Newsday: Levy Livid as Albany Stalls Tax


June 22, 2007, 7:07 AM EDT

ALBANY -- Millions of dollars in sales tax revenue for Suffolk County were imperiled Thursday by a dispute between County Executive Steve Levy and a group of black and Hispanic members of the Assembly upset over his strident opposition to illegal immigration.

In a rare move here, the minority lawmakers forced a sales-tax bill for Suffolk to be tabled in protest of Levy. He then responded angrily, vowing not to bow to pressure to open a hiring hall for immigrant day laborers. He said he would rather forgo the $300 million in revenue.

Levy's strong language, in an interview with Newsday, caused the fragile deal brokered by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) to collapse, sources said. "Listen, it takes many parties to make a deal...if Steve Levy says there is no deal, there is no deal," Silver said at 11:30 Thursday night.

Earlier, action in the ornate Assembly chamber was stymied as efforts were made to find the votes necessary to secure passage of the Suffolk bill, which would extend the county's authority to collect an additional 1 percent sales tax. After nearly an hour and minus four votes, the measure was tabled at 7:05 p.m.

A short time later, Silver predicted the bill would be taken up again before lawmakers adjourn Friday. Legislation usually isn't brought to the floor if it lacks sufficient votes for passage, and defeats are unheard of. "I was the one who asked that the bill be laid aside and reached some understanding with the county executive and the members of the [black and Hispanic] caucus, and I believe you will see that bill back," Silver said.

He didn't reveal details of the discussions. But sources said Levy, a Democrat, had agreed not to oppose a state-funded hiring hall and Assembly resolution lauding the contributions of immigrants in Suffolk and elsewhere, or to challenge the re-election of Assemb. Philip Ramos (D-Brentwood) in return for passage of the sales-tax bill and several others tied to Suffolk.

Levy, however, denied he had struck a deal with black and Hispanic lawmakers, who have called on him to support the establishment of a hiring hall. Prior to being elected county executive, Levy served in the Assembly. "I will not make any deal with these guys, and anyone who said there is, is a liar!" Levy said in an interview. "They can take their sales tax and stuff it. I will not be blackmailed!"

The additional 1 percent sales tax generates crucial revenue which helps Suffolk pay for law enforcement, health services and other expenses. It was first levied in 1990 and must be renewed every two years, according to Suffolk deputy county executive Paul Sabatino II. The current authorization expires Nov. 30.

The Senate adopted the bill on June 7.

Assemb. Adriano Espaillat (D-Manhattan), who helped organize Thursday's protest, said he and his colleagues would continue to oppose Suffolk-related bills until Levy embraces a hiring hall. Levy "is race-baiting and encouraging the worst in this state," said Espaillat, who is pushing a resolution denouncing Levy.

The county executive, who enjoys historic levels of popularity and is seeking re-election, has raised the ire of immigrant advocates with his crackdown on the hiring and housing of illegal immigrants. He has become a national spokesman for tougher immigration laws.

Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.