Jeffries and Flanagan on Albany's Budget Battle

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Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, New York State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, representing central Brooklyn (D-57) and New York State Senator John J. Flanagan (R-2) discussed the budget negotiations in Albany.

The first item to be served was not actually the budget, but Flanagan's bill to ban Salvia (Hannah Montana star Miley Cyrus' herb of choice) from New York State. The bill, which passed the State Senate on Monday, would slap a $500 fine on anyone caught selling the herb, which Flanagan likened to Marijuana and blamed for the death of a Roosevelt Island boy who jumped to his death after smoking it. Jeffries agreed that Salvia was dangerous and was confident the Assembly would come to an agreement with the Senate regarding a ban (currently the Assembly version of the bill would only ban it for minors).

On to the budget negotiations. Jeffries is lobbying to renew and strengthen the city's rent stabilization laws sooner rather than later (they expire on June 15) and include them in the budget.

It will be a catastrophe for working families and middle class new yorkers if we allow the laws to expire or even continue to exist in their current weakened form.

Flanagan didn't say he was against renewing the laws—but he doesn't think that the budget is the right arena for rent stabilization negotiations because he is afraid they'll drag out the fight. For Flanagan, the most important thing is that the budget is passed on time to meet the April 1 deadline. Likewise, he doesn't consider the budget the right place for Cuomo to write in a property tax cap. The State Senator is afraid that without mandate relief, local municipalities will not be able to raise enough funds to pay bills for local services like schools or police.

The Governor's task force that came up with an 87 page report really didn't offer anything of genuine substance. We've taken very strong positions in the Senate that if we're going to have a property tax cap then there has to be meaningful, substantive, effective and immediate mandate relief.

The clearest point of contention between Flanagan and Jeffries is revealed in their positions on the good old millionaire's tax. They agree it would save about $706 million (a slim slice off the total $10 billion deficit the state needs to fill). For Jeffries, the money raised would with the tax could used to soften the other necessary cuts and furthermore, he said, the state tax structure would be more fair.

We need to have a progressive income tax structure in New York State. If we allow the millionaire's tax to lapse essentially a single individual making $20,000, a family of four making $40,000 would pay the same income tax rate as individuals making a million, five million or ten million. That's not fair in the state of New York.

For Flanagan, a millionaire's tax would be $706 million in more taxes that the state doesn't need. In his view, the state tax structure is already unfair.

If you look at the folks who are in that category, and most of us would certainly like to be in that category, they pay a whopping disproportionate percentage of the taxes right now so I think New Yorkers generally are over taxed.

So the $706 million dollar question is, what's "fair?"