Flanagan criticizes Senate Democrats on taxes

| Politifact

Democrats’ complete control of statewide elected offices and both houses of the New York State legislature have provoked criticism from Republicans, who contend the Democrats’ progressive agenda has gone too far.

In an interview on The Capitol Pressroom, Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan told host Susan Arbetter, “The Senate Democrats have not provided one tax cut.”

Is that true?

The record

We approached Senate Democrats for information on their tax actions, and Press Secretary Jonathan Heppner provided us with a spreadsheet of 26 items, including tax exemptions, credits, and two “reductions.” Of the 26 items, 11 have been signed into law, five passed both the Senate and Assembly, and 10 have been passed only by the Senate.

The two items classified as “reductions” are the property tax cap, which was made permanent in the budget that began April 1, and a budget measure concerning local assessments and equalization rates.

The list from Senate Democrats contained exemptions such as property tax exemptions for certain energy systems, and an exemption from sales tax for vending machine items, both of which were included in the enacted budget. Other exemptions, such as one for breast pump supplies, had only passed the Senate. Another, passed by both houses but not yet signed into law, would allow localities to provide property tax exemptions on accessibility improvements to the homes of severely injured service members.

Tax credits that were enacted include one for green roofs, though this happened after Flanagan made his statement, a three-year extension of a tax credit program for employers of people with disabilities, an incentive for employers to provide child care, a three-year extension for a credit for using clean heating fuel, and expansion of a credit for historic property rehabilitation.

We also asked a spokesman for the Senate minority, Scott Reif, for evidence of Flanagan’s claim. Reif told us that Senate Democrats approved “more than a billion dollars in new taxes and fees” this year and $4.5 billion next year.

Reif’s claim regarding new taxes is accurate, according to David Friedfel, director of state studies at Citizens Budget Commission and a former Assembly majority staff member who worked on budget issues.

Heppner, the Senate Democrats’ spokesman, noted that Republicans voted against the budget, which made permanent the 2 percent cap on property taxes. The Rockefeller Institute estimates the cap has saved property owners $25 billion since it was enacted in 2012.

Senate Democrats did not include a middle-class income tax cut in their list, which was included in the budget. It is implemented thanks to a previously enacted statute, so they did not claim credit.

Experts we talked to had differing views on whether Senate Democrats had enacted any tax cuts.

Friedfel, who once worked for the Assembly’s Democratic majority, said that the budget “definitely” contained some cuts, such as extension of a film tax credit and the clean heating fuel credit. The property tax cap doesn’t provide a tax cut automatically, Friedfel said, but in looking at an upward trend in property taxes over time, politicians could argue that the cap will result in a cut.

Ron Deutsch, executive director at the Fiscal Policy Institute, which leans left, said it is “debatable” whether the tax cap can be considered a tax cut. The cap allows for 2 percent growth in local property tax levies, though the cap could be keeping taxes lower than they would have been without the cap.

E.J. McMahon, of the right-leaning Empire Center for Public Policy, said the tax cap is a “wonderful thing” but it is not a tax cut. He looked over the list the Senate Democrats provided of credits, exemptions and reductions, and said they aren’t what most people would consider a tax cut.

“When most people hear the phrase ‘tax cut,’ they think of a general reduction in some category of taxes, not a refund you might get if you do something the state wants to encourage,” McMahon said.

Our ruling

Flanagan made it tough on himself by making such a hyperbolic statement — not one tax cut. Senate Democrats have proposed and enacted some forms of tax relief for New Yorkers, though it may not be what most residents would consider a “tax cut.” Many of these exemptions or credits are for narrow segments of the population. The property tax cap, now permanent, has kept property taxes $25 billion lower than they would have been othewise.

We rate Flanagan’s statement Mostly False.

© 2019 Politifact