- Associated Press - Sunday, December 14, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Is New York state hopelessly divided between big city dwellers swilling coconut water after yoga class and rural upstaters kicking cow patties off their work boots?

Not at all.

But behind the silly stereotypes about New York City and upstate lie real demographic, political and cultural differences. The contrasts have played out recently on controversies over gun control and whether to allow “fracking” for natural gas, as well as in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s geographically imbalanced re-election margin. The differences have given rise to complaints up north that upstate taxpayers are subsidizing New York City’s poor or that upstate voices are not heard in Capitol corridors dominated by downstate politicians.

It has even fueled secession movements.

“The state of New York really should be two separate states,” reads a web site www.newamsterdamny.org, run by advocates of creating an autonomous region called “New Amsterdam” north of Westchester County. “The views of people who live in the upstate and downstate areas are very different.”



The rifts are as real, but not all the stereotypes stand up to scrutiny. Here’s a look at some longstanding upstate-downstate issues.

ONE STATE, TWO VOTES

The split between upstate and downstate seemed as wide as ever on Election Day.

Cuomo last month racked up about three-quarters of the New York City vote in his re-election, but was outpolled over most of upstate by Republican challenger Rob Astorino, according to unofficial results.

The dynamic is nothing new. Democrats running statewide in the past have depended on New York City and its suburbs to make up for Republican-leaning areas upstate.

But analysts caution against seeing a monolithic upstate conservative vote. The largest upstate cities have Democratic mayors and Cuomo won the counties that are home to Buffalo, Syracuse and Albany.

Even if you sawed off New York City, there would still be more registered Democrats than Republicans in New York state.

BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG MONEY

Upstate secessionists take note: New York City is more sugar daddy than sponge when it comes to state coffers.

State personal income tax payments from New York City and the downstate suburbs account for a share of statewide collections above their percentage of the population, according to a 2011 study by the Rockefeller Institute of Government. Business tax revenue also tends to come disproportionately from the downstate area, according to the report.

This is less a case of hard-working city folk subsidizing upstate residents and more about the concentration of wealth around the city combined with the state’s progressive income tax structure. There’s also more business activity downstate.

New York City does have a higher share of poor people and so takes a disproportionate share of Medicaid money. But overall, the percentage of state expenditures to the city is less than its share of population.

Without city money, an independent upstate would have tighter purse strings.

“On balance, it would have to spend less,” said Donald Boyd, co-author of the study.

A VOICE IN ALBANY

New York’s budget and major state policies are negotiated behind closed doors by the governor and the leaders of the state Senate and Assembly. All of them are from downstate, fueling the old complaint about upstate interests are ignored in Albany.

New York City is home to 43 percent of the state’s population and it can be the 800-pound gorilla at the Capitol - like when budget talks this year were dominated by the city’s successful quest for pre-K funding.

But it’s not like other areas are ignored.

Governors have been sensitive to the needs of their constituents statewide at least since the days of the old Erie Canal up to today’s “Buffalo Billion” economic development plan.

In the Legislature, no measure gets through without the backing of the Republicans who will hold a slim majority in the state Senate next year. And the Senate’s Republican conference consists mostly of upstate lawmakers. The GOP even picked up some upstate Senate seats in November.

WHITHER UPSTATE

New York state is home to more than 19.6 million people. Currently, a little more than a third live north of Westchester and Rockland counties.

But the state’s slow population growth has been driven by New York City. Many upstate cities and rural areas with struggling economies have had stagnant or diminishing populations. There are some growth areas, like Saratoga County north of Albany. The tony tourist area benefits from a mix of economic engines that includes horse racing, Skidmore College, manufacturing and a computer chip manufacturer.

The trick for New York’s leaders is to replicate that mix in other upstate areas.

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