Schmitt touts victories in budget he mostly opposed

Assemblyman Colin Schmitt held a press conference in New Windsor with local officials on Wednesday to celebrate parts of the state budget completed two days earlier, such as a provision that made permanent the property-tax cap New York has had since Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office in 2011.

The only problem is that Schmitt voted against nine of 10 budget bills, including the one that contained the permanent tax cap.

Schmitt, a New Windsor Republican who took office in January, explained by phone on Wednesday that the one bill he did support – Aid to Localities – contained most of the items he touted that day, which were largely averted cuts like the aid that the Cuomo administration had proposed stripping from most towns and villages. And he said he voted against the tax-cap bill because it contained policies he strongly opposed, like the elimination of cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies and the creation of a “congestion-pricing” toll for driving below 60th street in Manhattan.

Schmitt wields little budget clout as a new member of a weak minority, but he said he feels sure he helped secure the permanent tax cap – even through Cuomo was so insistent on it that he refused to sign a budget without it, and even though the Senate had voted 58-2 for a permanent cap in January. He wasn’t one of the “three men in a room” in Albany’s notoriously closed budget haggling, but he did introduce a tax-cap bill, issue press releases and attend rallies to promote a permanent cap, including one that Cuomo held in Westchester County last month.

“I was proud to lead that effort for my conference and the (Assembly) chamber,” Schmitt said, later adding, “I am confident my efforts played a role in making this a reality.”

He took a bolder view in a press release last Sunday, declaring that he had “delivered” the permanent cap and thereby achieved his “top legislative priority in less than 3 months in office.”

The cap has restrained tax increases by letting school districts and local governments raise their levies by no more than two percent a year or the rate of inflation, whichever is less – a limit that boards can be override but usually don’t. Had it not been made permanent, it would have been up for renewal next year because of a sunset clause.

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