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New York needs fiscal sanity, not leadership squabbling

Rochester Business Journal
June 19, 2009
When checking your vision, the eye doctor puts that contraption on your face and pops a prescription lens into each side. "Better now," the doctor asks, flipping one of the lenses to a different strength, "or now?"

That's the scenario that keeps coming to mind as I think about the recent leadership "coup" in the state Senate. In this setting, the Republicans and the two Democrats who sided with them on the leadership change are flipping the lenses while we, the taxpayers, wear the glasses.

The problem is that I'm not sure the new eyeglass prescription they're proposing will offer New Yorkers a clearer vision.

Before you go off accusing me of siding with the Democrats, let me remind you that I've regularly used this space to raise concerns about political actions on both sides of the aisle, in particular the disastrous 2009-10 state budget.

What I'm focused on is having our elected officials in Albany govern in a way that benefits our state and its residents. By that I mean governing in a way that advances and enhances our economy and creates jobs. As I said here last month, a strong economy is the basis for everything we need and want in New York state-excellent schools, good jobs, outstanding health care and a strong safety net for people in need.

To me, it doesn't matter which party an elected official claims to be a member of. It matters only that the official does the right thing by the people.

The senators who staged a re-election of leadership last week promised real reform in Albany and a bipartisan governing body that would provide more transparency about its actions.

OK, that sounds good. But I feel as if I've heard it all before-from the Republican leadership a year ago, from the Democratic leadership that took over this year and now from these guys.

Meanwhile, I'm sensing ever-rising anger and frustration among taxpayers in this community.

In postings to Unshackle Upstate's Facebook page, in comments from our members, in newspaper letters to the editor, on talk radio and in Internet chat rooms, people across the region are venting some pretty negative sentiments toward government in Albany. At the center of their complaints: out-of-control state spending and the painful taxes it brings.

When Unshackle Upstate first shined a spotlight on this issue three years ago, we were pretty much alone. The downstate New York economy, buoyed by Wall Street, was riding high, so folks there weren't particularly bothered by Albany's dysfunctional politics. But then Wall Street fell on hard times and the economy spiraled down. That redirected people's attention to controlling spending and kindled their anger about the spending they couldn't control-the tax dollars that government is taking out of their hard-earned paychecks. It's widely known that New Yorkers have one of the highest tax burdens in the nation.

Unshackle Upstate has been very clear in laying out its vision of what needs to happen to restore New York's economy, and reducing that tax burden is very, very high on the list. The best way to cut taxes is for our state leaders to control their perpetual "tax and spend" habit. They must bring the cost of state government programs such as Medicaid and pensions in line with economic reality. They must take a realistic look at revenues-both long- and short-term-and define the state's spending priorities, a complicated process that will require tough decisions and a strong will to stick by them.

I truly hope that whoever leads our state government is focused more on those things than on which party is in power. Promises don't mean much, and actions speak louder than words. It's the actions and the reactions that Unshackle Upstate will be studying. We've put all our elected officials on notice (check out our video on YouTube and our new advertising campaign) that we're watching how they vote on key issues affecting the economy and job creation. And we'll be sharing that information-early and often-with taxpayers.

We don't need someone in Albany to change the lenses through which we view New York. We need real change in Albany that everyone can see.

Sandra Parker is president and CEO of the Rochester Business Alliance Inc. Contact her at SandyP@RBAlliance.com.

06/19/2009 (C) Rochester Business Journal


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