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Editorial: An unfair and unaffordable tax bill

Reps. Chris Collins and Tom Reed are about to sell New Yorkers down the river. They have time to change their minds and join the rest of the state’s delegation – Republican and Democratic – in opposing the clattering Rube Goldberg contraption they call tax reform. State taxpayers can only hope they will.

Real tax reform – fair, well considered, affordable – remains an important goal, but the versions bouncing around in the House and Senate are none of those things. They were thrown together in haste, with the apparent goal – if Collins’ comments are accurate – of pleasing high-dollar donors.

For New Yorkers, though, the plans are especially galling. With their attacks on the deductibility of state income taxes, they stand to drive up the taxes that residents of this state already pay. That will hurt everyone and could drive a stake through the heart of Buffalo’s economic revival.

What is more, New Yorkers are already net donors to the federal treasury, sending more tax dollars to Washington than they ever get back in benefits or services. New York’s delegation should be more interested in rebalancing that equation, or at least ensuring that what is already bad doesn’t become worse.

It’s startling that these two Republicans – Collins of Clarence and Reed of Corning – are so slavishly devoted to legislation that will hurt their state. They need to take a moment to consider why their colleagues want nothing to do with a measure that hit New Yorkers up for even more money.

Indeed, their recent approach to their work verges on patricide. For months, Collins and Reed have been on a campaign that would harm the state. Today, it’s the deductibility of state taxes, but only a few weeks ago it was about Medicaid funding. If they aren’t on a mission to undermine the state, they’re doing what they can to make it seem that way.

Is it because they so dislike Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo? Would they be doing this if George Pataki were still governor, or if Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino had defeated Cuomo in 2014? Is it about undermining Cuomo – a potential candidate for president – as his re-election year looms? None of those things counts as good governance or even good constituent service.

The last time the country enacted serious tax reform was when Ronald Reagan was president. The 1986 measure, which drew bipartisan support, was well considered, generally fair and – importantly – revenue neutral. Indeed, Reagan, an actual conservative, threatened to veto any bill that wasn’t.

The current effort is none of those. It was slapped together in secret, it is grossly unfair, it does little for small businesses and, to top it all off, it would explode the federal budget deficit. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the House measure would increase federal red ink by $1.7 trillion over 10 years. Why do that?

It certainly has nothing to do with economic growth. The supply-side theory – cut taxes enough and economic growth will make up for revenue losses – has been thoroughly discredited. It didn’t work during the Reagan years and it failed spectacularly in Kansas, where the Republican-controlled state legislature recently raised taxes to compensate for the financial disaster brought on by Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts.

What is more, the timing is exactly wrong. The American economy is booming today. This is the time for Washington to focus on paying down the deficit so that when then next recession hits, as it will, the country can then afford to run some red ink.

That’s when deficits are necessary and appropriate. It’s why the deficit crested the $1 trillion threshold through much of Barack Obama’s presidency. The calamity of the Great Recession required deficit spending. Without it, millions more people would have lost their homes and their jobs.

Even then, congressional Republicans complained bitterly about the deficit, though it shrank dramatically as the economy improved. They insisted upon the foolish “sequestration,” meant to force automatic across-the-board budget cuts.

So why is it that now, with their party in control of both chambers of Congress and a strong economy, the deficit suddenly doesn’t matter? It’s hard to shake the idea that it has something to do with satisfying the financial lusts of the donor class that has told Collins that he had better put up if he wants to see any more of their money.

That’s bad enough, but even then it doesn’t require Collins and Reed to sell out their own constituents. They need to recognize that this is a bad bill, produced in an irresponsible fashion.

Tax reform remains an important goal, but to do it right, Congress needs to start over, and, unless these two congressman have an awakening, they would do their state a favor by staying out of it.

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