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Businesses hope Spitzer will help them cut costs Health care costs are No. 1 concern of state's employers

The state's leading business group, once an organization cozy with the state Republican Party, has its eye on Democratic Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer to get some of the things accomplished they couldn't under the past 12 years of GOP rule in Albany.

Pushing its longtime agenda of items they say will help improve the state's economic climate - health care, workers compensation, energy and tax issues - the Business Council of New York State is banking on Spitzer to wring reforms from legislators during the 2007 legislative session.

Kenneth Adams, the group's president, said Spitzer's focus on the economic plight of New York, especially upstate, has continued since his election.

"New York faces big economic challenges, but we sense our leaders in Albany understand these problems," Adams said.

A year ago, the Business Council was nearly persona non grata with some legislative leaders after the group in 2005 helped defeat a ballot measure that would have given state lawmakers more power in crafting of the state budget.

> Reaching out

But on the day after Election Day 2006, there was Adams sitting with the head of the state AFL-CIO in Spitzer's Manhattan office discussing strategy and issues for the legislative session. The event helped to showcase Spitzer's desire to reach out to the usually competing interests to find common ground to resolve some of the long-standing economic issues facing the state.

The Business Council's members overwhelmingly cited health care as the top concern that they want Albany to address this year, according to a survey by the group in December. Other key focus areas include controlling workers compensation and energy costs, and coming up with new ways for the state to better promote economic development.

Matthew Maguire, a Business Council spokesman, said health insurance costs have risen about 50 percent since 2000 in New York. "Profits aren't going up that much, so it's just a tremendous squeeze," he said. While employers had been facing the brunt of the increase, Maguire said many are now having to force those expenses onto employees.

"It's not tenable for employees and it's increasingly putting pressure on workers and families," he said.

The business lobby group, which represents large and small firms from manufacturing plants to banks, wants the state to end the annual push to add more mandates onto employer health insurance plans. The Legislature often adds new coverage requirements - such as chiropractic care - that alone do not hike premiums much, but that over time contribute a lot to the rising costs of insurance, employers say.

The group is calling for establishment of a commission to consider the effects of the health insurance mandates. "If you pass a law that says every car has to have every fabulous option, two things happen: One is, the car will be a Cadillac; and two, more people will not be able to afford cars," Maguire said. Instead of dictating specific coverage, the business group wants a less hands-on approach from Albany.

> Utility costs targeted

Spitzer already has vowed to take serious steps to reform the workers' compensation system, whose costs continue to spiral, and to provide increased opportunities for alternative energy sources to reduce electricity and other utility costs that manufacturers, in particular, say are driving them from the state.

The governor, however, during his campaign last year said little about reducing business taxes. Instead, his focus was on property tax relief, arguing that both individuals and businesses would benefit from a slash in the rising property levies.

Maguire said that while the Business Council advocates a range of business tax breaks, the group is encouraged by a campaign in which the gubernatorial candidates from both parties were so strongly pushing tax relief. "We feel good about going into a climate where the problem of taxes is not in dispute," Maguire said.

Like other groups, businesses see a chance to get resolved matters that have been held up for years by fighting between lawmakers and former Gov. George Pataki.

"These issues have just been stuck in the mud for years," Maguire said of the various business policy matters. "It's been the same problems and the same inertia would follow predictably like the seasons. There is optimism that that is going to change."

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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