Anti-Tax Issue Packs Wallop

Special elections for the New York State Assembly — or any state legislature, for that matter — don’t draw national attention and A-list punditry. Even the most passionate political “junkie” finds such races parochial and not indicative of any national trend.

But in New York State on Tuesday, three of the four special elections to fill open Assembly seats did gave notice throughout the Empire State and nationwide in the mid-term election year:  the anti-tax message yields rich political dividends for candidates who employ it. 

In two Assembly districts that were formerly held by Democrats, anti-tax conservatives scored net gains for the Republican Party Tuesday.  In Suffolk County, small businessman Dean Murray won a previously Democratic seat with 51% of the vote and in Westchester, former Town Councilman Robert Castelli rolled up 56% of the vote in another Assembly district formerly held by a Democrat. In both districts, Democrats have an advantage in voter registration.  And winners Murray and Castelli both ran with the ballot line of the New York State Conservative Party and the anti-tax New Yorkers for Growth.

In Nassau County, Republican Michael Montesano kept a traditionally GOP seat in Republican hands with 72% of the vote and, again, he ran with the blessings of the Conservative Party and New Yorkers for Growth. (A seat formerly held by his brother and before him, their father.)

The three GOP winners Tuesday also had something in common:  all hit hard at Democratic Gov. David Paterson’s proposed increase in New York’s MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) tax (or “Mobility Tax,” as it is officially called by the state budget office), a regional payroll tax which funds mass transit in New York City. 

“It’s basically a payroll tax on the suburbs,” according to historian and author David Pietrusza, who knows all things New York, “It helped bring down the Democrats in [county government elections] in Westchester, Suffolk and Nassau in November.”

New York State Assembly Republican Leader Brian Kolb agreed, as he told reporters Wednesday:  “The political shockwaves that began back on November 3rd when Republican candidates were victorious in local races across New York, and continued with U.S. Senator Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts, were felt again last night as our candidates Dean Murray, Bob Castelli and Michael Montesano were victorious in their Assembly special elections. These victories were not driven by political partisanship but taxpayers who were fed up and frustrated with a broken state government and wanted real change.”

The same issue could well oust Democratic State Sens. Craig Johnson (Nassau) and freshman Brian Foley (Suffolk) this November and boost Republicans in their efforts to defeat Paterson and other Democrats in statewide office. 

And in terms of its national impact, well, if opposition to taxes can help Republicans gain in New York, of all places, it follows that it could pack a wallop for conservatives nationwide in 2010.