HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. — There’s bipartisan unity among Democrats and Republicans in the New York City suburbs, where lawmakers say eliminating a deduction for state and local taxes in the tax reform legislation pending in Congress could have “devastating” effects in places like Long Island.
“We may be upsetting a lot of people back in our own party in Washington right now, but we are not elected to be their congressmen, we’re not elected to represent their districts,” Republican Lee Zeldin said after a press conference with fellow GOP Rep. Peter King and freshman Democrat Tom Suozzi. They were joined by a phalanx of local elected officials and business leaders.
All three voted this month against a House bill that caps the deduction at $10,000, and warn the tax reform legislation being debated by the Senate eliminates the deduction entirely. They are speaking out to build support for keeping the deduction when the House and Senate bills go before a conference committee.
Zeldin, a staunch supporter of most of President Donald Trump’s agenda, said he’s gotten lots of blowback, but says the loss of the state and local tax deduction for his constituents on eastern Long Island is something he can’t defend. The district is a mix of working-class suburban communities, rural areas and the Hamptons, summer playground of the rich and famous.
The Long Island Association, a business group, estimates Long Island would lose $2.7 billion if the deduction were eliminated.
“Oh yeah, yeah, there’s quite a battle going on right now, and I really don’t have a choice,” Zeldin said.
King, a veteran outspoken Republican, said his district voted twice for Barack Obama, but backed Trump by a 9-point margin last year.
“The people of Long Island did not vote for Donald Trump so that he could raise their taxes,” he groused. “They didn’t vote for Donald Trump so that the taxes on Long Island would subsidize the taxes from Mississippi and Alabama. So we’re here to fight for Long Island and sending a message to the White House. They said they want to put a win on the board, this is a big loss.”
Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, said he isn’t surprised King and Zeldin are bucking their own party.
“Like a lot of suburban Republicans in swing congressional districts, both King and Zeldin know they need to be sensitive to their more moderate constituents,” Levy said. “And while they may be lifelong proponents of tax cuts, they also have a responsibility to represent their districts’ best interests.”
Suozzi, a former county executive, said his district has 250,000 residents who itemize. “We’re united here. This would be a punch in the gut to everyone on Long Island if this bill were to pass,” he said.
Nationally, about 44 million taxpayers claimed deductions totaling around $550 billion for state and local taxes paid in 2015, according to the most recent IRS data.
The top 10 states with the highest average state and local tax deductions all voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in last year’s election. New York led the way with an average state and local tax deduction of more than $22,000, followed by Connecticut, California, New Jersey and Massachusetts.
“The public has to know this will be devastating to the people of Long Island,” Suozzi said. “The people that voted for President Trump didn’t expect this to happen to them.”