Times like these should bring out the better instinct of our elected officials. Unfortunately, as we know, that’s not always the case. Some Republicans on Capitol Hill seem determined to shut down the federal government just to make a point. Some Democrats are demanding even higher taxes, especially on a group loosely defined as “rich.” Hard times can bring out the best in some people, as they did during the city’s fiscal crisis in the 1970s. But hard times encourage demagogues as well.
Fortunately, New York State’s dire finances seem to be encouraging statesmanship rather than cheap populism. When Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver recently acknowledged that the poorly named “millionaire’s tax” is doomed to expire at the end of the year, it was a sign that reality is beginning to sink in among Albany’s leaders.
Mr. Silver’s concession took no small amount of courage, for most of his fellow Democrats in the Assembly desperately want to extend a tax hike on incomes of more than $200,000 a year. The tax is due to expire in December, and both Governor Cuomo and the Senate Republicans are happy to let it die. But Assembly Democrats would love to be able to spend the estimated $1 billion that the tax would raise in the fiscal year beginning April 1. They would love to create a political firestorm over the issue, if only to make themselves feel better when they lose, as they inevitably will.
Instead, Mr. Silver has conceded that the time has come to move on to other ideas. “I am realistic and I am practical,” the speaker told the Post‘s Fred Dicker. Without the support of Mr. Cuomo, he said, the tax will expire.
As well it should. New York simply cannot tax its way out of its mess. Mr. Cuomo knows that; the Senate Republicans know that; and now it seems as though Mr. Silver knows that, too. With that issue settled, Albany’s leaders can begin to figure out new and creative ways of reducing spending and unnecessary or outdated services while keeping pain to a minimum.
Mr. Silver very likely will have a hard time selling this to his fellow Democrats. That he seems prepared to attempt to sell it speaks highly of his understanding that this is not the time for soak-the-rich faux populism. Now is the time for solutions, not cheap political theater.