Thursday, January 29, 2015

The NY Divide, an Upstate Agenda, and Choosing a Speaker

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.


Anonymous said...

And, it seems that "poor" areas want to remain poor. Many have banned fracking and support the Cuomo ban. It is also interesting that our casino industry sure has not brought prosperity except to those who control and politically support it.

Anonymous said...

Anon Interesting you say the casino industry has not brought prosperity except to those who control and politically support it.....why do you think fracking would do otherwise? The oil companies don't give two shits about this area, it's people, it's prosperity, or the environment.

Anonymous said...

This area lacks the wealth producing opportunities that will make the area prosper. Without local wealth the area is just viewed as a sinkhole for the state to pour more money into. We will forever be the bastard child of NYS who takes daddy's money but can never be a part of the the real family. In other words we are irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous.Fracking jobs average about $70,000 per year. The multiplier effect of jobs like that is significant to say the least. Property owners negotiate leases creating yet more wealth. Your bias against oil companies illustrates a irrational reaction to one of the most, if not thee most critical industry in the world. I also notice that you do not mention natural gas. How do you get to work every day, bike? Do you honestly think the gaming industry cares about areas and people? It produces a far worse environmental blight than fracking ever would.

Strikeslip said...

Thank you, Anon 8:38, for pointing out the kinds of jobs that are being shunned by the anti-frackers, most of whom are from parts of NYS that do not have the geology to support fracking.

This is not to say that we should not be concerned about adverse environmental impacts. But rather than fear mongering, the risks associated with fracking need to be placed in context with other risks that we readily accept every day (like the risk of being in a car accident when driving). We don't hear those numbers, probably because it is easier to claim that the sky is falling -- like the global warming crowd does. To me, when so-called environmentalists come to the Utica common counsel seeking a ban against same when the local geology will not support fracking -- the fears are being overblown.

Strikeslip said...

To Anon 9:43, People create their own wealth. . . . and plenty was created in this area in the past, so there is nothing inherently wrong with our area geographically. What is inhibiting the creation of wealth here is our government, the direct result of the forced-reapportionment of the State Senate directed by the US Supreme Court in the 1960s. This has led to the "tyranny of the majority" that our forefathers sought to avoid when they designed the makeup of the Senate.

We need to get past this somehow. Upstate representatives of both parties need to start behaving as a block and demand the implementation of an Upstate Agenda -- even though they may be outvoted. They have not done this because, for most, their jobs, acceptance by their downstate colleagues, and their benefits are more important than their constituents and principles. This needs to change. If it does not, like the American Revolution, the Upstate people may, at some point, decide to take matters into their own hands.

Anonymous said...

Never happen. The remaining few of us will just leave for free red states and leave the wreckage behind. Nobody's going to start a revolution against Albany. Cuomo will get just what he wants - a vast ghetto, which is what NYS basically is, where his friends can make money with their casinos and other boondoggles, while political lip service to the five boroughs and the usual left-lib politics of division and hate keep keep his fat ass on the throne in perpetuity.

Anonymous said...

It should also be noted that there is no shred of evidence that fracking presents a health danger. Yes, there is a visual and vehicle related impact that can impact the character of an area. But, sound planning and steps to mitigate can be taken to lessen it. But, imagine if oil wells were not drilled, mines not mined, food not trucked, the cotton mills with their smokestacks prohibited, etc.,. There would not have nor be economic and social progress. But, that is really what the anti fracking crowd wants; they have theirs and love the status quo.