Blair Horner: Comparing States

Sep 9, 2013

Earlier this summer, two states – Texas and Florida – ran radio commercials touting those states’ business climates in an effort to convince New York companies to move their operations.  The focus of the ads was that those states were more business friendly with lower taxes and less regulation.  Thus, the ads argued, Texas and Florida were the places to do business.

It got me thinking, how do you compare states?

After all, businesses are made up of people.  Business people want to make money, that’s for sure.  But they also care about their neighbors, want their kids to get a good education, want to stay healthy, and want an efficient and honest government – among other things.

So I started looking at Texas and Florida.  Both states are among the nation’s best in job growth.  Kiplinger’s ranked Florida 7th in the nation in job growth and Texas ranked 8th.  New York is ranked in the bottom 10.

But it turns out that Texas and Florida are ranked number one and number two when it comes to the percentages of residents without health insurance.  Worse, both states are doing everything possible to limit the benefits of the federal health care reform law – a law designed to make available affordable insurance to the uninsured.

According to the U.S. Census, low-income residents of Texas and Florida desperately need health insurance.   The Census found that more than 25 percent of the population in Texas under age 65 (5.7 million people) was uninsured, the highest rate in the nation.  Florida was a close second, with just under 25 percent uninsured (3.8 million people).  Massachusetts, whose health insurance program was the template for the federal reform law, had the lowest percentage of uninsured, less than 5 percent!

Beyond health insurance, the people of Texas and Florida are ranked among the least healthy in the nation.  Texas is ranked 40th in health, largely due to the large percentage of its population that is obese.  Florida ranked 34th.  New York was ranked 18th.

A recent ranking of education performance put both Texas and Florida in the top half of the nation, but both were ranked lower than New York State, according the Education Week.  Crime statistics in 2010, ranked New York State safer when it comes to violent crime than both Texas and Florida.

In a 2010 “Environmental State of The Union” ranking, all three states did poorly.  New York was ranked 29th – despite having good policy scores, the state’s performance is dreadful in nearly every other category besides alternative energy generation. Yet, Texas was far worse, ranking 40th in the nation on this environmental scorecard and Florida was ranked 34th.

According to a recent New York Times article, the construction industry in Texas has a higher fatality rate than that in most other states, but Texas is the only one that does not require building contractors to provide workers’ compensation to cover an injured worker’s hospital bills and disability benefits.

New York has a lot of work to do, but it has a lot of strengths as well – the state has a highly educated workforce, is the home of the world’s financial center, exhibits greater tolerance for racial and ethnic differences, as well as an abundance of access to fresh water supplies.

This is not to argue that New York is a better state than Texas, Florida or any other state.  And this is not to argue that New York doesn’t have problems – it does.  But it does show that business relocation decisions are (and should be) more complex than focusing on job growth alone.

As the legislative and election seasons heat up next year, it will be important to not only demand more from the state’s public officials, but to recognize that New York doesn’t have to gut programs – like higher education funding, environmental protection, and health care reforms – in order to compete in the global marketplace.  In fact, it is support for those programs that will help the state to succeed.

Blair Horner is the Legislative Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

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