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Opinion

Is Chuck Schumer worth his SALT?

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks during

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks during a news conference on Dec. 8.   Credit: TNS/Yuri Gripas

Daily Point

Will Sen. Schumer fight to restore SALT?

Sen. Chuck Schumer on Thursday showed he can deliver big for New York by getting an agreement from the incoming Biden administration worth $2 billion as FEMA will not require reimbursement for emergency COVID-19 funding. President-elect Joe Biden’s expected second initiative on trillions of infrastructure spending is likely to send more dollars to our region.

But what about the other big promise to New Yorkers if Democrats took control: restoration of the SALT, the deduction of state and local taxes from the federal income tax bill?

In July, Schumer was vocal about restoring the SALT deduction and complained that Mitch McConnell, whom Schumer will replace as Senate majority leader later this month, stopped it from getting into the first COVID-19 relief bill. The House of Representatives had approved the restoration. But lately Schumer has been quiet about SALT. A spokesman insists it is "still a priority of the senator and will remain one."

But is there a timeline?

In the House, Tom Suozzi is the biggest agitator for the SALT restoration. And he is a member of the influential Ways and Means Committee, which drafts changes to the tax code and where the resurrection of the deduction is likely to take place absent a stimulus package. Suozzi told The Point the deduction was needed now more than ever as COVID-19 and the cost of living in the region are accelerating the departure of more Long Islanders. Even with Democrats in control of the White House and Congress, however, such a benefit for a coastal blue state will still be a heavy lift.

"I’m confident that Sen. Schumer will make it a priority. We need him," said Suozzi.

—Rita Ciolli @ritaciolli

Talking Point

The jury’s still out on ranked choice voting

Albany Democrats are starting their legislative session with another package of election reforms, but one reform that’s still waiting in the wings is ranked choice voting.

A ranked voting system will debut in New York City this year, but is it likely to spread around the state?

Depends on how well it works out. In 2021, both primary and special elections for local offices in NYC will be done by ranked choice voting, in which voters can choose up to five candidates in order of preference.

If any candidate gets more than half the first-choice votes, game over. But if not, elections officials continue counting in rounds, with the candidate with fewest votes getting eliminated. Anyone who voted for that eliminated candidate first has their next choice counted instead.

Supporters say the attraction of ranked voting includes that the new city system would eliminate costly primary runoffs, which are triggered if no candidate receives 40% of the vote. The system lets voters log more information about their preferences, including for long-shot candidates who may not be considered competitive enough to earn votes in the usual manner. And the hope is it encourages candidates to compete on wider terrain for non-first-choice votes.

The Point reached out to Democratic state party leader Jay Jacobs, who said that he is "in favor" of ranked choice voting — that’s his "qualified answer" as long as money and time go into educating people how it works.

At worst, Jacobs said, if people don’t get the new system, they can do "bullet voting," voting for the one person they want, which is still allowed.

The logistical road to ranked voting has been paved elsewhere, from Maine to San Francisco. Manhattan State Assemb. Daniel O’Donnell has sponsored legislation toward establishing the system for use in general elections, special elections, and primaries in New York.

"There seems to be nothing in the state constitution defining the way votes are calculated," said Charles Lavine, who was Assembly elections committee chair up until last week, adding that the "consensus seems to be it wouldn't require a constitutional amendment" to use the process in state elections.

"I think that in multi-candidate primaries it may be a good way to get the best representation of voters’ wishes without the time and expense of a runoff," Jacobs said in an email. "I think that we will learn a lot from the experiences in NYC this year."

But therein lies the challenge, and the politics. Some powerbrokers in NYC have already tried to challenge the city’s upcoming use of the new method by arguing that absent enough voter education, the system could disenfranchise voters of color.

Certainly it would change political business as usual, never an obvious win for incumbents, including those involved with changing laws in Albany. Among the recent bills on this subject in Albany is one from both chambers to permit use of ranked choice on a trial basis, which hasn’t advanced far. And O’Donnell’s broader bill on the subject from last session had no Senate sponsor.

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

Not Trump's idea of Warp Speed

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Final Point

Not all eyes in the sky are equal

It’s fitting that this week, as federal law enforcement revealed all manner of technological tools being used to track down alleged lawbreakers during the Capitol riot, the NYPD also released more information about its high-tech capabilities.

City Council surveillance oversight legislation signed last year required the release of impact and use policies for technology like drones, and the documents are now posted for public feedback.

Much of the material is banal boilerplate. But some interesting nuggets include the affirmation that NYPD drones have "thermal imaging capabilities" and can process thermal data. Such thermal capabilities can be used in search and rescue operations, surveillance, and firefighting.

The document also says that other law enforcement agencies "may request information obtained by [unmanned aircraft systems] from the NYPD." One exception is for immigration enforcement. "Information is not shared in furtherance of immigration enforcement," the policy says.

The Point asked the Nassau and Suffolk county police departments whether they had taken their neighbors up on the offer of thermal drone aid.

We didn’t get an answer from Nassau. A Suffolk police public information officer emailed that "We have not utilized NYPD’s drone assets in our county."

In general nationally, limited information has been forthcoming from police departments about their drone programs and their technical capabilities. In a previous records request for flight information, The Point received the drone model names of some devices flown by NCPD. Manufacturer specs for one of the overarching drone series — the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise line — include a thermal camera, but it’s unclear whether the particular version operated in Nassau has the heat-detecting ability.

The email from the Suffolk PIO said the county’s drones weren’t as tricked-out as the NYPD’s. Suffolk’s drones "do not possess thermal imaging capacity," the email said.

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

We hope you have a meaningful and reflective Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The Point will return on Tuesday.

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