Mitchell Moss' "Struggling Towns Must Evolve or Die" is, perhaps, the most provocative for Upstaters.
The entire state cannot survive if we continue to act as if all 62 counties can flourish. . . . as upstate shrinks, it commands a higher and higher per capita chunk of the state budget. New York City taxpayers send billions of dollars upstate for unnecessary shopping malls, transportation projects and prisons, giving new meaning to the phrase “welfare state.” Meanwhile, vital upgrades to transportation and public services essential to accommodate the expanding New York City area are deferred. . . .Thirty years ago the shoe was on the other foot. It was New York City that was on the verge of bankruptcy and seemed totally beyond hope -- at least until Mayor Giuliani appeared on the scene, who turned things around. That turn-around established that the City's problems were largely self-inflicted.
Across the Midwest and Great Plains, state governments have allowed towns with a proud past but no discernible future to fade away. New York must do the same.
Prof. Moss places the blame on Upstate itself, painting Upstate as a collection of defective communities. While we certainly have our shortcomings -- such as far too much local government for our population -- the economic problem has been so ubiquitous across Upstate for so many decades (touching almost all communities north and west of Newburgh) that it is pretty clear that the bulk of Upstate's problems are not of local origin, but rooted in New York State policy . . . policy that is now controlled by Downstate interests.
It was not always that way. Until the court-mandated reapportionment of the State Senate in the 1960s, Upstate held sway in the Senate while Downstate controlled the Assembly. For laws to be passed, Upstate and Downstate interests had to accommodate each other. And it worked . . . spectacularly. Both parts of the state flourished. We collectively were the Empire State.
But things are different now. Upstate cannot choose a Mayor Giuliani to implement policies to turn Upstate around because Upstate will always be outvoted by Downstate. The court-mandated reapportionment of the 1960s led to the changes in policy that have caused Upstate's decline.
The fiscal crisis is bringing things into sharp focus. New York State is at a fork in the road and must do something if Upstate is not to die. Either balance between Upstate and Downstate is returned to New York State policy making, or Upstate and Downstate must each proceed down separate paths.
Downstate to Upstate: Fade Away
Upstate to Downstate: Set Us Free