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The Post-Standard.

Ponderous government is crushing opportunity
August 1, 2006

By E.J. McMahon

Sometime soon, the Census Bureau is expected to announce that the nation's population has surpassed 300 million people.

To commemorate this milestone, the bureau says it is assembling a trove of statistics on how much life in America has changed since our population meter clicked over 200 million - some 39 years ago.

Baby boomer nostalgia aside, the most significant thing about the population increase is not so much the growth in the headcount as the geographic pattern of its distribution. With each passing decade, the demographic center of the United States is moving steadily south and west - further and further from New York state.

When the nation's population reached 200 million back in 1967, New York state was still home to nearly one out of every 10 Americans. But as the U.S. tally approaches 300 million, the Empire State accounts for just above 6 percent of the total. If it weren't for immigrants, New York would be even smaller. In the last decade alone, more than 1.6 million New Yorkers have moved elsewhere.

The lossof people clearly is related to a loss of economic opportunity - and nowhere more dramatic than in the once-vital manufacturing sector. To be sure, thanks to global competition and increased productivity, manufacturing employment nationwide is now 20 percent lower than it was back in 1967. But the rate of decline has been more than twice as fast in the former manufacturing strongholds of Upstate New York, including Syracuse.

To a significant degree the problems of New York have been far worse than those experienced by the other cold/old states of the Northeast and upper Midwest. There's something else at work here - something that has dragged down the already vulnerable Upstate region like an anchor.

That something is, in a word, government. New York's elected officials spend, tax and borrow far more than the national average. As a result, we have failed to compete effectively with states offering more favorable climates for economic growth.

The goodnews is that Upstate New York still has a lot going for it, including an impressive array of colleges and universities. State taxes on key industries are considerably lower than they were a decade ago. And the exodus of jobs and people has left Upstate with some of the nation's most affordable housing stock.

Unfortunately, the cost of doing business in New York remains discouragingly high, thanks to sky-high local taxes and other anti-growth policies rubber-stamped by politicians at every level of government. In the final analysis, New York can't start to grow unless its government starts to shrink.

E.J. McMahon is director of the Manhattan Institute's Empire Center for New York State Policy.

©2006 The Post-Standard

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