Gov. Kathy Hochul, who hasn’t proven shy about issuing orders, had one for the state’s Republicans this week — all 5.4 million of them: “Just jump on a bus and head down to Florida where you belong, OK?” she said. “You are not New Yorkers.”
If you can move beyond the frankly disgusting political partisanship and intolerance, her message is fiscally irresponsible, even dangerous. The governor probably already knows this, but the state’s extensive public sector is heavily reliant on personal income taxes paid by residents, and with nearly $14 billion in projected budget gaps over the next five years, it can’t afford to lose any taxpayers, let alone 5.4 million of them.
The Empire State has already lost 1.5 million residents in the past decade, and there’s no sign of that trend letting up. In fact, more than 350,000 New Yorkers relocated during the 12 pandemic-plagued months leading up to July 1, 2021.
In her attempt to be snappy, Hochul exposed a major problem that has gripped our state since the dawn of the Cuomo-Hochul era: New Yorkers are leaving, and they’re taking their tax dollars with them.
Hochul should be doing everything she can to encourage people to come to New York, not to leave. But she’s hasn’t. And her record $220 billion budget suggests she has no interest in ever letting taxpayers off a heavy hook.
New York City residents pay the highest combined state and local personal income tax rate in the nation. Those high taxes and other factors have led to a mass exodus of jobs and job creators. The Big Apple has yet to recover its pre-pandemic employment levels — coming in roughly 300,000 jobs below the February 2020 mark as of July. Two-plus years of pandemic-induced remote work have only accelerated the trend of New Yorkers seeking better and/or cheaper opportunities elsewhere.
A more cynical person might think this has been the strategy all along: Make it uncomfortable for your political foes in New York and they’ll leave. But it’s not just Republicans leaving — despite the governor’s command. New Yorkers from across the political spectrum are united by, and running from, a common enemy: the taxman.
Polling has shown high taxes are the primary reason New Yorkers are considering or making plans to bolt the state — and that’s the case across key subgroups: Democrats, Republicans, liberals, moderates, conservatives, all income groups, all age cohorts beyond age 24 and almost all education levels.
Adding insult to injury, recent IRS data reveal that the average income of Empire State out-migrants topped $100,000 in 2020. This is bad for New York’s bottom line, especially as state spending and deficits continue to increase.
Can the governor afford to so casually chase away 5.4 million taxpayers in such volatile economic times?
Hochul should worry less about her political opponents and more about what happens to this state as a significant portion of the tax base continues to leave. New Yorkers already know it’s inhospitable here; even before the governor’s latest order, New Yorkers were picking Florida — nearly 45,000 of them moved to the Sunshine State between 2019 and 2020.
As the governor reflects on her first full year in office — and makes a bid to get her first full term — she’d be wise to turn her focus from divisive politics to keeping every existing New Yorker in the state, welcoming millions of expatriates back and finding ways to encourage more people to come here. This has to be the primary goal of the chief executive if New York has any chance of reclaiming its former glory and avoiding fiscal ruin.
It’s time to put partisanship aside for the good of the state and its residents. Those who still live here are all New Yorkers — even the ones the governor disagrees with.
Tim Hoefer is president and CEO of the Empire Center.