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

March 29, 2014

The reality of our economy vs. 'what if'

By Mike Zagata Local Commentary
The Daily Star

---- — The reality of our regional, indeed national, economy is that it is not sustainable. One has only to look at various indicators of economic health to reach that conclusion.

Our nation is spending more than it takes in. Most, if not all, of our local churches take in less each week that it takes to operate them. As this is being written, two local churches are for sale because of financial circumstances. That isn’t sustainable.

Various charities that provide assistance to needy families continue to see a growth in the number of families they serve — and yet our total population isn’t increasing. The need for heating assistance has jumped dramatically. The food banks continue to serve more families each year and without school lunch assistance programs many of our children would go without a healthy meal.

Our average income per household rivals that of Mississippi — the state with the lowest level in the US. That is reality, and it isn’t sustainable. However, we seem unwilling to deal with that reality, and instead base our economic future on “what if.” What if the sky falls? What if we take a calculated risk?

This discussion is relevant because of the debate over the construction of the Constitution Pipeline. It will bring gas from Pennsylvania and deliver it to Boston and New York City. Some ask why should they be impacted and not receive any benefits. The truth is that we will receive benefits. Burning gas instead of coal will result in cleaner air. That means an improvement in the quality of air we breathe and a reduction in the air-quality related health issues. It also makes a contribution to reducing one of the causes of climate change.

As a result of a partnership between the company building the pipeline and a local energy company, there will be direct benefits to our area. Leatherstocking Pipeline Company, a locally owned business, will tap into the pipeline and provide gas to Amphenol in Sidney. That means high paying jobs will remain here. They will also provide gas to local communities along the route of the main pipeline. That means lower cost energy for people on fixed incomes, for schools and hospitals. If the Otego School district could save $500,000 in heating costs, the district could afford to keep teaching positions and programs it would otherwise have to cut.

Right now about 40% of the people expected to be part of the work force are not, for one reason or another, employed. Having low cost energy available would also make our region more competitive in attracting new business and helping existing businesses succeed and grow. That means more jobs and the ability to retain our young and working-age people.

MIKE ZAGATA is a former state Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner, Ruffed Grouse Society president and oil company executive.