Espaillat, who previously served in the state Assembly, voted for a law in 1999 that scrapped the commuter tax on suburbanites who work in New York City — a move that has deprived the Big Apple of billions of dollars in revenues over the past decade.
The Rangel campaign claimed that Espaillat’s vote amounted to telling his constituents “to drop dead or move away.”
The repeal of the 0.45 percent commuter income tax was so controversial that it ignited bipartisan condemnation from then-Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Democratic state Comptroller Carl McCall.
“I find it hard to believe that Espaillat supported the measure because the repeal of the commuter tax was harmful to his district and his constituents,” McCall told The Post Wednesday.
“I can’t imagine why any New York City legislator voted for the measure. It was destructive to New York City.”
The bill passed 92-49.
But many city representatives voted no. Among the dissenters was Manhattan Assemblyman Scott Stringer, the current city comptroller, who is backing Espaillat’s bid to unseat Rangel in the June 24 Democratic primary.
Others voted for it included Assemblyman and then-Manhattan Democratic Party chairman Herman “Denny” Farrell.
The Rangel campaign pounced, accusing Espaillat of shafting his constituents and the city.
“State Senator Espaillat can’t defend why he voted with Republicans to give a $7 billion tax cut to upstate commuters that devastated the people in the congressional district he wants to represent,” said Rangel campaign adviser Charlie King.
“Think about it: we could have paid for universal pre-kindergarten, doubled the police force, increased affordable housing and covered the cost of the city’s youth, senior citizen, and parks services for years to come. The message Espaillat sent to Manhattan and Bronx residents with this vote was crystal clear: drop dead or move away.”
Espaillat, through his campaign, declined to explain why he voted to repeal the commuter tax — and instead sought the table on Rangel, the 22-term incumbent.
“Under Congressman Rangel’s watch, economic inequality in this district has spiraled out of control, and tens of thousands of tenants have lost their homes – that’s why voters are looking for change,” said Espaillat campaign manager Jesse Campoamor.
“It’s not surprising his desperate campaign has dredged up a 15 year old vote instead of addressing the financial anxieties Upper Manhattan and Bronx families are facing.”
Rangel has his own baggage to defend– including a congressional censure in 2010 for a host of ethics violations that includes dodging taxes on the rental of his Dominican Republican villa and converting a rent stabilized apartment into a campaign office.