Rochester Business Journal
December 4, 2009
Two-thirds of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll say Upstate New York should try to separate from downstate and become the nation’s 51st state.
The idea is not a new one, but it has been given fresh impetus by legislation introduced this year by state Sen. Joseph Robach, R-Greece, and several other upstate lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly.
The bill would allow each county throughout the state to place a non-binding initiative on its ballot asking whether the voters of the county would support the division of New York into two separate states. A memo attached to the Assembly bill says it is needed “to separate the distinct social and political concerns between upstate and downstate New York.”
Currently, top statewide elected officials are all from the downstate region.
More than 1,010 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.
Do you favor the division of New York into separate states for the upstate and downstate regions?
Here are some readers’ comments:
Divorces are always about cash and/or custody. I suggest upstate keeps subsidy/tax support and in return downstate is free to date other states, such as CT and NJ. Upstate keeps the infrastructure, state name, state bird, Yankees and rights to license the name “New York.” Downstate keeps the legislators, state flower, Buffalo and the Mets.
This is something that should have happened long ago. Upstate New York has never held any political clout as compared with downstate. I am all for it!
We all love to hate downstate, but it would be a bad deal for us. The increase in taxes for us to maintain our standard of living would be unbearable. One simple example: We have a lot more roads to maintain. Why can’t our politicians do some basic research before proposing such shortsighted ideas?
As a much smaller state, we would still have two senators for federal representation and a much lower debt, providing the current state’s debt is divided equally. With the rapidly growing Finger Lakes wine region, western New York State would become a nice tourist destination.
New York City will never let us go. They are the lords in their castle, we the poor serfs tilling the fields that surround them, doing the work and generating the money they need to live as they do. Some things never change.
—Fred Lucas, Duffy Rath System
This is the most ridiculous proposal yet. We need to financially restructure the entire state in order to become efficient and fiscally strong. There are strengths and weaknesses in all our geographic areas. What will be next, a Finger Lakes State? The state of Rochester?
—Nancy May, Alliance PPC
We are completely unrepresented both in state and national politics, and although it is not by any means ideal, the only solution to this problem is separation.
Upstate New York would thrive without downstate. The new state could eliminate the many mandates that the downstate legislators have imposed upon us. This would reduce the cost of government, schools, etc. Rochester could be the next Charlotte, N.C. The new state could become a low-tax haven for people and businesses. The economy would thrive and grow. In fact, we would probably attract many companies from the newly separated downstate area. Also, there is substantial support in downstate for the split. A few years ago, Peter Villone was president of the NYC City Council. Along with 20+ more City Council members, they supported a split. Let’s end the occupation of upstate by the downstate monarchy now.
—John Rynne, president, Rynne, Murphy & Associates Inc.
This is ridiculous. Analysis has actually shown that we benefit more from the tax dollars generated downstate than they do from the tax dollars we generate upstate. If this is all Robach is doing for us, it’s time for a new senator.
—Rick Corey, Penfield
Bravo. The best idea I have heard in years. It is about time.
—Vanessa Capogreco, Rainbow Talent Agency
I am proud to be from the same state that includes the great city of New York. However, New York City and its surrounding counties (Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester and Rockland) have very different infrastructure requirements and have the ability to support very different taxation methods as compared with the remainder of New York State. By eliminating these disparate situations, I believe that separating upstate from downstate would allow our state government to operate much more effectively.
—Peter A. Pizzutelli, Parkside Professionals
Downstate is Democratic, and upstate is Republican. Downstate is so dominant, that upstate almost always gets the short end of the stick. I often refer to “Unshackle Upstate” as “Un-Shekel Upstate.” Being the 51st state would make for lots of new jobs for flag makers, new state employees and the construction jobs to build the wall to keep the downstaters out except during the fall foliage season. I’m also partial to numbers divisible by three (51 states).
—Clifford Jacobson, WebHomeUSA.com
You should poll a representative sample from all counties and publish results backed up by article pointing out pros, cons and alternatives. Could the current system be modified to get a better balance? The state’s main problems stem from flawed welfare system, continued deficit spending and non competitive total tax rates (when compared with other states).
Although emotionally appealing, the idea of splitting off from New York City and the three abutting counties downstate would be financially disastrous. Just one example, is where would upstate get the resources to reimburse the existing state for all the infrastructure, roads, dams, power plants, canals etc. that the state now owns? Where would the revenue come from to cover all the services all of us have come to expect without the help of downstate? What makes anyone think that the remaining non-downstate counties could reach any sort of consensus on anything? I’ve traveled to every county in the state, and I can say with certainty that rural, urban and suburban interests are not unilateral. It seems to me we can learn a great deal from the way five counties (New York City) have learned to function as a single entity to consolidate and cooperate for their common interest. Before we mindlessly run off a cliff to oblivion, maybe we should figure out how to make the government we currently have work better.
—Frank Orienter, Rochester
The proposal to split New York State is fundamentally wrong for several reasons. The first is that it is a gimmick that would be a distraction from solving the real problems of our state. We need to focus on reducing the cost of government, improving our business climate, and bringing our mid-20th century policies into the present. This is a tall order, and Albany needs to be focused if we are to have any chance of restoring our competitiveness with other states. The second problem is that Albany suffers from too much political theater and polarization already. Our politicians need to learn to cooperate and resolve differences, and this proposal would only result in more polarization and dysfunction in Albany. All states, and indeed all large organizations, have major differences. A successful organization recognizes differences and leverages the strengths of those differences. Unsuccessful organizations fight over differences. The third problem is that the entire upstate/downstate divide is greatly exaggerated. Upstate politicians who bash downstate want to create the image that upstate and downstate are two distinct homogenous regions. The reality is far different. In reality, there is as much difference between rural Southern Tier towns and upscale Rochester neighborhoods than there is between upstate and downstate. Downstate is also quite diverse, with the needs of Montauk being vastly different from those of Manhattan. It is impossible to find a dividing line between two distinct regions, because cultures morph continuously throughout the state. The fourth problem is that downstate (even in the depths of the recession) is an economic powerhouse that cross-subsidized upstate. We need greater ties to the business centers of downstate, not a severing of those ties. We need to face the reality that downstate is not holding back upstate. The failings of upstate leaders and the dysfunction in Albany are holding us back. We need to focus on resolving our problems. We can’t afford to distract ourselves with a tired and discredited proposal to balkanize the state.
This question must arise from a discussion on the imbalance of revenues and costs of the state with a disproportionate share of costs going to the lower part of the state while a higher portion of revenues comes the higher. First, we need to be very careful in how we analyze those revenues and costs. We’ve a strong history as a state and we, like a lot of other states, are going to embark on tough times. I don’t believe we should do something rash. Secondly, NYC is the financial capital of the world. Why would we upstaters wish to separate ourselves from that? It has always benefited us in one way or another. Thirdly, we need to start thinking of how to make government more efficient, more productive and less costly. That will require some radical thinking like consolidating town and county governments. The duplication of costs is atrocious. I find it hard to believe that the creation of a new state will help us become less costly and more efficient. After all, it’s these same legislators we have today that would like to be part of the new state tomorrow. I believe we need to have a much clearer understanding of the goals of this creating a new state and the plan to achieve its success before we start voting on a non-binding initiative.
—Dyke Smith, Dyke Smith and Associates
I do not know all of the ramifications, but from what I see and hear, that could be a good thing. Can we leave the New York legislature with upstate and start a new one for ourselves? That has exciting possibilities!
While my heart says YES, my mind needs more information to see if it is feasible. Conceptually, it appears money inflows to downstate exceed outflows, but does Upstate New York have the ability to financially stand on its own. It would be a great test case though to start a new state and hopefully have the ability to shed many of the burdens that have built up in “Old” New York. Maybe we could be a pilot for many suggested reforms needed at the State level.
—Peter Short, Pittsford
Clearly upstate interests do not get adequate, fair representation based on the flow of resources. Some will say downstate provides commensurate inflow, but it would be interesting to see the facts and figures, especially in these years of lean time for Wall Street.
A separate state will not solve the problems faced by upstate. The real problem facing NYS is an entrenched culture and practice of governance that has led to the creation of thousands of overlapping taxing and regulatory authorities. Despite the obvious inefficiencies and corruption that have resulted, more unified and cost-effective models of governance have failed to gain traction here or elsewhere in the state. If governance culture and practice remain the same, a new state will make little difference.
—Harry Merryman, president, Management Insight and Development
Give them Albany.
We will never achieve representation that is meaningful while all the top elected officials are from downstate. Their issues are not the same as ours and I believe that upstate is not seriously taken into consideration when “our” top representation is from one of the largest metro areas in the world and doesn’t have a clue or doesn’t care about us.
Wow, I feel like a secessionist! Will I be hunted down by the downstaters? I hope we get to be blue and not gray! I sincerely feel it would be in our (upstate) best interest to form the 51st state. NYC is just too big, and too dominant in our easy-to-be-dominant-in State political scene. They get their way, and we suffer. Let’s secede!
—Hutch Hutchison, In T’Hutch Ltd.
This is a very poor idea. New York City is the only remaining economic engine in this state. Whether we like it or not, over time we get substantial subsidies from the city because of its robust financial industry. It would be a far better idea to adjust the costs of doing business (like taxes and workers compensation) for upstate and western New York to reflect our relative lack of economic opportunity.
—Rob Brown, Boylan Brown
Years ago I thought this was a good idea. (See: http://www.frontiernet.net/~onplane/) Then came 9/11 and it was clear we had bigger problems. Today it would be impossible to achieve, because far too many people in upstate (teachers, unions, lawyers, politicians, etc.) have a vested interest in the status quo. Best solution for business concerns is to seek “business friendly states.” The solution for our retiring population is to seek “retirement friendly states”. New York State will soon be bankrupt and thus, will have to extract dollars from anyone who has it.
—Jerry Lighthouse, C.P.M., CPIM Advanced Purchasing Technology, LLC
Though a long time in the coming, this is an effort whose time has come. With no disrespect intended, those in downstate truly live in a dramatically different world than those upstate. Different politics, different economics, different cost of living and lifestyles, different employment dynamics, different housing styles and land use, and different transportation realities. It would be a godsend to have a political boundary that enables Upstate NY to speak—and be represented—with a unified voice across our state without the tensions of trying to force-fit our decisions based on how “the other half” functions.
—Christopher Burns, Rochester
Aw, come on now! Mr. Robach is obviously not taking his meds in the proper dose. The state is broke now AND we are getting more upstate from downstate than they are from us. Just where does Mr. Robach think the money would come from to support us if we divorced from downstate? We can’t do it ourselves. Of course, if Mr. Robach thinks Arkansas, Mississippi or W. Virginia look like good role models, I guess we would do just fine. Getting serious for just a moment, we would need a plan to overcome the lopsided content of the legislature just to consider the proposal and then, develop a plan to finance it. As it is now, the proposal can’t be taken seriously at all.
This discussion is a red herring. It’s a simple, clear-cut solution that entire avoids all the complex issues that exist in our state. This discussion invites us to occupy our minds and waste our efforts pursuing an effort that isn’t viable, and to neglect the actual problems in this state. Like fast food, we pursue this effort not because it’s good or healthy, but because it seems easy.
—Perette Barella, Devious Fish
Yes. Yes. Yes. Immediately, we free ourselves from the “downstate” control of the state capital. Such alone is worth all of the downside. We would gain two U.S. senators. Because of politics, Albany refuses to get its act together. It is time for the Rochester area to subscribe to a new play at a different theatre.
