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Suozzi

Elected officials and community members, above, stand by a table of donations. Photo by Raymond Janis

By Raymond Janis

Last week, Long Island leaders and community members met in Huntington to announce the Long Island-Ukrainian Emergency Response Drive, a collection to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.

Dr. David Buchin, right, and U. S. Rep. Tom Suozzi. Photo by Raymond Janis

The gathering was held outside the offices of Dr. David Buchin, director of bariatric surgery at Huntington Hospital, and Suffolk County Legislator Stephanie Bontempi (R-Centerport), vice chair of the Committee on Health, who both share a business address. Buchin, an immigrant from the former Soviet bloc nation Uzbekistan, says donation drives such as these will help to alleviate the sufferings of Ukrainians.

“The horrors in the Ukraine, I mean we all see it,” Buchin said. “It breaks my heart like it does for all of us. We must do something to help them all. The hospitals are full, their supplies are low, so we’ve created this Long Island-Ukrainian Emergency Response Drive. We’re calling on everyone to help, anything that can help the Ukrainian people, like blankets, sleeping bags, medical supplies and first aid.”

Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) was present for the announcement. He applauded the altruism of ordinary Americans doing their part to support Ukraine. He also emphasized the dangers of factionalism amid so much uncertainty abroad.

“Taking action like this to give people an opportunity to make a contribution is a great way to feel that we’re doing something, but we’ve all got to do more,” he said. “We have to hold together. We have to keep Democrats and Republicans holding together. We have to follow the old idea that partisanship stops at the water’s edge. We have to all hold together like we are today.”

Bontempi described growing up in Sweden, a country now endangered by the war. She fears the conflict may spill over into Swedish territory and asked for immediate support.

“My family, I speak to them every day, is very frightened,” Bontempi said. “We need to all be very, very concerned about what this madman [Russian President Vladimir Putin] is doing. I urge everyone to please talk to friends, neighbors [to] donate items. It needs to happen now — not in a week, now. People need help right now.”

Town of Huntington officials praised this public expression of solidarity and humanitarian assistance for the people of Ukraine. Town Councilman Sal Ferro (R) said he believes that Americans and Ukrainians are united under a common purpose, likening this local initiative with the cause of the Ukrainian resistance.

“Every little bit that we do can make a difference,” he said. “We can show the human side, why we live in a free country, why we live in a democracy. That’s what they’re fighting for in Ukraine: to stay free.”

Huntington Town Clerk Andy Raia (R) discussed his own Ukrainian roots. He said his relatives chose to remain in Ukraine to support the war effort and encouraged Long Islanders to do the same.

“The time to act is now,” Raia said. “It was really yesterday, but we need to do more to ensure that Europe stays stable, that democracies around the world are allowed to flourish. This is just a small token of what we need to do to ensure that the fight continues in Ukraine.”

For those seeking to donate, the Long Island-Ukrainian Emergency Response Drive is establishing repositories throughout the Island. Buchin’s and Bontempi’s offices, located at 224 Wall St in Huntington, collected items until the end of the day March 4, and the donations were delivered to the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge.

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Representatives Thomas Suozzi (D-NY-3) and Peter King (R-NY-2) have introduced bipartisan legislation to reverse the impact of last year’s tax overhaul, which eliminated the deduction of state and local taxes from federal filings. If passed, people who live in high-salary, high-tax areas, such as Long Island would regain write-offs plus other benefits. 

“The SALT cap was particularly unfair to Long Islanders and New Yorkers because they already subsidize other states by paying $48 billion more into the federal government than we receive back,” Suozzi said in a statement. “It is a tax on taxes already paid, and it hits the homeowners whose local taxes fund police, firefighters and other services.” 

The legislation, called the Restoring Tax Fairness for States and Localities Act, would eliminate the marriage penalty by doubling the cap to $20,000 for joint filers for 2019 and would fully restore state and local tax (SALT) deductions for 2020 and 2021. 

The cost of the plan would be fully offset by returning the top individual tax rate from 37 percent, back to 39.6 percent, the number prior to the GOP tax bill of 2017.   

Suozzi’s district includes parts of Queens and extends into Nassau and Suffolk counties, mainly along the North Shore and includes parts of Kings Park.  In the region, more than 250,000 families reportedly have claimed the SALT deduction at an average rate of $18,300. Capping the deduction has cost Long Islanders, and all New Yorkers, billions in additional taxes, according Suozzi. In fact, Suozzi reports that the average SALT burden statewide is above the $10,000 cap in 52 of 62 counties.

