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STATE MAY LOSE HOUSE SEATS
FORECAST NOTES EXODUS HERE, BIG GAINS IN SOUTH

New York stands to lose two more House seats and the clout that comes with them -- as it slips to being the nation's fourth-largest state within the next decade.

That's the bad news for the Empire State that the U.S. Census Bureau delivered today as it released its state population projections for the next quarter-century.

New York would lose those two House seats after the 2010 census, and fall behind Florida in the ranking of the largest states in 2011.

The projections indicate that a trend that began decades ago is likely to continue. Northeast and Midwest states are likely to remain relatively stable, the Census Bureau said, while many Sunbelt states continue booming.

It all means that New York will lose clout, and funding, in Washington.

As recently as 1970, New York had 41 members in the House. After losing two seats in the 2000 census, the delegation now numbers 29. The Census Bureau projects that the number would fall to 27 after the 2010 census, and possibly as few as 23 by 2030.

"When we lose seats, we lose power," said retired House member John J. LaFalce of the Town of Tonawanda, who saw the state lose 10 seats during his 28-year tenure in Congress. "It's as simple as that."

New York will lose more than votes on important legislation if the projections hold, LaFalce said. It will lose what LaFalce calls "levers of power" -- veterans of Congress who have risen to the rank of committee or subcommittee chairmen.

And it's not just New York that's likely to lose such clout. It's all the Northeast and Midwest.

The projections show New York's population edging upward slightly through 2020, then tailing off a bit leaving the state with 19.48 million people in 2030, which is only 2.6 percent more than it had in 2000.

Pennsylvania and Ohio are projected to follow a similar pattern and grow 4 percent or less over those 30 years, while other cold-weather states are expected to grow in the low double digits.

In contrast, what will soon be the three largest states California, Texas and Florida are expected to see their populations grow by 37, 60 and 79 percent, respectively, by 2030.

That means the decades-long shift of political power is only going to continue.

Already, "you see a renewed and rigorous effort of the South trying to take federal money from the Northeast and Midwest," said Richard Munson, executive director of the Northeast/Midwest Institute in Washington.

Rust Belt legislators recently defeated efforts to impose pro-Sunbelt rewrites of the formulas determining funding levels for low-income heating assistance and community development block grants. But Munson said lawmakers from the Northeast and Midwest will have a harder time fighting off such efforts as their numbers dwindle.

At the same time, "New York has an obligation to try to reverse these trends," said Rep. Brian M. Higgins, D-Buffalo, who cited efforts to revive Buffalo's waterfront and improve economic development statewide as key.

Higgins noted that in recent years, population losses in Western New York have held down statewide population growth.

"If we're not creating jobs, we're not going to keep young people here," Higgins said. "Unless and until we deal with that, this is not going to get any better."

Buffalo-area leaders have been privately debating whether to accept population losses and work to build a better, smaller area, or to try to reverse the declines, said John B. Sheffer II, executive director of the Institute for Local Governance and Regional Growth at the University at Buffalo.

Sheffer said he's convinced that the area has to fight the downward trend. "The implications of all this are enormous," he said. "It's not just about losing a couple members of Congress: it's the byproduct of that in terms of relative clout. It could affect the protection and usage of Great Lakes water, funding formulas for assistance from Washington everything."

email: jzremski@buffnews.com.

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