By Joseph Spector
Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY Former Gov. George Pataki, former Comptroller Carl McCall and union and business leaders will lead a tax-cutting commission set up by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Cuomo made the announcement Wednesday in Westchester County, which has the highest property taxes in the nation.
The commission is expected to find ways to cut $2 billion to $3 billion in taxes over the next few years.
Cuomo said property taxes would be the top priority for the commission. In addition to the high taxes in the New York City area, upstate counties, including Monroe County, pay the highest property taxes compared to home values in the nation.
"We are way out of pace with the rest of the country in terms of property tax, both in dollars and in percentage," Cuomo said. "And property taxes are a scourge all across the state."
Others named to the panel are Denis Hughes, former president of the AFL-CIO in New York, and Heather Briccetti, president of the state Business Council. Dall Forsythe, a former budget director, will also be on the panel, as will former Buffalo-area Rep. Jack Quinn.
The announcement comes after Cuomo had hinted privately that he will seek to cut taxes next year-when he and the Legislature seek re-election.
Cuomo touted the bi-partisan nature of the commission. Cuomo has highlighted his ability to work with Republicans and Democrats in Albany-particularly at a time when Washington is gridlocked.
Pataki, who lives in Garrison, Putnam County, is the three term Republican governor who defeated Cuomo's father, Mario, in 1994. McCall is a former Democratic comptroller who Cuomo unsuccessfully challenged for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2002.
Pataki joked that he thought Cuomo had the wrong number when he first called him to serve on the panel, but said the effort is sincere.
"I believe that this commission can work together in the public interest and suggest significant tax relief that will help the people of this state with their tax burden and will help our economy grow to create the jobs we need," Pataki said.
Pataki, who has toyed with running for president, blasted the inaction in Washington, alluding to the federal government shutdown. Cuomo is considered a potential 2016 presidential candidate.
"It's hard to say this calmly, but government has to work. When you look at what is happening in Washington, it's extremely sad for the people of this country," Pataki said. "Elections are political. Governing should be able the people and the public interest."
New York is regularly cited as having the worst business climate in the nation.
Cuomo has sought to fight New York's high taxes by instituting a property-tax cap in 2011, and this year he announced tax-free zones for private companies that locate near college campuses. Income taxes were also lowered slightly last year.
"We have already started down the road of tax relief, but this commission's charge is now to map out the next phase of tax relief," Cuomo said.