Gaveling out without the gavel
Tuesday was the last day State Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan could remove his name from the ballot for a 2020 reelection bid by declining the run, and that’s when he did it, making the decision public Wednesday morning. The maneuver allows Suffolk GOP leaders to pick a new candidate, and denies Democrats that same opportunity since the window to do so has closed. The GOP pick must be postmarked by 5 p.m. Monday, while the Democrats will run political newcomer Mike Siderakis, chosen when Flanagan was still a likely slam dunk to retain the seat.
Suffolk County GOP chair Jesse Garcia said he’s hearing three names right now: Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle, Assemb. Mike Fitzpatrick and County Legis. Rob Trotta. Insiders say LaValle has the inside track.
So in January, for the first time in 48 years, there won’t be a Flanagan representing Suffolk County in the State Legislature. And in November, there will be only one GOP incumbent, Phil Boyle, vying for Long Island’s nine State Senate seats, when as recently as 2014 eight of the nine seats featured GOP incumbents winning reelection and the other saw Republican Tom Croci replace newly elected GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin.
Flanagan told The Point Wednesday that he will fight hard until November to help the GOP regain the majority it lost in 2018, arguing that the party has a strong base and message. But he also conceded there isn’t much money to be had for GOP Senate candidates or the state party right now, and the uncertainty around the election created by coronavirus won’t make it any easier. Flanagan’s decision is being read by some as a tacit admission that the GOP could not retake the State Senate majority.
Flanagan said he does not know what he will do next and denied he had any job or race in mind, saying: “I can tell you I’m not interested in lobbying … I’d hope to utilize my skills in public service-type work.”
Flanagan also said he will call Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Wednesday (the two are longtime frenemies) to discuss his decision in person. While he had not done any polling in his district since the 2018 election, he said did not feel he was in danger of losing his seat or his leadership role.
Flanagan, 58, has been in Albany since 1987, when he won the Assembly seat his father held until his sudden death. Flanagan moved up to the Senate in 2003 and the speakership in 2015, when Dean Skelos left the post after being hit with federal corruption charges.
Flanagan, who pointed out he’s never lost a political race, said he’d like to be remembered as a passionate and articulate advocate for Long Island. His fights to get school funding for the region were particularly heated.
“I’ve had an excellent time, a career and an opportunity to help people and do work I cared about,” Flanagan said. “I’ve spent 90% of my adult life in Albany, and I always knew I would not want it to be the only thing I did in my life. When I started in 1987, I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll be able to do it for 10 years,’ and now it’s been 32.”
—Lane Filler @lanefiller
Asking for more time
Town supervisors across Long Island have requested that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo extend the deadline for homeowners to pay their property taxes without penalty. And business and development advocates have supported such a delay, noting that it would help many Long Island businesses.
But it may not be that simple.
For Suffolk County, in particular, the request comes at a tough time. Under the best of circumstances, it wouldn’t be easy to extend the May deadline. The Suffolk County Tax Act allows towns and school districts to receive their tax payments first, while the county doesn’t get its share of the tax revenue pot until June, or later. The county borrows hundreds of millions of dollars to handle the interim months.
This year, the county has a $328 million debt payment due in July, and another $79.5 million due in August. Its borrowing is done using the property tax receipts it expects in May as collateral. And the county’s financial picture is likely to worsen, given the expectation that sales tax receipts have plummeted as the coronavirus pandemic has spread, businesses have closed, and residents have started staying home. It’s the county’s ability to make its bond payments that most worries officials there.
As a result, delaying residents’ property tax payment deadlines “is not an economically viable option as of now,” one Suffolk County official told The Point.
Many residents’ property taxes are paid via their escrow, paid through their mortgage. But the request for an extension most likely would help those who pay their taxes directly. Nassau County’s deadline is May 11; for Suffolk’s towns, it’s May 31.
"We are supportive of providing relief but we need to make sure that any proposal from the State does not jeopardize our bond obligations," Suffolk spokesman Jason Elan said in a statement.
In Nassau County, there are similar concerns. Robert Dillon, the district superintendent for Nassau BOCES, wrote a letter to County Executive Laura Curran this week that said any delay would result in school districts being “severely impacted.”
“The suggested delay will have a devastating impact on those school districts that are obligated to provide essential services during this time of crisis,” Dillon wrote in the letter obtained by The Point, which also pointed to the Nassau schools’ own debt obligations as an additional factor.
While the county itself doesn’t have the same immediate issues as Suffolk, officials there questioned the delay, too, noting that state law only permits a delay of up to 21 days.
“What’s very different about the impact of coronavirus is we don’t have an end date in sight, so it is hard for us to make a compelling case that 21 days is going to make a difference,” one Nassau official told The Point. “It’s very difficult to support a 21-day delay.”
Ultimately, the decision on any extension is up to Cuomo, who could issue the delay by executive order. But it’s likely that Cuomo will listen to Curran and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone in making that determination.
—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall
Public service point
Blood saves lives
Want to do something to help your fellow Long Islanders during this crisis? Read about how you can make a difference in someone's life by donating blood.
Worried about the homefront
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Could remote voting work?
The bailout bill is the most urgent order of business in D.C., but another issue is slowly percolating. With multiple members of Congress in isolation or testing positive for the coronavirus, some members ask whether Congress should have remote voting.
Rep. Pete King weighed in on a Wednesday conference call, saying he hoped the body could find a way. The Seaford Republican noted the immediate danger of members bringing germs with them to D.C.
The call, hosted by former Rep. Steve Israel’s Cornell University Institute of Politics and Global Affairs, also had on the line other members of Long Island’s congressional delegation.
Kathleen Rice, who tweeted her support for remote voting this week, said there had recently been a caucus call on the issue and that “there has been increased interest by members to consider the ability to vote remotely.”
It’s an uphill battle despite proposals in both chambers. A report from the House Democratic majority staff released Monday was lukewarm on the idea and cited many potential obstacles: “implementing remote voting would raise serious security, logistical, and constitutional challenges,” the 23-page memo said. Without “complete consensus,” members would likely have to return to Washington to change House rules.
It may be “prudent to consider the feasibility of remote voting for certain emergency situations,” but that should be a considered process, according to the memo: “This change cannot be implemented overnight, and likely cannot be accomplished in time to address the current crisis.”
This caution was echoed by Rep. Lee Zeldin, who told The Point in a statement that he’s expecting a voice vote for the stimulus bill and that future remote voting “should be very rarely if ever actually implemented.”
The report floated other options for this coronavirus moment, including voting in shifts; passing legislation by unanimous consent, which doesn’t require a quorum; or even changing quorum requirements.
All have downsides, but Capitol Hill has a sclerotic record of method modernization: the House’s electronic voting system “took almost 100 years and over 50 bills and resolutions to finally put it in place in 1970,” the memo said.
Rep. Tom Suozzi, who later said he agrees with the report, mentioned some of these issues on the Wednesday call and added another: a potential lack of technological savvy for some.
“Tom, are you taking a shot at me there?" King asked jokingly.
—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano