Sheldon Silver

The Empire

State elected officials irked by Cuomo

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

By Karen DeWitt, New York State Public Radio Capital Bureau Chief

Courtesy of the Governor's office.

Governor Andrew Cuomo is taking some heat for a series of actions being criticized as consolidating more power for the executive branch, at the expense of the legislature and even some other statewide office holders.

When Cuomo’s tax commissioner authorized nearly three dozen members of the New York State Inspector General’s staff to look at state employees’ tax returns as part of an investigation, it was met with reservations by members of the state legislature.

“There are just general privacy concerns,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Silver says, ordinarily, tax returns can only be viewed under a judge’s order. The Cuomo Administration insists it was merely the result of a restructuring to increase efficiency in state government.

The action came as the Governor had already beefed up his newly created Department of Financial Services to claim some investigatory powers traditionally controlled by the State Attorney General. In his budget plan, Cuomo also seeks to eliminate the State Comptroller’s role of pre-auditing state contracts, a move strongly objected to by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

“I don’t know that that trade off really makes sense in the long run,” said DiNapoli. “Sometimes our pre audits actually point out situations where we can get a better deal for the state and for taxpayers.”

Di Napoli says for example, the pre audits saved $700,000 in a review of a medical contract from SUNY Stony Brook, and red flagged a state contract for $14.5 million dollars from the Office of General Services with an energy company, after his office discovered the firm included an alleged member of the Gambino crime family.

Cuomo is also getting push back for more changes he wants to make in the state budget.

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The Empire

Updated: State ethics panel appoints former Cuomo aide as executive director

Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics announced today that it picked Inspector General Ellen Biben to be its new Executive Director. The move has reportedlyirked some lawmakers because of Biben's close ties to Governor Andrew Cuomo. He appointed her to the IG post, and she worked alongside him as a special deputy of public integrity when he was Attorney General.

But from its creation at the end of last year, the commission has beenraising eyebrows and rousing suspicion for some of the appointees' relationships with those appointing them.

But at least one good-government group is praising the commission and the Governor's pick: the League of Women Voters.

The League supported the establishment of JCOPE and its strong oversight role as a step toward restoring trust in state government. We believe the appointment of Ms. Biben will contribute to that goal.

Former Chief Judge Judith Kay--the first woman to be a chief judge, and a Cuomo I appointee--said of Biben, "Ellen and I worked closely together for well over a year on an important public integrity investigation. Based on my daily experience with her, I found her to be a consummate professional, totally trustworthy, and knowledgeable in the law. Ellen's experience and integrity make her the perfect person for this position."

A JCOPE spokesperson said that Biben will resign her position as inspector general.


Speak Silver is on board with the Biben pick:

I respect the independence and integrity of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and honor its decision to name Ellen Biben as its new executive director. A former federal prosecutor, Ms. Biben is a highly qualified individual who is well respected by her peers throughout the legal community. I believe she will be a fair and capable executive director who will help hold our government to the highest ethical standards.

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Silver: Cuomo's 401K Plan Has Many 'Pitfalls'

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

State Assembly members are questioning Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposal to use 401Ks as a retirement option for future state workers.


The Empire

Minimum wage debate pits business against labor, but does little for most New Yorkers

Monday, January 30, 2012

Anna Sale / WNYC

The debate over a proposed state minimum wage increase is heating up as Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver introduced legislation Monday to raise the base from $7.25 to $8.50 per hour.

"Last year we began the process to instill fairness in New York's tax code, and now we are addressing the inequities at the lower end of the pay scale," Silver said in a statement about the legislation. "It is absurd to expect anyone to afford the cost of living today and be able to invest in their future on a pay rate of $7.25 an hour. That is why it is my top priority this legislative session to repair the ladder to success, to make an investment in our working families and ensure that they can continue to do so as the cost of living continues to rise."

Labor is predictably lining up opposite business groups, with allied think tanks providing policy arguments sure to be used by their respective sides. (Mayor Michael Bloomberg is coming in somewhere in between.)

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Legislative Leader Proposes Minimum Wage Increase

Monday, January 30, 2012

The top Democrat in New York's Legislature is pushing legislation to boost the state's minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 and then index it annually to the inflation rate.


The Empire

Redistricting analysis shows Assembly gerrymandering too, not surprising Kolb

Monday, January 30, 2012

Coverage of the redistricting process—including the coverage here--tends to focus on the state Senate. With the margin between the majority and minority party razor thin, overt attempts by the Senate Republicans to keep control are vividly evident.

