From the 26 May 2008 Lockport Union Sun and Journal (Lockport, NY)

By Bob Confer

This yearís Leadership Niagara class headed off to the state capital last week to experience state government. I went along as one of coordinators. We met with elected officials, government employees, lobbyists and pundits. Many in the class were in shock Ė and often outraged - at what they heard from our guest speakers. It was a real eye-opener for them because they, like the majority of New Yorkers west of Syracuse, donít follow state government and know little of the engine that drives our economy.

Iíve experienced Albany before and being that state government is something I study in detail, I knew what to expect. But, even so, I was still taken aback by the lack of optimism in Albany.

There is a difference between pessimism and a lack of optimism. Pessimism requires that you have a completely negative outlook on life and expect if not demand negative consequences to your actions and those of the world around you. A lack of optimism is a little different: You go about your business and do what you have to do in a positive fashion while understanding that thereís a very good chance that your desired outcome wonít happen.

Based upon what we heard in Albany, it seems that our areaís elected officials live that way. Senator Maziarz and Assemblymen Schimminger, Hayes, Hawley, and Cole are all hard-working men who care about the economic and social health of our people. They have for years applied this care to their actions, introducing bills and pushing ideas that would make New York a much better place to live and work. But, alas, most everything they try to do gets tossed aside Ė even outright ignored - by their legislative brethren who hail from the NYC metro area and dominate the flow of public policy.

"Because of downstate" was an answer we heard over and over again. It was the fallback response to most questions asked by the class when they wanted to know why a variety of meaningful and logical bills have not passed. That quick comeback from the elected officials may be perceived as some to be a cop-out or cover-up to their own weaknesses, but itís not. They really are up against an almost impenetrable wall of downstate self-interest. NYC officials look out only for the health of New York the City and not New York the State. Itís something we also heard from people who are not politicians.

Ken Adams, the CEO of the Business Council of New York State, started his great presentation by describing the economic history of the NYC area, how it was once like our region used to be, a manufacturing Mecca. It then transformed itself into the financial capital of the world and a place that is still experiencing economic boom. We have not had that same success because NYCís representatives see only the growth in their Metropolis while overlooking the blight elsewhere. Thinking of business costs as a non-issue because of the uniqueness of their economy, they pass legislation that has caused the state as a whole to achieve a "D" in the Councilís grading of our economic climate. He suggested that the grade might remain the same for the foreseeable future with downstate interests demanding paid family leave and having no interest in a true property tax cap (because it doesnít affect them).

Jay Gallagher, Albany bureau chief for Gannet News, told us some horror stories which highlighted downstate control. His most damning story spoke of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (a Manhattanite) and his dubious control over the Assembly. A few months back the topic of congestion pricing for NYC came to the Assembly. It should have been debated. It wasnít. Silver never let it get to the floor because he took a "straw poll" that showed the Assembly was against the plan. Gallagher said this was because the downstaters wanted to protect themselves in the November election. Think about that: a NYC politician, one who is the king of the assembly, can choose what gets debated or not by the other 149 as a means to protect his fellow urbanites. It doesnít even sound legal.

At the very start of his speech Gallagher mentioned it was difficult to be upbeat with state government. It was fitting that he was our first speaker, for that comment was prophetic, setting the tone for trip. The class was bombarded with bad news that leaves one feeling that thereís no hope for Upstate. Our economy and our people are broken - and will remain so - despite the best efforts of our local politicians.

Optimism is gone. It seems that it can only return by one day seceding from downstate.

Yeah, like thatís going to happen.