“Eliminating deductions for local and state taxes will have a devastating effect on New York. We give far more to Washington than we get back. For every dollar we give, we get $0.79 back. That’s a $48 billion shortfall and hurts our middle-class Long Islanders. This legislation is critical,” Rep. King said in a statement. 

Some elected officials are skeptical of the legislation. 

Earlier this year, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) introduced legislation that would fully reinstate SALT reductions and also close previously unaddressed loopholes. He said he prefers that to raising the individual tax rate. 

“The issue Congressman Zeldin has with this new proposal by Representative Suozzi and others is that it permanently raises the 37 percent individual tax rate to 39.6 percent and only temporarily makes changes to the SALT deduction until 2021,” said Katie Vincentz, Zeldin’s spokesperson. 

Zeldin, Vincentz said, would be happy to work with Suozzi and King to fix the current proposal and reiterated that the legislation Zeldin introduced would permanently reinstate the deduction without raising individual income taxes.

The Restoring Tax Fairness for States and Localities Act was approved in the House Committee on Ways and Means Dec. 10. 

“In the midst of all the battles in Washington, D.C., I know that my constituents on Long Island want tax fairness. The 2017 cap on SALT broke a century-old agreement. A covenant to protect state and local government and my bill restores that protection, it restores that covenant, and it restores fairness as well,” said Suozzi. “I thank Chairman Neal and the Ways and Means Committee for passing my bipartisan legislation and I hope it will be passed by the House of Representatives in short order.”

Gun control activist Linda Beigel Schulman speaks next to a picture of her son Scott. Photo by David Luces

By David Luces

As the first anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, passed by Feb. 14, gun control advocates and Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are gearing up for another round of gun debate.

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) alongside gun violence prevention groups advocated for support for a proposed federal bill that would require background checks on all sales of firearms at a press conference Feb. 19. 

“We are not trying to take anyone’s guns away — we are trying to prevent people who shouldn’t have a gun from getting one in the first place.”

— Tom Suozzi

H.R. 8, or the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, was first introduced in early January by U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-California). Suozzi is a co-sponsor of the bill. 

The congressman announced that H.R.8 had passed the House Judiciary Committee and would next be put to vote on the House floor. 

“It will go to the floor in the next week or two,” he said. “I feel good that this bill will pass the House of Representatives — the challenge is whether or not we can get the votes in the Senate.” 

The bill would also see the end of a known loophole in firearm sales. 

“There is a gun show loophole,” Suozzi said. “We are not trying to take anyone’s guns away — we are trying to prevent people who shouldn’t have a gun from getting one in the first place.” 

Currently under federal law, individuals who are convicted felons of domestic abuse, those who have a restraining order or those who have been found using controlled substances are restricted from purchasing guns. Gun control activists have argued the gun show loophole has made it possible for private and unlicensed sellers to market firearms to buyers without going through a background check process. 

“I stand here today with Congressman Suozzi to fully back his support of reasonable gun control,” Dix Hills resident Linda Beigel Schulman of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America said.

Schulman’s son, Scott, was a teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and was one of 17 individuals killed in the Parkland shooting. She said she first met the congressman at a March for Our Lives rally. 

“He spoke with me about the shooting, and I knew his concerns, his support was genuine,” Schulman said. “He is fighting for the safety of all of us.”

“Just this Friday there was another workplace shooting — this has to stop.”

— Linda Beigel Schulman

Suozzi said many guns that are brought into New York State illegally are purchased through this loophole. He pointed to a statistic that said over 70 percent of gun crimes that have occurred in New York have been caused with firearms that originated out of the state, according to a 2016 report from the New York State Attorney General’s office.

Schulman said the bill is a bipartisan attempt to pass common sense gun control legislation and that safety from gun violence is not a partisan issue.  

“If asked the question: Do you want to be safe, your children to be safe? Have you ever heard anyone answer no?,” she said. 

Marybeth Baxter, Long Island coordinator of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence agreed with Schulman, stating that universal background checks are paramount for the safety of New York, other states and the nation. 

“Just this Friday there was another workplace shooting — this has to stop,” Schulman said. “If the universal background check prevents just one shooting, then it has done it purpose, it has saved lives.”