The governor is proposing that we maintain local tax caps, and to reduce taxes even further by offering rebates to taxpayers in areas that can construct level budgets and figure out ways to consolidate services.
If you have lived in New York for much of your life, you probably take high taxes for granted. However, if Clinton County was a state, the consolidated taxes levied against property here would qualify us for the highest property tax state in the union. Taxpayers are concerned, and the governor is responding.
Not only are New Yorkers highly taxed, but rural New York may well have more taxing jurisdictions than any other state. There are few avenues to reduce taxes when our municipal silos strenuously resist consolidation.
Humans love change — so long as it mandates change by others, not ourselves. Each of us has many ideas of what we want changed around us, but most of us are sufficiently comfortable that we would resist anything that threatens our own status quo.
What I worry most about is not our present, but our future. While I plan for my future, I also want to live in a community with a future. Even if I take care of my family’s needs, I still want to live in a region that can maintain the flow of young people to fix our cars, work at our hospitals, educate our young or even serve us at our local shops.
If we were to take the longer view, we recognize the need to have a sustainable economy and a vibrant workforce. Part of a sustainable economy is an affordable one. All else equal, a low-tax region with lots to offer will beat out a high-tax region with lots to offer in attracting the young people who replace those who leave or those who retire. Fiscal responsibility is a necessity.
Necessary, too, is the creation of a well-trained workforce that is able to meet the needs of our 21st Century global economy. We need individuals trained in advanced manufacturing so we can attract the jobs that will pay our workforce well. We are not going to be a financial capital, or a research capital, or a biotech capital.
And, agriculture, once our bread and butter, is too competitive a sector to create the wealth that will attract young people. Our strengths are location and resourcefulness. Our industries must play to those advantages.
Some suggest that we can sustain an economy solely based on services provided for or subsidized by government. This notion of a self-perpetuating service economy is impossible. We must generate a flow of income into our region that will allow us to purchase the stuff from outside our region we inevitably need.
We have to produce a good amount of what others want if we want to enjoy things not produced here. Some sort of an economic base tied to manufacturing, or transportation, or some other value-added industry is absolutely necessary for our survival.
We have such industries, and I expect more will come. Our challenge will be to ensure we have young people trained to thrive in these industries, but also to staff our medical centers, repair our cars, build our homes, maintain our roads and fix our plumbing.
We have dropped the ball. We want our children to attend college, which means they will likely have to look for work elsewhere when they graduate. We do little to encourage young people to take programs in welding, construction, electrical work, health care or advanced manufacturing, even though the majority of the jobs projected to be most in demand over the next few decades are in such sectors where a four-year degree is not required.
Yet, if our small county has eight separate K12 school districts devoted to preparing kids for college, and a separate BOCES system for advanced training in these high-growth areas, and a community college separate from our university, how are we going to knit together our workforce training?
After all, when the tax caps bite, each of these entities will get their wagons in a circle, precisely when we most need them to work together. Change is challenging.
Colin Read chairs the finance and economics faculty at SUNY Plattsburgh and has published a dozen books on local and global finance and economics.