Al Samuels recites statistic after statistic about the worrisome problems facing the New York state economy.
The state ranks 42nd nationally for personal income growth. It is worst in the country for population loss since 2000. Then there is the big hot-button issue — taxes — that really troubles Samuels, the president of the Rockland Business Assocation.
New York’s personal income taxes are the highest of any state and 123 percent above the U.S. average. Meamwhile, the tax burden on New York corporations is second highest in the nation.
“It’s getting to the point that people can’t afford to stay here,” Samuels said. “They can’t afford the taxes and the cost of living….If we keep losing population in this state, we won’t have the quality work force for the jobs of the 21st century.”
The current economic and financial crisis that some researchers are calling the worst since the Great Depression could compound the state’s long-standing problems if public officials don’t respond in the right way, Samuels said. State and local budgets are under pressure as the economy softens. But raising taxes to cover the shortfall would be a terrible mistake and make New York’s tax structure and economy even more uncompetive with other states, according to Samuels.
“We can’t just look to local property owners and businesses to make up the difference with higher taxes,” Samuels said. “That’s the problem.”
The signs of economic stress are growing. Sales tax revenues dropped 5.5 percent for counties statewide during the fourth quarter as consumers ccurtailed their spending in a slowing economy. Rockland’s sales tax revenues fell $4 million to $40.6 million. Rockland’s unemployment rate was 5.1 percent in November, up from 3.6 percent a year earlier.
Even as the econmy worsens, Samuels said that governments should respond to the tight budgets by cutting expenses. He discussed his concerns Thursday during a luncheon meeting of his association, which counts more than 1,000 businesses as members.
“We need every elected official and municipality to take a hard look at where they are spending their money,” he said. “They will have to cut back until we can get out of this terrible economic crisis as a state and a nation.”