Note: This blog draws in part on my experiences and observations interviewing political figures, writers, and analysts for "The Campbell Conversations" on WRVO. To hear past interviews I refer to in these posts, please go to the show's website. The views expressed here are solely my own, and do not represent Syracuse University, the Campbell Institute, or the WRVO Stations.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Silver Lining in the Census Blues?

My title is pushing the bounds of reality, but I'm going to try.  There's not much good news for the state--or our region's political future--in the Census report out today.  New York is going to lose two congressional seats, from 29 down to 27.  That puts us at the lowest level in two centuries, and means that the state will come out on the shorter end of the stick when it comes to the federal dollars allocated to the states on the basis of population--according to one news report about $4 trillion over the next ten years.

With two less seats, there will almost certainly have to be some significant reshaping of the congressional districts Upstate.  It would be hard to drop two seats by just rearranging the deck chairs on the RMS New York.  So here's the first silver lining:  Perhaps the need for a major redrawing will occasion the shift to an alternative method of redistricting.  Just how to constitute an independent commission (or other approaches toward the task) is a topic for another day, but it's possible that this development could push the dial a little closer to real reform.

Across the nation, if you're a Democrat and keen to see President Obama re-elected, this is not good news, as the general shift in congressional representation--the basis for votes in the Electoral College--favors the South and the West, which are comparatively more friendly to Republicans, on the whole (save California and a few others of course). 

In our own region, the need to substantially redraw the districts will throw our congressional politics into greater flux, as within the state, Upstate has lost ground to Downstate, and therefore there will be more re-slicing necessary up here.  With two new Republicans elected in the greater Syracuse area, it's not clear whether Democrats or Republicans will ultimately be more hurt by all this.

But if we take a further step back and more generally consider the question of the political influence of the state in national politics, other factors arguably rival the loss of two congressional seats and two votes in the Electoral College--and thus supply the second silver lining.  Consider the following:  Chuck Schumer continues to climb up the ladder of influence in the U.S. Senate, and is now among the very top senators.  Kirsten Gillibrand has become a fast-rising star, and is even mentioned as a future presidential prospect (premature, I think, but the conversations are nonetheless happening)--and she replaced a senator who is now Secretary of State.  We've just elected a dynamic, ambitious governor who knows his way around Washington.  And the mayor of New York City has prominent national stature and is clearly not leaving the political stage anytime soon. 

Granted, none of this erases the loss of the seats, the College votes, and the federal dollars, but we may not have hit the political iceberg, just yet.


Anonymous said...

When you mentioned the $4 trillion dollar figure, was that referring to all federal aid to the states expected over the next decade, or some specific portion of that?

Grant Reeher said...

That's a good question. I often look at statistics regarding federal-state relations, and the numbers sometimes vary in ways that aren't obvious until you really dig into things. In this case, given the way the reports I read cited and used this figure, I took it to mean the total of federal dollars that are allocated based--at least to some degree if not entirely--on state population. Federal formulas for different programs vary widely, and sometimes population is just one factor among many in the equation. I think, again, that this figure represents anything for which population has a role. Missing then would be the funding based solely on individuals having a certain status or qualification, or for a purpose not related to or based on population.

The bottom line is that the lower population of the state will matter in some substantial way for federal funding. Of course, since we have less people than we used to have (in comparison with other states), you could say that it's fair that we get less money, when population is an appropriate part of the equation.

Since I wrote this post I've also heard people make the point that if earmarks return to common usage in Congress, then having two less congressional seats will cost us there too.

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