This is what happens when you get in the minority party and you don’t know what to do with yourselves.
You revive the age-old, tired, pointless effort to split New York into two states over your philosophical disagreements with the evil New York City liberals.
Local state Sens. Jim Tedisco and Daphne Jordan, both members of the new Republican minority in the state Senate, are among those Republican upstate lawmakers who have recently floated the idea of upstate New York breaking off from downstate to become the 51st state.
In his guest column published in The Gazette earlier this month, Tedisco said upstate has been an “afterthought of the Downstate political establishment for a long time” and that downstaters consider upstate to be a “flyover state.”
He cited New York’s high taxes, population drain and recent legislation such as the Reproductive Health Act, free college tuition for undocumented immigrants and other “extreme, regressive policies” by Democrats now controlling the governorship, Assembly and Senate as reasons for upstate to consider going off on its own.
In calling for a study of the potential separation of New York City, Long Island and Westchester and Rockland counties from the rest of the state, newly minted Senate minority member Jordan cited a “deepening divide – cultural, economic and political – between upstate and downstate” that she said has “grown more pronounced every year.”
This idea of breaking apart the state has been batted around before, usually by New York City politicians upset about having to support upstate. There was a serious effort pushed by an influential New York City councilman in 2003 that ended up going nowhere.
The only surprise here that it’s being raised again is that upstate Republicans jumped on it so quickly, having apparently given up — after less than two months out of power — on contributing toward meaningful legislation, better fiscal management, improved educational opportunities and more effective economic development to help all New Yorkers.
The white flag is the easiest flag to design.
This effort has some issues.
First off, the state is under Democratic control because of an election. Voters created this situation.
And while yes, Democrats now control both the entire legislative and executive branches, that’s only been the case for 55 days.
Prior to that, Republicans controlled the Senate for the better part of two decades. And since 1995, New York has had a Republican governor (George Pataki) for half that time.
The state didn’t get this screwed up overnight, and it’s disingenuous to blame downstate Democrats solely for the high taxes, excessive regulation and mass exodus of New Yorkers to other states when Republicans had an equal share of the Legislature and the governorship during the past quarter century.
As for progressive legislation, was it not the Republican-controlled Senate that passed the SAFE Act gun control legislation and legalized same-sex marriage?
Did state spending on social programs and education not soar while upstate Republicans controlled the Senate and while a Republican held the governor’s office for three terms?
And say what you want about downstate Gov. Andrew Cuomo, it’s Cuomo who has pushed most vigorously for business investment in upstate New York, including the Buffalo Billion economic development project, upstate casinos and other schemes like the Opportunity Zone program. It’s Cuomo who has pushed for tourism and economic development in the Adirondacks. It’s the governor who’s always at loggerheads with New York City officials over funding for the city’s mass transit system and other needs.
One could argue about whether he’s been successful at his efforts and at what level. But Cuomo hasn’t ignored upstate by any stretch, despite being from one of the five New York City boroughs.
As for the Amazon deal that many say could have been a boon to upstate New York because of the new tax revenue, Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio were the prime movers of the negotiations. Yes, downstate Democrats helped defeat it. But that was for reasons that had nothing to do with the upstate-downstate divide. Those 25,000 Amazon jobs that were lost were going to go to Queens.
As for the liberal issues, there’s no doubt the influence of downstate Democrats is driving the progressive agenda on healthcare, gun control and reproductive rights. But it also is getting us long-awaited voting reforms, judicial reforms, reasonable gun control legislation and greater legal protection for child sex abuse victims. Upstate Republican lawmakers calling for New York to split into two states in order to address tax inequities might want to be careful what they wish for.
Upstate could be royally screwed by a breakup.
Financially, economically and from a tax perspective, upstate might very well be a burden on downstate, not the other way around. And it very well be that downstate will be the one that benefits by shedding its northern baggage.
THE ENGINE THAT DRIVES THE STATE
New York City is the single largest regional urban economy in the country and the leading job hub for banking, finance and communication in the United States.
It is the state’s largest single tourism region, accounting for 65 percent of the state total in tourism revenue.
The year 2016 was a record-breaking year for the city in terms of tourism, with 60.5 million visitors spending $43 billion that year. The entire state total tourism revenue for that year was about $67 billion. Do the math.
While upstate’s economy has been struggling lately, New York City’s is booming.
Between 2009 and 2017, the city added more than 702,000 jobs, representing its longest economic expansion in more than 70 years.
Employment in the city increased by 18.9 percent since the recession, pushing the total number of jobs to an unprecedented 4.4 million in 2017, the state comptroller’s office reported.
The city’s success accounts for nearly three-quarters of the state’s 11.5 percent job gains over the past eight years, the comptroller said.
The Rockefeller Institute of Government, in a study from 2011, found that New York City is a net contributor to the state as a whole, and that its economy is providing an ever-growing share of the state’s resources. And those conclusions are based on numbers generated at the beginning of the city’s economic boom.
New York City also contributes more, overall, to the state finances than it gets back per capita, according to the institute study.
While the city does take a big chunk of upstate money for its Medicaid program, it returns more in other areas.
According to a review by Politico a year ago, between 68 and 82 percent of the income tax the state collects comes from Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk counties and New York City, virtually the entire area tagged by upstaters for cast-off.
The state collected more than $47.5 billion in income taxes in the last fiscal year preceding 2018, according to the state Division of Budget. About $19.2 billion, or 40 percent, came from New York City residents alone. Those in Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk counties paid $12.1 billion in state income taxes.
The total for those in New York City and the three counties came to $31.3 billion, or 66 percent of the state total.
Residents in upstate counties, meanwhile, paid close to $8.4 billion in income taxes, or about 18 percent of the state total.
Granted, New York City has a lot of issues that upstate doesn’t. And its economy might not always be on the upswing, particularly with the volitlity of the financial markets and tax policies that affect wealthy residents.
But a new upstate state of New York would have to build an economy that doesn’t benefit from all that New York City contributes. What will that new economy look like?
All things being equal, which state would you want to live in today if you were looking only at jobs, economic development, tax revenue and overall economic and financial health — Upstate New York or Downstate New York?
Yes, there are cultural and political differences. There always have been. New York is a big, diverse state. That has always been one of its best attributes.
And yes, each region contributes to one another in varying degrees.
But it seems that the benefits of remaining a single New York state far outweigh the costs of going our separate ways, particularly for upstate.
Frankly, is this even worth lawmakers wasting time and taxpayer money on a study of a breakup that, on the remote chance that it ever did happen, wouldn’t take effect for years?
New York has problems that need to be addressed now. Upstate politicians have an obligation to their constituents to wave the battle flag, as opposed to the flag of surrender, against downstate interests.
They should focus their attention and efforts on doing what they can to make New York better, and put aside this other silliness for another day.