Cuomo forms a tax commission with old rivals, blasts ‘Washington’

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Cuomo and McCall. (Flickr.)
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ALBANY—With the federal government paralyzed, Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to show how much differently things work when he's running things.

Speaking at an event in Westchester County, the Democratic governor announced a new tax commission that will be co-chaired by two of his former political rivals: former comptroller Carl McCall and former governor George Pataki.

In 1994, Pataki ousted the current governor's father from the Executive Mansion, and was re-elected in 2002, when the younger Cuomo mounted an abortive bid for the Democratic nomination against McCall.

In that Democratic primary, McCall spent months fending off Cuomo in a heated, racially charged contest that ended with Cuomo suspending his campaign a few weeks before the polls opened. 

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Pataki defeated McCall handily in the general.

But on Wednesday, it was all smiles and congratulations among the former rivals. Cuomo said the commission contained the “best people possible” and offered “special thanks” to Pataki for his public service “in keeping with his responsibility and love for this state.”

Bob Megna, the state budget director, joked that he had to cut short the synopsis of McCall's impressive resume because of time constraints on the event.

“This is the best fiscal shape our state has been in years,” said McCall, praising Cuomo's stewardship.

(In 2011, Cuomo appointed McCall as chairman of SUNY's board of trustees.)

"I have to confess that when I got the call from Governor Cuomo, I wasn't sure he dialed the right number," Pataki said.

Then, more seriously: “It's hard to say this calmly, but government has to work. When you look at what's happened in Washington, it's extremely sad for this country. … This is a sincere effort not to be political, but to do what's right for the people of this state."

The current political rhetoric in Washington weighed on the event, but in case the subliminal contrast didn't scream loud enough, Cuomo made it explicit.

“One of the great challenges of government, especially today, is to include people with different opinions and different perspectives and still move forward," he said. "Right? Have a discussion, understand and appreciate different opinions, but at the end of the day, come together in a way that allows the collective to move forward."

He added, “We've seen the alternative in Washington. We've seen what gridlock can do: people choose to argue rather than find compromise. … Everybody loses, because literally, you just don't move forward. “Luckily, in this state, we've had the exact opposite experience."

Cuomo said the state was moving toward budget surpluses, and the tax-cutting push would become a “centerpiece” of his 2014 legislative agenda. He asked the commission to focus on property taxes, which are not levied by the state government, but which he said are more of a “burden” for businesses than state taxes. In New York State, school districts, counties and municipalities rely on property taxes as their principal source of revenue, and have long complained that state-mandated policies and programs are what drive their costs, and the increases.

The commission also includes: Dall Forsythe, a former state budget director; Jim Wetzler, a former state tax commissioner; Heather Briccetti, the president and C.E.O. of the New York State Business Council; Bill Rudin, a senior advisor at Brown & Weinraub; Jack Quinn, the former congressman and president of Erie Community College; and Denis M. Hughes, former president of NYS AFL-CIO.