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Op-Ed: Escape from New York? The grass is always greener … until it isn’t

Op-Ed: Escape from New York? The grass is always greener … until it isn’t

All places— including New York — are a mixture of positives and negatives
Op-Ed: Escape from New York? The grass is always greener … until it isn’t
Photographer: Inset photo: Peter R. Barber

There are times when, as a matter of routine, New Yorkers begin to vicariously plot their “escape” from the Empire State.

One is when they perceive that the temperature has plunged too far for too long or the snow is flying too frequently and in too great a quantity — like now.

Others – especially for conservatives — include when the state’s income and property taxes are coming due.

There’s a liberal version of this too — a “promising” life as a political exile in Canada when control of the government shifts too far to the right for their liking.

Some follow through, but for most it’s either a passing fancy or a physical or financial impossibility. 

That’s good because, more often than not, those that leave for supposed greener pastures end up with mixed feelings again.  

All places— including New York — are a mixture of positives and negatives. 

Travel and economic development brochures or brief stays on vacation in unusually pleasant surroundings accentuate the former. The latter only come to light with time and deeper experience.  

Nonetheless, first term Halfmoon Republican state Sen. Daphne Jordan put it the way most Republicans do.

“Taxpayers are hurting and continue leaving New York in record numbers. It’s not because of the weather, but due to our high taxes, crushing high cost of living and lack of good-paying jobs, especially upstate.”

High taxes, costs of living — especially downstate with soaring housing prices including annual property taxes well into five figures — and the lack of good paying jobs upstate certainly are factors. All do require better and more effective attention from the Legislature and governor.

But, sorry Daphne, weather is a chief — and maybe the principal — factor at work here.

According to the U.S. Census, 180,306 people left New York between 2017 and 2018, with a net loss in population of only around 48,510. Most were retirees who went to Florida. 

Florida has no state income tax.

However, New York does not tax Social Security or state retiree pensions at all — and the first $20,000 of individual retirement accounts and private pensions is also exempted from state income tax.  

So economics didn’t really force them out.

The promise and ease of more temperate winter weather did.

Furthermore, while changing their legal residence to Florida to take advantage of homestead tax exemptions and credits, many still come back to New York in summer when the heat and humidity in Florida becomes just as inhospitable as the winter cold and ice does here.

Florida has plenty of nice homes comparably priced to those in the Capital Region.

The beaches and sunsets are beautiful, the lifestyle relaxing (for retirees, at least), food and fuel prices are attractive, jobs (in construction and tourism, at least) plentiful and the weather is much, much better in winter.

On the other hand, theft and violent crime is noticeably higher (hence, lots of gated communities), homelessness and panhandling is prevalent and ever visible, instances of flooding and toxic algae in the state’s inland and coastal waters are increasing due to rising ocean levels and a lack of environmental regulation.

And then there’s the ridiculous stand-your-ground law and constant legislative attempts to push guns into new places everywhere.  

Next in order of preference behind Florida as the states where New Yorkers go when they leave are New Jersey, California, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

The only other relatively low-tax state on that list is North Carolina.

Tax burdens and jobs are certainly important considerations to families, but so is education.

According to Forbes, New York’s public school system ranks in the middle of the pack, 24th, overall. There’s plenty of room for improvement there, but the five states cited above all rank lower. New York also ranks 12th in school security, demonstrably better than any of those other states.

Who is best on both scores? The answer might surprise you.  

It’s Massachusetts, our neighbor to the east. And job prospects there in well paying fields are good and growing. Apparently, you can get what you pay for. 

Sen. Jordan is on the right track in one important respect.

If neighboring Massachusetts — an older Northeastern state, with cold winter weather, high taxes, high housing costs and living expenses – can be No. 1 in these categories, what is New York not doing that Massachusetts is?

To be sure, things are not all rosy in New York, but neither is everything anywhere.

You’ll be happy some times and unhappy at others.

John Figliozzi is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.

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