Approach must change

The economy is in the midst of a long, slow climb from the depths of the 2008 economic recession.

Private-sector job growth is up statewide. In the local area, the unemployment rate in Fulton County was 8.3 percent, according to state Labor Department statistics for August. In Montgomery County, it was 8.5 percent, while Hamilton County was at 4.2 percent. Those numbers are all much better than they were last year. State tax collections, meanwhile, are increasing and the state’s general fund closing balance of $3.6 billion at the end of August was $71 million higher than projections from the first quarterly update.

Those are indeed positive signs, but the job is far from done.

The state comptroller acknowledges the number of jobs in New York has increased above pre-recession levels, but the state still is falling short of national growth rates in several key job sectors. A report by the Fiscal Policy Institute is even more bleak. Median wages have decreased 7 percent for men and 1 percent for women as underemployment runs rampant in the economy. People who were working in full-time jobs before the recession are working part-time in lower-paying job sectors such as retail and hospitality. The institute’s report states fewer than 71 percent of New Yorkers ages 25 to 64 were working in the first half of 2013 compared to more than 75 percent before the recession. And, only about 45 percent of those ages 18 to 24 are working, down from 50 percent before the recession.

Obviously, there is more work to do, especially in upstate New York.

Government’s first task at the state and local levels should be to lower taxes and streamline state and local regulations – making it easier for private business to grow the economy. Poorly crafted laws have helped create New York’s high-regulation, high-tax environment. It is an environment that drives good-paying jobs away.

That business unfriendliness is compounded by an amalgam of smoke-stack or entrepreneur-chasing tax breaks that end up costing more money than they recapture in tax revenue. There is little evidence yet that the Regional Economic Development Council approach to development is working. The 2013 economic development darling – Start-Up NY – appears to be more of the same.

While it is good that areas such as Caroga Lake have the opportunity to take part in an initiative such as Hamlets 3 – which can help officials come up with a plan for sustainable development in that local community – planning is not really the issue. Finding private investors to fund economic development is the key.

Expecting the upstate New York economy to be rebuilt in a year would be unrealistic. Expecting the state’s willy-nilly approach to ever rebuild upstate New York’s economy is equally unrealistic.