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Candidates in Depth

Al Stirpe & Don Miller compete for Assembly again


Everyone who votes on Tuesday in New York state will choose who will represent them in the state Assembly and Senate.  Very few of those races are truly competitive, with many incumbents running unopposed or against candidates who have no chance of winning.  The exception in central New York is the race for the newly created 127th Assembly district.. which is a rematch of a very close race two years ago.

You can sense how competitive this race is by the amount of political flyers flooding voters mailboxes and commercials competing on the airways in a suburban/rural district that stretches from Cicero down through Tully.  

Republican incumbent Don Miller and Democrat challenger Al Stirpe, who lost the district to Miller two years ago by fewer than 1,000 votes, are spending more than $800,000 between them on the race, much of that coming from state party coffers.

In his two years in Albany, Miller, who is 46,  has made keeping down taxes his major goal. He voted against the governor's two percent tax cap, instead proposing a zero percent property tax cap that includes mandate relief. He's become a kind of "Dr. No" in the Assembly, voting against many spending bills, because of what he says is rampant political patronage.

"I can't look at a budget and by some estimates, is bloated by political money by five or six or seven percent and out of $132 billion -- that's a lot of money.  I can't look at a budget like that and vote yes, and walk away.  That's not what they hired me to do, and I won't do that," said Miller.

Stirpe, who is 59, served in the Assembly from 2006 to 2010. He criticizes Miller's "no vote" mentality.  And while he admits taxes are high, he expects tax relief to come to New Yorkers soon.

"The singular most burdensome tax we have is property tax, and it's driven by lots of mandates. And the Mandate Relief Council that spent a year going around the state finding mandates and the things that need to be looked at, and repealed, has presented their findings to the governor  I think we'll probably spend some of 2013 and 2014 enacting some of that mandate relief," said Stirpe.

One of the big issues of the race is the debate over raising the minimum wage.  Miller is opposed to the idea, saying it would hurt business. He suggests lowering a handful of taxes that would equal the value of the minimum wage increase that the legislature proposed.

"If we were to do that, just roll those taxes back a little bit, we would instantly increase the value of everyone's paycheck, and we wouldn't have to have a discussion or debate over who gets to keep their jobs or who loses their jobs because of the increased cost of labor," Miller said.

Stirpe disagrees about the effect of a higher minimum wage.

"It never has cost jobs.  It gives people who spend their money as soon as they get it because they have so little of it, it gives them more money to spend," Stirpe said. "And that actually energizes the economy."

The wage debate also extends to women.  Stirpe criticizes Miller for not supporting legislation that would require equal pay for women. Miller says it's not necessary, because there is federal legislation that requires equal pay already on the books, and he thinks it would drive wages down, not up.
"And that is exactly the opposite of what I think my predecessor, and certainly I, would want to accomplish.  I don't want to hold anyone back because some government office, some government bureau somewhere, says that I've got comply with a set of rules that doesn't make any sense in a real-life, real-time business environment," Miller said.

Stirpe though believes this legislation is needed to do what the Federal legislation of 1963 doesn't.

"They passed legislation during reconstruction after the Civil War.  It didn't mean blacks were equal or got the right to vote.  So you had to keep working at it 'til you got it down.  And I think it's the same thing with women," said Stirpe.

The election will most likely be decided by independent voters.  While Republicans have a slight edge registration wise, a quarter of the voters in this district aren't affiliated with any political party.