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Gov. Andrew Cuomo use of public $ for tax ads criticized

State-funded ads encouraging New Yorkers to prepay taxes

State-funded ads encouraging New Yorkers to prepay taxes appear to promote Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's political message, according to a conservative think tank. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

ALBANY — A fiscal watchdog is questioning the cost and use of state funds for TV ads encouraging New Yorkers to prepay taxes to get around an onerous aspect of the new federal tax plan.

Not only is the rationale suspect, but also it seems to promote Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s political message on the new federal tax plan, said E.J. McMahon, research director of the Empire Center, a fiscally conservative think tank.

Further, state officials won’t disclose how much the effort will cost.

“Even by Albany’s more elastic recent standards, this is a highly unusual and questionable use of state resources,” McMahon said. “While this spur-of-the-moment marketing campaign doesn’t explicitly denounce the Republicans in Washington, it is clearly a way of amplifying the governor’s alarmist rhetoric on the subject of the tax bill.”

Empire State Development Corp., the state’s economic-development arm, is financing 30-second TV ads running across New York to urge residents to pay 2018 property taxes before Dec. 31 so the amount can be fully deductible on 2017 tax returns. The ability to deduct state and local taxes paid will be limited in 2018.

The voice-over calls it an “urgent message for all New Yorkers and business owners,” and urges viewers to check with local tax authorities and personal tax advisers about prepaying. Cuomo signed an executive order last week allowing partial prepayment of some local taxes, prompting a rush at some municipal offices around New York.

While not answering a question about costs, ESDC spokesman Jason Conwall said the ad was justified and added in an email: “Make no mistake: This federal legislation effectively raises taxes on New Yorkers and anyone claiming to be confused about the relationship between taxes and economic development shouldn’t call themselves an expert.”

But taxes paid on business property will remain deductible, McMahon noted.

“The reference to ‘business owners’ in the opening headline seems designed to justify ESDC’s involvement in this,” he said. “But the commercial’s message has absolutely nothing to do with ESDC’s mission of promoting economic growth, attracting business investment and job creation.”

McMahon continued, “Finally, where does ESDC get the discretion to do stuff like this at the drop of a hat? Do they have a petty cash drawer earmarked for TV commercials in support of the governor’s political messaging?”

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