But that doesn’t mean Democrats in the Assembly aren’t guilty of carving out election districts for maximum partisan benefit in the draft maps released last week.

In a presentation in Albany this morning, Common Cause’s Susan Lerner presented a PowerPoint presentation that showed what they say are Assembly districts as egregious as some of their counterparts in the Senate.

In Queens, Common Cause found the conservative-leaning Middle Village area chopped up into four separate districts to keep Democratic officials in those seats, as is the case today.

Courtesy of Common Cause.

Upstate, Assembly Democrats continue to divide up cities like Albany and Rochester to help dilute the impact of conservative voters. Rochester is divided into three separate districts, all of which are represented by Democrats. A similar situation is proposed for Syracuse.

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The Empire

Legislative leaders signal their cooperation on Cuomo's reform agenda

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

By Karen DeWitt, New York State Public Radio Capital Bureau Chief

Courtesy of the Governor's office.

Governor Andrew Cuomo is for the second year in a row asking the state legislature to enact some changes that promise to shake up business as usual at the Capitol. While, the governor was successful in persuading the legislature to adopt his ideas during his first year in office, it’s not yet known whether he have as much luck in the second year.

Cuomo’s budget plan contains at least two major policy shifts that the governor admits “pose dramatic change” that will unsettle the “big players” in Albany: pension reform and statewide teacher evaluation systems.

In both proposals, Cuomo is taking on powerful unions of state workers and teachers, who have long been allies of the Democrats who lead the Assembly and even Republicans who in charge of the state Senate. It’s an election year for all 212 members of the legislature, and unions often provide support for field campaigns in the form of volunteers to staff phone banks and to drop off campaign literature door to door.

Despite that, legislative leaders did not rule out backing Cuomo’s plans.

Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos worked cooperatively with the Democratic governor last year to enact a property tax cap. He also permitted the historic Senate vote on gay marriage, even though Skelos personally opposes same sex marriage. The Senate leader predicts that the budget will once again be on time, and that the legislature will ultimately approve Cuomo’s proposal for a new pension tier with fewer benefits for future workers.

“I believe there will be a three way agreement on pension reform,” said Skelos. “Which is significant.”

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who made a point recently of speaking to a rally organized by a group allied with the teachers union, says he thinks Cuomo’s plan to force teacher evaluation agreements makes sense.

“He’s on target,” said Silver. “It gives the incentive to both sides in the collective e bargaining process to come to an agreement.”

Although the governor’s policies, if enacted, will likely anger many established groups in Albany, lawmakers may conclude that they are taking an even greater chance if they alienate the extremely popular governor.

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The Empire

Cuomo writes state legislature on Aqueduct agreement

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Governor Andrew Cuomo sent a letter to the heads of the State Assembly and Senate today, declaring his desire to work with them "in a spirit of cooperation" on the details of the development of a convention center in Queens.

"Given the past history, while I may have the legal authority to proceed unilaterally, I choose to only proceed in full public view and with support of the legislature in a spirit of cooperation," the Governor wrote.

Cuomo hits on a number of contentious points critics of the plan have pounced on--transportation to the site, labor agreements, competition with the Belmont site, whether or not the city needs a new site, specifically in Queens--in an attempt, certainly, to help smooth the process his office has committed the state to, in a non-binding agreement.

"The state is not building anything. We are not spending public money on a convention center," the Governor wrote. "The bottom line is that this is a low risk, high reward business opportunity for the state."

The Governor also again stated his desire for the legislature to take up the legalization of gambling this session.

"I will also ask the legislature to consider passing language authorizing a Constitutional Amendment to allow casino gaming in the State of New York. That referendum would be at best two years from now – if ever – and should be considered as a separate issue from these current proposals," he said, and went on to state that he hoped the Aqueduct deal would be finished well ahead of the gambling legalization.

The full text is below, after the jump.

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The Empire

A new primary election date for New York is not an 'if' but a 'when'

Friday, December 16, 2011

It is a matter of fact: next year, New Yorkers will be going to the primary voting booth earlier than the September date than they’ve become accustomed to.

It is a matter of not if, but, specifically, when.

The man in whose hands our state’s primary date rests is Federal Judge Gary Sharpe. And from reports of the hearing he held last week, it doesn’t sound like he’s too excited with the task. Had New York State complied with a federal law that was meant to ensure military service members overseas were given enough time to vote, we wouldn’t be in this situation.

But we are, and Judge Share is currently collecting the final argumentsbefore making a ruling by December 27. In a number of documents provided to Judge Sharpe, stakeholders made their cases for the two different dates being pushed by Republicans and Democrats—an August primary or a June primary, respectively.

