October 21, 2022
Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R, Corning) renewed his calls for an immediate investigation into allegations that Gov. Kathy Hochul participated in a pay-to-play scheme involving a $637 million taxpayer-funded payout to one of her top campaign donors. Palmesano was among the members of the Assembly Minority Conference’s Ways and Means Committee who originally called for an investigation into the potential quid pro quo of this scheme involving the purchase of overpriced COVID test kits when it was first reported more than three months ago.
“It’s often said in Albany that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and less than a year after pledging to do better than her disgraced predecessor Andrew Cuomo, we are now finding out Kathy Hochul has been walking in his footsteps all along,” said Palmesano. “New Yorkers have lost confidence with their statewide officials, but worse, taxpayers can no longer afford to foot the bill for political kickbacks and unethical behavior. Not only is this unethical, but it’s a complete abuse of taxpayers’ money. It’s time to stop the corruption, and an investigation must commence immediately.”
As first reported in Albany’s The Times Union, New Jersey-based company Digital Gadgets, LLC was paid $637 million by Hochul’s office for the purchase of COVID tests, averaging $12.25 per test, when other companies were offering them for an average price of $5 each. The State of California paid 45% less for the same tests, it is reported that New York would have saved $286 million in taxpayer dollars at the California rate. Additionally, the contract was awarded without any oversight or competitive bidding because the governor had used her “emergency powers” invoked during the pandemic that allowed her to spend tax dollars freely and without approval from the state comptroller as is usually the case.
The contract was awarded to Digital Gadgets, LLC after its owner, Charlie Tebele, threw an in-person fundraiser for the governor and contributed $300,000 to her campaign, making him one of her largest campaign donors. She also rewarded Tebele by giving his son a job on her campaign.
Palmesano and members of the Assembly Minority Conference have repeatedly called on the state Attorney General’s Office and colleagues across the aisle on the Assembly Investigations and Ways and Means committees to convene public hearings or investigations; however, they have not taken any action.
Palmesano also says, the governor is doing damage to family farms:
I continue to join my Republican colleagues, members of the Farm Bureau, farm workers and farmers in calling on Gov. Hochul to keep the farm overtime threshold at 60 hours. Last month, the unelected wage board recommended that the governor lower the overtime threshold from 60 to 40 hours, a decision that has also been backed by Labor Commissioner Reardon. The Commissioner and the 2 Wage-Board members who are in favor of lowering the threshold have shown completely out of touch they are and they have no clue as to the challenges of running a farm daily. Not only is this decision wrong but it is incredibly tone-deaf, as 70% of public testimony delivered in front of the board was in support of keeping the current threshold at 60 hours.
The numbers show a devastating picture for our farmers if Gov. Hochul acts on lowering the overtime threshold from 60 to 40 hours. A Farm Credit East study predicts that annual costs to farmers statewide will increase by $129 million, farm labor costs will increase by 42%, and net farm income will decrease by 20%. A Cornell University study showed that 70% of migrant workers would seek opportunities in other states to increase their earning potential if the threshold were lowered. The study also showed that a whopping two-thirds of dairy farmers would consider leaving the industry entirely.
Farmers have faced historic headwinds and one of the most unfriendly business environments in the country. The Wage Laborer Board has failed to consider that before the Farm Labor Act was passed in 2019, farm labor costs in New York as a percentage of net farm income were already 63%, compared to just 36% nationally. Our farmers have been at a competitive disadvantage for years.
More than 98% of farms in our state are considered family farms. These operations have been run through the same families for generations, and with a decrease of the overtime threshold, we are in danger of losing them forever in our various communities.
I have said it before, and I will continue to remind Gov. Hochul, if there are no farms, there are no farmworkers. If there are no farms, there is no food. Let’s be clear, the fate of the family farm in New York rests squarely in the hands of Gov. Hochul. Her Laborer’s Wage Board and Labor Commissioner have made the incredibly misinformed decision to lower the threshold already.
You can still call the governor’s office at 518-474-8390 to ask her to preserve the family farm in New York State and not reduce the overtime threshold. It is important to remind the governor, NO FARMS, NO FARMWORKERS. NO FARMS, NO FOOD.