$15 Minimum Wage is Uncharted Territory

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent GardnerFightfor15I recently participated in a discussion of Governor Cuomo’s proposed $15 minimum wage on WXXI public radio’s Connections with Evan Dawson. A listener contacted the host, referred to the recently-passed increase for fast food workers, and said, “Hey, I’m a skilled machinist earning $18/hour. Why should someone at McDonalds earn nearly the same?” That’s an interesting question—it points out that the $15 minimum wage could have far more impact than we might think at first blush. First I’ll summarize what research tells us about the obvious and short run impacts, then tentatively explore the broader implications raised by this comment.

On the left, we’re led to believe that a minimum wage rise will significantly improve the well-being of the poor and that employment could actually increase as a consequence. The right declares that jobs for the most disadvantaged would disappear and that the increase might trigger a recession.

An across-the-board minimum wage increase to $15 an hour is very different from the incremental increase we’re experiencing right now in New York. The minimum wage statewide rose to $8.75 at the end of last year and is scheduled to increase to $9 on Dec. 31. The federal minimum wage remains at $7.25. Read more »

Confessions of a Free Market Economist

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent Gardner I’ve a weakness for dystopian literature (think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road). The premise of these books is a disaster thThe Roadat fundamentally alters the trajectory of the planet. The apocalypse is typically human-caused, some act that taps into our collective guilt about environmental degradation, warlust or technological hubris.

An economist’s dystopia is portrayed in Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano. Instead of a despoiled planet or some biological or digital monster, Vonnegut’s first novel portrays a society nearly bereft of work. Set at a thinly disguised General Electric (where Vonnegut once worked), World War III prompts an acceleration in automation, allowing the U.S. to win the war. A decade later, automation has become near total. The only people needed are the very best engineers, who spend their days seeking new efficiencies, displacing yet more human involvement. They’ve been freed from work—utopia, right? Read more »

Upstate NY vs. Toronto: A Lesson in Immigration & Tax Policy

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent GardnerRemember the Fast Ferry connecting Rochester and Toronto? Although the idea failed in execution, connecting with the vibrant “Golden Horseshoe” economy made sense then—and still does today. When we compare Rochester to, say, Charlotte or Atlanta or Austin, we can always blame the snow. But that doesn’t work when we look across the lake. What’s their “secret sauce?”

Job Growth 1996 - 2011We may be separated only by a bit of water and a line on a map, but it is clear that Canada’s Golden Horseshoe Region, powered by Toronto, has prospered while Upstate New York (defined here as Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse) has just held its own. Although these neighboring regions share much—that climate, access to markets, and transportation infrastructure—since 1996 the Golden Horseshoe added more than a third to its employment base and a quarter to its population. Read more »

The Challenge of Saving Money on Police

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Scott SittigPolice service is often the most cherished and visible municipal service—and inevitably one of the costliest. When it comes to balancing local government costs and quality of life, law enforcement increasingly is part of the public conversation.  Too often, the immediate reflex is to equate cost savings in law enforcement with compromising public safety.  That need not be the case.

A dichotomy drives the challenge

First, there’s emotion involved.  We like the sense of security that comes with knowing an officer is patrolling our street.  Whether responding to emergencies and criminal activity or getting to know residents on a first-name basis, police form bonds and fill roles that many residents consider vital for their community.  Recently I learned some youths in my own neighborhood had accosted one of my neighbors. When I found out how intimately the police officers know the community and possible perpetrators, I could turn my attention away from being fearful for my family and instead focus on community advocacy and intervention.

Second, there are dollars and cents involved.  Local governments across the country are more constrained than ever by limited resources and rising costs.  In New York and New Jersey, for example, pension and other negotiated benefits are driving mandated annual increases that result in many governments bumping up against their state’s 2% cap on the growth in the tax levy. Plus in New York existing police union contracts are further insulated from certain cost pressures by law (i.e., Taylor Law, Triborough Amendment) and unions can exercise a binding arbitration process that has historically produced favorable outcomes for their members.

Read more »

In Defense of Complex Regulation of Energy Extraction

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent GardnerAfter my last column on hydrofracking, I was asked to participate in a forum at the University of Rochester sponsored by Phi Beta Kappa. In my intro, I quipped that I was the guy invited to defend the despoiling of the earth and destruction of the climate. Nobody laughed.

