Scheduling a business community lobbying trip to Albany is always a challenge, because you never know what you're going to face when you get there. We've been there on a day when the capitol was flooded with SUNY students protesting cuts and we've been there on days when legislators were running out of our lobbying meetings to make budget votes. This year, of course, we went not only when rumors surrounding the future of Governor Paterson's tenure were flying, but also during the vote to expel Queens Senator Hiram Monserrate from the New York State Senate.
Despite that political intrigue, I would call the trip a successful one. Upstate Night in Albany - a derivative of Buffalo Niagara Night from previous years - was a good event. With the new lobbying regulations that prohibit electeds and their staff from attending a "complimentary" event where food or drink is served, we changed the format and instead held an Unshackle Upstate rally. Which was appropriate, with lobby day coming the following morning - and was a good motivation for our troops.
For lobby day, we separated into four Unshackle Upstate teams and made over 25 visits with regional reps and Senate and Assembly leadership. Talking individually with legislators is always fascinating because they all - one-on-one - seem to "get it." You wonder, having those conversations, how when you put 212 legislators in a room things can turn out to be such a mess. For Buffalo Niagara's reps, there seems to be a clear understanding that the 2010-11 state budget cannot inflict any harm like last year's did, and we presented them Unshackle Upstate's "common sense" proposal to cut $12 billion out of the state budget.
In addition, we emphasized that the Upstate business community cannot withstand any more downstate-driven anti-business regulations, such as the Hoyt/Thompson IDA "reform" bill and the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Bill of 2009. We were very candid - specifically with the Republicans, who have asked for our support in putting them back into the Senate Majority and have promised that they are not the "GOP of old" - that these pieces of proposed legislation are litmus tests for what we could expect from a GOP majority. For either of these to pass, it is likely that they will need at least a few members of the Republican Minority to support them - and to us that's no way to get the support of the Upstate business community. We'll be monitoring these disastrous bills closely.
On the positive side, we had the opportunity to talk a lot about proposed SUNY legislation that stemmed from last year's UB2020 bill. Our delegation is already behind this legislation, so it's our role now to take the advocacy to the rest of the state. Upstate Night was a great opportunity to do so, as SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpfer attended and we helped her work the room - meeting business community leadership from around the state. We'll continue the effort to connect SUNY, business, labor and electeds around this important initiative.
Two days in Albany that we would report as productive. Much more to come over the next nine months, leading up to Election Day. To stay involved, I encourage you to join the Unshackle Army.