“If you’re sick of high taxes and squalid schools and unaffordable health care, you should hope beyond hope that Spitzer wins.”

That was the morning line yesterday from William F. Hammond of the Daily News, a columnist who has no greater admirers than the editors who conduct these columns The governor has been out running down his fellow Democrats over their lack of backbone. His aides have been out saying one is either for reform or against it. But now the argument turns out to be about high taxes, and the idea seems to be that at bottom all this is about cutting taxes. Let us just say in respect of the Great Hammond, it’s a terrific scoop if it’s true.

So far, we’re skeptical. We’ve been skeptical all along of Mr. Spitzer’s claims that it is he who is the real backer of free markets. That, he has insisted, is what his market timing prosecutions were all about, his fight with the SEC, his whole campaign as Sheriff of Wall Street. We can’t say what he said to us in the two meetings he had with editors of The New York Sun, as his remarks were not on the record. But we can say what we said to him – which is that it’s hard to imagine that if one’s goal in politics was to lower taxes one would make one’s home in the Democratic Party.

By our lights, if one’s policy goals were to cut taxes in New York State, the better bet in November was John Faso. Certainly one got the sense with Mr. Faso that he has had a deeply abiding commitment to free market economics, to tax cutting on terms designed to increase incentives, and the intellectual horsepower to sustain this argument day in and day out in the give and take of government. Even so, we’d be tickled pink if Mr. Spitzer were to come out, now that he’s governor, and make lower taxes the hallmark of his tenure in Albany.

We just haven’t seen it. It’s true that his budget included some tax cuts. But what he has given the taxpayers with one hand, he has taken away with the other – in the form of the tax increases he insists on calling “loophole closings.” Mayor Bloomberg, in a brilliant appearance in Albany, challenged those so-called “loophole closings” as the double-negative that they are for New York. E.J. McMahon of the Manhattan Institute has also explained that they are, for all intents and purposes, the same as a tax increase.

The way to campaign for lower taxes is the way President Reagan campaigned for lower taxes. He did it by making it clear that lower taxes, that lifting the dead hand of government from the economy, was for what he stood. It was the soul of his entire political movement. He explained it in appearance after appearance. He surrounded himself with economists who understood the terrible toll of high marginal tax rates.

He seized upon tools of communication — like the Laffer Curve — and used them at every turn. He worked the issue on both sides of the aisle. And he was famous for not caring who got the credit. Only by doing so could he mobilize the general interests – the taxpayers – against the special interests – the spenders – and succeed in launching one of the great growth eras of American history.

New Yorkers have heard the shouting and bellicosity from the new governor over the issue of reform. They are watching him seek to humiliate individual legislators – even, or particularly, those from his own hapless party. What we haven’t heard from Mr. Spitzer is any serious, sustained, joyful embrace of the ideas behind the tax cutting movement that has swept so much of America but has left New York state and city burdened with among the highest taxes in the country. If what this fight between Mr. Spitzer and the Legislature is about is taxes, the far, far better way to go about it is frontally, through an impassioned fight over the excesses of taxing that have done so much damage to so many millions of New Yorkers for so long.

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Empire Center for Public Policy
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The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.