Rewriting history in legislative campaigns

by E.J. McMahon |  | NY Torch

“The first casualty of war is always the truth,” Winston Churchill observed. The same might be said of political battles. Around New York in this campaign season, incumbent state legislators in both parties have been bending facts into pretzels when they discuss their recent records on state taxes, in particular.

Consider, for example, some recent assertions by one of the Assembly’s most senior members, Sandra Galef, an Ossining Democrat now seeking her eleventh two-year term in the Legislature. In a televised debate with her Republican opponent, Kim Izzarelli, Ms. Galef said:

“We’ve had a very good bipartisan effort in Albany to make some changes and this year I’d say we did a lot of good things. We started out by lowering the tax rate for individuals within our state.  This is the first time we’ve ever done it in 58 years.”

The assemblywoman said much the same thing in an Oct. 2 debate: “We have lowered the state income tax for the first time in 58 years. It’s going to help all of us and it’s going to drive people to New York State.”

In fact, the state’s personal income taxes had already been reduced at least a half-dozen times between 1977 and last December, when the Legislature and Governor Cuomo agreed to a temporary package of tax changes. That misnamed “reform” measure combined the extension of a large tax increase for million-dollar earners with token (and, again, temporary) reductions in marginal rates for those earning taxable incomes of $40,000 to $300,000. And those reductions were, proportionately, among the smallest state income tax cuts to have been enacted in the last 35 years. As Ms. Izzarelli noted, for a typical household in the Assembly district, the tax cut will amount to a measly $60 a year, or a little more than a dollar a week. By contrast, the most significant middle-class income tax relief approved in Albany since the late 1970s was initiated early in the 12-year (1995-2006) gubernatorial tenure of Ms. Galef’s Republican predecessor in the Peekskill-area Assembly seat, George Pataki (with Ms. Galef’s support, by the way).

The assemblywoman also engaged in some heavy historical revisionism on another key issue: local mandate relief. Ms. Izzarelli said she favored repealing the Triborough amendment, which requires payment of “step” increases in salaries even after contracts expire, to help local governments reduce their costs. In reply, Ms. Galef indicated (without flatly saying as much) that she didn’t favor changing the law. Parroting a favorite contention of the state teachers’ union, the assemblywoman said the amendment was needed to avoid strikes:

“Because of the Triborough amendment [to] the Taylor Law, that’s when we said to the unions, way back in the 60s … that we don’t want you to strike, so we’re going to give you this amendment so that you don’t strike.”

Wrong. As documented here, Triborough was not part of the original 1967 Taylor Law but was enacted in 1982, mainly at the behest of the teachers’ union, over the strenuous objections of school boards and municipal governments, and against the advice of then-Governor Carey’s own Budget Division. It was not a quid pro quo for the formal statutory prohibition on public-sector strikes in New York, which actually pre-dated the Taylor Law by decades.

Ms. Galef is far from alone among incumbent lawmakers in making inaccurate or misleading statements about taxes*, or labor mandates.  But voters should remember that, like pretzels, political rhetoric is best taken with some large grains of salt.

* Running for-re-election in the same region, Republican state Sen. Greg Ball has touted his support for “a real middle-class tax cut, bringing it to the lowest point in three generations” and has separately claimed (in writing, no less) that “we enacted a $3.3 billion middle class tax cut, saving taxpayers $4.4 billion dollars and bringing the middle class tax rates to the lowest level in 58 years” — which is also untrue.



- E.J. McMahon is the Research Director at the Empire Center for Public Policy.