Healing State Divide Won’t Be Easy Task

Earlier this year, Mayor Sam Teresi called the movement for parts of New York state to secede distracting.

He’s right, of course.

The nearly year-old discussions thus far center on two avenues, joining Pennsylvania or starting a new state known as New Amsterdam. The likelihood of New York state splitting is unlikely with support needed from the state Legislature and Congress. That hasn’t stopped discussions in Central New York or legislation proposed by state Sen. Ken LaValle, R-C-I-Port Jefferson, and Assemblyman Fred Thiele, I-D-WF-Sag Harbor, to establish a state of Long Island or legislation brought forth by state Sen. Joseph Robach, R-C-I-Rochester, and Assemblyman Steve Hawley, R-C-I-Batavia, proposing the question of dividing the state in two. The Robach-Hawley bill would allow counties to put the following question to a nonbinding voter referendum: “Do you support the division of New York into two separate states?”

We find it ironic that the heart of the secession movement is in Upstate New York, an area Gov. Andrew Cuomo has spent much time courting in recent months. Cuomo has made state money available, but seen sluggish economic growth in many of the state’s rural areas. Money is nice – especially for schools, which make up the largest piece of the local taxation pie – but Cuomo’s comments to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in response to the secession movement show he is missing the point.

“I will be the first to admit it: Parts of the Southern Tier, we have more work to do, more work in bringing back jobs. The state can only do so much. Then it is up to the localities to also come up with a business plan. … The Southern Tier, we have more work to do – there’s no doubt about it. But overall the arrows in every region are pointed up and we just have to build on that.”

While secession itself can likely be disregarded, the sentiment behind it should not.

We have seen growing dissatisfaction with the direction of the state for years. There was evidence of it in the first post-SAFE Act election in 2013 when Rob Astorino won every rural county in the state. We have seen it in the opt-out movement, with its 200,000 school children being instructed by their parents not to take state exams. The hydraulic fracturing ban was another stake in the heart of rural New Yorkers who viewed the natural gas drilling technique as a way for them to take their destiny in their own hands and make a better life. Inequities in school funding are largely seen in rural areas – and for decades, rural New Yorkers have heard their local school officials plea for equitable school funding and seen none come. They see public policy decisions on everything from how the prison system handles drug crimes to how welfare programs are administered and see a state much different than the New York in which they were raised.

Rural New Yorkers aren’t happy about ever-mounting taxes, regulations and mandates. They aren’t happy the state isn’t competitive for jobs without massive state assistance. They aren’t happy with what they see as excessive state interference in their lives.

It will take more than money and words for Gov. Cuomo to heal this divide.