The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

March 31, 2009

On the Right Side: N.Y. could learn from other states


What a difference 950 miles make.

Anita has been researching potential areas for retirement and came up with a pretty intriguing option: Winchester, Tenn.

To be honest, her search was somewhat biased due to her being such a garden and landscape enthusiast. (I would use the term fanatic or addict instead.) She was excited by the fact that we would be moving from something called a zone 4 (bad?) to a zone 7 (good?). I think it has something to do with growing seasons.

I admit she did 95 percent of the work (I was more interested in the tax and political environment), and I have learned long ago to trust her judgment.

I should qualify that previous statement so as not to include political persuasions, as she is at the other end of the political spectrum. We learned long ago not to discuss politics, which is one of the reasons we have been married 38 years.

So, last week, we took a trip to Winchester. We were both impressed. The difference between liberal New York and conservative Tennessee is dramatic, but first, the weather.

While upstate New York was suffering with temperatures ranging from the 40s during the day to the teens at night, Winchester was experiencing temperatures ranging from the 70s to the 50s, a huge plus for me right there.

The cost of living in Tennessee is very low. It is the third-lowest state in that category. In contrast, New York is the fifth highest. As a matter of fact, 18 of the 21 states with the lowest cost-of-living statistics were states that voted Republican in the last election.

Tennessee, for example, went 57 percent to 42 percent Republican. In contrast, 24 out of 29 states with the highest cost of living were tax, spend, borrow and waste states that voted Democrat.

You could probably list them yourself. As a matter of fact, the top 13 out of 14 states with the most expensive housing markets and the highest cost of food also voted Democrat.

When it comes to spending, Gov. David Paterson could learn a few things. While New York is considering more spending and higher taxes (I guess they call them fees, charges and the like to make them sound less harsh) Tennessee is considering trimming 1.5 percent from the current budget, and the governor (a Democrat, but conservative) has offered up plans to shrink the budget 12 percent in three years.

All this will be accomplished with no increase in income taxes. It should be pointed out that Tennessee's income tax taxes interest and dividends only, not wages. Compare that with New York rates. I sure did.

When it comes to housing, what we found was pretty impressive, also. We looked at quite a few parcels, either by ourselves or with an agent.

One example is a house in a nice, quiet neighborhood, walking distance to downtown, with almost a half-acre of land listed at $123,600!

The agent said it will probably sell for much less. We were thinking of offering $100,000, and he didn't laugh. If this wasn't good enough, how about annual property taxes of only $680!

The reason for all this fiscal conservatism is most likely due to the political makeup. Both U.S. senators are Republicans, there's split representation in the House, a conservative Democrat for governor and a Republican-controlled state House and Senate.

Republicans ran on a conservative agenda, and this platform is what was credited with their making gains in both the House and the Senate, giving them a constitutional majority.

In addition to their conservative spending plan and budget cutbacks, there will be no tax increases, and they will be left with untouched surplus reserves of $1.72 billion. What a unique approach, and one that is very similar to the strategy we ourselves personally have to follow.

Lastly, I have to mention the people. Everyone, without exception, was polite and friendly and went out of his or her way to offer assistance.

We went to the Chamber of Commerce to get statistics on crime and other issues, and we talked with an elderly couple staffing the office at the time. They were from Michigan and had moved to Tennessee 11 years ago.

Unfortunately, the wife was a gardening enthusiast, also, making it difficult to pull my wife away.

But I don't want my "fans" to worry. I'm speaking about all those people whose skin I get under. We're only in the planning stage right now, and Obama is giving me a lot to write about. How could I abandon you at this critical time?

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Tom Sears is a professor of accounting at Hartwick College in Oneonta. He can be reached at SearsT@hartwick.edu. His column appears every other week.