Balancing interests

Movements to divide New York state have been gaining steam among disgruntled legislators and their constituents after a 2019 legislative session that pushed out multiple progressive bills.

The Divide New York State Caucus, which proposes splitting New York into three autonomous regions, has been having multiple meetings in various counties each month since the bill was introduced by Assemblyman David DiPietro, R-147, in April. The goal is to garner enough support from local municipalities so that legislators are obligated to co-sponsor the bill, per the Municipal Home Rule Law.

Under the plan, New York City would be its own autonomous region, Westchester, Long Island and Rockland would make up their own region and the rest of upstate New York would constitute the third autonomous region. Each would have a regional governor, assembly and senate.

“To divide the state is basically economics,” said John Bergener, chairman of the caucus. “The overregulation of densely populated cities being spread statewide has killed the upstate economy.”

Bergener stipulated that the plan draws boundaries to ensure that each region would be able to support itself financially.

In debates over whether to split the state, opponents of secession often point to data that shows that a vast majority of the state’s income tax revenue comes from New York City, along with Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk counties. Upstate counties, on the other hand, contribute 18 percent in total, according to data from the state Department of Budget analyzed by Politifact in 2018.

Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, R-139, who is also in support of dividing New York state, argues that downstate municipalities also cost the state much more than those upstate. But a 2011 report from the Rockefeller Institute found that downstate pays more in taxes than it gets back, and another 2016 Politifact report found that Western New York counties receive a larger percentage share of state spending than its contribution in taxes.

While the Divide New York State Caucus argues economics as the reason to split the state, other upstate legislators said it’s more about culture.

Hawley sponsored a bill in the assembly this year that would add a non-binding resolution on November ballots asking voters if they support a division of New York into two separate states. The 13-year legislator argues culture as a main cause to separate the state.

“Our constituencies are so very different, our ways of living, our family values, our livelihoods,” Hawley said, comparing upstate and downstate. “We need to open our eyes and think about the entire state of New York.”

Hawley pointed to multiple progressive legislations as examples of upstate needs being overpowered by downstate politics, such as the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, which packaged wide-ranging gun regulations, Reproductive Health Act, which codified federal abortion rights into state law, and Farm Labor Rights Act, which ensures farm workers get paid overtime after 60 hours and get one day off each week.

“I don’t think it’s a Republican-Democrat thing at all,” Hawley said. “I think it’s citizens of the state, it depends what values they have and what businesses drive their economies.”

Voting records show a majority of legislators who voted in favor of the aforementioned legislations were from downstate areas, but a handful do represent upstate districts and were Democrats.

Others said such proposals are unrealistic and unnecessarily divisive.

“There is pandering and then there is the Godzilla of pandering,” Rich Azzopardi, senior adviser to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said in a statement. “This divisive stunt isn’t worth the paper it is printed on.”

State Sen. Jen Metzger, D-42, Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-106, and DiPietro did not respond to requests for comment.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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