Cuomo Says Reagan Tax Reform Proposal Is Motivated by Ideology

Times Political Writer

New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, emerging as the severest critic of President Reagan’s tax overhaul program, charged Wednesday that the plan’s provision to eliminate deductions for state and local taxes is ideologically inspired and “would be a disaster for millions of beneficiaries of state and local services.”

Cuomo’s attack on the provision, in a speech before the National Press Club, was the latest round in a fierce rhetorical duel between the New York governor and the White House that has far-reaching implications for partisan politics and public policy.

At stake are Cuomo’s reelection prospects in New York next year and his potential as a national Democratic star. But far more importantly, also in the balance are the outcome of the current debate over tax reform, and the future scope of the services that can be performed by state and local governments.

Underlying Cuomo’s risky, aggressive criticism of the President’s program and implicit in his remarks Wednesday--delivered with a characteristic combination of passionate rhetoric, lawyerly logic and barbed wit--is what he plainly regards as a renewed threat from the Administration to the government activism fundamental to his and his party’s beliefs.


In seeking to eliminate the ability to deduct state and local taxes, Cuomo charged, the Administration is motivated not only by the need for revenue but also by the goal of financially restricting state and local government operations--similar to the way Reagan’s 1981 tax cut has curbed the federal government.

Quotes Buchanan

As evidence, Cuomo cited a recent White House press briefing at which communications director Patrick J. Buchanan acknowledged that “an ancillary consequence” of disallowing the state and local tax deduction would be to prompt citizens of high-tax states to “take a long second look at what they’re getting for the government they’re paying for.”

Calling this “an explosion of candor,” Cuomo contended that the Administration had said, in effect: “What we’re trying to do is to hurt high-tax states like New York . . . to force them to ignore the people in wheelchairs, to do nothing for people who need education. . . . And they want that because sociologically they know it’s good for the country to have less government.”


Contending that Reagan had thus cast the tax reform debate as “an ideological struggle,” Cuomo claimed to be “delighted” at the prospect. “I hope they keep saying that it is us against the welfare statists” because in those terms, he asserted, “there’s no way” for Democrats to be for tax reform.

Claims Provision Divisive

Apart from his concern that the Reagan plan would limit the role of state and local government, Cuomo also charged that the proposal “would set state against state, region against region” and would contravene the long-cherished conservative principles of states’ rights and federalism.

Cuomo’s decision to aggressively confront the Administration on tax reform, at a time when most other Democrats have been more restrained in expressing reservations, is considered by some of his fellow Democrats to represent a gamble both for the governor and his party.


They worry that Cuomo’s hard-hitting, well-publicized attacks will allow the White House to depict him and other Democrats as representatives of the concerns of interest groups and the doctrine of free-spending big government--a concept that now appears out of favor with the electorate.

Tactical Error Feared

Moreover, some say they thought it was a tactical error for the governor to become directly involved in an argument not with Reagan, but with Buchanan, who, as one Democratic activist pointed out, is “somebody who was never really elected to anything.”

Buchanan has been quick to respond vociferously to Cuomo’s criticism, accusing him of “unbuttoned bellicosity” and labeling his memorable keynote speech to the 1984 Democratic National Convention as a “trash-America tirade.”


But some of Cuomo’s allies argue that he has had no alternative but to attack the President’s plan because of the economic threat that disallowing the state tax deduction poses to New York. Besides, they said, the White House counterattack on Cuomo could backfire by making him the champion of the Reagan plan’s critics.

Asserted Cuomo aide Brad Reynolds: “Buchanan’s statements are making a folk hero of the governor.”