As long as Sheldon Silver and his cronies live and breathe, Upstate New York will merely be a fiefdom to the New York City power hierarchy. The cost of government imposed by the downstate powers and their Wall Street tax sources cannot be sustained by a normal working class society like that which exists upstate.
—Jim Weisbeck, Bloomfield
I should say I support looking into the pros and cons of this idea. Upstate NY does seem to get lost in the needs of NYC and should benefit from the separation. Would like to understand better the state revenue and expense flows geographically, this could be a case of be “careful what you wish for.” The downside for downstate is that no pro football team would actually play in that new state, unless of course they annex New Jersey.
This is a distraction. We in upstate are still spending way too much on Medicaid and education without getting the results. Let’s address those problems first.
—Doug Lyon, Lyon Capital Management
For years, counties other than Monroe and the five Boroughs of New York have benefited from the corporate and personal taxes generated by those six entities—how would this proposal change that? Secondly, if this were to pass someone (taxpayers) would then spend billions of dollars to take apart the current New York State to create the states of New York and Not New York. Mr. Robach and his colleagues would better spend their time cleaning up their own houses as the first step to “fixing” the problems of New York.
—John F. Hurley, Web Seal Inc.
One of our big complaints upstate is school tax, which are some of the highest in the nation as a percentage of value. Thirty-one percent of all state aid goes to New York City, and 13 percent goes to Long Island. The reason? Downstate politics. We have no clout upstate when it comes to “revenue distribution” or controlling unfunded mandates. We have half the programs in our schools and twice the tax rates because the school aid formulas are tainted towards downstate revenue enhancement. Cut them loose I say and let them generate their own revenue. If not, the feds can bail them out like they do everyone else.
—Rob Bick, assessor, town of Clay
Although this is a good idea, and would definitely help upstate “unshackle” itself from the megalopolis NYC, and would economically benefit upstate in a million ways I’m afraid it could set a precedent across the U.S. as healthy states would try to shed loafing big cities. In corporate America, large corporations often spin off “loser” divisions in order to fix the bottom line. This is a tough choice. I’m afraid we (America) would wind up with a collection of welfare mini-states. They’d now be funded at a national level, and there you go—you’ve shifted the tax burden to all of America. Hey, on second thought, that’s not such a bad idea!
—John Malvaso, president, FSI Systems Inc.
While I am tempted to say yes to this question, I would rather see us work together to form a better equality plan between upstate and downstate. Additionally, New York State has to learn how to control spending better and start making some hard choices. Money spent should be an investment in the States future not “business as usual.” Having said that, I believe under the present administration, we can’t get there. It is time for a change all around.
I dare say it is not as simple as making two states. Downstate carries the burden of being a welfare “state” and the advantage of housing some of the richest people in the United States. The tax burden for the welfare portion is legislated by the relatively rich downstate legislators and largely paid by those upstate. The nation needs to embrace the issue of poverty and its myriad causes and address it as a priority. The draconian welfare laws perpetuate some of the poverty. The incarceration of addicts, the tax loopholes, the failing schools, etc. etc. need to be addressed. Splitting the state is a rallying cry that holds little promise other than passing the problem around. Consider real non-partisan reform—that is what I consider the legislature’s duty.
This is an issue that needs further study and may prove to be necessary over the long term. The perception of Upstate NY residents is that taxation and benefits are not equitable with NYC/Long Island area taxpayers. A thorough analysis of the state budget would need to be conducted to actually proven this theory out. As an alternative to this move, a statewide mandate to have a consistent property tax assessment cycle (say every two-three-five years) and a standard calculation formula enforced by all NY state communities would remedy the inequities that exist. According to a recent presentation by Tom Golisano regarding this subject, he states that upstate communities perform annual property tax assessments and adjustments while downstate communities perform this same task much less frequently (like every 10 years). Another step toward balance and equity would be to have mandatory separate regional budgets for each region. Each region would have a balanced budget where taxation and benefits would need to be equal within each region.
—Scott D. Upham, president & CEO, Valient Solutions Market Research
I suspect this is too costly and would be a distraction from more important issues.
