Are Upstate NY Towns Defecting to Pennsylvania? Not so Fast

By Arleen Richards, Epoch Times
February 27, 2015 4:08 pm Last Updated: February 28, 2015 4:38 pm

After a media buzz circulated about 15 towns in upstate New York planning to secede from the state and join Pennsylvania, the Upstate New York Towns Association, Inc. (UNYTA), put out a press release to clarify their intentions.

UNYTA President Carolyn Price, says there are many things to carefully consider, not to mention the hurdles to overcome to get the whole thing approved.

The other New York association does not represent upstate in its decisions.
— Carolyn Price, president, Upstate New York Towns Association, Inc.

The interested towns are all members of the UNYTA and they are situated above the Marcellus Shale, the oil rich rock formation that is legally drilled in Pennsylvania. A ban on hydraulic fracturing or fracking was announced in New York in December.

Members of the UNYTA believe the decision to ban fracking  was made primarily to benefit downstate residents, ignoring the 66 percent of upstate residents who favor gas drilling.

“The other New York association does not represent upstate in its decisions,” said Price.

According to Price, the interested towns would have to get a representative from New York and Pennsylvania to sponsor a bill, then get the bills approved by Congress. 

Price and the UNYTA are seriously reviewing all the necessary considerations for secession, like tax benefits, cost of doing business, and overall benefits to the people. “People have to be educated,” cautioned Price.

The Association is getting support from one of the largest landowner associations in upstate New York, the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York (JLCNY). President of the coalition, Dan Fitzsimmons, said many landowners wanted the JLCNY to seek secession. While he thinks a successful move would be good for the involved communities, he is not confident that they can pull it off. “Certainly would be difficult, maybe impossible,” he said.

Sponsorship

There are at least two representatives, one from New York and one from Pennsylvania, who stand ready to support the UNYTA’s efforts.

New York Congressman Tom Reed already responded to the fracking ban on behalf of upstate landowners by introducing a bill in January that would give landowners the option to “seek compensation for their loss and provide a more fair process in our court system.”

He told the Epoch Times he understands the towns’ opposition to policies that hurt the communities and he supports the citizens of the Southern Tier. “I stand ready to listen and act and that is why I introduced the Defense of Property Rights Act in the meantime,” he said.

Pennsylvania Congressman Dave Reed, new House Majority Leader, also supports communities with gas drilling opportunities. 

Reed similarly offered support to the New York towns that are considering secession. “If there are communities that believe they would be better served as part of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, we would certainly entertain that request,” he said.

Congressional Approval

The chances of getting the two-thirds vote necessary to turn two bills into laws look like a steep hill to climb, but the towns could argue that they don’t need it anyway.

Taking a closer look at the Constitution, according to Article IV, Sec. 3, the two bills plus House approval applies to the formation of new states but it is silent on the issue of secession from one state to another.

In all of the secession movements in New York, towns have sought to become independent states. Only the state of Vermont was successful in 1777.

And even if the Southern Tier towns could successfully become part of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, they may soon regret it.

Pennsylvania’s new governor, Tom Wolf, recently pitched his new state budget proposal calling for “5 percent severance tax on the value of the gas at wellhead plus 4.7 cents per thousand cubic feet of extracted gas,” according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Drilling companies would likely be discouraged from investing in the Marcellus Shale Industry.

The governor is hoping to raise $1 billion from natural gas extraction taxes.