During my first year of college, I was exposed to a greater wealth of knowledge than I had ever experienced before. When it came time to decide how I was going to spend my summer, I soon realized that what I really wanted was another learning experience: an opportunity to expand what I learned in my first year of college and start to grapple with the political and economic problems that we face as a community, state, and nation.

I found a posting for an internship with Unshackle Upstate on my school’s career services website and its mission was what initially caught my eye; while I was aware that local and state policies in New York often hurt growth, I didn’t realize the extent of the problem. I figured that all state governments occasionally endorse bad policy, and New York wasn’t particularly worse than anywhere else.

After meeting with Brian and learning a bit more about Unshackle, I caught a glimpse of the extent of the problem; he told me that New York has the 49th worst business tax climate in the country and that it is unique in a lot of its anti-business policies. I quickly recognized that working at Unshackle not only gave me the opportunity to learn about local and state politics, but also make a contribution to the Upstate region.

I’ve been working at Unshackle Upstate for 2 weeks now and I’ve learned more about New York’s unemployment and workers compensation insurance policies than I’d thought was possible. In tackling these issues, I quickly realized the massive bureaucracy that drives up costs, cripples businesses, and stifles innovation in the New York economy. Despite former Governor Eliot Spitzer’s honorable reform measures, New York state business owners continue to spend more on workers compensation than any other state.

While legislators have recently set up policies increasing the use of objective medical guidelines in the claim process, the legal system continues to dominate; the NYS Worker’s Compensation Board intervenes in an unprecedented number of workers compensation cases, scheduling over 300,000 hearings a year and employing over 1300 people (compared to Massachusetts, with 1/3 the number of workers and only 167 employees). New York State also owes more debt to the federal government for unemployment insurance than any other state except California, putting business owners at the risk of a blanket federal tax increase, compounding a system that already puts unnecessary and burdensome penalties on struggling companies that are forced to lay off employees.

While I am proud to have been born and raised in New York, I am not proud of its combative attitude toward local businesses. While I’ve only worked for Unshackle Upstate for 2 weeks, I’ve learned that while Upstate New York has the capability to be a hub for modernization and economic prosperity, it continues to be restrained by policies that are intended to protect individual workers, but instead punish them. Nevertheless, Unshackle Upstate presents the possibility of real change in Albany; I’m glad to have heard about it and be a part of the change, even if it is only for a summer.

– Dan Tucker