Op-ed column: They complain too much
Critics of federal gov’t get benefit of aid that New York helps provide
Back in April 2009, Rick Perry, the loquacious governor of Texas, suggested that his state had the right to secede from the United States by virtue of the fact that it started its existence as an independent republic and that its agreement to join the Union contained what amounts to an “opt out” clause.
The conversation haphazardly went in that direction at the time as Perry was detailing all the dreaded things he said the federal government was doing to the “freedom-loving people” of his and other like-minded states.
Perry never actually advocated secession, but still he was wrong. There was never any such understanding. Also, the word was irresponsibly added to our already dysfunctional political discourse for a while, ramping up the largely hyperbolic rhetoric about an “out-of-control” federal government.
Further indicating that human words and deeds are often blindly incongruous, numerous economic studies actually show that the states most likely to be making that claim are the ones that most rely on federal largesse to get by. Texas happens to be one of the very few exceptions, but on balance the so-called “red” states are net recipients of federal aid and the “blue” states are net contributors.
Unsurprisingly, there’s no sign that the takers are willing to go without on the basis of their “principles.”
It’s been that way for quite some time. Yet — also incongruously — it’s the blue states that see a need for and support a strong central government. One is sorely tempted to suggest that the complainers simply stop taking more than they give and that alone will give us a good start on the road to better fiscal prudence.
In 2011, New York achieved a rough parity in this regard for the first time in history. However, in every year up until then, New Yorkers paid considerably more collectively in federal taxes than the state received in payments through the national budget. Every indication says that 2011 will prove to have been an aberration and New York will resume its historical role as donor.
Most seem unaware of this apparent inequity. New York and its blue counterparts rarely mention it because they understand this is how a nation is supposed to work. We pool our resources and share and apportion them according to national priorities that on the one hand favor certain states and regions and do the same at other times for other states and regions. That’s what truly strengthens a nation.
Yet, New York seems to serve best as a handy target for critics — internal and external.
Letters to the editor regularly cycle through from New Yorkers themselves threatening to leave or saying they’re leaving because of some aspect of the state that they just cannot stand for another minute!
New York assuredly has its own set of challenges and problems, but this is mostly a “grass is always greener” phenomenon. Soon enough, the initial attractiveness of new places fades considerably when one compares their schools, infrastructure and public services with those they’ve taken for granted in New York.
Neither does much time have to go by before someone somewhere in the hinterlands of our nation will hold up (or more accurately, drag down) New York as a symbol for something awful.
No outsider complains when the money New Yorkers send to Washington is used for massive, expensive water projects out West, crop support payments for farmers in the agricultural Plains, and disaster assistance in hurricane and tornado-prone areas of the Midwest and South. None of this immediately serves the interests of New Yorkers, but is agreed to all the same by its representatives in a spirit of national interest.
Yet, at the same time, New Yorkers have had to witness those who represent the very areas receiving all this largesse work to actively reduce and deny this state and its people federal funds for their needs, such as mass transit, early childhood education, police and fire protection, school breakfast programs for poor children — and even health care assistance to the early responders sickened by debris in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. They say the nation can’t afford it, but their penury is as demonstrably selfish as it is self-serving. It’s hypocrisy, to be sure, but more importantly it’s ignorance at its worst.
“Empire State” may be a moniker, but it’s not a designation without merit. New York is home to one of the world’s most diverse and culturally rich cities that — not to put to too fine a point on things — is a global financial, corporate and political center.
The Adirondack Park is the largest in the lower 48. There’s a major grape growing and wine producing region in the Finger Lakes. The Hudson Valley, Thousand Islands, the Niagara Frontier, Long Island, the Southern Tier, cities, towns, villages, large places, small places, farms, factories, concert halls, subways, highways, lakes, the ocean, beaches — when you travel the length and breadth of the state, you discover that New York truly has it all.
With all that, the thought crosses the mind that it would seem that New York could be quite self-sufficient on its own if it weren’t donating so much of its own much-needed treasure to the causes of other states. Maybe, even though it never would, it’s New York that would be more justified in raising the idea of “secession”?
John A. Figliozzi lives in Halfmoon and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.