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The Empire

Tricky ethics picks bedevil new state ethics commission's first day

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Courtesy of the Governor's office

Since its appointment announcement yesterday, the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics has been criticized for some of the people picked by elected officials to serve on the commission that oversees elected officials in Albany. Here are some of the appointments that are raising the biggest questions:

1. Ravi Batra – appointed by Senate Minority Leader John Sampson

The biggest red flag being waved about Batra was his connection to incarcerated former Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Clarence Norman. Norman worked at Barta’s law firm, before being let go shortly after arrests were made that eventually led to Norman’s conviction on corruption charges. But it’s Batra’s position as a Democratic insider with connections to everyone, including as a fundraiser for the man that appointed him and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau praised Barta in a letter of recommendation for the position, saying, “His independent judgment, informed by real life, will serve the best interests of New Yorkers who deserve a government that above all serves the public good.”

But Chris Owens, a Brooklyn Democratic Party official, said the move raised serious questions about both the appointee and the elected official who appointed him: “Why would John Sampson, after all the questions about the Aqueduct scandal which everyone’s trying to put behind them, nominate somebody who has any kind of taint attached to his name?”

2. David Renzi – appointed by Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb

Back in 2008, as a candidate running for State Senate against then-Senator Darrel Aubertine, Renzi was accused of inappropriately accruing retirement credit with the State as an employee of Pamelia, New York, even though he wasn’t technically an employee. At the time of the report in the Watertown Daily Times, both of Renzi’s partners in his law firm were being investigated by the State Comptroller’s office for similar violations.

Renzi defended himself against the accusations, saying, "I have always held myself to highest ethical standards." The Pamelia town supervisor, Lawrence Longway, said Renzi is still employed by the town as an attorney and that the issue was overblown during an election year.

“It wasn’t like he was getting so much money from us and getting benefits on top,” Longway said. “Everyone in this area laughed, because if there’s anyone in this area that doesn’t give money away, it’s me.”

But that didn’t stop Aubertine from airing attack ads back in 2008 that accused Renzi of unethical behavior.

Additionally, Renzi’s wife is reported to be employed by State Senator Patty Ritchie, which the Watertown Daily Times has Dick Dadey of Citizens Union quoted raising concerns over:

For a JCOPE appointee to have his spouse employed by a state senator, while legal, crosses the line ethically…It doesn't look good to have such a tight association between an appointee and a state senator, over whom one has oversight.

3. Mary Lou Rath and Mitra Hormozi – appointed by Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Governor Andrew Cuomo, respectively

While neither Rath nor Hormozi were specifically targeted in the past over ethics (in fact, Hormozi was lauded by some for her work in the AG’s office), both violate a rule that says elected officials and government employees need to be out of Government for at least three years to be allowed to serve on JCOPE.

Rath was a State Senator from Erie County until she retired in 2008. Technically, she was in office until January 2009, when the current Senator, Michael Ranzenhofer, succeeded her, meaning she has at the time of her appointment not been out of government the full three years.

Hormozi served as the Attorney General’s special deputy chief of staff under Andrew Cuomo, before heading up the now-defunct New York State Commission on Public Integrity. This would make her ineligible under the rules.


Now, it’s not that everyone on the panel is facing fierce scrutiny. In fact two people in particular were highlighted as perfect picks for such a commission:

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The Empire

Cuomo's tax reform victory lap rolls through Brooklyn

Friday, December 09, 2011

The article has been updated from the original posting.

Colby Hamilton / WNYC

After covering Governor Andrew Cuomo enough, his administration’s fixation on control—of the message, of the agenda, of everything—can wear on you. You start to wonder about things.

Like today. Dozens, maybe hundreds of people crowded outside of a small auditorium on CUNY’s Medgar Evers College campus in Brooklyn this afternoon to see the Governor sign into law the inner city youth initiative part of his economic package passed earlier this week. It was so clearly going to be a fire hazard to let everyone in. Across the street there was an auditorium at least twice the size--why wasn't it being used? Maybe it was because reporters wouldn’t be able to write about the packed room the Governor spoke before.

Then again, who could blame him? This was the Governor’s victory tour, stop number two. The first, earlier in the day, was in Broome County,where he signed the flood relief bill into law. It will provide $50 million in relief to the areas still struggling to recover post-Tropical Storm Irene.

Then it was down to Brooklyn, where State Senate Minority Leader John Sampson praised Cuomo for tackling what the Governor called “an unemployment crisis within an unemployment crisis.”

