With the removal of Sheldon Silver from his position as speaker of the Assembly, there is talk about who will be his successor. Per the NYPost, the Assembly may be getting Carl Hestie as its first African-American Speaker. The Post indicates that he has great credentials, including an undergrad degree in math and statistics from Stony Brook University, masters in finance from Baruch, experience as a budget analyst in the City's comptroller's office, and a reputation as a consensus builder. While others have questioned Mr. Hestie's background, what seems to be most important to the Post and for some people is that he is African-American.
Frankly, the focus on race, gender, ethnicity, and other human characteristics that created "protected classes" during the last 20-30 years (while accomplishing little in solving their associated problems) has prevented us from seeing the REAL divisions among us.
The REAL divide in New York is geographical, illustrated by the map of NY's 100 richest and poorest places based on information listed here. While ten of the poorest places are in our own area, the real take-away from looking at the map is that almost all the richest places are in the metro-New York City area while almost all the poorest places are Upstate.
Now, how can a government essentially run by "three men in a room" who are ALL from the metro New York City area, where incomes and wealth are high, possibly understand Upstate's problems and represent Upstate's interests, where the opposite is true?
There was once a time when Upstate and Downstate both succeeded through leveraging Upstate's natural advantages of an efficient transportation route to the West and hydropower. How this all came undone, and how both Upstate and Downstate have suffered since, was previously discussed in "What's the Fix for Upstate?"
If the shoe was on the other foot, what might an Upstate-controlled agenda look like?
1) Dissolve the Thruway Authority, eliminate all tolls north of I-287 by turning that portion over to NYSDOT and run it like the other interstates in NYS; and turn the remainder over to the NY / NJ Port Authority, and run that portion like other metro-area toll bridges and approaches. Upstaters were promised, when they controlled the Senate, that Thruway tolls would be removed when the construction bonds were paid off. But even after being paid off TWICE (first, when US Sen. Moynihan secured a Federal payment for same in the 1980s, and again when they were actually paid off via tolls in 1996), a now reapportioned state legislature controlled by Downstate has not only continued tolls to this day, but also directed them to pay for the state's canal system (which helped NYC to grow) and for maintenance of Downstate's toll-free I-84. While tolls in the high income metro area may be viewed as either a necessity or an annoyance, to Upstate they are death because they generally do not exist among Upstate's business competitors, burden Upstate's advantageous trade route, and are less affordable to Upstaters than their well-heeled Downstate counterparts.
2) Require that regions generate most of their own electricity. Because Upstate is rich in green hydropower resources, its electric rates should be less than those of its less-endowed competitors. Instead, rates are significantly higher owing to state policies that have shifted Upstate electric power into the metro area to lower costs there, mandated high-cost "green" wind and solar power alternatives, and directed closure of metro area generation facilities. If regions were required to develop their own electrical resources, localities could decide for themselves what mix of sources is best for them and what associated environmental impacts they are willing to tolerate.
3) Require the State to pay its entire share of Medicaid rather than pass a portion of it on to counties where it shows up in Upstate's crushing property taxes. Alternatively, require the State to pay its entire share of Medicaid at the MINIMUM level of benefits and allow local municipalities to determine and pay for any supplemental services desired. NY provides one of the nation's highest level of benefits. While Downstaters whine about their sky-high property taxes, they are not so bad when viewed as a percentage of property value (which represents accumulated wealth) . In fact, given the extremely high property values in Manhattan, property taxes there as a percentage of property value are actually among the lowest in the nation. (See Why People Don't Come Here . . . By the Numbers). With such low rates, Downstaters might feel generous when determining the kinds of benefits they want to provide to the poor via Medicaid. However, most of Oneida County's budget consists of mandated Medicaid costs. The same is true for many Upstate counties. Medicaid is the reason why tax rates are as high as they are Upstate. The highest property tax burdens in the nation, when calculated as a percentage of property value, are found in Upstate NY counties. Essentially, Downstate, via State government, has mandated that Upstate take money from the poor to give to the poor. No wonder why Upstate cannot compete for jobs!
Removing Thruway tolls, letting Upstate keep most of its hydropower energy, and having the State pick up its entire cost of Medicaid, would help Upstate become competitive again without the need for expensive specially targeted programs (Utica Nano, Buffalo Billion, etc.) that may or may not work and simply shift some monies from Downstate to particular Upstate localities. You might think of other things to add to this agenda.
But these things won't happen because the people in control, Downstaters, come from a very different place economically. They don't readily comprehend how their well-intentioned policies have hurt Upstate, which is not just a supplier of natural resources and power generation for the City, and not just a repository for the City's garbage, but a place where people live, work, and raise families.
Having an Assembly speaker from Upstate won't solve the problem, but it may, in a small way, help the Upstate perspective to be seen.
The Assembly should choose someone from Upstate to be its new speaker.