The Pataki Legacy – By George J. Marlin

When Governor Pataki left office on December 31, 2006, he quickly slid into obscurity.  The impact of his reckless fiscal policies, however, still command the attention of every New York taxpayer.

The Public Policy Institute revealed in May that New York’s per capita combined state and local taxes at the end of 2005 were the highest in the nation.  At $5,770 per capita, New York’s tax burden was 36 percent above the national average.

In addition, the state’s 2005 per-capital debt burden – the third highest in America – increased 6 percent from the previous fiscal year to $12,107.  Per-capita spending, the second highest in the nation, stood at $11,821 versus the national average of $8,003.

Pataki’s runaway taxing and spending forced dispirited citizens to vote with their feet.  Census reports released in June confirm that the population in New York’s upstate cities continues to decline.  Buffalo lost 6 percent, Rochester 5 percent and Syracuse 4 percent.  Between 1995 and 2005 approximately 1 million upstate residents have left New York to seek opportunities elsewhere.  Most alarming is the fact that the rush to exit the state is being led by young people.

Newly released housing figures indicate that this exodus is having a significant impact on upstate’s real estate values.  Erie County, for instance, has one of the highest foreclosure rates on single family houses in the state.  In the County’s largest city, Buffalo, there are 20,000 vacant/abandoned houses and another 39,000 in the surrounding suburban areas.

While most of the nation experienced a real estate boom between 1998 and 2003, property values in Western New York took a major hit:

Oswego -45.37%
Dunkirk -38.03%
Fulton -12.59%
Lackawanna -11.95%
Schenectady -11.48%
Buffalo -10.79%
Utica -9.74%
Amsterdam -6.43%
Rochester -6.41%
Rome -4.75%
Lockport -4.20%
Batavia -4.05%
Tonawanda -3.67%
Syracuse -3.47%
Watervliet -2.46%
Niagara Falls -1.62%
North Tonawanda -1.53%

There is more bad news.

In August, the New York Business Council’s updated “Economic Growth Index” indicated that between 1995 and 2005 the state “trail[ed] most states in growth in jobs, wages, income and population.”

  • New York’s 10-year job growth was 12.2 percent versus 17 percent nationally;
  • New York’s personal income grew 53.9 percent versus 66.3 percent nationally;
  • New York’s per capita income rose 47.6 percent versus 49.4 percent nationally;
  • New York’s population growth was 4.3 percent versus 11.4 percent nationally.

The state exceeded the national average in only one category:  average annual wages per job were up 48.3 percent versus 46.3 percent nationally.

On the local level, the Business Council Economic Growth Index awarded twenty-seven upstate counties an “F” grade and ten a “D.”

During the Pataki years, career opportunities in upstate regions declined as local taxes soared to finance unfunded state mandates.  “Upstate is absolutely sinking under these mandates,” declared Sandy Parker, CEO of the Rochester Business Alliance.  “We’ve got to see some changes because we’re dying here.”

Jobs have disappeared at an alarming rate.  Manufacturers have moved to the South, to Europe, and to India to escape New York’s taxes and burdensome regulations.  As a result, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Schenectady – onetime centers of commerce, industry, and technology – are facing financial and economic doom.

Because time after time Governor Pataki chose short-term political advantage, his legacy is a state that is financially in extremis.

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