Gov. Andrew Cuomo loves to draw attention to himself, and he succeeded when he proposed free college tuition for New Yorkers from lower- and middle-income families. He even managed to get Sen. Bernie Sanders to visit and lend support — a move that confirms once again his intention to run for president in 2020.
There's just one problem with turning your state government into a favor-factory for well-qualified, mobile individuals with their own bright future ahead. Those people retain their freedom of movement. And New Yorkers — not just the upwardly mobile ones — have been exiting the state for years.
New York State lost a net 72,889 residents in the last full year for which data are available — nearly the equivalent of the population of New Rochelle. That's an amazing dubious accomplishment, considering that it includes all international immigration. (Only Illinois did worse.)
On domestic migration, the Census Bureau ranks New York 46th among the states (not including international arrivals), losing (on net) 3.7 residents per 1,000 between July 2015 and July 2016.
So put yourself in the shoes of a young upstate New Yorker who has been blessed by life's lottery and is about to finish college at the expense of the New York taxpayer. It's one thing to grow up and be fond of a region whose economy is a perpetual laggard, but once you get an education, you might well say "thank you very much" and head to Texas or Washington D.C., to start your professional life.
The solution? Make free college come with a catch. Unless you want to pay all that "free" money back, you can't leave New York State for a period equivalent to however long you spent being educated at the government's expense. Can't find a local job? Too bad.
It should be noted that this was a provision Republicans in the state Senate wanted, but everyone agreed to it in the end.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that the requirement was added to protect the state's investment in a student's education by ensuring they don't take advantage of free tuition and then leave New York. The rule wasn't a part of Cuomo's free college tuition proposal when he unveiled it in January but was inserted during final negotiations with lawmakers over the state budget, which was approved Sunday.
The tuition initiative, which Cuomo said is a national model, covers state college or university tuition for in-state students from families earning $125,000 or less. Students must remain in New York for as many years as they received the benefit. They must repay the money as a loan if they take a job in another state.
So, imagine you attend school under this program, graduate in four years, and find work with a company in Rochester. A year later, you're faced with a choice. Some big tech company wants to hire you, but the move to Austin would mean paying back the balance of your student loans.
This would be a great problem to have for most graduates, but it should really make you question this whole idea in the first place. Why, New York's legislators should be asking themselves, are we having such a hard time forcing people to stay once they have opportunities, to the point that we have to punish them for leaving?
Before they start devising new middle-class welfare programs, maybe New York's legislators should be asking themselves why more than the entire population of Utica chooses to leave their state in a single year. New York keeps losing people in spite of multiple special tax breaks and other corporate welfare initiatives by Cuomo.
According to survey data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only in February 2017 did the Empire state finally return to the same level of employment (9.1 million jobs) that it had enjoyed before the 2008 recession. That has to be one of the worst recoveries in the nation. And New York is, of course, the king of the hill, top of the heap (well, number 49 out of 50, anyway) when it comes to having a lousy tax climate for businesses, according to the Tax Foundation.
New York State's university system already has very reasonable college tuition rates. Maybe a better way to get young people to stay is to create a climate where businesses want to locate themselves, rather than one in which they'd rather be somewhere else unless they need a corporate subsidy or a "tax free zone."