replacement of the successful "Power for Jobs" program which expires on May 15, 2011, and whose subsequent year-to-year renewals have caused a great deal of economic uncertainty for the 500 businesses and non-profits who rely on the program and employ 300,000 New Yorkers.
Recharge NY would remove that uncertainty; deliver low-cost power to qualifying business and non-profits, foster new private sector opportunities and economic development, while supporting investments in energy efficiency initiatives. Key provisions of Recharge NY include:
Establishing a new, permanent program to replace the Power for Jobs program that will deliver predictability and certainty for entities participating in the initiative;
Doubling the amount of megawatts currently available to 910 by reallocating 455 MW from Niagara and Saint Lawrence hydroelectric projects currently used for the benefit of rural and domestic customers, but requiring the New York Power Authority to provide discounts to affected customers; and
Providing long-term contracts of up to seven years to help businesses create and retain jobs in New York State, and removing the uncertainty about the availability of access to low-cost power.
OUR ECONOMY NEEDS RELIABLE ACCESS TO LOW-COST POWER
Recharge NY is good for consumers, good for our economy, and good for businesses. I support the program, as do Members of our Assembly Minority Conference, along with Governor Cuomo and a coalition of over 27 business groups including the Business Council of New York State, Inc., the National Federation of Independent Business and the New York Farm Bureau. Legislation establishing Recharge NY has already passed the Senate - all that remains is for the Assembly Majority to finally move the bill out of the Energy Committee and bring it to the floor for a vote. Making low-cost power available on a permanent basis is far too important to fall victim to the usual Albany legislative gridlock. Recharge NY is an essential program that will provide New York's economy with the power to grow.
KEEP THOSE LEGISLATIVE SURVEYS COMING!
So far, the response to my 2011 Legislative Survey has been fantastic! Each day brings even more completed surveys returned to my office. If you have one of my questionnaires, please mail the completed survey back to my Albany office: Room 933 LOB, Albany, NY 12248. You can also take the survey at my official Facebook page listed at "Assemblyman Brian Kolb." Be assured that every viewpoint matters, so please complete and return your survey today!
As always, constituents wishing to discuss this topic, or any other state-related matter should contact my district office at (315) 781-2030, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and informational updates regarding state government and our Assembly Minority Conference.