Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Unshackling Nothing -- Part III

Unshackle Upstate, the effort run by the Rochester Business Alliance, ostensibly for the purpose of pursuing policy reforms to improve New York's toxic business climate, has proposed to step up its political activity.

Our analysis of the group's leadership, and of the group's proposal to rate state legislators, raises questions about Unshackle's purposes, and about the motives of its leaders, Executive Director Brian Sampson, and his boss, Rochester Business Alliance CEO Sandra Parker.

Is Unshackle serious about accomplishing real policy reform?   Or are its real purposes to deflect criticism from state legislators who maintain the status quo, and to channel the business community's interest in reform into a dead end?

Unshackle Upstate now proposes to make a limited number of endorsement in state legislative races this year.   This will be where the rubber meets the road.   The endorsements either will confirm, or diminish, concerns about Unshackle and the RBA.

If Unshackle is serious about bringing about policy changes necessary for job creation and a healthy business climate, here's what an appropriate endorsement questionnaire for candidates might look like:

1.   Will you vote to repeal the Wicks Law?

If no such legislation is offered, will you introduce the legislation to repeal it?

2.   Will you vote to repeal the Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law?

If no such legislation is offered, will you introduce the legislation to repeal it?

3.   Will you vote to cap annual increases in property taxes for all taxpayers to no more than 4%?

If no such legislation is offered, will you introduce the legislation to impose such a cap?
These represent just three of the policy issues highlighted on the RBA's own website.   In the context of the Albany political culture, accomplishing any one of them would be a change of tectonic magnitude.   In the context of what's needed to fix New York, accomplishing all three would amount to a baby step in the right direction.

A legislator who can't answer "Yes" to at least one of those questions does not deserve the endorsement of any group that genuinely supports improving the business climate in New York.

Such baseline "go / no-go" questions are necessary if Unshackle hopes to accomplish anything meaningful for business -- and, therefore, for citizens who look to businesses for jobs.   We will learn much about Unshackle from its baseline questions, from whether it will have any at all, and from whether it will make them public, in addition to other criteria for endorsement.   We'll learn much, if other endorsement criteria open a loophole that a candidate beholden to the union agenda can sail through.   Similarly, we'll learn much, if Unshackle endorses candidates with a history of accepting substantial contributions from unions that oppose Unshackle's and the RBA's agenda.

The cozy political relationship between the RBA's CEO Parker and County Democratic Chairman and Assemblyman Joe Morelle is too well known for Unshackle, we think, to be as blatant as to endorse Morelle.   The group stated carefully that it would make a "limited" number of endorsements, so it can leave Morelle's race alone altogether.   Yet we'll learn much by how Unshackle rates Morelle on its "report card," and how it rates other lawmakers who, like him, are largely bankrolled by public employee unions and other unions adamant in opposition to each of Unshackle's and the RBA's proposed reforms.

In addition, the competitive comparabilty of candidates endorsed by Unshackle will be telling.   Will Unshackle endorse Democratic candidates supported by unions in competitive races, and seek to create an illusion of "balance" by endorsing Republicans who support Unshackle's agenda, but who are running for seats Democrats are guaranteed to win?   Like those City districts where the Democratic candidate could firebomb a day care center and still get elected for life?

If Unshackle Upstate is doing the job it wants upstate business to think it's doing, it shouldn't be looking for any partisan balance at all.

Instead, it should focus on:   Will the candidate pledge to take affirmative steps to introduce, and seek enactment of, the legislation that Unshackle's and RBA's reform proposals require, in order to become enacted?   Not legislation that uses the right sounding words but whose content won't go near the areas in need of reform.   If not, then Unshackle Upstate shouldn't be endorsing that candidate.   As to how that affects the distribution of Unshackle's endorsements -- that should be irrelevant.   Let the chips fall where they may.

That's how a group genuinely dedicated to actually accomplishing something would do it.

As the political season unfolds, we'll be watching to see whether Unshackle Upstate starts moving toward unshackling something.

 Unshackling Nothing - Part I

 Unshackling Nothing - Part II


Hanibal said...

Almanac of County politics is out of date. Still talks about 2007. Doesn't cover pitfalls and triumphs of 2009.

- Hanibal

Philbrick said...

We're working on it. Have been sidetracked by all the excitement of recent months.

Hanibal, would you please contact us at our e-mail address (shown in the right margin of this page, and at the bottom). We remember you from a previous comment, and have a question.

Anonymous said...

Excellent series on this faux organization. It's about time someone called this group out for what they really are. It's too bad members of the Rochester media are in on the scam too or we'd get to learn the truth about Unshackle in the mainstream. No offense to you, but it's sad that Rochester residents need to get the real deal from a blog and not our press. Thank you again for your effort.