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‘Outmigration’ is a bipartisan pickle

Editor's Corner

People walk on the street, Monday, April 26, 2021 in New York. The once-a-decade head count of the United States shows where the population grew during the past 10 years and where it shrank. New York will lose one seat in Congress as a result of national population shifts, according to census data released Monday. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Hours after it became clear New York state was going to lose a Congressional seat due to the newly released U.S. Census numbers, the criticism came pouring in. Republicans, specifically those from the Western region, criticized Albany and its policies as the reason for the continued exodus.

“(Monday)’s news that New York will lose another congressional seat is a sad but unsurprising commentary on Andrew Cuomo’s failed leadership,” Nick Langworthy, state party chairman, declared in a statement earlier this week. “We have no future as a state when our federal representation continues to shrink, our jobs continue to be destroyed and our residents continue to flee to other states. We are a state that is failing and in desperate need of a life-saving treatment — a Republican governor who will change course and reverse New York’s decline.”

Our state Sen. George Borrello was just as outraged. “(Monday)’s U.S. Census report confirmed that New York’s outmigration is continuing, as residents and employers seek states with lower taxes, thriving economies and greater opportunities,” he said. “While some may take heart that we didn’t lose the two seats many were predicting, trying to spin a ‘loss’ as a ‘win’ is a sad concession that we’ve set the bar for New York’s future far too low.”

Funny both would think that way.

Between the book-end Cuomos as governors starting with dad Mario and his son at present — ignoring the tarnished efforts of Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson from 2007 to 2010 — was a not-so-perfect middle man in Republican George Pataki. He held the reigns from 1995 to 2006 and oversaw years of chaotic, high-spending budgets that mirrored what Albany came up with this year. To Pataki’s credit, there also were small population increases that came from downstate and Long Island.

But none of those gains mattered, to be honest. In 2002, New York lost two Congressional seats based on its population in 2000. Ten years later — six of it courtesy of Pataki — another two seats were lost.

In all, a Republican governor — in Langworthy’s way of thinking — was at least partially responsible for four fewer Congressional seats statewide. That may be not fair, but if we’re going to blame the current governor for the loss of one let us at least point out a past the right would rather ignore.

Democrats may currently hold all the cards in the capital, but in upstate — where the population loss runs rampant — Republicans have plenty of control in terms of running a number of county governments, especially in the rural areas.

How has that worked out for us in Chautauqua County alone? On the numbers alone, not so well.

Our last Democratic executive was Mark Thomas, who served until 2005. From 2006 until 2020, our county lost 8,000 residents with the population falling to just under 127,000.

Despite those losses, local government spending has shown no signs of slowing down. From 2018 to today, higher expenses and tax hikes have been endorsed on a consistent basis by a Republican County Legislature and executive.

On May 18, residents here will be voting on school budgets that received a big boost from state and federal funding. Much of that revenue stream may not be sustainable but it will keep our bloated number of 18 school districts functioning for now. These educational budgets, scheduled to receive more than $305 million in aid from Albany, all have additional costs that come in the form of property taxes.

When Langworthy speaks of residents fleeing to other states, the local tax burden is just as significant as the politics in Albany. In fact, the embattled Cuomo is more to the point on this issue than many of these same Republicans when talking about the burden residents face. During one of his recent press conferences last week, which did not include the media, he mentioned that even though upstate New York has some of the lowest home prices, its proportion of its payments to local governments is exorbitant.

“With all we’ve done, we still have the highest property taxes in the country right here in the state of New York,” Cuomo said. “In New York state, the average middle-class taxpayer pays more in property taxes than they do in income taxes. So people tend to focus on the state income taxes. No, that is not where you’re paying the taxes. You’re paying the taxes in your property taxes.”

Assemblyman Andrew Goodell was spot on in his comments on the budget earlier this month. With the recent sex-harassment allegations, Cuomo has lost his clout. The governor, who early on in his tenure instituted pay freezes for state workers and a property tax cap for schools and municipalities, has been paralyzed by the scandals.

Cuomo’s priority has become maintaining power. In doing so, the state’s purse strings have been allowed to expand to record numbers.

That is an easy target for Republicans. But let’s not forget where a lot of this budget money goes: to maintain local governments and schools who are chiefly responsible for the high property taxes.

To be fair, both political parties — especially the Republicans in this county — make no apologies when irresponsibly passing on costs to their constituents. This, no matter how Langworthy and Borrello frame it, is a bipartisan problem that no one wants to tackle.

John D’Agostino is the editor of the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and Times Observer in Warren. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 253.

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