By Joseph Spector, Albany Bureau
ALBANY – Maybe it’s the weather.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is taking heat for comments Tuesday that upstate’s winter weather has factored into the state’s population loss in the region.
“More people are leaving upstate net? Yes. People will make demographic choices about where they want to live,” Cuomo told reporters after an economic-development speech to the state Business Council.
“Some of them are climate-based. Some of them are based for personal reasons. So the diminishing population in upstate is not new. People were leaving upstate New York because they had to in the past.”
But Cuomo pointed out that people leaving upstate isn’t as pervasive as it was decades ago, saying the economy is improving and income taxes are lower during his eight years in office. He is seeking a third term in November.
“Young people were leaving because parents were saying, ‘You better leave. There are no economic opportunities here.’ That is no longer the case,” he continued.
“If somebody wants to move to Florida because they want to move to Florida, God bless them. They want to fish; they want the warm weather. But we were chasing people from the state. We are now attracting people to this state.”
Cuomo’s comments drew a strong reaction from his political foes and on social media.
On Wednesday, Cuomo continued to make the same points in Buffalo when asked about his remarks by reporters.
“Today is different than it was fundamentally and the factors that existed that caused people to leave no longer exist, and actually people are coming back,” he said.
Some pointed out that some Northeastern states and some cold-weather ones across the country have seen population gains, while New York’s population out-migration has been the worst in the nation over the last two decades.
“And they are fleeing the cold and snowy winters of New York for…….the warm and sunny winters of Maine and New Hampshire …? BTW: The winters in New York didn’t suddenly get a bit chilly and flake-filled,” Kevin Williams, a Rochester-area meteorologist, wrote on Twitter.
Last year, about 190,000 New Yorkers left for other states, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That brought the out-migration total in New York to 1 million people since 2010.
New York has gained population, but more slowly than other large states, because of births and new residents, particularly immigrants.
In 2014, New York fell behind Florida as the nation’s third largest state. So New York is now the fourth largest state in the country, with about 19.9 million people.
Forty-two of the 50 upstate New York counties had a population loss over the past decade, with gains largely centered in New York City and its suburbs.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro blamed the exodus on the state’s poor business climate and high taxes, which he has vowed to cut if elected.
“The Governor seems to be confusing NY’s miserable business climate for the weather,” he wrote on Twitter.
On Wednesday, the fiscally conservative Tax Foundation said New York has the 48th worst business climate in the nation, ahead of only California and New Jersey. Last year, the group said New York was 49th worst.
“The Tax Foundation’s new report is yet another reminder that our leaders in Albany should be more focused on New York’s business climate rather than the weather,” said Michael Kracker, executive director of Unshackle Upstate, a business group.
Cuomo said the state has lowered income taxes for all New Yorkers during his tenure and limited the growth in property taxes through a tax cap.
The Democratic governor said his administration has invested a record $44 billion into trying to boost the upstate economy.
New York’s unemployment rate was 4.1 percent in August compared to the national rate of 3.9 percent, according to the state Labor Department on Tuesday. It is down from highs of 7 percent or more when Cuomo took office in 2011 after the recession.
Cuomo said Tuesday in his speech that he focused on “upstate New York like a laser. Why? Because downstate New York economically was doing OK,” Cuomo said in his speech Tuesday.
“They had peaks and valleys but if you look at downstate New York, New York City is a different phenomenon, it’s an international city. It was upstate New York that needed help.”
Gov. Cuomo: Weather is reason people leave NY state