Niagara Gazette

January 6, 2014

CITY DESK: We're being left behind

By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — They’re leaving.

But then, we know that already.

Known for years.

By “they,” I mean the working-age folks who formerly resided in Western and Upstate New York. 

Don’t take my word for it. The Associated Press documented the latest example of people drain in a story last week that, in part, told the tale of a young couple formerly of Amherst who packed up and moved out to sunny San Diego because, as the 25-year-old female, Melissa Grothues, put it: “We were ready for a bigger city and to move on. There just weren’t many opportunities in Buffalo.”

Ouch. Not exactly fodder for the local chambers of commerce.

While those of us diehards around here can honestly say there have been signs of improvement of late in places like Buffalo — the new-look waterfront included — we also completely understand when we read about those in the ripe working ages of 20 to 45 who have shuffled off to warmer confines to find better opportunities and places to work. 

The same AP story highlighted the disconcerting projections that New York will soon be surpassed by Florida as American’s third most populous state. 

Outside of New York City, the Empire State, despite all the statements to the contrary by its area politicians, isn’t growing. 

Those who analyzed the trend said New York’s high taxes, lack of job opportunities and, yes, the weather (see this past weekend) rank highest on the list of reasons for the exodus. 

Again, valid points all. 

There’s a greater problem around here though and it involves a ruling political class that still just doesn’t get it. 

In the weeks and months ahead, this newspaper and the members of its staff will be bombarded with statements from elected officials who will continue to insist that the tax-break deals and business incentive programs and other forms of assistance they’ve been offering to companies large and small for years will help achieve the ultimate goal of providing good jobs for regular people so they can afford to buy homes in the area and spur the local economy. 

We’ve been hearing it for years from industrial development agency officials and the like and yet every year it seems as though the tax base continues to shrink, the tax rates continue to grow and the sensible folks who can do better vote with their feet and move on. 

Indeed, I’ve come to believe Western New York’s one true cottage industry is patronage. Look in just about any office, from Lockport to Albany and you’ll find guys and gals earning princely sums of money, with generous benefits, doing jobs that service their bosses far more than their boss’s long-suffering constituents. 

According to the excellent work of the Albany-based think tank, the Empire Center for Public Policy, Inc., we know state lawmakers accounted for more than $102 million of spending during the six-month period ending last March. 

While many of them talk a good game about holding the line on taxes and reducing spending, Albany insiders are blowing copious amounts of cash on staff and postage and rent and travel. 

Add to that the political freight so many energetic people with big ideas or investors with big dollars have to carry in order to do business around here and you begin to truly understand why it is things are the way they are. 

The sage old advice offered in Western New York has always been: Stick around, get involved, vote the bums out. 

After years of trying, sadly, the best and brightest from Niagara County, surrounding communities and, based on the latest reports, most of the state outside New York City, have adopted a new philosophy: Pack up, move on and leave the bums behind. 

Contact City Editor Mark Scheer at 282-2311, ext. 2250.

Contact City Editor Mark Scheer at 282-2311, ext. 2250.