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New York Republicans who voted for the tax bill are looking in vain for voters who support it

"We don’t see much of a difference."

People watch as US President Donald Trump arrives for a fundraiser for US Representative Claudia Tenney on August 13, 2018, in Utica, New York. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)
People watch as US President Donald Trump arrives for a fundraiser for US Representative Claudia Tenney on August 13, 2018, in Utica, New York. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

GEDDES, NEW YORK — The Republican incumbents in upstate New York who voted for last year’s tax bill argue that it is already helping their constituents.

But those constituents — the same voters who will decide whether their representations go back to Capitol Hill in November — are still waiting.

“We don’t see much of a difference,” Gina Trump, who supports the president but is of no relation to him, told ThinkProgress.

“It doesn’t really make it upstate where we are, I don’t feel like it does. We’ll see, next couple of years,” continued Trump, who is from Pulaski, NY. The rural town, almost an hour drive north of Syracuse, is located in the 22nd congressional district represented by the Trump-supporting Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-NY), who voted for the tax bill. “It’s a lot of low-income where we are.”

“Not personally, no, nothing’s changed for me.”

Al Berg, who lives in Seneca Falls, NY, told ThinkProgress he’s heard “some chatter about taxes” among the candidates up for election in his district — the 23rd, represented by Republican Tom Reed, who voted for the bill.

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“I’m all for low taxes,” Berg said while resting inside the horse barn on a hot day at the New York State Fair. “I know it takes money to run the government, but it’s getting out of hand. Anybody who’s reeling it in, I’m all for.”

But asked if he had seen any benefits from last year’s tax bill, which was touted among its supporters as a boon to the economy and the working class, Berg replied, “Not personally, no, nothing’s changed for me.”

Al Berg from Seneca Falls and Holly from Palermo in the New York State Fair. (CREDIT: RYAN KORONOWSKI)
Al Berg from Seneca Falls and Holly from Palermo in the New York State Fair. (CREDIT: RYAN KORONOWSKI)

Bill Bark from Warsaw, NY didn’t cast his vote for Trump for 2016, but his wife did. He knows a lot of other people who supported Trump, too. He’s disappointed in the tax bill, which marks Republicans’ only major legislative accomplishment since Trump took the White House.

“Working people got thrown under the bus,” he told ThinkProgress at the New York State Fair. “I haven’t seen benefits and I don’t expect to.”

Across several districts in upstate New York — a mostly rural region in which Trump boasted in 2016 he was “like the most popular person that has ever lived, virtually” — dozens of voters echoed the same message to ThinkProgress. There was consensus even among people who said they supported Trump and said they thought taxes were too high.

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“I’ve seen the benefits to corporations and the rich, but not the working class,” Baldwinsville resident Jaime Bodenlos, whose representative, Republican John Katko, voted for the tax bill. Speaking to ThinkProgress at one of Katko’s “motorcycle town hall tour” stops in her town, she added, “I’m so disappointed in that.”

“People are struggling,” Rep. Tenney’s Democratic challenger in the 22nd district, Anthony Brindisi, told ThinkProgress. “Chances are if you were living paycheck to paycheck before the tax bill in this district, you’re still living paycheck to paycheck.”

Campaigning on the tax cuts

The Trump administration and its allies argue that the tax bill was targeted at the middle class. In upstate New York — considered deep Trump country, considering that Trump won nearly every county north and west of Albany in 2016 — many of the members of Congress who helped pass the bill are echoing that message.

GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney (NY-22), for example, argued in a statement after the bill’s passage that “New Yorkers will receive an immediate raise in their January paychecks.”

GOP Rep. John Katko (NY-24) has been hosting members of the administration in official and campaign settings where his vote for the tax bill earned praise.

“Your support and vote for tax reform was very important and we’ve seen the benefit of that as I travel across the country,” said Ivanka Trump during an education roundtable event in Syracuse last month. Vice President Pence also praised Katko earlier this year during a visit to Nucor Steel.

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In reality, the bill will help the wealthiest people in the country — including the Republicans who helped write it — far more than the middle or lower classes.

And according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, New Yorkers specifically will receive minimal benefits from the bill. 

Nonetheless, after failing to make legislative progress on important issues like immigration, gun control, energy, and infrastructure, Republican candidates a cross the country have resorted to touting the tax cut bill on the campaign trail as their one legislative victory.

Utica College professor Luke Perry, who lives in NY-22 and is currently writing a book about the 2018 midterm elections in upstate New York, told ThinkProgress that in a moderate-conservative area like central New York, cutting taxes is typically “an issue that works well for Republicans.”

But in the leadup to the 2018 midterms, touting the GOP tax cuts is somewhat of a risky move, as the bill — which was not particularly popular to begin with — doesn’t perform well in the polls. One recent survey found the tax bill is significantly less popular among voters than Obamacare, a conservative bogeyman for the past eight years.

Costs rising, wages stagnant

President Trump routinely argues on Twitter that the economy is booming thanks to the tax cut.

Meanwhile, residents of rural parts of New York — which has suffered weak employment growth and is shedding population and manufacturing jobs — don’t see any evidence of a booming economy.

“I’m not sure I’m seeing the economy booming,” said Rachel, a massage therapist who lives in Rep. Katko’s district. “I’m a small business owner and I’m not seeing an increase. If the economy’s booming, people have more money, and they’d be coming in for more massages. So I can’t really say that it’s booming.”

“For investors, yes,” said Warsaw’s Bill Bark. “When will the rest of us see that? I have no idea. They say it is, but I don’t see it.”

Venita Calloway and Julia Young on break at the New York State Fair on Wednesday, August 29, 2018.
Venita Calloway and Julia Young on break at the New York State Fair on Wednesday, August 29, 2018.

“All these rich people coming up and the poor getting poorer,” Syracuse’s Venita Calloway said. “I don’t think the economy is booming.”

The New Yorkers who spoke to ThinkProgress cited a high cost of living and slow wage growth, saying their economic realities don’t reflect the supposed benefits of the tax cut touted by the administration.

“The cost of everything is going up except for milk,” said Jim, a school bus driver and former dairy farmer from Cattaraugus, NY.

“There’s no trickle-down. They get it in their pocket, they keep it in their pocket. It doesn’t come down.”

“Everything costs more, from food, to gas, to health care,” agreed Bark.

Jennifer from Fulton tried to remember how much more money she might have seen in her paycheck from the tax cut, but it wasn’t enough to make an impression. She concluded that wages aren’t rising enough. “That’s how it usually works.”

As to the theory of “trickle-down economics,” which supports most arguments in favor of a corporate tax cut that cuts taxes for the wealthy?

Cattaraugus’ Jim grinned. “Really? What world do you live in? There’s no trickle-down. They get it in their pocket, they keep it in their pocket. It doesn’t come down.”

“Shit rolls downhill, but money doesn’t.”