When people hear I moved my family to Long Island from South Carolina, they want to know if the crazy stories they've heard about the lands beyond the Northeast are true.
"I met a man from South Carolina, a wild feller, who told impossible tales about . . . cost-of-living," one Long Islander said. "Is it true that the houses are free, and you pay your school taxes with change from under the couch cushions?"
Well, not quite.
I own a 3,000-square-foot home in Spartanburg that I rent out. It's on about an acre, in a lovely neighborhood with good schools. The house would probably fetch $235,000, just less than a really roomy cardboard box in Great Neck. The annual taxes are $2,300. Not per month, per year.
By contrast, the average Nassau County family of four pays $2,000 per year for the county police department alone.
South Carolina spends about $13,000 per student on education. At least 20 districts on Long Island spend more than $30,000. And my daughter's school in Spartanburg was better than the very highly rated one she attends here.
Whether that makes the South sound like a version of heaven amply stocked with grills and pools is up to you. But many do think the South and the West are the promised land and that, financially, New York is a chilly version of hell.
In 1953, New York contained 45 of the nation's 435 congressional districts, which are apportioned by population. It now has 29, and next year, that number will drop to 27.
Consider the U-Haul factor, a fascinating measure of which way the migratory American is flying. U-Haul must have trucks where people will rent them, so it charges vastly different amounts for one-way trips based on where you're moving.
As of Friday, a one-way rental for a 10-foot truck picked up in Smithtown and dropped off in Spartanburg, S.C., would run you a flat $1,022. A one-way rental of the same truck in the opposite direction would cost $435.
A U-Haul truck dropped off in New York can be rented immediately to a family of Yankee cost-of-living victims ready to flee for cheaper pastures. But the vehicle deposited in South Carolina may sit a spell before anyone comes along to say, "I'm sick of all this sunshine and affordability. Let's head for a place where the salt piles glisten."
If it weren't for the 7.4 million people who moved to New York from other countries over the last 50 years, the state's population would have dropped by about a quarter. New York is a great place to live if you're looking at it from Bangladesh or Krakow. But to America, it's not so inviting.
It's true that the state's folks are flocking to have better weather, but they always did. It's a reason why people are leaving, but it's also an excuse.
Every place has flaws, but it seems like New York is broken in ways very hard to fix. Could the education lobby ever be forced to make schools affordable? Could the police unions, and all the other public unions, accept the changes in work rules and benefits needed to get taxes in line? Could workers accept the lower wages it would take to get manufacturing back? Could NIMBYs accept significant new commercial, industrial and residential development to get things moving in the right direction?
It's possible. It's worth fighting for. But it will take some extraordinary changes in how things work in this state.
My family and I love New York. We moved here for my career, and to be closer to my relatives, and for the opportunities it offers my daughter, and because the food, culture and energy are all spectacular. But I'm not buying a house here yet. I already own one, and the taxes are $2,300. Per year.
Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.