ALBANY – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is turning to former Gov. George E. Pataki, who in 1994 drove Cuomo’s father out of the governor’s mansion using the state’s high taxes as a chief campaign weapon, to help him devise ideas for cutting property and other taxes across the state.
The governor, who is especially fond of appointing task forces and commissions to study various ideas, Wednesday announced a tax-reduction panel with members including Pataki, a Republican, and former State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, a Democrat who ran in a nasty gubernatorial primary campaign of his own against Andrew Cuomo in 2002 and then lost that fall to Pataki in the general election.
“We are way out of pace with the rest of the country in terms of property taxes, both in terms of dollars and percentage. Property taxes are a scourge all across this state,” Cuomo said in announcing the panel.
Pataki and McCall will serve as co-chairmen of the commission.
Other commission members include Jack F. Quinn Jr., a former congressman from Western New York and the current president of Erie Community College.
“The No. 1 burden is property taxes,” Cuomo said of the $50 billion New Yorkers pay each year in property taxes, compared with $40 billion in income taxes.
The panel also will have the responsibility of looking at state taxes that are “overly burdensome” to businesses and what he characterized as “working-class families” that can play into decisions for companies and residents to leave the state for lower-tax locations. “The goal is to make us as competitive as possible,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo already has made his amends, at least publicly, with McCall, now the chairman of the State University at New York board of trustees. Eleven years ago, Cuomo challenged McCall, who had been presumed by many Democrats to be the party’s nominee and potentially the state’s first African-American governor.
The Cuomo challenge diverted McCall’s efforts against Pataki, who would go on to beat McCall in the general election after Cuomo dropped out of the primary race at the last minute. Cuomo would spend years trying to make amends for that race, especially with African-American leaders in the party.
That the governor would turn to Pataki, who defeated his father, Mario M. Cuomo, in 1994 adds another chapter to the story of a not-so-buried rivalry that Democrats have long said exists between the current governor and his father. A generation ago, Mario Cuomo was once one of the liberal icons of the national Democratic Party whose name was promoted as a possible presidential candidate in the 1988 and 1992 election cycles.
Pataki, then a little-known Republican state senator from Peekskill, surprised Democrats with his come-from-nowhere victory over Mario Cuomo in 1994, a defeat that former advisers and associates long ago said took a heavy personal toll on the three-term Democratic governor.
Indeed, Pataki used the state’s high taxes as one of his major campaign weapons against Mario Cuomo in that 1994 race and, in his first year in office in 1995, pushed through a massive package of income tax and business tax cuts while reducing state spending.
For Pataki, a lawyer in private practice in New York City, it does not hurt being seen as an adviser to the current governor. Pataki has been involved in an effort, which needs state approval, to build an underwater power line to bring power from Quebec to downstate New York.
“I wasn’t sure he had dialed the right number,” Pataki said of the call he got from Cuomo recently to join the commission. He said he took Cuomo up on his offer to participate in the new effort out of a desire to still be of public service in New York and his belief that Cuomo is serious about cutting taxes next year.
“Quite frankly, the taxes are still quite high,” Pataki said.
Cuomo has already floated the idea of tax cuts next year – the same year in which he will be up for re-election.
While Pataki in his first year focused heavily on reducing broad-based income taxes, Cuomo made clear Wednesday the new panel’s mission is to focus more heavily on property tax levels across the state.
Other commission members include two former senior members of the administration of Mario Cuomo: James W. Wetzler, a former state tax commissioner, and Dall W. Forsythe, a former budget director. Also on the panel will be Heather C. Briccetti, president of the Business Council of New York State; Denis M. Hughes, a former state AFL-CIO president and current adviser to an Albany lobbying firm; and William C. Rudin, a Manhattan real estate developer.
Cuomo sought to portray his actions creating the bipartisan tax panel as a contrast to the divisive partisan battles under way in Washington that this week led to the federal government’s shutdown.
Edward F. Cox, the state Republican Party chairman, said Cuomo’s tax commission comes after years of GOP calls for tax cuts. “With another campaign on the horizon, the governor is finally moving to do what needs to be done for the taxpayers of New York state: tax reform,” Cox said.
Business groups such as Unshackle Upstate were quick to issue lists of suggestions for tax cuts the panel should consider.
But critics worried that the package of tax cuts expected to be proposed in January by Cuomo will end up reducing state funding for education and a variety of social welfare programs. They also questioned the appointment of Pataki, whose administration Cuomo has always included during his criticism of Albany dysfunction over the last 20 years.
Two groups, New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness and the Fiscal Policy Institute, whose financial backers include labor groups, noted that Cuomo now has two commissions up and running looking at tax policies. “The governor should just appoint himself as head of every commission he sets up, since he is clearly calling the shots,” the two groups said in a statement.
The new commission’s recommendations are due to Cuomo by Dec. 6 in time for him to include the ideas, or not, in his annual State of the State address in January.