Thursday, 19 April 2018 00:00

The Death of Common Sense

By Todd Shimkus, President of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce | Editorials
The Death of Common Sense

Philip Howard published “The Death of Common Sense,” in 1985. I read it in 1986, and I have a copy of this book in my office to this day. 

The book is described as “a thorough examination of the origins and excesses of bureaucracy…illustrated with cases of regulatory inefficiency, mismanagement, and outright insanity.”

I see the death of common sense play out all from time to time in my job.

Generally, there are good people who want to fix something that they believe is broken. They want to help. Their intentions are good.

They are seeking what appears to be a rational governmental action to fix what is broken. 

The challenge is, however, that such fixes often have unintended negative consequences. For instance, rarely are fixes cost neutral so deciding who pays for it becomes a source of conflict.

The reality is that taking action often has winners and losers. That can certainly be the case when it comes to the government’s role seeking to influence the partnership between employers and employees. 

Right now, for instance, local restaurants and their employees are mobilizing together to fight against the Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to eliminate the tip credit.

The tip credit says: If an employee’s tipped wages and tips ever equal less than the minimum wage, the employer is required by law to make up the difference.

So employees are guaranteed to be paid minimum wage. But, they have the potential through tips to make more.

If approved by the  governor’s appointed Department of Labor and not the legislature, by the way, this new proposal would increase restaurant wages to the minimum wage immediately and permanently. 

Thus, it would drive up salary, benefit and tax costs for employers. Of course, all of this will drive up state revenues too.

This would, in turn, drive up restaurant prices. And it could also eliminate or at least reduce the tipped wages service professionals earn.

Local tipped employees themselves have spoken out in opposition to the governor’s proposal. You can watch videos of similar personal and local testimonials at savenytips.org. 

If you listen to local restaurant employees, they don’t see a problem that needs fixing. They make more money now via tips than they would if the governor’s proposal is approved.

Last year, Gov. Cuomo also bypassed the legislature and asked his own Department of Labor to develop a proposal that will penalize employers if they “call in” an employee to fill an open shift without a 14 day notice.

This call-in scheduling proposal would have worked great this wintry spring.

Imagine penalizing the ski areas who had an extended season for calling in employees to work these unplanned shifts. Or imagine penalizing the plow companies for calling in employees in late-March or April to plow or sand your driveway or your parking lot. 

The governor’s proposal hopes to provide more predictive scheduling to employees — a worthy idea. 

But to do so the bureaucracy arbitrarily selected a 14-day advance scheduling time frame that is completely without common sense, especially if you know anything about Upstate New York’s weather. 

We at the Chamber have been working closely with the employers and employees who will be harmed by these two proposals. 

It is our responsibility to be visible and vocal advocates for them and we take this job seriously.

We hope the Governor’s Department of Labor after holding public hearings and reading public testimony will decide to take no action on both ideas. 

But perhaps what we really need is the Senate and Assembly to take a common sense approach. 

Why are they allowing this governor or any governor to make new laws without a vote by those in the legislature elected to represent us? 

That certainly sounds like the Death of Common Sense in a democracy. 

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