From the 12 May 2008 Lockport Union Sun and Journal (Lockport, NY)

By Bob Confer

Last week the New York Senate voted for a holiday on the stateís gas tax, calling for suspension of the government markup during the summer months (Memorial Day through Labor Day). Sure, itís most definitely an election year tactic by the Republican Senate, a sort of sales gimmick for incumbency, but nonetheless it is still a welcomed and much-needed gesture.

The Democrat-led Assembly, on the other hand, doesnít see any value in neutralizing the tax.

At first glance, one might see this as petty party politics. Itís not. This contrast in opinion is founded in the rift that separates Upstate New York from the NYC metro region. The Assemblyís 150-person membership is dominated by the voices of downstate officials whose control the Assembly both in numbers and in leadership (Speaker Shelly Silver is from Manhattan). Itís this urban-centric mindset that has allowed the Assembly to dictate what happens in the State in a manner that is routinely beneficial to the downstate region and detrimental to we here in Upstate. The denial of the gas tax holiday exemplifies this situation. It shows in all its glory the self-centeredness so common to the Democratic Assembly.

Upstate folk understand what it means to be a New Yorker (as in the Big Apple). We canít help but be because NYC arrogantly looks at itself as the place to be and it does a good job in spreading that boast. Its mystique and way of life have been force fed to us through the years in news and entertainment media. They, on the other hand, choose not to be so knowledgeable about what happens beyond the Catskills, having nothing but complete indifference towards the way of life in the rest of the State.

Itís from this that they see no need in cutting the price at the pump, even if temporarily. The residents of the metro area do most of their travel via public transportation like subways or buses because the structure of the City and potential for congestion (and lost time) makes it the most logical thing to do. Many of them donít own cars and, if they do, itís rarely put to use and only for short distances. So, gas prices have almost no impact on the constituents of the downstate politicians.

They look at this as the norm and choose not to be empathetic to Upstate needs, feigning ignorance to the very different ways of transportation here. With population bases spread out, no singularly-dominating City on the landscape, temperate job prospects, and minimally-convenient public transportation, workers here have no choice but to commute by car. The average WNY worker drives 23 minutes to the job and, according to federal statistics, over the course of the year he/she will see no more than 10 total hours in delays, meaning that we all travel great distances (I drive 25,000 miles per year and know many who do the same) and consume plenty of gasoline.

To us mobile New Yorkers, any savings we can get at the pump are vital to our financial well-being. The Senateís bill would spare consumers about 34 cents per gallon. Over the course of tax holiday - when the standard commute mileage is supplemented with numerous summer pursuits Ė upstate families can save anywhere from $160 to $320 depending on their driving habits. Those are significant savings, especially now, when not only are gas prices unreasonably high but so are those for things weíve always taken for granted as being affordable (basic life necessities like groceries).

Those savings brought on by the tax holiday donít have the same fiscal importance to the NYC crowd. To them itís out of sight and out of mind. Thatís why the bill will never make it through the AssemblyÖ.itís a non-issue to them personally and empathetically. Itís a perfect snapshot of how political power is doled out in Albany: As usual, the downstate region wins and we lose because "we donít matter".

They are allowed to thrive while many WNY families actually struggle to survive.