I hear the former sentiment in diners and coffee shops around the state. I read it in the Letters section of community newspapers, on hand-made protest signs and in countless online blog posts. They all convey the same essential truth: “Our elected leaders have failed us.”
I hear the latter sentiment every time an incumbent politician opens his mouth these days. But while our long-term incumbents can parrot the language of reform, they cannot explain away the damage they have done to our state. Voters won’t let them, and neither will I.
In April and May, I will be traveling around New York State to point out how the irresponsible policy choices in Albany have specifically hurt the lives of New York families. I will also discuss solutions. I have helped turnaround many troubled companies over the years, including, most recently, as a member of the President’s Automotive Task Force, General Motors.
These companies failed because they had bad management, spent too much money and didn’t effectively serve their customers. Sound familiar? My tour will culminate in upstate Johnstown, where I grew up and saw how bad government policies can hurt good, hardworking people.
Johnstown was once famous for, among other things, two items – one of the final skirmishes of the American Revolution was fought there, and it, along with its neighbor, Gloversville, was a major center for glove manufacturing.
My father’s parents and my mother moved to Johnstown from Greece. They came seeking opportunity and found it – my father as a bartender in a local restaurant and my mother as a sewing machine operator. My parents worked hard throughout their lives to clothe us, feed us, and help send my sister and me to college. And though we weren’t surrounded by luxuries, we had everything we needed and were proud that we did it ourselves. That is what America, and New York, is all about.
Yet over time, Johnstown, Gloversville and hundreds of other vibrant communities across New York State lost their local industries. Slowly but surely, New York’s taxes and excessive regulations chased textile jobs – including my mom’s – and tens of thousands of other jobs from the state. In response, Albany did exactly the wrong thing. It should have reduced spending and taxes to attract new businesses and new industries, but it instead went on a 25-year spending spree, shelling out money at roughly twice the rate of inflation and borrowing billions. We are seeing the effects of those poor decisions today.
The impact this has had on New York families is heartbreaking. In my family, for example, I have retired aunts and uncles remaining in Fulton County, but their children and grandchildren have largely moved away, half of them to other states, to find jobs. In just one or two generations, the economic freedom and opportunity that drew my family to Fulton County from socialist Greece is virtually gone.
My family is hardly unique. This story can be retold a thousand times over across New York State, especially in Upstate and Western New York. It is the tale of what happens when government grows too large, too expensive, and too arrogant. In fact, we are in the midst of a giant “government bubble” – and just as the tech and housing bubbles decimated our private sector economy in the past decade, this government bubble is threatening to bankrupt our state.
But things don’t have to stay this way. If we stopped overspending and overtaxing in Albany, New York would once again be an ideal place to do business. We have everything a successful business requires: an educated workforce; world-class universities; air, rail, road, and water access; inexpensive available land, and a (mostly) temperate climate – the very strengths that brought commerce here in the first place and helped make New York the economic engine of America and even the world.
And while textile jobs like my mother’s may never return here – we cannot compete on labor costs with Asia or Eastern Europe – light manufacturing, technology, healthcare, and other growing industries that rely on a skilled workforce can and will if we can just get our fiscal act together. We need government to shrink out of the way and make room for the ingenuity and talent of New Yorkers.
From what I am hearing, voters are going to demand exactly that this November.
Harry Wilson is a Republican candidate for New York State Comptroller.