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Andrew Cuomo’s decision to announce new tax policy on Fred Dicker’s Albany radio show is as bad for the state as it is for Cuomo. It’s already added to the budget drama gripping Albany.
All you have to do is read the New York Post to see how often Freddie and Andrew talk, though the attorney general has, over the last couple of years, rarely been directly quoted.
Since Cuomo announced his candidacy, the governor-to-be, who still won’t appear on NY1, has gabbed four times on Dicker’s Talk 1300. In fact, he’s so comfortable on the show that he sounds like he thinks he’s still whispering off the record to his trusted confidant.
Ten days ago, Cuomo told Dicker that he thought David Paterson should put a property tax cap into one of his budget extenders. So Paterson did. The legislature decided to ignore Paterson’s final extender and just adopt its own budget, a legal strategy that didn’t appear possible when Cuomo made his proposal. So the cap won’t come to a formal vote, but it has nonetheless contributed to the chaos, conflict and outrageous posturing that engulfs Albany.
Since a cap on local taxes has nothing to do with state revenues or expenditures, and since Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver had already opposed it as part of this deal, Cuomo and Paterson’s decision to insert it was pure provocation. In fact, since Paterson and the legislature’s budgets cut hundreds of millions in state education aid, embedding a cap in the same budget would have constituted a simultaneous double slam at the state’s poorer school districts.
“The governor could say: I want the property tax cap passed,” Cuomo playfully told Dicker, who’s never met a tax he didn’t hate. “Let’s put it in the extender,” continued the Democratic nominee who appears to regard the state’s top Republican paper as his own informal council of economic advisers. Cuomo actually saw tactical advantage in pushing the extender now, six months before he moves into the governor’s mansion, because it would flush out the Democrats who dared oppose it, presumably making them GOP targets in the November election. “They’re going to say we don’t want it,” taunted Cuomo. “Let’s define who the ‘we’ is.”
Cuomo can afford to serve up these canards to Dicker because he won’t have to look over his left shoulder between now and November and is determined to cede no ground to Rick Lazio in the rush to appease suburban homeowners, despite his 36-point lead in the latest polls. Cuomo can try to out-triangulate his former boss, Bill Clinton, confident that Democrats, on Election Day, have nowhere to go but home or to him.
It’s not hard to tell that Cuomo is personally convinced that the state’s property tax burden is onerous and that lowering it is a necessity, and not just for self-serving political reasons. But framing an equitable reform is a complicated and serious piece of governmental business. It has to take into account what the Fiscal Policy Institute has established, namely that “New York has the largest gap between the resources available in high-poverty and low-poverty school districts of any state in the nation.” FPI showed how this per-pupil gap would widen every year after a cap went into effect, and it also compared two neighboring Westchester school districts, proving how devastating an across-the-board, one-size-fits-all cap would be.
That’s why Republicans love it. Their legislators don’t represent many poor districts anyway, and their statewide and other major candidates don’t get many votes from them. Mention equity to Dicker and he’ll accuse you of talking class warfare.
If there’s any job Cuomo should take charge of himself when he assumes office it is figuring out, with Democrats in the Legislature, a cap indexed to a local government’s ability to pay for quality education, combined with a state aid formula cognizant of these district-to-district disparities. In Cuomo’s convention speech, he stirred the greatest audience response when he spoke passionately about how different the educational opportunity was “on one side of town” than on the other. The state’s Court of Appeals ruled years ago that the state aid formula discriminated against poorer districts; a flat cap would fly in the face of that ruling and compound the inequities.
Throwing a cap overnight into this budget gruel, rather than working one out that’s fair to the overtaxed and to the underserved, is the opposite of what Albany needs. Pandering to the Post is no better than pandering to the public employee unions. And Cuomo, Dicker and Paterson, working together as a team, may have handed a November issue to Republicans seeking to oust crucial Democratic senators like Nassau’s Craig Johnson, who is reportedly now signaling a willingness to vote for a budget without a cap. He’ll have Cuomo to thank if the GOP takes him down over that vote.