By Chris Jacobs
Recently, The News’ new service, PolitiFact, dug into a stance I’ve taken in my campaign literature and television ads – that Western New York does not get its “fair share” from Albany. The article compared spending and tax dollars paid, and ultimately labeled my claim as “false.” In truth, I’m actually glad that was the outcome, because it highlights exactly the point that I’m making. It’s a narrative that’s too easy to misconstrue.
As Erie County clerk, I’ve seen it day in and day out. Erie County drivers send more than $60 million annually to Albany in Department of Motor Vehicle fees. That does not count the taxes on gas disproportionately paid in areas like ours, where cars are a way of life. Most of that money is dumped into the state’s general fund, but in government fees are a convenient workaround to having to admit you’re overtaxing your residents.
As PolitiFact outlines, much of the money we get from Albany is dedicated to poverty maintenance programs. I don’t count those within our “fair share,” and you shouldn’t either. Albany and its New York City-centric policies have crushed our regional economy. As a result, thousands of businesses closed, families relocated for jobs elsewhere and young people fled the moment they finished school. Our local property tax base was devastated, leaving our area disproportionately poor and dependent on state assistance.
Now, our residents shoulder some of the highest property tax rates in the nation, and the most burdensome cost on local governments and school districts is unfunded mandates from the state. Albany policies have not only diminished our prosperity, but increased our spending. This is never accounted for in the ledger.
Despite comments to the contrary, the status of the Niagara Power Project as a local asset was confirmed by the State Legislature in 2012 with the creation of the Western New York Power Proceeds Allocation Board and the setting aside of economic development funds specifically for Western New York. Other “state assets,” such as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, are not held to the same criteria, and revenues stay there. Why is Niagara different?
Getting our fair share is about infrastructure, education funding and economic development – state support that builds a community, doesn’t tear it down. It’s funding, and it’s policy. In fact, much of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s rhetoric around the need for the Buffalo Billion revolved around this “fair share” principle, and Albany’s ignoring of Buffalo for decades. Given the positive attention that program has gotten us, I think it’s safe to say we’re happy he didn’t just look at the ledger and say, “Nope, no problem here.”
Chris Jacobs is Erie County clerk and candidate for New York State Senate in the 60th District.