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The Empire

Assembly Minority Leader Kolb not on board with Cuomo tax plan

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Elected officials, by and large, came out in support of the tax plan deal between Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb was not one of them. The upstate Republican blasted the measure as a tax hike, done behind closed doors and as a distraction from the issues New Yorkers needed real relief from:

From what has been reported in the media so far, the bottom line is that taxes are being raised in New York State and we are still not dealing with our state’s serious spending problem.  There is still no significant unfunded mandate relief for local governments.  We should be protecting taxpayers by capping local Medicaid costs, enacting a state spending cap and doing this through an open, public process where these issues are debated and discussed in the light of day, not through secret deals behind closed doors by three-men-in-a-room. Tax hikes have never been the answer for creating more private sector jobs and long-term prosperity for New Yorkers.  That still holds true today.

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The Empire

Cuomo, Skelos and Silver agree to tax reform package

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Governor Andrew Cuomo's office has announced a deal has been reached with Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to, among a series of proposals, reform New York State's tax code, resulting in nearly $2 billion in revenue for the state.

"Our state government has come together in a bipartisan manner to create jobs, grow our economy and, at the same time enact a fair tax plan that cuts taxes for the middle class," the Governor said in a three-way joint statement. "This would be lowest tax rate for middle class families in 58 years. This job-creating economic plan defies the political gridlock that has paralyzed Washington and shows that we can make government work for the people of this State once again."

The proposal would create new income brackets for people who earn $40,000 a year or more (those below $40,000 would pay no taxes):

"Assembly Democrats share the Governor's belief that we need to restore fairness and equity to our tax system - someone who makes $50,000 should not be paying the same tax rate as someone making $5 million," Silver said in the same statement.

As part of the deal, the MTA payroll tax would be decreased for small businesses, saving them an estimated $250 million. The shortfall in revenues would be picked up by the state.

An agreement was said to be reached on support for a state constitutional referendum on gambling.

The proposal would also create a new infrastructure fund to funnel billions into improving the state's bridges and roads, as well as water, parks and educational facilities.

Another proposal also includes a inner city youth program that would give tax breaks to employers who hired unemployed youth, as well as a $37 million training program.

Areas hit hard by storms earlier this year would be eligible for a new $50 million grant program. There would also be a job retention credit for businesses to stay in flood damaged areas. Manufacturers in the state are also being promised a lower tax rate.

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The Empire

Assembly to head back to Albany for special session next week

Friday, December 02, 2011

By Karen DeWitt, New York Public Radio Capital Bureau Chief

The New York State Assembly is coming back to Albany next Tuesday for an afternoon conference, and possibly a special session. Governor Andrew Cuomo has been seeking help from the legislature to close the growing budget deficit.

Assemblymembers have been told by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to come back to the Capitol for a 3 pm conference on Tuesday. They will go into session afterward if there’s anything at that time to vote on.

Governor Cuomo said earlier this week that “there is a need” for a special legislative session to address a $350 million dollar budget gap in the current fiscal year, and a growing $3.5 billion dollar gap for next year.

Among the items Cuomo is seeking is an overhaul of the state’s tax code, with could result in higher taxes on the wealthy, along with tax incentives to help spur job creation. Other steps could include budget cuts or one time revenue raisers. Another option, Cuomo says, is that he could ask the legislature for authority to make the decisions on specific budget cuts.

A Senate source on the Democratic side said they was confident they would be back as well. However, Senate Republicans say they have not scheduled anything for next week at this time.

With Colby Hamilton

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The Empire

LATFOR co-chair says Speaker Silver's independent commission idea could work

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Over the weekend, the Times Thomas Kaplan wrote that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was interested in striking a deal on redistricting:

In an interview this week, the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, sketched out what he said could be a compromise — an eight-member bipartisan commission, with equal representation for each party, that would be appointed by the Legislature but made up entirely of people who are not lawmakers. The Democratic and Republican leaders in the Assembly and Senate would each appoint two members who would have equal funding, access to data and control of the map-making process.

“I think that goes a long way toward reform,” Mr. Silver said. “It wouldn’t be a political advantage to anybody. Majorities cannot just draw districts to the exclusion and the detriment of the minorities.”

The man Silver has heading up the Assembly's efforts on the LATFOR committee, Jack McEneny, said he was fine with the idea.

"I would have no objection to the kind of thing that the Speaker was advocating," McEneny said in a brief phone interview. That's likely because McEneny said he's been saying he would be open to something similar to what the Speaker proposed since at least July.

