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PBA muted as NY lawmakers move to pass police accountability

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, D- Buffalo,

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, D- Buffalo, speaks in favor of new legislation for Police Reform while standing with Assembly members during a news briefing at the state capitol on Wednesday. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

Daily Point

Long Island Six announce support for repeal of 50a

The lead sponsors on the many policing reform bills set to move through the State Senate Monday and Tuesday are all from New York City, and for a while last week it was radio silence from the Long Island Democratic Senate delegation on the potential legislation. 

But now the Senate and Assembly are looking to move at least 10 bills as soon as possible, including a repeal of 50a, which had been used to hide the outcomes of complaints made against police; criminalizing police chokeholds that cause death or serious physical injury; body cameras for state police; the creation of a Law Enforcement Misconduct Investigative Office housed under the state attorney general’s office to audit and review police department practices; and detailed collection of data about police stops and other activity.

Now, Long Island’s Democratic State Senate delegation is publicly on board and Senate sources predict a quick passage for the 10 announced bills. 

The cautious motion forward was obvious even in the positive responses. State Sen. John Brooks released a 528-word statement that ended, “I will vote to repeal 50-A because it is the right thing to do.”

The 50a negotiations were particularly thorny. An earlier Assembly version was a straight repeal, while the Senate included tougher language about what personal information “shall” be redacted. 

Brooks and fellow Democrats Todd Kaminsky, Kevin Thomas, Jim Gaughran and Anna Kaplan by Monday had voiced approval to The Point or publicly for the 50a measure or the package at large. 

The Point didn’t hear back from State Sen. Monica Martinez until afternoon, but by that time she, too, told The Point she’d be voting to repeal 50a. 

Martinez represents some of the crosscurrents for Long Island legislators on this issue. Hers is a district that President Donald Trump won by 7 percentage points in 2016, and the reform measures are a potent political issue for conservative police unions, which are hardly offering an olive branch. An email from public affairs firm SKDKnickerbocker sent to journalists with the subject line “LAW ENFORCEMENT SUPPORTS 50-A REPEAL” included just three named individuals, none from Long Island, and two consisting of past comments from members of the NYPD, whose unions have for years used 50a as a shield. 

But the nationwide and local protests in communities that almost never see demonstrations have shown the  extraordinary and unpredicted political heft of the other side. On Monday, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas came out with a letter supporting reform measures such as a civilian oversight board for complaints against officers. 

The intensity of the protests and the speed of the legislative action left little room for the unions to negotiate on any of the measures.

Still, even with the tiptoe toward unity and reform action, differences among Democrats in Albany remain. A bill prohibiting law enforcement officers from using racial and ethnic profiling passed the Assembly Monday but wasn’t part of the main package in the upper chamber. 

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Talking Point

Making the old bad news look good

A decade ago, county budgets were reeling from the reduced revenues caused by the Great Recession and skyrocketing retirement contributions to the state’s pension funds caused by the stock market crash. At the same time, projections in both counties envisioned three-year total budget deficits of about $500 million in each county. Although the final tallies of annual deficits were clouded by lots of borrowing and money-juggling, those projections turned out to be fairly accurate.   

The cash crunch held both counties back from investing as they would have liked in infrastructure and capital improvement programs. They cut staffing to the bone and kicked a lot of expenses down the road by using debt to pay for operating costs.

Now the counties are beginning to project the potential multi-year deficits from the coronavirus pandemic, and the numbers could be three times as bad as in the wake of 2008.

Suffolk County has compiled a new report with the help of four finance experts picked by County Executive Steve Bellone that projects 2020 revenue will run short of previous projections by between $469 million and $590 million this year. Budget deficits for the next three years could total $1.1 billion to $1.5 billion, depending on whether and how badly the coronavirus resurges and how society reacts. 

The worst-case scenario of the three contemplated is a severe resurgence coupled with another full economic shutdown. The best is no further severe outbreaks in the near future. The middle ground is a second outbreak serious enough to require precautions but not a true shutdown.

The lost revenue is mostly sales tax, but also includes lost casino revenue and dips in fees collected.

Nassau County has yet to release a full multi-year projection of its potential budget dangers but its monthly assessment in May projected a $384 million deficit in its 2020 budget thanks to a loss of $438 million in revenue. Last month, the Nassau County Comptroller’s Office issued a report from national consulting firm Crowe LLP that said sales tax losses could reach $665 million to $1 billion for 2020 and 2021 combined.

Sales tax and other revenues, as well as many expenses, tend to run in close but not identical patterns for the two counties.

In Suffolk, Bellone has announced 5% departmental budget cuts. In Nassau, a hiring freeze has been enacted and the county is game-planning various scenarios including budget cuts of 2.5%, 5% and 10%.

The big wild card for both counties is federal funding, both direct and indirect. If they don’t get the large buckets of aid New York politicians are pushing for states and municipalities, Nassau and Suffolk will face unprecedented shortfalls. Without the federal infusion, Albany will be in no position to help local governments.

And the worst-case scenario could make the last budget crunch look like the days of milk and honey.

—Lane Filler @lanefiller

Pencil Point

A tool against injustice

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Quick Points

  • Some New York City restaurants opened last weekend for outdoor dining, claiming that state guidelines are vague. Given that outdoor dining is part of phase 2 of reopening, and the city only moved into phase 1 on Monday, that’s not a misunderstanding. That’s misbehavior.
  • Los Angeles law enforcement officials say they won’t pursue criminal charges or financial penalties against peaceful demonstrators who were arrested. If they were protesting peacefully, why were they arrested in the first place?
  • President Donald Trump’s top political advisers held a meeting at campaign headquarters at which they decided the president needs to leaven his law-and-order rhetoric with a more hopeful and unifying message. They didn’t really need a meeting to figure that out, did they?
  • As Democrats were drafting the national policing reform plan they released Monday, minority Republicans complained about being left out of the negotiations. Welcome to Washington, where the shoe is always on someone else’s foot.
  • President Donald Trump will hold what’s being billed as a listening roundtable with law enforcement officials Monday on ways to fix racial inequality in American policing. Has someone told him that these things only work if, you know, you actually listen?
  • If you had Utah’s Mitt Romney in the pool of contenders for first GOP senator to march with protesters against police racism and brutality, congratulations. But it was an obvious bet; the field of potential candidates was microscopic.
  • If you had former Joint Chiefs of Staff chair and Secretary of State Colin Powell in the pool of contenders for the next former military official to lambaste President Donald Trump, congratulations. That, too, was an obvious bet, but that field of potential candidates was huge.
  • New polling finds that 4 of 5 registered voters feel that “things in the country are out of control.” The other 20% were in basement bunkers and deep-woods cabins and could not be reached.

—Michael Dobie @mwdobie