We already have too many bureaucracies in New York. What we need is to eliminate government organizations. New York has 62 counties, each with dozens of towns, each with county boards, city councils, town boards, school boards, multiple police organizations, water boards, etc. What we need is to streamline New York. It is the only way to reduce taxes. New data released by the Census Bureau shows that over a three-year period (2005 to 2007) taxes paid by homeowners in New York and New Jersey counties were the highest in the country.
—Sergio Ruffolo, JR Language Translation Services, Webster
Rather than double the dysfunction, let’s put energy toward solving the issues in this state. Solutions are clear (cut spending, reduce size of government, increase transparency, benchmark against known best practices). The only piece lacking is courage amongst our elected officials.
This is just another delay tactic. What needs to be done is to get all the politicians together 1) teach them civility. 2) Teach them what budgeting really is (revenue = expenses!). 3) Right size the government and its agencies for the current population of NYS both upstate and downstate. 4) Establish incentives and disincentives to getting the budget done. 5) Educate ALL of NYS stakeholders (businesses, people, institutions) about budgeting (revenue = expenses). We need downstate as much as they need upstate. It’s time to stop all the divisiveness. It’s wasteful of our time, our tax dollars, our politician’s time, and provides another us vs. them mentality that we don’t need.
—Donna Hickling, Wordeconomy, Inc.
Absolutely the areas should be split, and the decision is long overdue. I’ve lived on Long Island, and in the Capital District and in the Rochester area. Upstate has no commonality of need with downstate, and will always be whip-sawed by downstate politics and finances, have no voice in presidential elections, and be an “after-thought” of minimal bones thrown to quiet the growls and whimpers. Upstate especially lacks clout to effect the change so sorely needed in Albany. Congratulations to Joe Robach for having the courage to bring the issue to the forefront!
—Diane C. Harris, president, Hypotenuse Enterprises, Inc.
This is a ridiculous question. What would it be like if everyone who could not work out their problems wanted their own state or seceded from the union? We have established means of changing our government. It usually fails because the voters, you and I, do not have the courage to change it by voting out our elected representatives. We also do not insist that meaningful laws are passed either through our own representatives or through petition and special ballots. You should also remember that all elected representatives get there by MONEY. So if the party or its representatives do not do what you want DO NOT VOTE FOR THEM OR FUND THEM. The recent proposal of a constitutional convention was a good one but has stalled now. If we have on we should have representatives attend that are our elected representatives PLUS those outside the parties. Now, do you have the will to make a change in NY at the ballot box or by continually petitioning your representatives? If you don’t bug them enough, they think you don’t care and then deal-making starts. Everyone should get mad and force a change using our own due processes. If you don’t it won’t matter how many states you have because you have not changed the process.
Can we force New York City to keep Albany?
Upstate New York will never be able to survive if we are to keep on subsidizing for anything that New York City and its boroughs want. We just do not have the population to override their wants nor will be ever be able to have a majority in our Legislature. The following counties New York, Queens, Suffolk, Nassau, Bronx, Kings and Richmond should have their own state.
—John D. Coy, director of operations, We Serve It For You Process Serving Agency, LLC
To whatever degree the failure of NYC to levy enough tax to be self sufficient, that failure adds to the onerous tax burden of Upstate NY, without any of the related benefits.
—Joe Fabetes, Rochester
It’s a stupid idea. Maybe those who want to separate should join Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and form their own country and leave us altogether.
—Pete Bonenfant, Fairport
I used to think that the two separate states idea wasn’t a good one because at the time we were getting more tax dollars into upstate than we were putting into the kitty. However, upon reflection, it’s clear to me that the welfare and entitlement mentality emanating from NYC has been disastrous for the state as a whole and upstate in particular. As a separate state, we could establish rational tax rates and tie our entitlement expenses to the average of the 10 highest paying states instead of being the highest in the nation. We could break the hold of the trial attorneys on the state (through Sheldon Silver) and establish sensible liability laws. We could also reduce the power of the public employee unions and get rid of absurd “prevailing wage” laws. We could elect representatives who would actually represent us instead of acting as our rulers. I don’t think any of these things are achievable with the current stranglehold NYC has on the state as a whole.