"It would seem some outside force, above reproach but knowledgeable, would be helpful for the governor to judge a plan in detail, and then make recommendations to the governor to be signed, or veto, or simply amended," he said.

In statements, Senate Republican Majority spokesperson Scott Reif has mantained what's sounding more and more like a mantra on redistricting for his side: "Senate Republicans remain committed to a redistricting process that is bipartisan, open and fair."

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The Empire

Bad budget news continues

Friday, November 18, 2011

First there was the Assembly's "quick start" report released yesterday. There's a bit of uncertainty in the budget gap they see next year--whether it's a full $1.8 billion or if that figure takes into account the shortfall in this year's budget as well--but the message is the same.

[T]he [midyear report] notes that there are serious risks to the economic outlook of the nation and New York State. Problems that were central to the recent recession continue, particularly weaknesses in both the labor market and the housing market. Furthermore, a highly volatile stock market and the European debt crisis have created considerable uncertainty in the financial markets.

Today, State Comptroller Thoma DiNapoli's office heaped on the pile of budget downers with a release saying the October tax revenues were below expectations by $584 million.

“New York’s financial results over the past several months support the recent downward revisions to the State’s Financial Plan and reinforce recent Quick Start projections,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “It is more important than ever to confront our budgetary problems with responsible, recurring actions to ensure a fair and balanced budget that improves the health of our state’s economy.”

The Governor's office has said the budget gap next year could be as high as $3.5 billion.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Compromise Spending Bill Shaping Up, A Look at New York's Future Bike Share, and London's "Tour du Danger"

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Top stories on TN:

In the city that never sleeps, the subway will. (Link)

The structural integrity of California's Bay Bridge is in question. (Link)

Faster buses come to 34th Street -- but BRT, it ain't. (Link)

NY's new MTA chief sends warm signals to the transit workers union. (Link)

A demonstration bike share station in NYC (photo by Kate Hinds)

A compromise spending bill that funds the DOT through fiscal 2012 -- and preserves Amtrak -- is shaping up on the Hill. (Politico)

NPR profiles Alta, the company that won NYC's bike share contract, and says the city is poised to become a bike share Mecca.

A new electric truck assembly plant is moving into the Bronx. (Crain's New York)

Montreal's bike share program shuts down for the season today. (CBC)

There's a rise in the number of pedestrian deaths on Missouri roads. (KSPR)

The European financial crisis is affecting the rental car industry. (Marketplace)

Do New York's alternate side parking regulations bring peace and celebrate diversity? (New York Times)

New York State is hiring a financial consultant to figure out how to come up $5.2 billion to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge. (Times Herald-Record)

NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was injured in a bike accident. (Capital New York)

Hundreds of London cyclists participated in the "Tour du Danger," a tour of the city's 10 most dangerous intersections. (Guardian)

Jalopnik readers come up with what they call the ten cleverest ways to get drivers to slow down. A strategically-parked empty Crown Vic? Solar-powered fake cop lights? Holographic children? It's in there.


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The Empire

Pre-gaming the remaining redistricting process

Friday, November 04, 2011

This week marked the end of the first round of meetings of LATFOR, the joint legislative committee responsible for drawing New York’s political lines. More than 400 people from across the state testified, providing hundreds of hours of comments for legislators to take into account.

So now what?

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More Seats for Lower Manhattan, But Not Right Away

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Nearly 200 seats will be added to an elementary school planned for Lower Manhattan, city Education Department officials announced on Tuesday, but that additional space in a neighborhood that sorely needs it will not become available until 2015.

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The Empire

Silver says Occupiers aren't 'allies'

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Anna Sale / WNYC

It's A Free Country's Anna Sale caught up with the man who might be proponents of continuing the tax on higher-income earners--the "millionaires' tax"--best bet.

But that doesn't mean Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is looking to march with the Occupiers any time soon:

"I don't consider them political allies," Speaker Silver said at a press conference at his Manhattan office on Thursday. "I think they make a point. Clearly they highlight a point of frustration among Americans."

Silver had a conference call with reporters later in the day, as well, where he reportedly defended the Governor against some of the negative sentiments of the protesters. The Occupy Wall Street protesters are encamped in Silver's district and the Speaker hasn't been too happy about it.

Putting distance between himself and the protesters likely helps the Governor, who opposes continuing the taxes. Speaker Silver has said he won't jeopardize the budget process over keeping the taxes, essentially giving up the one tool he had to force the issue.

It appears, at least for now, that the Occupy movement is without a true champion when it comes to the millionaires' tax.

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