So the majority leader of the Senate in Albany, Joseph Bruno, is retiring and what a classic Albany moment in which to do it. The idea of capping property taxes appears dead, at least in this session, even though both Governor Paterson and Mr. Bruno claim to be for it. Yet who gets blamed?
Not the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, who openly opposes a cap. Instead, at least by the New York Post's account, Mr. Paterson is blaming Mr. Bruno for a so-called poison pill that would have sunset the property tax cap after two years. Another Senate Republican, Martin Golden, laid the blame at the foot of the governor, telling us, "We haven't seen a tax cap bill from the governor and it's the last day of the session."
So depending on to whom you speak, the tax cap is dead thanks to either Mr. Bruno or Mr. Paterson, both of whom publicly favor it. But Mr. Silver, who openly opposes it, manages to glide by blame-free for the death of a policy proposal backed by about three-quarters of the state's residents in a recent poll.
If Messrs. Bruno or Paterson really want a cap, the right move for them would be to reach some compromise on the sunset issue. We're the low-tax advocates in the city, and we'd prefer a tax cap with a sunset call it a moratorium to no tax cap at all. The Bush tax cuts had a sunset and that did not stop them from spurring economic growth, even though, ideally the tax cap would be permanent.
A sunset even has some advantages, keeping the tax issue on the political front burner and forcing opponents of the caps renewal into a defensive game, in essence supporting tax increases. Thus Senator McCain has the opportunity to portray Senator Obama, by opposing the extension of the Bush tax cuts, as supporting the largest tax increase since World War II. So too could be the battle of the renewal of the property tax cap.
There is plenty of blame to go around here, from Mr. Paterson's laid-back leadership style to the role played by the public employee unions. The politicians never seemed to be in any great rush to pass the cap. Each year that goes by without it, local governments ratchet up taxes and give the politicians more money to spend. If the politicians seem to lack a sense of urgency, it can be felt by the taxpayers bearing one of the highest state and local tax burdens in the country and seeing jobs and businesses and residents fleeing to lower-tax climes. Sunrise, sunset, whatever.
That Mr. Bruno chooses this juncture to announce another sunset, his own, is a moment to reflect on where the Republican conference goes from here. While at times Mr. Bruno seemed to speak for Republican principles, the sad fact is that he rarely stood for them. Instead he made his trademark the elements of Albany that so discourage the taxpayers and producers in this state. He allied himself with the labor unions bosses, he made a calculation that he would not fight on the kinds of ground on which Presidents Reagan and Bush made their stand. His departure may or may not signal the end of the Republican majority in the upper chamber in Albany, but the fact of the matter is that the way he ran the place, it wouldn't be the end of the world if it did. Even his own members question his refusal to endorse a property tax cap. Progress won't begin until a Republican Party comes together around not individuals but principles of low taxation, limited government, and pro-growth economics.