A Legislative Column by Assemblyman Will Barclay
The vote earlier this month in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union (“Brexit”) has raised the question as to whether something similar could happen here in New York State.
More specifically, could Upstate New York vote to secede from New York City and Long Island and form its own state.
This issue of secession is not a new one.
However, the movement has gained momentum in recent years.
The partitioning of New York into two separate states procedurally would be challenging because the United States Constitution, pursuant to Article 4, Section 3, requires that both the New York State Legislature and the United States Congress to consent to the formation of two new states.
Bills that would simply put the question up for a non-binding referendum in New York State have been introduced at various times in the state legislature.
However, they have never passed or even gotten to the floors of the respective houses for a vote.
If these bills cannot get passed, it is difficult to see how legislation that would actually provide consent for the partition could get passed in Albany.
Moreover, getting congressional support for such an action also would be an uphill fight in light of the fact that drives for statehood in other parts of the country (e.g., Puerto Rico, D.C. etc.) have failed.
Even if the partition of New York State into two states could be accomplished politically, there are real questions whether such a separation would be beneficial for Upstaters.
If Upstate were successful in separating from New York City and its suburbs, one the first challenges for the new state would be financial because much of our state revenues derive from Downstate New York due to the areas larger population and higher salaries.
While all New Yorkers pay high taxes and are over-taxed, due to population, the taxes downstate New Yorkers (New York City and its suburbs) pay make up a larger share of state revenue.
This is not surprising in light of the fact that the state’s largest source of non-federal revenue comes from personal income taxes which is a progressive system (which means those who earn more income pay higher income taxes).
Because the state’s wealthiest live downstate, naturally they are paying more to the state.
Further, New York’s financial stability heavily relies on Wall Street.
If New York were to split, Upstate would lose those monies.
Second, as a state with a large population, New York has a lot of clout on the national level.
Splitting into two states would dilute this influence which could be harmful, particularly on regional issues where having New York speak in one voice is critical.
That being said, it is not difficult to understand why there is upstate support for separating New York into two states.
In many respects, Upstate’s political voice in Albany has diminished over the years due to our population outflow (which, tragically, in many respects can be linked to policies adopted by Albany).
Accordingly, the state has enacted numerous policies that, if put to a vote in upstate would not stand a chance of becoming law.
The ban on fracking, the SAFE Act and the substantial increase in the State’s minimum wage are a few policies the genesis of which began in NYC and have now been imposed on the rest of the state – regardless of their unpopularity Upstate.
If there is a lesson from the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, it is that government is most effective when it is close to the people and it reacts to their concerns.
From the interviews that I have hear from people who voted in the UK to leave the European Union they felt that the EU governing body in Brussels was deaf to their concerns and was heavy handily imposing their rules on the British populace.
State government in Albany ought to take the Brexit vote as a warning.
People want a government that is responsive to their needs.
Get too far afield of what citizens want and there will be consequences.
Fortunately, in our democracy these consequences are at the ballot box.
If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.