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Wrong-headed health care law Don't further injure New York's business climate with punitive bill

A bipartisan bill that would make New York one of the first states to require that companies provide health insurance for full-time employees should be rejected for the sake of the state's already prickly business climate.

This bill, called Fair Share for Health Care, would further discourage businesses from locating in the state, doing more economic damage to upstate and Western New York. The legislation, similar to an equally ill-advised bill passed in Maryland in January, would apply to businesses with more than 100 employees and could affect 450,000 workers in the state. Though the Maryland bill was aimed at Wal-Mart, a company that has a well-earned reputation for meager benefits, it nonetheless qualifies as a bad law. This despite the Wal-Mart effect, which forces many employees to seek health care from state programs. Forcing companies to do the right thing, in this case provide decent health care, will only send them to other states.

The bill requires companies to spend an average of at least $3 per hour per employee for health benefits. Wal-Mart, which had the largest number of employees enrolled in the state's public health insurance programs, according to the Working Families Party, is a prime target for such a bill. But there's an open question regarding other businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises that would only be further discouraged from locating in New York.

While it's difficult to speculate about the bill's politics, it should not go unnoticed that its sponsor, State Sen. Nicholas A. Spano, a Westchester Republican, won by a narrow margin in 2004, and received more than 1,700 votes on the Working Families Party line. Politics aside, this is a bad bill that has all the makings of another government mandate.

Supporters of the bill seem to think companies such as Wal-Mart and J.C. Penney have no choice but to locate in New York. We agree with the Business Council of New York State -- that's plain wrong. If New York State increases costs so much that stores cannot compete, they will relocate and sell to New Yorkers online. And while there is a valid argument about major businesses relying on public health programs, the answer is real health care reform that reduces costs.

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