ALBANY - Robert DeNiro is talking to America about New York's rebirth. Alicia Keys and Jay-Z sing of an Empire State of Mind in another national TV ad. New York has the promise of becoming the Greek-style yogurt capital of the world. Everywhere this summer, a "new New York" is being proclaimed.
"This is a new day," Gov. Andrew Cuomo told farmers and producers at Wednesday's "first yogurt summit ever in the history of the state of New York." He added: "This is a historic day."
Such heated hyperbole can be important. For example, the "yogurt summit" for all its fanfare and pretentiously silly name, attracted national attention. It showed New York is serious and manufacturers will find a willing partner, handing out tax breaks while promising dairy farmers that some costly environmental protections will be relaxed.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo
(Enterprise file photo)
That attitude can help the economy because optimistic consumers and employers spend more and hire more.
But New Yorkers on the front lines have heard these cheers before, even as more jobs disappeared while the cost of maintaining a big government rose.
The July Siena College poll shows some caution. It's true, as Cuomo and legislators running for re-election say, that most New Yorkers finally think the state is headed in the right direction. But it's a bare majority at 53 percent in the poll with a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points. And 80 percent of those polled found the state's fiscal condition fair or poor, with just 19 percent calling it "good."
Some less noticed facts also surfaced this month that show just how hard it will be to back up the happy talk with reality.
Deep in the Aug. 1 report of the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics is a line that shows 32 of 372 metropolitan areas nationwide reported higher unemployment rates in June than in June 2011. More than a third of them are all 13 of New York's metro areas from Buffalo to New York City. The state argues that a Consolidated Edison lockout of 8,500 workers temporarily inflated unemployment in New York City and its suburbs.
"It suggests the labor market is weakening to a greater degree in New York than elsewhere," said E.J. McMahon of the fiscally conservative Manhattan Institute.
But the Cuomo administration also finds good news in the unemployment numbers.
Cuomo's Labor Department said it reflects "renewed confidence about finding employment," creating what they say will be a temporary rise as people renew job searches.
Although economists generally agree such a phenomenon happens, it's not necessarily the reason New York trails most other states in recovery.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli also warned this month that 400 communities statewide had deficits or too little cash to pay their current bills and "any future economic shocks could have a devastating impact."
Since the recovery began in November 2009, the state Labor Department says New York has added 342,600 jobs and is just one of five states that have regained all of the private sector jobs lost in the recession.
But wary New Yorkers and their elected leaders must soon confront some serious concerns:
-Costs are rising. The governor and Legislature relied on a $2 billion increase in income taxes for millionaires in December, just three years after a historically high tax increase.
-Hundreds of thousands of families are also facing five years of annual increases in public college tuition spun as a "rational tuition plan."
-This summer, the Thruway Authority is pushing a "modest" 45-percent increase in truck tolls, and Cuomo's planned $5.2 billion replacement of the aging Tappan Zee Bridge is projected to nearly triple tolls.
Last week, the Empire Center for Public Policy of the fiscally conservative Manhattan Institute found upstate is aging faster than the nation and even many young urbanites are fleeing vibrant New York City at middle age.
The report that analyzed 2000-to-2010 population trends, however, found a bright spot. Upstate saw a 70,000-person boomlet from an influx of college students and more New Yorkers choosing colleges in New York. The opportunity is to keep them.
History shows it's not impossible. Vibrant New York City nearly went bankrupt in the 1970s, and the rust belt Albany area and Hudson Valley are in high-tech booms.
But optimism turns up the volume of politics, so New Yorkers can expect to hear more about the good times before there is a reality worth shouting about.
"What a turnaround! What a comeback!" said the governor, midway through his fiscally troubled first term.
That was George Pataki in 1996.