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Southern Tier towns looking to cut NY ties

By Caroline Goggin

February 18, 2015 Updated Feb 23, 2015 at 12:08 AM EDT

Conklin, NY (WBNG Binghamton) The local economy is pushing one organization in Upstate New York to pose a question: Is it possible to secede to Pennsylvania?

The Upstate New York Towns Association is researching this very topic. The group says a few factors pushing its research are high property taxes, low sales tax revenue and the recent decision to ban hydraulic fracturing in New York.

"The Southern Tier is desolate," said Conklin Town Supervisor Jim Finch (R). "We have no jobs and no income. The richest resource we have is in the ground."

Finch said the ground in Conklin is rich with natural gas in the Marcellus Shale. However, that shale is unable to be tapped. He described this ban as a violation of his natural rights as a property owner.

There are 15 towns interested in the secession, according to the Towns Association. These towns are in Broome, Delaware, Tioga and Sullivan counties. The association declined to name the towns without their permission and also declined to comment on specifics at this time. As of now, research is ongoing. The group will be updating Action News with all of their findings in the coming weeks.

The association said it's comparing taxes and the cost of doing business in the two states. It says the facts show there is a huge difference between the two.

Also being considered are things like workers comp, surcharges, unemployment and health insurance. The association's understanding is that the secession would have to be approved by the New York State Legislature, the Pennsylvania State Legislature and the U. S. government.

"We're comparing the taxes in Pennsylvania compared to those in New York," said Finch. "There's a great, great difference. Right now, we are being deprived of work, jobs and incomes."

Action News spoke with two local business owners in Conklin about the proposal. John Gage, owner of Reliable Market, said he fully supports the idea.

"The tax structure in New York is just horrible to do business in," said Gage. "Whether it's fracking, or other reasons to secede, it sounds like a good idea to me."

However, other local owners are taking into account outside factors that could affect their stores. For example, state licensed shops would be at risk if the change were to occur.

"From my standpoint, owning a liquor store, if we were a part of Pennsylvania it would be hard," said Francis Larkin, owner of Spirits of Conklin.

Larkin said he isn't sure if he would be able to even own his shop anymore, considering all liquor sales in Pennsylvania are controlled through the state.

Sen. Thomas Libous (R) recently sent out a flyer in the mail, asking his constituents what they think about the secession. He sent Action News the following statement:

"After the one-two punch to our community from the recent casino and gas drilling decisions, my office received many emails, phone calls and messages from constituents calling for a Southern Tier secession from New York State. While getting my constituents' opinion on spending the $5 billion surplus was our top priority, I thought a question on secession should also be included in the survey."

Here is a statement from the Upstate NY Towns Association on this story:

"On December 17, 2014, when it was announced that high volume hydraulic fracturing would be ban in New York State and there would be no casino license in the “true” Southern Tier, a supervisor, whose town is a member of the Association, told a reporter from the Wall Street Journal that we should all secede.

That supervisor discussed the idea of seceding to Pennsylvania with the Association. The Association began comparing taxes in New York with taxes in Pennsylvania and comparing the cost of doing business in New York with the cost of doing business in Pennsylvania. The Association also is studying whether or not decisions made in Albany are disproportionately benefitting Downstate.

The recent media attention to secession appears to have started with the Pocketbook Survey put out by Senate Deputy Majority Coalition Leader Tom Libous. Question 4. In the survey states: “Some Kirkwood & Conklin residents want those towns to secede to Pennsylvania. Would you support that?” Senator Libous told the Huffington Post, “After the recent Casino and Gas Drilling decisions, my office received many emails, phone calls and messages from constituents calling for a Southern Tier secession from New York State.”

The Association will review the results from Senator Libous’ survey and review the Association’s study comparing taxes and the cost of doing business in New York and Pennsylvania as well as look at what was found regarding decisions made in Albany disproportionately benefitting Downstate. With all this information, the Association will decide what action should be taken. Options such as seceding to Pennsylvania, partitioning the state, as well as other options that may come up will be looked at."

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