No! No! No! Nothing would change, except creating some more politicians in cozy jobs with public health options (mostly Republicans!). Upstate problems are mostly homemade, right here in upstate, and nothing would change. As far as the problems in Albany are concerned, upstate politicians are willing and sometimes eager co-conspirators. I think that upstate, including the Rochester area, would be better served by replacing the same-old/same-old thinking with revolutionary new-new. After all, the American Revolution was based on new thoughts, replacing old ones. Can’t we go back to those roots?
—Ingo H. Leubner, Crystallization Consulting
Is this a joke? Why waste our time with such a silly question? All states have diversity in regions…and it’s probably a good thing. Adding more complexity in government is just plain stupid.
It’s not the geography, it’s the politicians. This is the best solution for what? Getting the budget under control? We’ve been hot and heavy after every fairy tale project under the sun. We’ve wasted millions thinking of projects. Conducted studies, paid architects, and drew up the plans. For projects the public doesn’t need or want. Not to mention the current upside down ones, or just plain failed ones. WE are part of the NYS’s problem. Imagine what our politicians are doing, going on statewide! That’s the problem! This is just another playground for politicians. More Senators, Congressmen, staffs, stipends, lobbyists, and the world goes round. We don’t need another Governor; let the one in office cut the spending like he wants to! And I’m not a democrat! I’m a taxpayer. If you can’t get the job done, rat out the bad guys or step aside. This is spin for incompetence.
Interesting idea (again). A caveat to where the line is drawn defining “upstate.” Westchester and north, what about Nassau and Suffolk?
—Mark Davitt, ConServe
I think every major city should be on their own. Why should states be required to subsidize the out-of-control cities. Large cities have extra voting power.
I Love New York … all of it!
—Phil Beckley, SPLASH Marketing
It is a myth that more upstate tax dollars go downstate than downstate tax dollars go upstate. What we need is better/faster transportation to downstate so that commuting is an option for workers upstate and downstate residents can more easily vacation upstate. We need to unite, not divide.
Joe Robach’s idea of a referendum on this question is a complete distraction from the budget issues that the Senate is failing to address. This is an example of the lack of leadership on the part of the rank and file Senators and their failure to revolt on behalf of their constituents. The issue will never get out of a committee, won’t have a matching bill pass the Assembly, and economically a false premise. This is one of the ways Joe and other upstate legislators can try to distance themselves from the downstate clowns in charge of the legislature. Nice try Joe but your move is very transparent. This lack of attention to what’s vital and urgent for the Legislature on behalf of NY’s citizens and taxpayers is the reason Joe and all incumbents will not get my vote next November.
—Bob Volpe, Highland Development Services
An independent committee that would establish the assembly and senate districts plus a significant reduction in political fund raising would help shift the power from downstate to upstate. Given the population and economic mix, the creation of an upstate would not work.
—Mike Bleeg, Strategic Results
No, not the way you have mapped it in the question. Long Island should still be part of New York State, but the city should be a District, like D.C.
—Briget Grbic, CS Stars
Upstate needs real focus and investment. This will not happen in a dysfunctional Albany that is dominated by downstate politicians. In addition, a new state would give us two US senators dedicated fully to the region’s interests.
Separating from downstate would significantly improve upstate’s economy and lower our taxes, but it will never happen because downstate has been enjoying upstate’s money for far too long to ever give it up.
—Bill Wyatt, Fairport
It sounds “cool” to want this, but with the mass exodus of business from Western New York, there isn’t a sustainable economic base to support independent statehood. This is the same conclusion Quebec came to when they thought they wanted to secede from Canada: They didn’t have a large enough tax base to provide the same level of services they currently had, and I fear Western New York would be in much the same position.