The race for New York State's 3rd Assembly District pits two candidates that have some common ground on issues such as caps for local property tax rate hikes and the repeal of the MTA Tax. But that's where the agreement appears to end between incumbent Dean Murray, R-C-Patchogue, and his opponent, Rob Calarco, D-I-WF-Patchogue.
Both candidates said they bring relevant life experience to their campaigns, and "passion projects" to match. Calarco, who currently serves as chief of staff for Suffolk County Legislator Jack Eddington, noted his family values public service.
Calarco would like to secure jobs for Suffolk County's "driving unemployment force", which he defined as construction workers. The candidate insisted on the importance of finding ways of getting this group back to work as soon as possible. "The state should accelerate infrastructure projects, and look to find places to use public investments to spark private projects," he said.
Murray said he brings his business experience to the table, as well as his handling of the many issues his district is facing, such as property taxes. Murray also said he wants to make New York more business-friendly to attract companies that provide career opportunities.
Not surprisingly, tax relief is an important issue to both candidates. Calarco said it is not just a matter of the school districts tightening their belts anymore, but that eliminating administrative costs and consolidating purchases on health insurance, for example, with other school districts are two ways to lessen the load on the residents.
Another way to provide relief on property taxes is to implement a tax cap tied to what people can afford to pay "that's based on income and cost of living," Calarco said, adding this would be good for senior citizens on fixed incomes as well as the middle class who are also rarely seeing increases in income. "It's shifting the burden back to the state," he noted.
Murray, who is also for a tax cap, did not offer specifics on how he would pursue this legislation nor how this would impact local school district's ability to raise the necessary funds to cover their rising costs. Regarding the MTA Tax, Murray noted that his first piece of legislation days after he was officially sworn into office this past February was a bill repeal the MTA Payroll Tax.
Murray said he continues to demand a forensic audit of the MTA rather than a preliminary one, which he said does not investigate enough for anyone to decipher where money is being wasted or dig deep enough to offers suggestions of how to correct issues. In addition to the elimination of the MTA tax—a contentious issue in many races for the state senate and assembly across Long Island—Murray wants to re-secure STAR rebates and offer relief of unfunded mandates.
The Democratic candidate expressed his frustration with Murray's involvement in the tea party, a group that Calarco said upsets him because he thinks its members do not fully understand how government is run. "We need to be part of the solution, find answers, there are lots of problems we have to deal with. It's time to have people in government that can offer solutions," he said, and emphasized how his own agenda differs from his opponent's.
"[Murray's] strategy is not an approach of 'let's find a way to make it work,'" Calarco said, "It's rather a policy of destruction, they want it [government] to not function simply so they can find somebody to blame for it not functioning."
Murray was also less than positive about the way his opponent has managed his campaign. "There's a stark contrast," he said, and referred to Calarco's mail pieces and radio ads as "disgusting" and "negative" against him personally. The ads are not accurate, according to Murray, who said he is pleased with the progress his team has made, "We've forged good relationships across Long Island."
Last week, Murray refuted allegations circulated in Internet rumors about domestic abuse involving his ex-wife and son, and is considering taking legal action against those he said were looking to dig up false information in an effort to engage in what he called a "smear campaign."
Despite his defense against those accusations, Murray described his campaign as solution-centric, "I'm proud to say we stuck to the issues," he said.
Calarco said his campaign had nothing to do with the Internet rumors about Murray.
Despite Murray's claims that Calarco had taken personal shots against him in campaign literature, Calarco said he believes only in speaking about the issues at hand. He emphasized that if elected, his constituents will receive his undivided attention.
"We're dealing with budgets in the billions of dollars and you're talking about traveling to Albany for months on and off. I have a hard time believing you can do both [keep your "old" job and represent the district]," he said.