Why Zeldin opted out
There was a name missing from the 45 co-sponsors Rep. Tom Suozzi had amassed by Thursday on his bill to restore the state and local tax (SALT) deduction: Rep. Lee Zeldin.
The SALT deduction was key for taxpayers in high-tax locations like Long Island, and the rest of the Long Island delegation signed on.
The bill even got a nod from western New York Rep. Tom Reed, a Republican and Suozzi’s fellow Problem Solvers Caucus member who supported the original 2017 tax overhaul but who on Wednesday voted to advance Suozzi’s bill out of the Ways and Means Committee.
Suozzi says he asked Zeldin to support the bill, but the Shirley Republican didn’t join.
Zeldin’s Democratic primary opponents Perry Gershon, Nancy Goroff, and Bridget Fleming all took note, via statement or tweet or both.
Katie Vincentz, a Zeldin spokeswoman, said Thursday that the congressman’s issue with the Suozzi bill is that it would permanently raise the 37% top individual tax rate (currently for individual taxpayers with incomes greater than $518,400) back to 39.6%, the level it was before the 2017 tax bill lowered it. Meanwhile, the deduction change would only last through 2021.
For some Democrats, that may be fine: it’s the length of time before a new potential president or Senate, at which point a more complete overhaul could be done. And the top earners whose individual tax rate would be going back up had been getting a deal with the 2017 bill.
Zeldin earlier this year worked on his own bill with New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer to address the loss of the SALT deduction, one which would close loopholes in the law and not change the individual tax rate. But that bill didn’t garner any other co-sponsors and has languished in the House.
There’s plenty of politics here. Zeldin appears focused on the top tax rate and not wanting to be seen among supporters as making it go up.
Opponents see a Trump connection — like Gershon, who says in a statement that Zeldin is a “cheerleader” for the president, asking whether Zeldin is “too busy being hyper-partisan” to work on this issue?
Suozzi, for his part, would likely have more trouble with his bill in the Republican-controlled Senate; a workaround effort by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was blocked by the GOP earlier this year.
But Suozzi's bill is a popular effort for constituents. Even for some Republicans. That includes Suozzi’s GOP opponent George Anthony Devolder Santos, who tells The Point he thinks Zeldin should co-sponsor the bill, and then “help better it.”
—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano
A fast marathon started today
The State Senate hearing on housing discrimination held Thursday at Hofstra University had a distinct Long Island flavor, which was only natural. It was based on the findings of Newsday’s Long Island Divided project.
All six Long Island Democrats, plus Republican Sen. Phil Boyle, were on the panel at some point asking questions of witnesses. The two members of the region’s delegation missing were the GOP’s John Flanagan and Ken LaValle.
And the tone was set from the opening remarks by Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Levittown), who chairs the Committee on Consumer Protection: Long Island, we’ve got a problem.
Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) called Newsday’s findings, that 40 percent of its tests showed evidence of disparate treatment of minority homebuyers compared to whites, a “national disgrace.” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said she was “shocked but not surprised” by the results while Suffolk counterpart Steve Bellone termed them “disturbing and unacceptable.” Even M. Ryan Gorman, president of NRT LLC, a New Jersey-based real estate company that is the owner or franchiser of four real estate companies on Long Island, termed Newsday’s findings “severely disappointing” and said that they “shine a light on serious issues” the industry must confront.
And the county executives, other experts and some senators proposed a variety of legislative and other fixes.
But perspective, and a bit of a warning, was provided by Erase Racism President Elaine Gross, whose powerful testimony included an account of her own experience with being a victim of housing discrimination.
“Their testimony suggests they are at the beginning of a process,” Gross said, referring specifically to corrective plans put forward by Curran and Bellone but more generally to the entire collective effort. “And these are definitely good steps to take. But I do think you have to see the proof in the pudding … I caution everyone that this is not a sprint, this is a marathon. Hopefully, a very fast marathon.”
The senators on the panel seemed to get the message. As Kaminsky noted, “Newsday started this story, this is the middle of the story,” and he put the onus on the State Legislature to act to bring the story to a satisfactory conclusion.
“We need to listen and learn today and put together a plan,” Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford) said.
People are watching.
—Michael Dobie @mwdobie
For more cartoons, visit www.newsday.com/opinion
Next up on our candidate book list
Former Rep. John Delaney’s presidential campaign has had a little mini-squeeze of attention recently thanks to the low-bar win of beating Mayor Pete Buttigieg among black voters in a South Carolina poll.
Other than that, the Maryland Democrat has mostly been recognized for his impressive exercise routine while betting on the Iowa caucuses to fuel his long-shot bid.
His blunt 2018 book, “The Right Answer: How We Can Unify Our Divided Nation,” shows both why he’s hanging in there until Iowa and why he may be having trouble getting traction.
The book makes the argument that Delaney is a man in the middle. He can appeal to any side. His dad was a union electrician who helped build the old Giants Stadium, while Delaney himself is a wealthy businessman who built a fortune in financial services. He was a three-term congressman but also a career-long entrepreneur.
As the founder of the House’s artificial intelligence caucus, he’s got the bet-you-didn’t-think-of-that spirit of Andrew Yang. And the whole pitch is about him being reasonable and bipartisan, the kind of guy who hates litmus tests and wants to have individual breakfasts with every member of Congress.
That sounds nice, but two moments from the book underscore how far the world we live in is from the bipartisan one Delaney imagines. First, there’s the annual Christmas party his family hosts that includes hundreds of people from all sections of D.C. who are encouraged to “check their political affiliation at the door.”
Delaney writes that Democratic big Rep. Steny Hoyer always attends, and a few years ago Hoyer entered the party and was surprised to see “a prominent Republican senator.”
Delaney’s wife corrals them together, saying, “This is our Big Tent party.” But apparently the tent’s not big or comfortable enough to be able to identify that prominent GOP senator by name.
Then there’s the story of Delaney realizing that his Maryland house wasn’t situated well to have a party with the entire freshman class of the 113th Congress, something he wanted to accomplish. So to hold big, accessible events for folks from both sides of the aisle, he bought a big ol’ town house on Capitol Hill.
See, that’s all it takes.
—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano