Mark Green has spent the last year trying to convince many New York votersand the city's business communitythat he is a moderate on tax and budget issues, despite his long liberal pedigree. But now Green has made his first significant efforts to develop fiscal and economic policies, and they suggest that his critics, who have doubted that Green has really changed his liberal stripes, may have been right all along.
In the wake of the Sept. 11 bombing, Green has assembled an advisory group on budget and tax policy that is filled with tax-and-spend liberals, most of whom have been in hiding since the woeful last years of the Dinkins and Cuomo administrations. The group he's selected not only belies Green's assurances that he's a moderate on tax issues, it undermines his declarations that he is a man of vision who plans to seek bold new ways to govern. Suddenly, a potential Green administration is looking like nothing more than Dinkins Redux.
In a budget briefing a few weeks ago, Mayor Giuliani said that raising taxes now, after the body blow the city's economy suffered in the wake of Sept. 11, would be "moronic." But raise taxes is exactly what many of these folks now advising Green advocated under remarkably similar circumstances in the early 1990s, when the city's economy suffered from a recession aggravated by the Gulf War.
Among the Green counselors is Mario Cuomo's former budget director, Dall Forsythe, who ran the books during some of the Cuomo administration's worst years of fiscal gimmickry and tax increases. Back then, the Cuomo administration plugged holes in the budget by having the state "sell" a highway and prisons to itself, acts that were widely criticized by budget watchdogs. And Forsythe advocated tax increases in some of the worst economic times. In 1993 he co-authored a report for the Dinkins administration on how to solve the city's budget deficit that pushed for new taxes, even though the Dinkins administration had already raised them twice in the previous four years. When Mayor-elect Giuliani received the report after he defeated Dinkins, he took one look at its suggestions and chucked it in the garbage.
Other prominent liberal economic advisers to Dinkins are also playing a role in the Green kitchen cabinet.
Sally Hernandez-Pinero was Dinkins' chief deputy when he was Manhattan borough president in the mid '80s, then deputy mayor for Economic Development when he was mayor. She helped craft an ineffective economic-development policy that featured inconsequential programs like micro-loans and relocation incentives for small, outer-borough businesses.
Meanwhile, the Dinkins administration was raising taxes, fines and fees on companies citywide. Not surprisingly, under this strategy, the city's business failure rate increased more than tenfold, from about 400 businesses during the last year of the Koch administration, to more than 4,000 businesses in 1992.
Those who fear Green hasn't really changed his stripes need only look at his appointment to this panel of Herman "Denny" Farrell, the chairman of the State Assembly's Ways and Means Committee. Earlier this year, Farrell rejected Mayor Giuliani's pleas to allow the city to cut the hotel tax, arguing that people don't stay away from New York because of its high costs. I often heard exactly that kind of sentiment during the Dinkins years, when his advisors consistently maintained that the businesses and citizens of New York were willing to accept higher taxes for the privilege of being hereeven as companies and residents headed for the exits in droves.
Another adviser is New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi, the mayoral candidate who, like Green, tried hard to persuade the electorate he was a moderate until it became politically expedient to do otherwise. Seeking the endorsement of the teachers' union, Hevesi became the first mayoral candidate to advocate raising city taxes to bolster the Board of Education's budget.
This taxing cast of characters suggests Green is unmoved by tax cuts enacted by Giuliani and the economic prosperity that followed, or by the crisis that now confronts the city. It will be instructive to see what this group produces, and what Green does with their report.
I already know where Rudy Giuliani would file it.