WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
Growing up in Bergen County 40 years ago, when things got particularly depressing in our struggling household of six kids, I had a place I would sneak off to at night to feel instantly better and filled with possibility.
I'd go to the Route 208 overpass where I had a great view of the glittering Empire State Building and New York's skyline. It had a magical effect on me. There in the distance was the possibility of being part of some thing much bigger than myself.
For me, the Empire State was the main pole that held up the universe. But in the years since, decisions in Albany, Washington, and the entire political system have dimmed that brightness of unlimited opportunity.
Tonight, we have a chance to get some answers about how the next governor plans to respond. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Republican Carl Paladino will debate for what looks to be the only time. So far, the campaign has focused on everything else but the pressing economic and social challenges facing New York.
When there has been a back and forth on issues in this election cycle, it has focused on how to cure the serial dysfunction and self-dealing in Albany. Yet, while we have been distracted by the tragicomedy that is Albany, the state is slipping deeper into decline.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, New York has the dubious distinction of being a high cost state with a dramatic income disparity. It ranks number three behind only Arizona and Texas for the biggest gap. The average annual income for the top five percent of households in New York is almost $250,000, while the bottom 20 percent of families earn average of just $16,000 a year.
The tectonic shifts in the American economy have not spared New York. Just since 2001, the state has lost 160,000 manufacturing jobs---a quarter of it's manufacturing base. In their place are often much lower paying service jobs that come with no health care coverage.
Eleven of the state's 29 Congressional districts have a higher percentage of children in poverty than the national rate of one in five. In the Bronx’s 16th Congressional District, almost half the kids live in households below the poverty line. In Rochester’s Congressional District, it’s almost a third.
Infant mortality is on the rise in 27 of the state's 62 counties, while it’s declining nationally. In several counties, the number of infants lost more than doubled in just a year.
Thousands of New Yorkers are not waiting to see how it works out. These days, 32 of the state's 62 counties have lost population. And neighborhoods have lost value. Consider that one government analysis last year documented a decline in collective property values for 5 million homes in New York State. They'd lost a collective $65 billion dollars in value.
Meanwhile, new foreclosures are continuing in the state. The New York State Banking Department reports that between February and August of this year, 134,000 households got pre-foreclosure warning notices. In Suffolk County, there were 20,000; in Queens just over 15,000, Nassau 13,600 and Brooklyn 11,000.
Still, local property taxes have continued to climb.
Whichever candidate wins, they'll will face a $30 billion dollar budget deficit over the next three years. On top of that is the ticking time bomb of retiree health care costs for local, county, and state public employees, which the Empire Center for New York State Policy, a right-leaning think tank, estimates could reach $200 billion.
Then, there is the legacy debt of well over a hundred billion dollars owed to bondholders from government and independent authorities that must be serviced.
So, the next governor will have to balance social contracts with bond covenants. How do you shrink government to bring tax relief to homeowners and businesses without laying off so many public workers you contribute to undermining the very recovery that is needed?
That’s a question we need answered tonight.