The Plight of Upstate New York and the Domination of New York City

If someone from outside of the Northeast or overseas asks you where you are from and your response is New York, he or she will likely follow up with something like, “how is the City?” As someone who is living outside of the “Big Apple,” this can be frustrating, especially given that roughly 99.5% of the state’s land area is outside of the city limits. Where Upstate New York begins is a matter of debate, but the areas outside of the New York Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which is anything north and west of Putnam, Rockland, and Westchester Counties, holds roughly 95% of the land area but only 36% of the population.

This means that the culture of the more conservative people living on the vast agricultural land, rolling hills, mountains, forests, and lakes and rivers of upstate clashes with the busy, densely populated, and liberal downstate. However, because the downstate region has the population, it can effectively make laws without the upstate region’s approval (not to mention dominate the presidential and senatorial elections federally and the governorship and assembly statewide). Therefore, Upstate New York becomes marginalized and without a voice on many issues. Though it is technically represented, it is not fairly represented (taxation without fair representation). Since New York is both one of the most expensive states to live in and the most heavily taxed states in the country, Upstate New York suffers. Laws like the NYSAFE Act and the Green Light Law, which is likely going to be partially nullified by Rensselaer, Erie, Niagara, and Allegany counties and perhaps others, show a division among the two regions.

There are a few ways that could improve quality in the state for those who want a quieter, cheaper, and less restrictive standard of living without having to pack up and move south (something the governor has suggested for those who oppose his progressive agenda). First, and perhaps the most obvious, there is secession from the state. If the federal government approved of the formation of another state, perhaps alongside Puerto Rico, which should either be added as a state or released as an independent country (depending on the will of the people), Upstate New York would finally have a voice in politics and its own governing structure and could free itself from the City. The New York State government would not likely approve of this because New York City and its suburbs would lose the tax revenue of upstate and natural resources (including its water supply, which could be worked out between the two states), yet if the will of the upstate people is strong enough, downstate may not have a choice.

Another solution is to subdivide New York into three autonomous regions, New Amsterdam (Upstate New York), Montauk (Long Island counties outside of the New York city limits and Westchester and Rockland Counties), and New York (the five boroughs within the city limits), leaving the state together for federal issues. The bills being introduced in the Assembly (A05498) and Senate (S5416) would allow for a separate regional legislature and governor in order to enact and enforce local laws that work better for the people of those regions. In this scenario, there would be no federal approval necessary, and the state could restructure itself from within. Issues involving New York City’s water supply and state pensions would be unaffected. Upstate would be free to choose its own local laws and tax structure without coercion, but it could still keep its ties to the City.

A third option for moving fair representation northward would be to restructure the state government by allowing for a more representative senate. There are sixty-two county entities (fifty-seven counties plus the five boroughs of New York City), so each one could be represented by two state senators. This would give smaller counties a voice in politics in a manner similar to the United States Senate, where every state regardless of population has two representatives. The Assembly could remain as it currently is with New York City dominating the body due to its large population. Since legislation would require the approval of both chambers, Upstate New York would be able to block laws that it did not want passed. Any laws that did pass would need both regions’ blessing for a more unified state.

How much longer should Upstate New York have to live without fair representation? If New York City does not want to make any concessions and continues to prefer the domination of state politics, the momentum could move towards one of the above scenarios. All three may be unlikely because politicians will not want to give up power or tax dollars, but we will see what his majesty, Governor Cuomo of New York City, will do or allow. Currently, the governor is enjoying the ability to do as he pleases with little to no opposition in the state legislature. The people of Upstate New York should not have to choose between accepting underrepresentation or moving to another state (something that is happening on a large scale, giving New York City even more power). Will Upstaters step up and take action, or will they remain passive and accept the status quo of marginalization?

Thank you for reading, and please check out my book, The Global Bully, and website for my views and research regarding federal issues, particularly pertaining to foreign policy.
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Published on August 12, 2019 03:14
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