If you were one of the many people offended by President Donald Trump’s off-the-wall comments to the Wall Street Journal the other day urging residents of “upper New York” to abandon their houses and move to Wisconsin where the good jobs are, then you’re missing the point — and an opportunity.
A few people, including Wall Street investors and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are starting to figure out that you don’t take the president’s comments literally, but you should take them seriously.
More than anything, the comment was probably just a combination of him reminding people that he won Wisconsin last November and of him taking a jab at Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a potential challenger in 2020, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, the president’s chief nemesis in Congress.
But cloaked in the president’s clunky, self-serving comments were a message, and a challenge, that New Yorkers and our representatives in Albany and Washington would be wise to heed.
First off, those of us who have lived in New York a long time, and who continue to live here, have done so for a reason. Many of us like the changing seasons, the many options for entertainment — from hiking and camping to concerts and nightlife — and the many amenities that an expensive government provides, like good schools and social programs and safety nets for seniors and the poor.
Unless you travel outside the state, you can’t appreciate the quality of the state’s highways, the level of police and fire protection, the convenience of shopping, the state’s proximity to major cities and transportation hubs, and the business opportunities. Now that we have Uber, there’s almost no reason to leave, right?
So we can understand why some people would be offended by the president mocking the place that many of us live in and love.
But in his comments was also a message that while some parts of upstate New York like our own area are rebounding and even thriving nearly a decade after the big national recession, a lot of upstate areas are still struggling economically.
Thousands of people, particularly in central New York, have lost good-paying jobs that may never return.
According to the state comptroller’s office, manufacturing declined by nearly 20 percent in upstate New York between 2000 and 2004. It dropped another 8 percent between 2004 and 2008 — a total loss of nearly 105,000 jobs in eight years. And that was before the economy crashed. In the wake of that, many upstate areas continue to struggle. And no amount of casinos and state gimmicks are going to make up for the losses.
So the president, crude though he might have been, was just stating what we all already know.
Now, is his suggestion to abandon your house and try to get a better job in Wisconsin a viable solution for many? Not exactly. But it’s no secret that that’s pretty much what a lot of New Yorkers have essentially been doing for years.
In January, Forbes magazine listed New York third in the country of states that people are fleeing, with 63 percent of all residential migration being out of the state.
And those people are not all just leaving New York for retirement in a mobile home park in Tampa.
New York’s famously high taxes, high cost of living, excessive regulation and tough business climate are forcing people to go elsewhere to look for jobs and to set up businesses. The new free SUNY tuition plan that’s just taking effect acknowledges the population drain by attaching the tuition benefit to a requirement that graduates agree to remain in New York for a number of years after college.
Rather than dismiss the president’s comments as offensive and out-of-touch, our government leaders need to view them as a challenge to improve conditions for New Yorkers.
Every year, our state lawmakers prove the colloquial definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.
So far, state government hasn’t found the solution to our crushing tax burden, which can be largely attributed to excessive, misdirected and wasteful state spending that they continue to authorize.
Government officials haven’t seen fit to tighten the state’s belt. They haven’t seen fit to loosen some of excessive regulations that drive people and businesses out of state. We still pay among the highest local property taxes in the country, even while limiting tax increases to the rate of inflation, which is really low.
Large, gimmicky economic development proposals like Start-Up NY or tax giveaways to the TV-movie industry and the like haven’t worked to improve the economy and bring back jobs. We need to stop pushing the same old failed policies and practices year after year.
As Trump made very clear, he doesn’t seem interested in helping upstate out of its financial doldrums. So we’ll have to rely on ourselves and our state government to resolve some of the issues that make it difficult for upstate businesses and residents to thrive here.
We might not be to the point where we’re all ready to wake up tomorrow, abandon our homes and hit the road for cheesier pastures. But the president wasn’t totally riding the crazy train with his remarks.
There was a brutal element of truth to his comments.
Rather than dismiss them as the rantings of a madman, we should consider what we can do to make them less true.