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Adirondack High Peaks

Numerous High Peaks are seen from the summit of Upper Wolfjaw Mountain. Natural resources are the region's greatest asset, particularly in a future world affected by climate change.

Doug Huntley threw some demographic cold water on Doug Beaty’s effort to promote the notion that Warren County’s population is falling because of people being driven out of New York by high state taxes.

“There are a lot of contributing factors,” Huntley said about the modest trickle of population outflow over the past decade.

A big factor, he said in the next breath, is that people are having fewer children.

Beaty, a county supervisor from Queensbury, has formed a group ostensibly to stop people from leaving Warren County, but what he’s really doing is hyping his political agenda.

Yes, people don’t like high taxes, and New York has a high tax burden compared with other states, and that probably is one factor pushing some people to move.

But other things matter, too. A lower birth rate matters more than taxes when you’re talking about school enrollment decline, which is Huntley’s concern. Weather matters, too, when you’re talking about out-migration from upstate New York. The job market matters most of all.

You could argue the job market in Warren County is hurt by high taxes. But other conditions can be more influential than taxes. Job opportunities abound in the New York City and Boston areas — and that is where many of the young people go who leave this area — but the cost of living in those places, including taxes, is much higher than here.

Beaty is gathering a group of prominent community leaders to brainstorm about what he calls the “brain drain” from Warren County — not a bad idea, unless you go into it with your mind already made up about the problem and the solution, which Beaty appears to be doing.

“We can’t be naive, taxes are one of the biggest factors that cause people to leave,” he said.

His group hasn’t even met yet, and he has already decided what it should discover. He should be founding a church. “Taxes are evil” would be his church’s dogma, and Andrew Cuomo would be the devil.

Groups with more than five or six people are unwieldy, and Beaty’s group already has 10, with a couple more to come.

But in practice, the group will work like this: Beaty will orchestrate the meetings to lead naturally to the beliefs he already holds (see “dogma” and “devil” above). Travis Whitehead, a member of the group, will dig up the data to support Beaty’s beliefs, because Whitehead is a powerhouse researcher, and being retired, he has the time for it.

Everyone else is in the group for show.

SUNY Adirondack President Kristine Duffy, Queensbury school Superintendent Huntley, Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce Director Michael Bittel, Warren County Administrator Ryan Moore, Queensbury Hotel owner Zack Moore and general manager Tyler Herrick — all of them are very busy people. They will be happy to show up a few times, let Beaty and Whitehead do the work and sign on to a politically palatable document that says the problem is high taxes and too much regulation.

It’s ironic, because all of these busy folks are doing great in their day jobs with attracting and keeping people in the area. Improving the college and the local school district and the only downtown hotel is time better spent than signing on with Mr. Beaty as window dressing.

Beaty is calling his group “Task Force 2030.” If he really wanted to find ways to inspire people to move here, he would focus on climate change, which will be the defining issue of the next decade.

Can this region position itself as a good place to be while the world grows hotter? I think we can, with our historically cool (OK, cold) climate, abundance of fresh water, safe and stable communities, low-cost land and housing. What look now like drawbacks — the empty rolling hills of Washington County, the vast forests of the Adirondacks, the distance from the large cities of the East Coast and from the coast itself — will be advantages in a world transformed by a changing climate.

Thinking about that transformation and planning for it would be a good use of time for smart, creative local people, because no one is doing it. Instead, Mr. Beaty will lead the charge on high state taxes, a topic which has, perhaps fittingly, already been talked to death.

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Will Doolittle is projects editor at The Post-Star. He may be reached at will@poststar.com and followed on his blog, I think not, and on Twitter at @trafficstatic.

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