New York is well known for its high taxes and big spenders. During elections, many a candidate seeks votes by running against not just an individual opponent but big-city Democrats out to take away your hard-earned money.
This year brings much of the same rhetoric in many races with one dramatic and local exception, one that turns the usual narrative around and raises intriguing questions about public policy along the way.
Matt Rettig, the Cornwall Democrat seeking election in the 99th Assembly District, is criticizing his opponent, Republican Colin Schmitt of New Windsor, with the kind of big-spender attack that usually flows the other way.
And he has the kind of proof that political attacks usually lack because Schmitt’s home town is looking at a spending increase of 8 percent in the next budget, raising the tax bill of town residents by close to 10 percent and inflicting a financial penalty above that because it would make taxpayers ineligible for tax rebates that people earn when their governments stay within government guidelines.
Besides, this is not just a case of blaming someone for the place he lives. Ever since he ran unsuccessfully for the same seat two years ago, Schmitt has found employment as “chief of staff” of the Town of New Windsor, a title and position that usually exist only in much larger municipalities. With that responsibility, an entry on the resume that Schmitt and his supporters point to as proof of his expertise, comes the responsibility to explain why New Windsor is about to become such a costly place to live.
The town board does not seem very confident that it will be able to bring the figures down to a more acceptable level by the time they have to adopt the final budget on Nov. 20. If a town or other municipality wants to raise taxes beyond the limit calculated by the state each year, boards need to pass a local law giving themselves permission. They have already done that.
While the tax cap applies to both school and municipal budgets, the taxpayer has both some protection and a lot of say when it comes to schools. Budgets that exceed the cap need more votes for approval and budgets that are defeated are often brought back for a re-vote at a lower level.
Towns do not have to put their budgets up for a vote by local residents. And you will search in vain for anybody on the New Windsor board who ran on a campaign platform of approving double-digit tax increases.
Rettig criticized Schmitt for calling the tax cap a “feel-good measure,” a charge that Schmitt needs to answer because most taxpayers would admit that it does feel good to have taxes capped, especially when the alternative in the budget he is overseeing has a 10-percent increase plus a penalty.
Instead of dismissing the notion of a cap, perhaps Schmitt now will see the wisdom of extending it and giving it more power beyond school budgets so taxpayers in New Windsor and elsewhere do not have to pay higher bills accompanied by extra penalties.