For nearly a century and a half, New York was the most populated of these United States, first gaining that preeminent position around 1820. In 1962, it lost the title to California.
That year, baseball’s National League attempted to compensate for this catastrophic (to some) California migration (including that of the Dodgers from Brooklyn and the Giants from the upper Manhattan Polo Grounds a few years earlier) by creating the Metropolitan Baseball Club of New York.
It didn’t work. California continued to grow. The Mets? Well ... In 1994, Texas passed New York, dropping us to third.
Sometime this decade, experts say Florida will move ahead of New York and claim the third spot.
You can blame high taxes, failing and aging infrastructure — and even the weather, if you like. I blame the room air conditioner.
Before it became available in 1929, only 5.76 million people lived in torrid Texas. Just 5.5 million chose to live in distant, dry California; a mere 1.47 million in muggy, mosquito-infested Florida. The city of New York alone was bigger than each of these, with the state as a whole sporting a cool 12.59 million.
It’s not that New York isn’t still growing. It is — closing in on 20 million, albeit at a much slower rate than it once did relative to other states, including Florida. In fact, the net rate of outflow of New York residents to Florida in the last 10 years is the highest state-to-state transfer of population in the nation. (According to the Tax Foundation, it could have been as many as 600,000; but then again, they have an ax to grind.)
In that regard, I have a confession to make. This past winter I was, temporarily, one of them.
“Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” I’m not the sharpest tack in the drawer, but I do know that the reason no one does anything about it is for the simple, obvious reason that they can’t. The only solution is to move to where it is warmer.
So I did.
Among the prerequisites for being a columnist (and yes, wise guy, there are some), one is to endeavor to be both an attentive observer and a contemplative analyst. Being “somewhere else” for a while sharpens those senses, offering keen new opportunities to compare and contrast.
To this lifelong New Yorker, Florida is both a familiar and perplexing place. The fact that almost everyone you meet is originally from someplace other than Florida — and often, as described, from New York — lends itself to that feeling of familiarity.
Furthermore, Florida and New York are part of the same country.
Relatively insignificant differences can be unreasonably magnified. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t real distinctions to be drawn.
The most obvious and celebrated, of course, are Florida’s climate and its absence of a state income tax, the latter made possible by continuous population growth that drives increasing sales tax revenues along with the state’s healthy tourism industry.
Politically, in contrast to New York, Republicans solidly control Florida’s State House, yielding different ideas about individual freedom and social responsibility.
Gun rights are almost absolute, with very few restrictions, despite the fact that the state’s gun homicide and accidental death rate is climbing alarmingly.
The Florida Legislature had great difficulty passing a weak law banning texting while driving as a secondary offense over concerns that such a law violated “personal freedom.”
That same concern defeated efforts to allow local governments to re-impose bans on smoking at beaches and other public facilities after a district judge struck down existing local laws on technical grounds.
Partisan ideology also led the Legislature to reject $51 billion of federal money over 10 years to expand Medicaid to more than 1 million of the state’s uninsured under the Affordable Care Act.
Having the opportunity to watch this activity (or lack of same) up close, I prefer New York’s way of doing things—even with the latter’s prodigious warts.
Food for thought
Yet, there are still some things about Florida that could provide some useful food for thought for us New Yorkers.
The annual regular session of the Florida Legislature is strictly limited constitutionally to two months’ time, during which the only required accomplishment is to pass a budget. Our officially “part-time” Legislature seems more like “all government all the time,” which only seems to breed trouble — if you’ve been reading the headlines lately.
Florida also has only 410 incorporated municipalities — 283 cities, 108 towns and 19 villages, in addition to 66 counties, for a total of 476 primary local governments.
New York’s 62 cities, 932 towns and 556 villages in addition to 63 counties yield a staggering 1,603 — many of them overlapping, conflicting and redundant. Here’s a place where we really could do (more) with less.
But what appears to be a prime source of Florida’s success in revitalizing many of its downtowns? Free parking! It simply brings people in.
New York’s upstate cities, despite their desperate need for revenue, would be wise to strongly consider it.
John A. Figliozzi lives in Halfmoon and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.