The State of Binghamton/Broome CountyPosted: February 16, 2014
We, residents of Binghamton and Broome County, are looking forward to another year. Judging by last year, the year before that, the last five years, and the last decade it will be another difficult year for working families. In the last ten years our population has gotten older, poorer, and has fewer job prospects. There are 10,000 fewer persons employed in Greater Binghamton than there were 10 years, while the population has remained the same. Our unemployment rate hovers around 10%, with 16% of the county population in poverty. In the City of Binghamton almost half of kids live below the poverty line and the drop-out rate is over double the national average. What is the story behind these numbers?
The story is all too familiar to the long-time residents of our county. During the 1990’s and 2000’s companies like IBM and Lockheed fled the county taking relatively more affluent families with them to places like North Carolina, to circumvent those pesky unions. Other companies closed up shop in the US and moved operations to China. At the same time, big box stores took-off forcing even more small businesses to shut their doors. We replaced good jobs and a sense of community with low-paying, menial, dead-end jobs. With the manufacturing employment crisis hitting our county hard, New York State and local governments expanded their emphasis on tax breaks to create jobs in the Southern Tier.
In 2013 New York State lost $1 billion more in tax revenue than it did in 2005 due to corporate tax breaks (this number does not include property tax losses). Broome County taxing authorities lost $3.5 million in 2011 through one economic development scheme alone. Governor Cuomo now trots around the state advocating tax breaks and casinos to fix every ill under the banner of START-UP NY, saying he would like the amount of tax breaks to at least double. This is the same old solution to our area’s problems anyone with a brain has seen developing over the last 20 years. It has not worked!
Rather, we need to see the linkages between cutting services, poverty, tax breaks for corporations, and tax increases for everyone else. In an era of increasing structural unemployment when services are cut, poverty goes up. Increases in poverty mean we spend more on police, jails, and immediate services like victim protective services; not because crime has gone up (it’s gone down over the last 20 years) but to control impoverished populations that might be inclined to vote or speak out against their plight. If corporations are allowed to pay a smaller share, because tax breaks are so plentiful, then property tax payers foot the bill for these increases. Big businesses, like luxury student dorm projects, warehouse space, and big box stores use more social services but are allowed to pay less, thanks to our skewed tax policy. How much do low paying jobs contribute to increased poverty rates, which in turn increase the amount of money spent on social services? From just one tax exemption program (there are over fifty) a Comptroller’s report estimates that area taxpayers pay $62 more in property taxes each year just to maintain the current level of services. This does not count the increase in public expenditure needed to accommodate new facilities or the number of persons forced to depend on public services thanks to their low wages.
We need to end this social experiment now. Here in Broome County and Greater Binghamton we do have an employment problem, but it won’t be solved by putting bigger holes in our social safety net. Every person here, no matter how poor, is a part of our future. Cutting back on Social Services, going after so called “welfare cheats”, and locking up our youths in schools that look like prisons is not the way to go about it. The best way to rebuild Broome County is to invest in our future, to invest in our population, not turn them into criminals. Rather than investigating ways to privatize Willow Point and our public transportation system, which together cost property tax payers the same amount each year as the county owned Arena, we should devote resources to recouping dollars and dignity from companies and public officials who fail to deliver on their promises!