In the run-up to the November elections, Democrats are again trying to convince Long Islanders we shouldn’t fear a state government run entirely by their party. If they want to sell that red-hot poker to a region burned before, they’d better run away from Cynthia Nixon as fast as their little per diems can carry them.
Last year, a poll by the Siena College Research Institute found that 73 percent of Long Islanders want to make the property-tax cap permanent. Just 19 percent opposed the move. In April, the New York State United Teachers union passed a resolution to continue seeking repeal of the tax cap.
Now Nixon and her supporters are caught between the immovable suburban voter and the irresistible tax hike.
Nixon, an actress who lives in New York City, is making her first foray into politics with a gubernatorial run. She has the Working Families Party ballot line, and she’s bucking Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for the Democratic slot that for him falls somewhere between an expectation and a birthright.
Nixon’s argument is that Cuomo is not a real progressive, and she is. And Nixon is not wrong about the divide, on fiscal issues at least. There, Cuomo has more in common with Republicans hanging on to State Senate control than with the Assembly’s New York City Democrats hanging on to dreams of a socialist utopia.
Nixon made it clear which side of the battle line she occupies when she came out against both Cuomo’s 2 percent annual cap on state budget increases and the local property tax cap that is one of Cuomo’s greatest accomplishments.
In April, Nixon said, “If a locality wants to raise taxes on its own to pay for education, I think you shouldn’t make that so onerous.” That created a backlash, and this week she tried to clarify her stance in a way that shows it’s not just the politics of the suburbs she doesn’t understand. She also has no idea how school districts operate.
In broad strokes, the tax cap says municipalities can raise taxes more than 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower, only with approval of 60 percent of their boards. School districts can do so only with the approval of 60 percent of their voters.
Nixon now says 50 percent voter approval should be enough for school districts, if 60 percent of the school board approves the budget first.
But the only time school budgets split boards is when another heated issue, like closing schools or eliminating the Spartan mascot that’s so insensitive to residents of Sparta, New Jersey, is dividing the body. Boards generally work to come up with budgets they can agree on, then approve them with unanimous or near-unanimous support.
In 2008, Democrats took control of the State Senate for the first time in decades, to go with the Democrat-dominated Assembly and governorship. They then brutalized the suburbs with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority payroll tax and by siphoning off state aid to schools to the cities. They lost the gavel in the next election.
In the decade before the cap was imposed, property tax increases averaged 6 percent a year on Long Island. In April Nixon said, “I think that that 2 percent cap on state spending is disastrous, and what it means is we shrink the budget year after year.” She says she feels the same about the local cap.
But what she, NYSUT and everyone clamoring for huge budget increases and salary hikes don’t explain is how Long Islanders are supposed to pay when their taxes increase so much faster than their incomes.
Nixon is, as she argues, a true progressive. On Long Island, that means she’s also Republicans’ greatest asset.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.