By JASON RODRIGUEZ
Special to the OBSERVER
It is likely the campaign for the 150th state assembly seat has reached your mailbox.
In a series of letter-sized mailings, supporters of Nancy Bargar have highlighted some of the key ideas expressed in her campaign. But her opposition has not been silent over the content appearing in many mailboxes throughout the district.
One of the first to circulate shows an image of a mock check card bearing the title Chautauqua families, and the boldface message above reads "Chautauqua County families can't afford to be Albany's ATM."
"State property taxes grew a staggering 73 percent from 1998 to 2008, which is more than twice the rate of inflation," it reads, adding Bargar is the candidate that supports a property tax cap.
However, in a phone interview, Andy Goodell, Republican candidate, said it was a curious assertion to be made from the incumbent majority party. He said the mailing omits the last two years of legislative activity, when he says Democrats in the Assembly raised taxes by $14 billion.
"We are their ATM because they are the ones in power," said Goodell, "Every single Republican in the Assembly voted against these tax increases."
Allan Hendrickson, chairman of the Chautauqua County Republican Party, submitted his own comments in a letter to the newspaper.
"To add insult to injury, the Assembly Democrats also voted to impose sales taxes on all clothing purchases, just in time to hurt every family that is struggling to make ends meet at Christmas time. This tax will drive many our families clothing purchases out of our county. Isn't it ironic that one of the Nancy Bargar's brochures says 'Nancy Bargar knows any tax increase, no matter how small, will be felt by Chautauqua's hardworking families-people already struggling under heavy taxes and a barren job market' when her fellow Democrats have just recently added the clothing tax to our tax burden."
In a written response to her opponents, Bargar said she is running an independent campaign that does not have to conform with her colleagues across the state.
"I don't agree with every policy decision of every member of my party," she states, "the same way that I would hope (Goodell) might not agree with the statements and positions of every member of his party."
LOBBYIST, TAX SPY CLAIMS
A second mailer states Ms. Bargar is fighting to lower sales taxes so county residents can afford to shop locally. The same document highlights Goodell's involvement in the state's campaign to track county residents who made out-of-state purchases in 1992.
"Do you remember that as county executive, Andy Goodell had Chautauqua County families followed and our license plates photographed while we shopped in Pennsylvania malls?" the mailer reads, "Then we got letter demanding we pay tax on our purchases."
In a recent debate conducted at The Post-Journal, Goodell said James Wexler, state tax commissioner, confirmed to reporters the tax department in Albany decided to implement the "tax spying" idea. He referred to articles from the local newspaper.
"To run ads to say that I convinced him to do this is flat out wrong," he said. "I never denied suggesting an informational program advising people what the current (tax) law was. That's not what they did."
But Ms. Bargar countered with articles of her own. In January 1993, the Evening Observer reported "Mr Goodell has not denied that he suggested the 'experiment' in educating cross-border shoppers about their obligations, although he has emphasized it was just one of a series of ideas for giving New York merchants 'a level playing field' when competing with retailers in Pennsylvania."
A contemporary article in the Buffalo News cites Wexler's own claim that Goodell suggested tracking vehicles across state lines and sending out letters.
Goodell responded to claims made in another mailer that he was paid nearly $100,000 in 2007 as a lobbyist for an Australian firm seeking to redevelop a casino and raceway in New York City.
"I am an attorney and I represent a lot of clients. If I have a client that is working with the state, I am required by law to become a registered lobbyist," he said. "It doesn't mean I run a lobbying firm out of Jamestown, it means I register as a lobbyist and I comply with all the lobbying requirement acts when I represent a client."
CUT AND PASTE
Goodell has taken issue with the latest mailing, which he said includes a fabricated quote.
The document cites him saying, in unbroken quotes, "A slightly higher sales tax, a very small increase in the sales tax, makes it easier to pay the tax. We're talking about one quarter of a penny on a dollar - one quarter of a penny on a dollar."
But he said the lines are taken from a radio interview he gave at WRFA, and in response to a direct question about the legislature's option to keep the sales tax at 7.75 percent, instead of scaling it back to 7.5 percent. He said he defended the advantages of taxing broadly via sales purchases for residents and visitors alike instead of having property owners getting a hit with a large tax bill once a year.
Said Goodell in the transcript: "If you have a slightly higher sales tax - and we are talking about one-quarter of a penny on a dollar, one-quarter of a penny on a dollar is what they are talking about- but that one-quarter of a penny on the dollar that they are talking about on the sales tax increase translates into $3.2 million dollars of property tax."
Later, he added: "Higher property taxes hurt people, hurt businesses, hurt farmers. A slightly higher sales tax, a very small increase in the sales tax, makes it easier to pay the tax, it is more progressive, and it results in a lot of our visitors and friends paying more of our taxes."
He described the combined sentence fragments as taken out of context. Goodell added his statements were in response to a question as to whether he would support keeping the sales tax rate at the same rate it was currently, and he said he would in order to effect a reduction in property taxes.
While Goodell took issue with the language used by his opponent throughout the campaign, Ms. Bargar said the concept of her message is unchanged.
"Let me restate what the other camp would like to obscure: my opponent is on record as supporting a higher sales tax,'' Ms. Bargar said. ''He was a lobbyist in Albany and the State Tax Commissioner did say that sending tax agents to Pennsylvania was done at my opponent's urging. I have documentation to support these statements and I stand by them."
Ms. Bargar's mailing campaign has been administered by the state Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee, whose watermark appears on each ad. According to Kathleen Joyce, DACC executive director, the committee has paid for both the printing and postage of the mailers. Leading up to one month until the general election, it has spent $34,000 on the Bargar campaign.
Opponents have criticized Ms. Bargar's association with statewide Democrats.
"The Assembly Democrats sent four campaign pieces on behalf of Ms. Bargar in just over a week," said Hendrickson, "and it appears that they are intent on 'buying' this election so that they can have another Democrat join their ranks to ensure that they maintain their control of the State Assembly and continue their tax and spend policies."
But Ms. Bargar said she is pleased with the scope of support she has in her campaign, including from many non-Democrats.
"When I have come up short in prior campaigns, friends and supporters have lamented the fact that I was not receiving money from the state party," she said. "I welcome the financial assistance as it is helping me get out my message."
An undisclosed amount has been spent on a single mailer for Goodell by the Republican State Committee, which highlights his experience as county executive. In a recent discussion, Ms. Bargar said her opponent cannot mark this as an exclusive achievement, since her own tenure as a county legislature overlaps with Goodell's own tenure as executive.
"Not only was I on the finance committee all 10 years," she said, "but I was the only Democrat on budget watch subcommittee. I was just as close as I could be as a lawmaker to the budget as he was to creating the budget in the first place."