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Bellone and Curran hear from Schwartz

Daily Point

Schwartz talked politics not vaccines, but did he cross a line?

Both Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran received phone calls over the last week-and-a-half from a top adviser to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Larry Schwartz.

Schwartz, a long-time friend of Cuomo’s who is not on the state payroll, has been coordinating New York’s vaccine distribution efforts.

But these two calls were not about vaccines, Bellone and Curran each told The Point on Monday.

Instead, Schwartz’s calls were more of a political nature, to check in with both county executives about their perspectives on the accusations of sexual harassment against Cuomo.

Schwartz’s calls to county executives first came to light in published reports over the weekend that indicated that at least one county executive’s legal counsel had filed an ethics violation complaint regarding the calls, apparently concerned about a potential connection between support of the governor and vaccine distribution.

Both Curran and Bellone, however, said vaccination did not come up in the phone calls with Schwartz.

"He called to take my temperature," said Curran, who has not called for Cuomo’s resignation, instead advocating waiting for the investigations on the sexual harassment allegations to play out. "I never felt that vaccine allocation was being connected to my stance on the governor."

Said Bellone, who has taken a similar stance on Cuomo: "He [Larry Schwartz] called, we spoke, I gave what my position was — that there needed to be an independent investigation. At no point did we discuss vaccines. It never came up at any point in the conversation."

Over the weekend, Schwartz told The New York Times that "all decisions regarding vaccines are done on public health considerations, not politics." And on Monday, Beth Garvey, Cuomo’s acting counsel, defended Schwartz’s actions.

"Any suggestion that Larry acted in any way unethically or in any way other than in the best interest of the New Yorkers that he selflessly served is patently false," Garvey said in a statement.

Schwartz previously served as deputy county executive of Suffolk County, under former County Executive Pat Halpin. More recently, Schwartz served as secretary to Cuomo. Even after he left the administration, however, he stayed involved, most recently joining the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority as one of Cuomo’s appointees, and now returning to Cuomo’s orbit as the unpaid head of the state’s vaccination efforts.

In a statement Monday, Long Island’s Republican State Senate representatives suggested that the federal government should take control of the vaccine program because of the concerns over Schwartz’s role.

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Talking Point

LI State Senate delegation not onboard with raising taxes

One of the most contentious issues this state budget season is the multiple ways progressive and socialist lawmakers are pushing to raise revenue by increasing taxes on the upper echelons.

These lawmakers have floated new tax legislation to fund social service and general budget priorities by increasing taxes on personal income for high earners, capital gains, inherited income and accrued wealth, plus a stock transfer tax and corporate tax increase.

Some of these strategies have been included in similar one-house bill proposals from the State Senate and Assembly Democratic majorities, including capital gains, corporate, estate, and personal income taxes for high earners. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in his own budget proposal in January floated raising personal income taxes on high earners as well, but only temporarily. The result of Cuomo’s budget negotiations with the legislature on this and other topics is particularly up in the air this year, embroiled as he is in investigations into his COVID-19 handling of nursing homes and allegations of sexual harassment.

As the chambers were negotiating their budget priorities last week, we reached out to the Long Island State Senate delegation to measure their appetite for the various taxation efforts.

Of the five Democrats in the LI delegations only Sen. Kevin Thomas expressed some support, saying in a statement that "we recognize the reality that additional revenue is needed to ensure that our schools, social service organizations, and municipalities have the funding they need to meet the enormous additional costs of this pandemic." The fair solution to meeting the needs of all New Yorkers "is likely to require additional contributions from our state’s highest-earning residents," the Levittown Democrat said.

Yet he severely couched this by adding, "We cannot balance the state budget on the backs of Long Islanders who are already struggling with the increasingly high cost of living, on top of the immense financial burdens created by COVID-19."

"My top priority is to make sure that any proposed solution does not impose additional tax burdens on my constituents."

SD8’s John Brooks highlighted the high tax burden of his constituents and said that "any consideration of increases in fees or taxes must first be balanced by significant tax relief to our already overburdened residents."

Brooks said he’s "currently working on several tax relief programs and I am confident in their consideration during the upcoming budget negotiations." That includes Brooks’ proposal to offer a tax credit for those impacted by the SALT cap, which is one of the tax relief concepts included in the Senate’s budget resolution.

He also floated exploration of "long-term, low-interest loans as a practical means in digging our state out of the fiscal hole that COVID-19 has placed us in" before going to tax increases.

Jim Gaughran’s SD5 office sent a statement saying Gaughran is "working to pass a budget that provides relief to Long Islanders and small businesses," citing the incoming funding from Washington and noting, "New York's budget must reflect this massive influx in economic aid."

Anna Kaplan, who represents SD7, said in a statement from her spokesman, "As the state budget negotiations continue, she continues to stand up for our families and our communities so that hard-working Long Islander’s aren’t forced to shoulder additional burdens during these times of extraordinary need."

Their Democratic colleague Todd Kaminsky in SD9 declined to provide The Point a statement about his position on the tax proposals.

The Long Island Republican bloc, however, was happy to explain why the major Democratic tax initiatives were bad and would drive people out of state.

"Given the economic challenges many businesses and individuals now face due to COVID, this is the worst possible time for us to be enacting additional tax increases," said Anthony Palumbo, the freshman representative in SD1.

"Particularly in light of the $12.5 billion in stimulus funding slated for New York, adding to the tax burden of our residents is not the answer," said Mario Mattera, another freshman who succeeded SD2’s John Flanagan, the former Senate majority leader.

"Fortunately, our State’s revenues are improving and the federal stimulus funding has driven $12.5 billion in much-needed funding to help aid our recovery," added Alexis Weik, also a freshman who flipped SD3 red by beating incumbent Monica Martinez.

Also on the no-support list was SD4’s longtime Republican Phil Boyle, who last year was a co-sponsor of a bill to increase taxes on very high earners, because, as he noted at the time, potentially none of them live in his district.

His position last year, he said in a text, "was a temporary (one year) increase in the state income tax for those making over $5 million, $10 million, and $100 million a year."

He said his perspective has changed as New York are coming out of the pandemic and will receive money from DC, "so those increases will no longer be necessary, even with a sunset provision."

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

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Quick Points

  • Nursing homes required by the federal government to report data on resident care and health inspections used to grade the homes often misreport their data to make themselves look better, according to a New York Times investigation. Please, don’t say you’re surprised.
  • Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo says he is not going to question the motives of his accusers, but he is questioning the motives of those criticizing him over those accusations. That’s a tough needle to thread.
  • Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson said he never felt threatened by the Jan. 6 Capitol rioters, saying he knows they would never break the law. Federal criminal charges against more than 300 people so far say he’s wrong.
  • Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate and voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams is being evasive about whether she plans to run again in 2022, saying she’s focused on protecting democracy in the state. Yes, fighting attempted rollbacks of voting rights is important, but saying you’re going to run wouldn’t change that.
  • What to make of former President Donald Trump urging football legend Herschel Walker to run for U.S. Senate in Georgia? Well, in 1984, Trump signed Walker to a lucrative contract after buying the USFL New Jersey Generals but the USFL died two years later, blown up in part by Trump’s obsession with becoming an NFL owner, and Walker himself joined the NFL. So Trump’s dealings with Walker and Senate races in Georgia are, shall we say, omen-ous.
  • After getting his second coronavirus injection Saturday, renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma treated everyone in the Massachusetts vaccination clinic to an impromptu concert. No comment here, just a simple wish that we all get a little Yo-Yo Ma with our vaccines.

—Michael Dobie @mwdobie

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