Cuomo’s Tax Foundation consult

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Larry Schwartz with the governor. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
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ALBANY—A top aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo has been consulting with the Tax Foundation—a Washington-based organization the administration once denounced as a “right-wing think tank”—as lawmakers consider a number of tax cuts in the state budget.

Cuomo's secretary, Larry Schwartz, called Joe Henchman, the Tax Foundation's vice president for state projects, within the last week.

Henchman confirmed he spoke with Schwartz but did not reveal details of their conversation. The Tax Foundation provides rankings on a state's business climate, where in 2013 New York finished last.

After its latest report, Schwartz blasted the Tax Foundation, saying it was “a right-wing think tank that has a personal word view and manipulates data to support that world view.”

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“Our goal is to help bring about good tax policy, and we'll work with anybody to do it,” Henchman told Capital. “We send our reports out to all governors and legislators, and we get a lot of questions about it. We're excited to see what's going to be in the final package.”

The Tax Foundation has had leaders tied to the Koch brothers, a pair of billionaire industrialists who have poured millions of dollars into right-wing causes.

Henchman said the Tax Foundation is “dedicated to bringing about simpler, more neutral tax policy that doesn't pick winner or losers. Some people like to characterize that as conservative. We consider it good tax policy.”

Cuomo has proposed a slew of business tax code changes that include reducing the rate and raising the exemption threshold for the estate tax, merging a dedicated bank tax into a corporate tax and reducing the overall rate, creating a new rebate for upstate manufacturers and the accelerated decline of an energy surcharge that the state extended in 2013. The governor, a Democrat, also proposed rebates to reduce residential property taxes.

The changes are Cuomo's declared top priority, but have garnered a mixed reception from lawmakers and business groups.

Labor-backed organizations have been denouncing the governor's elimination of the bank tax, and criticized him for reaching out to the Tax Foundation.

“The self-proclaimed progressive Cuomo administration is now cozying up to the same ultra-conservative Tax Foundation that a year ago it bashed as a right-wing think tank that manipulates data—which seems to be exactly what the Cuomo administration is trying to do,” said Ron Deutsch, executive director of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness.

Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said, “We reached out to the Tax Foundation to get an understanding on how it formulates its ratings, just as we do with every group that issues reports on the State of New York.”

The governor has indeed cast a wide for advice, and Monday, cognizant of criticism, Cuomo huddled privately with leaders of several major labor unions.