Otsego, Delaware and other small counties are like “orphans” facing forces beyond their control in the storm of upstate’s economic challenges, a public policy analyst said Wednesday.

Edmund J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center for Public Policy, spoke about upstate’s deficit in economic growth to about 35 guests at a meeting of Citizen Voices at The Carriage House, 790 Southside Drive in Oneonta.

Citizen Voices is a local group supporting a pro-growth economic environment.

He shared data and impacts of population, domestic migration, payrolls, public school costs and local sales taxes in a wide-ranging discussion that illustrated New York’s economic challenges, then suggested some steps to change the tide.

Besides advocating state legislators for change, such as mandate relief, steps that small counties can take to weather the storm include modernizing local government and being prepared for the knock of opportunity, McMahon said after his presentation.

He cited Chobani in Chenango County as an example of how a visit to an unused cheese plant, a local unused asset, sparked a transformation into a yogurt-based economic engine.

McMahon presented statistics showing that private sector job growth since December 2010 in New York was 8.5 percent, compared to 9.4 percent for the nation. The state lagged behind the nation in job creation last year, he said, and most private job growth in the state during the past four years has been in and around New York City.

McMahon emphasized that the decline in the upstate unemployment rate in recent years was because of a decrease in the labor force, not as a result of increased resident employment, which he reported is down.

He cited steps to address challenges, including making the 2 percent property tax levy cap permanent. The cap took effect in fiscal years starting in 2012, and he said the “good news” is that “it’s working.”

Before the cap, school property tax levies grew an average of 6 percent during 30 years starting in 1983, McMahon said. Since the cap went into effect, he said, those levy increases averaged 2.2 percent.

He said other measures to close upstate’s growth deficit include reducing and reforming state taxes; encouraging gas pipeline expansion and development; streamlining the State Environmental Quality Review Act evaluations mandated for certain projects; and reducing the costs of energy and workers’ compensation.

McMahon said there is a lack of natural gas capacity for commercial, industrial and residential uses in Delaware and Otsego counties, which could take advantage of developments of the proposed Constitution Pipeline. Fossil fuels will continue to be needed during the alternative energy revolution, he said.

“Energy is vitally important,” McMahon said.

Planners of the Constitution Pipeline project have been working to begin construction this summer of a natural gas line along a 124-mile route from northeastern Pennsylvania to Schoharie County.

The Marcellus Shale region remains an energy development option for the future, McMahon said, and hydraulic fracturing regulations should be enacted.

The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, nonprofit think tank in Albany, according to its website, with a mission is to make New York a better place in which to live and work.

© 2015 The Daily Star

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