NEW YORK — It is Rudy Giuliani's favorite boast on the presidential campaign trail: "I cut taxes 23 times" as mayor of New York, he says, a claim often met with applause.
The stat stars in radio ads this week in New Hampshire and Iowa, where the voiceover asserts that Giuliani "cut or eliminated 23 taxes."
Trouble is, it's not really true, say tax-cutting allies of the former mayor, as well as experts at the city's Independent Budget Office and elsewhere.
An examination of the tax-slashing claims from a list provided by his campaign show that in at least four cases, the former mayor is seizing credit for cuts initiated by others and, in one case, for a tax reduction he fought.
"The correct nomenclature would be 'We cut taxes,' not 'I cut taxes,'" said former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, a Democrat who was friendly with Republican Giuliani.
It's not that Giuliani wasn't a persistent tax-cutter, say Vallone and others; that just makes his decision to fudge numbers seem needless, they add.
Vallone's slap is aimed mainly at Giuliani's decision to count among his 23 cuts the elimination of a 12.5 percent personal income tax surcharge in 1998 — a $192 million idea that Vallone brought to the table that year.
Others argue that the income tax surcharge was due to expire that year anyway.
"We don't consider not raising a tax a tax cut," said Charles Brescher of the city's Independent Budget Office.
Another tax giveback that Giuliani has put on his list is the state-funded STAR (School Tax Relief) program. He counts it twice; first for an income tax component aimed at city renters, second for a STAR property tax cut.
But it was then-Gov. George Pataki who came up with STAR, which was funded by state, not city, dollars.
Giuliani also takes credit for a modest tax relief program for co-op and condo owners that began in 1996 — another idea initiated by Vallone, not Giuliani.
"That was a Council priority that the mayor agreed with," Vallone told the New York Daily News.
Giuliani's team, while conceding that some cuts may have originated with others, defended the former mayor's credit-taking, offering several footnotes.
On the personal income tax cut in 1998, they argue that Giuliani opposed the idea as a strategic matter in negotiations with the Council, but backed it when the dust settled.
As for STAR, Joe Lhota, who was then Giuliani's budget director, contended the city would never have gotten as large a share as it did without Giuliani's considerable lobbying efforts.
Campaign officials added that Giuliani saw no reason to scale back his claim of 23 tax cuts, although they did acknowledge — in a way Giuliani does not on the stump — that the mayor may have had some help.
"It's a real record of working with the City Council, the state Legislature and the governor to actually get things done," Giuliani spokeswoman Maria Comella said in a statement. "The bottom line — Rudy Giuliani got results."
By counting the 23 cuts as his own, Giuliani is able to say, as he often does, that he cut city taxes by more than $9 billion. Removing the four cuts in question would drop that total, however, to less than $5 billion, since the personal income tax and STAR represent some of the biggest single taxpayer savings claimed by Giuliani.