Thursday, March 11, 2010

Unshackling Nothing - Part II

Unshackle Upstate is proposing to step up its effort to win badly needed changes in dysfunctional New York State policies.   The policies that make New York one of the worst places in the country to do business.   Specifically, Unshackle plans to issue "report cards" to all members of the State Legislature, and to endorse a limited number of state legislative candidates in this year's election.

Will this give traction, for the first time, to Unshackle's agenda?   Or will it prove to be another fruitless exercise by the group?

The answer is:   it all depends on how Unshackle determines its report card ratings and its endorsements, and by whom it endorses.   That, in turn, will do a lot to answer the questions we raised about the quality of Unshackle's leadership and the motives of its Executive Director Brian Sampson, and the power behind him, Rochester Business Alliance CEO Sandra Parker.

1. Process

Unshackle says its scorecards on each legislator will be based on "floor votes and actions in committee, and positions on legislation Unshackle Upstate specifically favors or opposes."

However, the group also will consider "public advocacy by lawmakers" and "behind-the-scenes activity."   The problem with these criteria is that they open the door to Unshackle giving good ratings to anti-business legislators.

Even the most lockstep union apologist in the legislature knows there's no escaping acknowledgment of New York's toxic business climate.   They know that, at minimum, they must express sympathy for the state's beleaguered taxpayers.  So plenty of state legislators are likely to "engage in public advocacy" that makes many of the right noises, while being dead-set against any of the policy reforms necessary to fix the problems.

"Behind-the-scenes activity" similarly represents a wide-open door for Parker and Sampson to give a free pass to any legislator they may want to protect.   If something's "behind-the-scenes," it can't be verified by the public.

For reasons discussed in Part I of this inquiry, we entertain at least the possibility of an ulterior agenda on the part of Brian Sampson and Sandra Parker.   The stated criteria for the proposed "scorecards" adds to our concern that Unshackle Upstate seems to want to focus on anything but results, preferring the intangible to the tangible.

Here's a solid tangible.   Go to the State Board of Elections' campaign finance disclosures.   What legislators received significant contributions from the public employee unions or their affiliates, all implacably opposed to Unshackle's ostensible goals, such as a property tax cap?   How did those legislators vote in relation to the unions' positions?   Did any of those legislators take action (talk doesn't count) to move toward actual adoption of any of Unshackle Upstate's, or the RBA's, recommended policy changes -- as opposed to giving mere lip service to "job creation" or "improving the business environment," as conceptual abstractions?

2. Local Legislators

In particular, we'll be interested to see how Unshackle Upstate grades state legislators from the Rochester area.   Assemblyman and Monroe County Democratic Chairman Joe Morelle appears to have a cozy relationship with Unshackle and the RBA, especially with Sandra Parker.   Brian Sampson, just before his appointment as Executive Director of Unshackle, was about to become the Democratic nominee for Town Board in Irondequoit, where Morelle, more than anywhere else, holds sway.   We may safely presume a compatible political relationship between them.

Nearly all of Morelle's major donors, other than the insurance industry (Morelle Chairs the Assembly's Insurance Committee) are political action committees of unions -- the same unions implacably opposed to every reform proposed by Unshackle Upstate.

The Rochester business community should not let the RBA and Unshackle give a free pass to Morelle or his similarly situated colleagues.   (This applies to a lot of Republican State Senators, too).   In Morelle's case, the fig leaf of voting against last year's state budget, and this year's, neither expiates nor excuses an entire career as Assemblyman supporting the union agenda, the bloated state budgets, and the excessive spending and taxation that have brought the state to near-bankruptcy today.

If Unshackle Upstate has any credibility, Joe Morelle will get an F on his report card and Unshackle will not endorse him for re-election.

 Unshackling Nothing - Part I

COMING NEXT  --   Unshackling Nothing - Part III:   Unshackle's Agenda and Its Coming Endorsements -- Alignment or Disconnect?


Anonymous said...

Sandy Parker is a Democrat candidate wannabe who has spent enormous energy positioning herself as a "safe for Democrats" pro-business advocate. Her closeness to Joe Morelle is well known and her behind the scenes opposition to Republicans and GOP initiatives (e.g., RenSq) is equally known in the community.

Unfortunately the Chamber of Commerce (or whatever they call it now) has a long tradition of backing liberal Democrats, going back to Tom Mooney's famous endorsements of Louise Slaughter and other anti-business liberals in the 1980s. Then the business community can't figure out why the votes always go against them in Albany and Washington. Hopelessly naive.

Anonymous said...

Sandy is now trying to get Unshackle Rochester to merge with a similar group in downstate NY. Anyone with half a brain can figure out what she's doing.

She'll oppose Democrats downstate but will endorse Joe Morelle and the rest of the Democrats up here. She realized she needed to do something to look bipartisan because her friendship with Morelle is too obvious. Maybe they shouldn't meet so often at Two Vine Restaurant.

Finally someone is calling RBA out for what they are, a pro-Democrat group that pretends to support local businesses. Sandy's also trying to co-opt the local chambers of commerce to get them in line. Hopefully they see the wolf in sheep's clothing.