This issue has stirred a level of religious fervor that is reminiscent of both sides of the abortion debate. Yet common to most consequential policy questions, the hydrofracking issue (like Oscar Wilde’s truth) is neither pure nor simple. I understand the appeal of clarity and simplicity—we would prefer that fracking be either boon or bane. Complexity makes our heads hurt.

Let me make the case for complexity. Read more »

National Technical Institute for Deaf Boosts Rochester Economy & Visibility

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent GardnerHigher education is a major contributor to our region’s prosperity. Home to 18 colleges and universities, total employment in the sector rose steadily during the recession and totaled nearly 35,000 last year, up 16% since 2007.

Yet Rochester higher ed stands out for more than just job and payroll totals. The community is home to a number of distinctive institutions that set the region apart. One of these, the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) at the Rochester Institute for Technology, may be better recognized outside Rochester than inside. NTID is the world’s first and largest technological college for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.  Established by Congress in 1965, the first students entered in 1968.

A recent CGR study of NTID concluded that the Institute is responsible for more than 1,000 jobs, both direct and spillover, and over $50 million in labor income. Moreover, due to its national scope and reputation, it captured $84 million in outside funding (75% federal) over the 2006-11 period. NTID has done its part to strengthen higher ed in Rochester, boosting enrollment by 24% from 2007. Read more »

Let’s be Globally Competitive—for Workers

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent Gardner

During the Olympics we freely show unabashed pride in our native sons and daughters. The Rochester region cheers Jenn Suhr’s triumph over her longtime Russian rival in the pole vault and Abby Wambach’s soccer gold against Japan. Yes, some of the U.S. Olympians are transplants, immigrants to our nation. But most were born here.

While a burst of nativism is excusable during the Olympics, anti-immigration sentiment doesn’t serve our economy well. Asked by local businessman Dutch Summers to explore why Canada’s Golden Horseshoe—anchored by Toronto—has prospered and grown while Upstate New York has languished, we concluded that immigration policy is a powerful contributing factor. Read more »

No Economic Gold at the End of the Olympic Rainbow

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Scott SittigI love summer and I love sports.  2012 has already produced many sports highlights with I’ll Have Another winning 2/3 of horse racing’s Triple Crown, Tiger Woods’ renewed success on the golf tour, Roger Federer’s and Serena Williams’ record breaking tennis wins at Wimbledon, the mid-summer classic, baseball’s All-Star game and King James winning his first NBA title. And now it’s the Tour de France and, soon, the summer Olympic Games.

Big Sports Event = Big Economic Impact?

Sports spectaculars are often lauded for their economic impact. Does the reality match the claims? Victor Matheson, an economics professor at College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts has analyzed the economic impact of “mega sporting events” like the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the All Star Game, and World Series. He finds many examples of major sporting events not living up to their pre-event hype.  For instance, Major League Baseball claims economic impact on cities that host the All-Star game in the neighborhood of $75 million in direct benefits. Matheson’s ex post research suggests that for the cities that hosted All-Star games between 1973–1997, average employment actually declined by a half percent.  Organizers of the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta suggested upwards of 77,000 new jobs would be generated. Matheson estimates that as few as 3,500 were actually created. Read more »

Merci, Jacques et Marie

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Kent GardnerThe French have voted with their hearts and picked Francois Hollande as President. And who can blame them for wanting to be more like Italy and less like Germany? More Roman Holiday and less The Spy Who Came In from the Cold?

We should be grateful to the French. We need exemplars—countries whose policies we embrace and countries whose polices we avoid. France seems determined to set a bad example, if they expect Hollande to follow through on his promises. This is a nation that hasn’t run a budget surplus in 35 years, where labor costs have been rising in the face of blistering global competition, and where the public sector controls more than half of the economy. Hollande promises to hire more public sectors workers, raise the marginal tax rate to 75%, and reverse Nicholas Sarkozy’s feeble encroachment on the entitlement mindset of the French worker. Read more »

Transforming Urban Education: From Despair to Hope?

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Donald PryorI’ve been reading Hope and Despair in the American City:  Why There Are No Bad Schools in Raleigh.  And, like many others, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our urban schools in Rochester and elsewhere and how we “fix” them.

In areas around New York and nationally, there seems to be precious little hope for resurrecting our urban schools and kids —and far too much despair.  Dedicated people, much smarter and more creative than I, have been writing about and wrestling with this dilemma for years.  Despite years of reform, study and advocacy, the problems remain, as most of the available solutions are constrained by limited resources available only within city boundaries—when community-wide solutions and resources are called for. Read more »