Seward is the NY Senator for district 51, which is where I live.
Should New York divide into two separate states?
That’s a question that a group of upstate State senators, including James Seward, R-Milford, want voters to start thinking about.
The proposed bill calls for a referendum that would officially ask voters that question.
“For the sake of upstate, we have to explore this issue and see if there is public interest,” Seward said “And I can’t think of a better way than to put the issue on the ballot.”
Why two states?
Upstate and downstate are divided by issues of population, socioeconomics and representation. And, differences go deeper than simply fast-paced versus laid-back lifestyles or metropolitan versus rural abodes.
Seward said upstate interests are currently not being met in state government because all the key state players are from New York City or Long Island.
The bill would begin a dialogue between voters and state officials into whether a move to split the state would make sense economically and benefit both parties involved, Seward said.
But State Sen. David Valesky, D-Oneida, said upstate and downstate depend on each other, and will succeed because of each other.
County Legislator Vincent Bono, R-Schuyler, said there is a significant disparity between the two regions in representation, but doesn’t know if a split is the answer.
“We’re outnumbered when it comes to any issue because New York City controls the Senate and Assembly,” Bono said. He said the question should be looked at, but wondered if upstate could survive without downstate funding.
Seward said upstate derives a good deal of revenue from New York City, but it’s a mixed blessing with the significant costs that upstate residents have to pay for, including Medicaid expenses.
“Through the referendum all the pros and cons for the split would come out,” Seward said. “There is a general feeling right now among my constituents that upstate is getting the short end.”
Valesky said that splitting the state wouldn’t help current economic conditions.
“Moving upstate forward does not happen at the expense of downstate, and vice versa,” Valesky said. “We are one state, a complex web of independent parts.”
State Sen. Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, said all New Yorkers should be focused on the current economic crisis instead of what he called a disruptive piece of legislation.
“We are one state and our economic, agricultural and historical connection is unbreakable,” Klein said. “This proposal is a distraction from the serious issues all New Yorkers face and which the Senate is taking aggressive action to address.”
Residents had mixed reactions to the proposal.
Mindy Macisco of Frankfort, for instance, felt that downstate benefits from upstate but was still cautious about the idea of splitting.
“I need a lot more information on why they want to do this,” Macisco said. “Will this generate jobs or create more employment opportunities?”
Patt Lewis of Herkimer didn’t like the idea of a split.
“That would be ludicrous,” Lewis said. “A lot of things are going wrong right now and they are just grasping at straws.”
Regardless of the perceived positives or negatives of the bill, Seward said it might never get to voters.
He wasn’t optimistic about the bill reaching the floor of the Democrat-dominated legislature, he said.
He also said that if the Republicans were in the majority in the Senate, some of the reasons for the proposed legislation would cease to exist.
And if it were to divide …
Even if the question did make the ballot, and even if it were to pass, the process of forming a new state would be a lengthy one, according to the Constitution.
“New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new States shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress,” according to Article 4 Section 3.
Robert Ward, deputy director of the Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany, said the possibility of New York splitting into two states is virtually inconceivable, however.
“One consideration is the budgetary impact,” Ward said. “Cutting upstate from downstate would immediately require dramatic cuts in state aid and other programs.”
Ward said that in 2005 New York State collected about $24 billion in income tax and of that, about three-quarters came from downstate.
“Unfortunately, much of the upstate economy depends on tax dollars that flow from downstate,” Ward said. “Which is more important: billions of dollars from Albany, or freedom for upstate to establish its political independence? No doubt there are voters on both sides of that question.”
Joel Barkin, spokesman for the New York State Department, was skeptical of the idea and said an entirely new State agency would have to be created if the measure passed.
“No one has ever considered this,” Barkin said. “It’s a federal issue,”
Although the boundaries for a split haven’t been discussed, Ward said the dividing line between upstate and downstate is usually considered to be Westchester and Rockland counties.
County Legislator Joseph Chilelli, D-Herkimer, said the state should be kept together at all costs, but said downstate mandates are a serious cause for concern.
“We’re all tied together,” he said. ”They need us and we need them.”
State Sen. Joe Robach, R-Rochester, another sponsor of the bill, said all over upstate, people are talking about the politics and priorities of state government.
“Let the people of New York make the decision,” Robach said. “I think the bill allows people to directly express their opinion on a very important issue.”