Driving a solution in search of a problem, the Erie County Industrial Development Agency (ECIDA) Wednesday installed the most aggressive gender pay equity requirement in New York. In pursuit of politics, agency leaders embraced a false narrative and threw business under the bus. According to the Buffalo News:
Beginning this fall, companies getting tax breaks from the Erie County Industrial Development Agency will be required to prove that they pay their women employees just as much as they do male workers doing the same job.
The pay equity policy, pushed by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, is intended to make sure that companies receiving tax breaks through the Erie County IDA are complying with existing laws requiring that men and women receive equal pay for similar work.
The backstory: The ECIDA can’t give even one example of this problem in their history of heaping tax breaks on business. I asked one member; she didn’t think there were even any stories going around the agency’s water cooler. But to a social engineer, that’s just a bothersome detail.
I attended a recent ECIDA Policy Committee meeting as they voted to send this pile to the agency board for Wednesday's vote. Those who sign the front of paychecks were dead set against it; those who sign the back of one paycheck were for it. For business, this represents yet another layer of “screw you” in the worst state in the nation for business. For Poloncarz and his loyalists, this was smart politics.
Why? Because he can brag about it and it will help him rise. In a state where the highest ranking Democrat's popularity with women just dropped 14 percent, cred with women voters is at a premium.
Of course, it’s also a fantasy: while gender pay inequity exists, it’s nowhere near the hair fire liberals falsely promote. “Women get paid 91 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men,” according to renown author Hanna Rosin. The issue is actually more complex, Rosin says.
"...the 91 percent statistic suggests a much more complicated set of problems. Is it that women are choosing lower-paying professions or that our country values women’s professions less? And why do women work fewer hours? Is this all discrimination or, as economist Claudia Goldin likes to say, also a result of "rational choices" women make about how they want to conduct their lives."
It’s hard work inventing a problem to fit a solution you’ve developed for pure politics. Not nearly as hard as addressing the far more complicated subtleties of the issue, mind you. But that’s not what this is about: It’s about ECIDA bigwigs keeping their PC credentials current, and about decorating County Executive Mark Poloncarz with election year plaudits.
Thanks to the ECIDA, the lefty leader of the most liberal county administration in the nation’s bluest state can send investigators into a company’s office without notice. Poloncarz promises there will only be a few audits each year. As the most powerful voice on the ECIDA, it might even be his call.
Take that little tidbit to the boardroom of a privately held company considering relocation.
Poloncarz, who has aspirations for higher office, told the Buffalo News something you’ll be hearing awhile:
"There’s got to be a first," Poloncarz said. "Why shouldn’t we be first to say that we think it’s important that, if you get a tax break, that you pay your female employees the same as your male employees for comparable jobs with comparable experience?"
It’s political because this is just a solution looking for a problem. It’s political because the County Executive drove this thing hard, an important priority in an election year. And it’s political because a room full of people who know better just made it more difficult to invest in Buffalo.
"What’s next?" County Legislator and ECIDA member Ed Rath asked me after Wednesday's decision. "What’s the next unnecessary regulation we’re going force on area businesses?" He also suggested the Poloncarz administration, with only three female commissioners of 21, might want to work out their own inequality problem first. That one is real.