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Wall Street Journal

 

The Broadway-Buffalo Divide

October 02, 2010

By Fred Siegel

Listening to Gothamites talk about this year’s Republican gubernatorial nominee Carl Paladino, you would hear that he’s “crude,” “outrageous,” “divisive” and “a blowhard.” If you then ask how this businessman could carry 93% of the vote in Erie County—trouncing the party’s designated nominee, former congressman Rick Lazio 63% to 37% statewide— you will be met with either blank stares or off-the-cuff comments about the mental limitations of those upstate outlanders.

The political distance between Broadway and Mr. Paladino’s Buffalo is always considerable, but it’s grown wider than ever. That’s because President Obama’s policies of subventing the city’s public unions with stimulus money, while bucking up Manhattan’s banks with low-interest dollars from the Federal Reserve, has spared New York City the worst of the downturn for now. There is no bust in Western New York, but that’s because they never had a boom. Yet the Buffalo metro area competes with Cleveland for the poorest in the nation, just behind Detroit.

The issues—and they are numerous—that drove Mr. Paladino’s vote are virtually invisible from Times Square. Take property taxes, which united Paladino supporters from Suffolk to Niagara. Most residents of the Big Apple are apartment dwellers who never see a property tax bill. But their brothers and sisters upstate and in Long Island who own their own homes are being crushed by local property taxes.

Nationally, property taxes are less than 2% of assessed home values. In the Empire State they are roughly twice that. Upstate property taxes as a percentage of assessed values are the highest in the country. And while property taxes have gone down in most of the country as home values have declined, New York is burdened by rising property taxes in the midst of a declining economy but steadily growing government spending.

Disdain for Albany is widespread. According to a May 2010 Survey USA poll, 76% of New Yorkers disapprove of the job the state legislature is doing. But if you live in Western New York you pay far more attention to state government than Gothamites, and you see Albany, where lobbyists continue to proliferate in the downturn, as a pirate band run by a clique of liberal urbanites. The governor, attorney general, speaker of the Assembly, and the leader of the state Senate are all from the five boroughs. At a time when upstaters and downstaters have repeatedly clashed over issues like tuition at the State University of New York (SUNY), anti-Albany and anti-New York City sentiments are melding.

Upstate, where manufacturing is still important, contributes about a quarter of the state’s economy. But thanks to taxes levied by Albany at twice the national average, it pays almost half of the state’s taxes on electricity and natural gas.

At the same time, Albany seems indifferent if not actively hostile to a promising new source of energy. The Marcellus Shale, which runs through the southern portion of the state’s western tier, can be turned into natural gas through the process of hydro-fracking. It is seen by many, with its promise of $50,000-a-year jobs, as the key to the region’s revival. But Manhattan environmentalists are determined to block the mining of the shale.

There’s been a similar clash over SUNY tuition. Upstaters who view SUNY as one of their few economic engines want the different campuses to be able to set their own tuition in order to fund specialized programs with an economic payoff. But the dominant city delegation, looking to protect the weakest of state-funded schools in the city, has blocked this reform.

With upstate likely to go strongly for Mr. Paladino while Andrew Cuomo runs up big margins in New York City, the election, notes The Empire Center’s E.J. McMahon, could well be decided in the Big Apple’s suburbs. That’s where the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is increasingly unpopular thanks to a new payroll tax surcharge of an average $230 per worker per year to help the authority close its operating deficit. Meanwhile, more than 8,000 MTA employees now earn $100,000 or more in salary without counting benefits, and 44 earn more than $200,000 a year.

Mr. Paladino, who first earned widespread public attention when he helped force the New York State Thruway Authority to eliminate its tolls on exits into Buffalo, has been quick to jump on the MTA. He recently held a little-noticed but well-received rally on Staten Island calling for the MTA to eliminate or reduce the $11 toll to cross the Verrazano Bridge.

“It’s hard for people in the big city to see how angry and frustrated we are up here,” explained a savvy player in Albany. The grievances of the outlanders are real even if Mr. Paladino, who seems to glory in carrying a chip on his shoulder, has expressed them histrionically.

When I mention the candidate’s excesses to upstaters, I’ve been told: “Remember that Spitzer and Paterson dramatically lowered the bar on what’s considered acceptable behavior.” As for Gothamites, it would be wise for them to look beyond the personalities to the genuine concerns voiced by their fellow New Yorkers.

Original Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704523604575511721353822694.html

 

 
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