CONKLIN, N.Y. (AP) — Plenty of people leave New York state but in a job-hungry stretch of upstate, folks talk about staying put and seceding to Pennsylvania.
Local officials stung by a recent decision to ban natural gas fracking have raised the idea of redrawing the Keystone State's border. Even though they don't expect it to happen, members of the Upstate New York Towns Association hope the specter of secession will result in something — anything — good for a struggling part of the state peering enviously over the state line.
"It's not like were looking across the border into Mexico or even looking across the border at Canada," said Candor supervisor Bob Riggs, whose rural town is one of about 15 in the association. "We're looking across the border into the United States, and it's very different."
The Southern Tier sits atop the same gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation that has allowed Pennsylvania and other states to ride the fracking boom. In December, the Cuomo administration said it planned to ban hydraulic fracturing based on potential health risks and overstated economic benefits.
A poll this year found statewide support for Cuomo's decision, but many in this economically struggling area saw it as another instance of New York City's liberal desires trumping upstate needs. Adding salt to the wound: New York state rejected two Southern Tier casino applicants the same day, though the Southern Tier bidding process was reopened Friday.
With its 8.4 million people, its powerhouse financial sector and its global glamour, New York City dominates the state of 19.65 million. It also accounts for a disproportionately high share of the state's tax revenue.
Most secession movements in New York state are fueled by the cultural differences between the big city and less crowded upstate areas closer in spirit to New England or the Midwest: Consider that Buffalo is closer to Cleveland than Manhattan.
Town of Conklin Supervisor Jim Finch said he mentioned secession jokingly the day the fracking ban was announced, after a reporter asked him what they would do next. But he said a recent constituent survey sent out by state Sen. Thomas Libous that included a question about seceding to Pennsylvania "popped the question right to the top."
Finch is an avuncular 76-year-old who hardly seems like the type to lead an escape from New York — not in the least because of all the pictures of New York Yankees' greats hanging on his office wall. He cheerfully concedes that a redrawing of the state line down the road from his office — settled since 1786 — will not happen.
But a message has been sent.
"Now because we're saying 'Hey what about the Southern Tier? You stuck it to us on the gas drilling, you stuck it to us on the casinos,' . Maybe this will bring it to the light," he said.
Secession would be a complex procedure involving two states and the federal government. New York officials would have to sign off on a deal costing them land, people and political clout in Washington. Also, it would require New York's governor and political leaders to acknowledge that their counterparts in Pennsylvania could do a better job representing their own people.
Still, such talk resonates in this area of shopworn towns and open spaces.
"Anything upstate, they don't do a thing for us. They don't. They're always saying they're going to bring jobs ... they do nothing," George Leatso said as he bought groceries at a local market. Leatso said he has 82 acres in Conklin that could potentially earn him royalty payments from gas companies, if drilling were allowed.
Leatso was being rung out by cashier Marilyn Clark, who less sure about expanding the Keystone State.
"Their roads are horrible," she said. "Our roads are not that bad."
The town group is now conducting a study comparing taxes and the costs of doing business in the two states that is expected to take months. Once the data is in, they will consider secession among other options.
Meanwhile, Libous said his staff is still tabulating the high volume of responses to his survey — they had 700 online on one recent day.
Libous also gives long odds of a secession being approved, though he said it was important to send a message. And he didn't rule out legislation if his constituents demand secession.
"Let's see," he said. "I don't want to jump to conclusions."