Editorial: State population drain is at crisis level

New York needs to take action to avoid further hits to its economy, tax base and congressional representation

If you’re a business losing customers to your competitors, and you don’t take dramatic steps to address that problem immediately, all the other problems with your business will only get worse.

New York state has reached the same point, where if it doesn’t address its population drain, all its other problems are going to get worse.

When state legislators reconvene in Albany next month, they’ll need to treat this problem with the urgency and attention it deserves. Put aside all the chatter about legalizing marijuana and sports betting and pay raises for the meantime and take on this problem first.

According to a report released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau, New York’s population declined faster than any other state from July 1, 2017, to July 1, 2018. The decline was led by over 180,000 residents moving to other states.

So why is that a big deal? All it means is shorter lines at the DMV, right? Wrong.

Those people who leave the state don’t buy houses and cars and furniture and food. They don’t pay local property taxes that support our schools and government services like road repairs and snowplowing. The state taxes they no longer pay no longer support social programs and education and infrastructure upgrades. 

If the state keeps spending the way it has, the tax burden will have to be spread among a smaller number of taxpayers, meaning each of us will pay more.

The drain also effects the quality of life and the strength of our economy.

Not all of those leaving are retiring to Florida. Skilled workers and new college grads are taking their experience and skills and knowledge and putting it all to work at companies in other states.

When we lose population, we also lose community volunteers and youth-sports coaches and donors to charities.

The loss in population also costs us the power to help ourselves. With the recent population loss, New York could lose one, or even two, members in the House of Representatives. When a state loses votes in Congress, it loses the clout to fight for legislation and federal dollars that benefit the state.

To address the population drain, the state needs to look at what’s causing it and what can be done to reverse it. 

High taxes and overregulation are among the issues cited by people who leave. Lawmakers can’t continue to tax and spend the way they have been.

State officials also need to examine efforts to boost economic development and eliminate failed approaches. Much of the population loss is upstate. Yet the state is offering Amazon $3 billion in tax breaks and incentives to locate in New York City, whose population is growing.

Rather than address the problem piecemeal, the governor and lawmakers need to put together a statewide task force or bipartisan legislative committee, which would hold hearings around the state and compile potential solutions. Then they need to act on them.

We need new ideas, new policies and a new focus. Not later. Now.

Doing the same things over and over and expecting different results isn’t just insanity. It’s a recipe for failure.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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