Cutting taxes and making the Lower Hudson Valley affordable have become talking points of this year’s campaign cycle for candidates vying for state office. Justin Wagner certainly isn’t the exception to that rule.
Wagner, a Democrat running for the 40th district senate seat, released the final part of his proposed three point tax plan last week, outlining certain avenues that could lead to taxes potentially decreasing for residents in the region. The three points include a constitutional amendment stopping new unfunded mandates, ending Medicaid mandates on county governments and streamlining the process and attempting to provide relief for localities that deal with pension spikes.
He said two of his points address the overwhelming crunch currently felt by local governments, and the other point is to stop that spike once those governments get it under control.
By putting an amendment in place to prevent unfunded mandates, Wagner references a senate bill sponsored by a Democratic senator and Republican senator that would create a new state council that would decide on whether new state laws would create a headache for local governments and if so, bar the mandate from being passed down.
“Our region pays some of the highest property taxes in the country and the real driver are mandates from Albany,” he said. “So my premise is if Albany has a good idea, Albany should pay for it and they should stop using local government as a piggybank.”
Wagner also wants to streamline Medicaid bureaucracies because he believes they are currently too redundant. Right now, every county has its own Medicaid bureaucracy and is in charge of taking on much of the costs of Medicaid. By consolidating services, it would take pressure off counties.
Another way to address hefty property taxes is to provide help and predictability to local governments that are hit with unexpected pension costs. Wagner proposes state aid be given when the spikes occur. He also said the state should smooth pension costs in the state mandated, state administered pension costs.
“There would be costs associated with it, we don’t have a magic wand,” Wagner said of the plan. “But by streamlining and consolidating programs and having them run more efficiently, we can save localities money.”
Wagner said he’s heard from voters, “We don’t want to just have taxes capped, we want to see them lowered.”
Wagner also said if elected, he would “absolutely” have enough support to get his plan put into motion, calling property taxes a bipartisanship fight.
In order to get elected, Wagner would have to get through either Republican Terrence Murphy, a Yorktown councilman or Republican Bob Castelli, a former assemblyman. The two are facing off in a primary to determine who will be on the ticket for the general election. Wagner ran and lost to Greg Ball in 2012. Ball is leaving office after his current term is up.
Castelli’s spokesman Charlie Banks said in a statement regarding Wagner’s tax plan, “Assemblyman Castelli helped shepherd both a much-needed middle-class tax cut and a property tax cap through a hostile Legislature, two conservative agenda items that had been sitting idle for years. It’s not enough just to want tax reform in Albany; you have to know how to get it done. Bob Castelli is the only candidate in this race who has shown that he can do it.”
Meanwhile, T.J. McCormack, a Murphy spokesman said in the online publication, the Putnam Daily Voice that Wagner’s plan was “nothing new” and Murphy actually cut taxes in Yorktown twice.
The 40th senate seat covers parts of Westchester, Putnam, and Dutchess counties.