In the latest from Albany and Washington …

Republican Rep. Tom Reed supported Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s calls to institute a permanent property tax cap on municipalities and school districts, but Democratic Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton isn’t siding with Cuomo. State Senator Tom O’Mara called out state Democrats’ proposed farm labor regulations and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand put the Finger Lakes on track to potentially see more federal money for local tourism.

Rep. Tom Reed (23rd Congressional District)

Last week, Rep. Tom Reed reaffirmed his support for permanently capping the amount New York state property taxes can be raised by municipalities and school districts each year. While the U.S. Representative does not have a vote in Albany, it’s a rare occasion where Reed is allied with Cuomo, who is pushing for the permanent cap to be included in this year’s state budget.

“I’d like to open this week by doing something that’s a little unusual,” Reed said on a conference call with reporters last week. “I’d like to applaud Governor Cuomo for his recent commitment in black and white that he would not sign a budget in New York that does not include the property tax cap.”

Reed did however buck Cuomo on his continued attacks against President Trump on the state and local tax (SALT) cap provision of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The SALT cap limits the amount of itemized deductions taxpayers can claim on their federal return for state and local taxes, capping it at $10,000. Cuomo has been railing that the provision targets richer states, like New York, claiming it’s caused a $2.6 billion shortfall in tax revenue in New York for this fiscal year.

Rep. Tom Reed addresses the crowd in Enfield at a town hall. (Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)

In Washington last week, Reed took to the dais in the House Ways & Means Subcommittee on Social Security where he presided as ranking member over a hearing regarding the program’s long-term funding. In his opening statement, Reed said Republicans want to keep Social Security solvent for the middle class without raising taxes.

“Our principals in this mission are simple,” Reed said. “Long term economic growth by encouraging work, not penalizing it, equal treatment for public servants, acting now to defend those future generations’ benefits and protecting the most vulnerable people through focused reforms.”

He questioned witnesses later in the hearing, emphasizing the idea that greater economic growth should lead to increased wages and therefore greater payouts for Social Security beneficiaries in retirement. His questioning garnered muted responses from the panel.

Later in the week, Reed voted in favor of a symbolic resolution encouraging the Department of Justice to publicly release the full report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia Investigation. The resolution passed by a vote of 420-0 in the House, but was blocked from coming up for a vote in the Senate by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). It’s currently up to recently confirmed Attorney General William Barr how much, if any, of the report will be released.

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-125th Assembly District)

Assemblywoman Lifton struck a different tone than Reed when it comes to Cuomo’s proposal to make the property tax cap permanent.

“I understand the crushing burden that high property taxes can bring to New York residents, but I believe there are better ways to deal with this problem than a permanent tax cap, such as a state takeover of Medicaid or increased state aid to local school districts,” Lifton said in a statement to the Ithaca Voice last week. “For these reasons, I don’t support a permanent property tax cap, but I support an extension of the current tax cap without making it permanent.”

Lifton joins the Assembly leadership in that stance. Despite the pressure, Cuomo has reaffirmed that he will not budge, leading to potentially heated negotiations as the state draws close to the April 1 deadline to approve its budget.

A former high school teacher, Lifton was named to the legislature’s joint committee charged with overseeing the state’s education budget for the 2020 fiscal year. In a hearing last week she praised the proposed raises for school district funding especially in the areas of technical education and libraries, but called for more investment in capital funds for BOCES units.

The Assembly also passed a bill that would effectively block the construction of a trash incinerator within the Seneca Army Depot complex in Romulus. The project drew intense backlash from Democrats and Republicans across the board. Lifton co-sponsored the legislation.

State Senator Tom O’Mara (R-58th N.Y. Senate District)

State Senator Tom O’Mara was named as an alternate for the join Senate-Assembly budget conference committee on transportation funding, but he was not called on to serve in the body’s hearing last week.

O’Mara spoke out against a Democratic piece of legislation that’s been around Albany for the last few years which would strengthen labor regulations on farms and other agriculture-based businesses. The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act would mandate that farm workers be compensated for overtime, be given a 24-hour period off per week and be allowed collective bargaining rights. O’Mara is not a fan.

“The misguided and misrepresented Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act poses an extreme action at a time of already severe economic struggle for New York State farmers,” O’Mara wrote in a letter to the Democratic leadership last week. “Worse, the Act’s consequences would produce a nightmare of a ripple effect across local communities in every region of this state and profoundly diminish the future of high quality, local food production.”

The state Senate also took action to bring young Bingo enthusiasts out of the back rooms and dark alleys where they have been playing, since those under the age of 18 have been legally barred from the game in the state. O’Mara voted, with all but one senator, to allow young Bingo fans to play the game freely… or at least with adult supervision.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer & U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

Senator Gillibrand scored a small victory for the Finger Lakes region in the Senate last week. A piece of legislation authorizing a study that could lead to the designation of the region as a National Heritage Area was passed as part of the Natural Resource Management Act. If the study by the National Park Service is approved, it could open additional avenues for federal funding to support the area’s tourism.

The Senate voted to disapprove of President Trump’s emergency declaration to build a southern border wall. Gillibrand and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer voted for the resolution (against the emergency) along with 59 other senators including 12 Republicans. The move led to President Trump’s first presidential veto, which is unlikely to be overridden by the House or Senate.

Featured image: Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton answers questions at a meeting. (Ithaca Voice file photo)

Vaughn Golden

Vaughn Golden is a freelance radio and print reporter covering politics around the southern tier and central New York. He authors the weekly "Capitol Watch" watchdog report on Ithaca's representatives...