Editorials from around New York
Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:
The New York Daily News on border wall funding
Less than a day after congressional Democrats and Republicans announced they had a deal in principle to avert another government shutdown, President Trump harrumphed displeasure: “I’m not happy about it. It’s not doing the trick.”
Surprise surprise, these comments followed conservative media types pronouncing it a “garbage compromise” (Sean Hannity) or “pathetic” (Laura Ingraham).
So yet again, a President who claims to be strong and independent and interested in unifying the country, not to mention a world-class dealmaker, looks capable of scuttling a meaningful attempt to reach common ground just to demonstrate fealty to the far-right fringes.
This is the best agreement Trump is going to get. It funds the outstanding parts of the government through Sept. 30. No, Trump won’t get his $5.7 billion for 200 miles of a “big beautiful wall,” but he will get $1.375 billion for a more fence-like barrier.
Call that the penalty for willful acts of sabotage. Last summer, the Senate Appropriations Committee agreed to a $1.6 billion wall “down payment”; Trump said no because the deal didn’t slash legal immigration enough for his tastes. (Insult to injury: In this year’s State of the Union, Trump ad-libbed the lie that he wants legal immigrants admitted in “the largest numbers ever.”)
This time, if he has an iota of good sense, he’ll take good enough as good enough.
Instead, expect the President of the most powerful and prosperous nation in the history of the world to sit in front of a television, with itchy Twitter thumbs, seeing how angry pundits are about an important piece of public policy before choosing whether to plunge the government into another shutdown. Egad.
The Observer-Dispatch on state infrastructure
State Sen. Joseph Griffo isn’t just spouting political bluster when he says there needs to be parity between downstate and upstate when it comes to infrastructure investments.
The facts back him up.
— Three years ago a state audit by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office found nearly half of the water flowing through the Mohawk Valley Water Authority’s system was disappearing somewhere.
Some of that loss might have been attributed to the fact that it was unmetered. But a large part of the loss was due to underground leaks caused by an aging water system.
— In a report issued last November, the national nonprofit TRIP organization estimated that New York drivers are, on average, each losing $2,768 a year because of poor, unsafe roads and bridges and traffic jams. Locally, TRIP estimated that due to inadequate state and local funding, 33 percent of major roads and highways in the Utica area are in poor or mediocre condition. Ten percent of the area’s major urban roads are in poor condition and 23 percent are in mediocre condition. Driving on rough roads costs the average driver in the Utica area $309 annually in extra vehicle operating costs, including accelerated vehicle depreciation, additional vehicle repair costs, increased fuel consumption and increased tire wear.
The deteriorating upstate highway infrastructure has long been a hot topic, brought to the front burner following the April 5, 1987, collapse of the Thruway bridge over the Schoharie Creek near Amsterdam, sending 10 people to their deaths as vehicles plunged from the highway into the creek below. Federal investigators blamed deficient construction techniques and flaws in the state’s inspection standards. The tragedy brought about notable changes requiring more rigorous bridge inspections every two years and underwater inspections of bridge piers every five years.
Meanwhile, it’s no secret that the pipes we depend on to transport our water have seen better days. That became crystal clear a few weeks ago when a century-old water main broke and flooded downtown, damaging businesses (including the Observer-Dispatch) and snarling traffic. More recently, three water main breaks in Ilion created havoc in that community, including closed roads and boil-water orders. Mohawk Valley Water Authority Executive Director Patrick Becher says there are as many as five water main breaks a day during the cold weather due to aging pipes. And winter is far from over.
Still, while Gov. Cuomo looks to pump billions of dollars into New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), Griffo argues that Upstate New York has infrastructure needs that are just as important.
“While roads and bridges are crumbling in Upstate New York, Democrats in the Senate, many with ties to New York City, seem more interested in fixing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) than addressing the infrastructure needs of Upstate New York,” Griffo stated in a news release following a joint legislative hearing on transportation last week. “I understand that fixing the MTA and New York City’s transportation issues are important, but I would like to see parity in the investments between upstate and downstate for transportation as well as underground infrastructure. Upstate cannot wait for infrastructure issues in New York City to be resolved. We need assistance now.”
Griffo is right. Upstate infrastructure needs cannot be ignored at the expense of the MTA. Current spending on local roads isn’t even close to keeping pace with pavement and bridge needs, according to a report from the New York State Association of Town Superintendents of Highways, Griffo said. Over $1.3 billion in additional revenue is needed annually to meet these needs. Without it, the deterioration of the pavement and bridge infrastructure will accelerate and will adversely impact motorists and the economy.
The fix won’t be cheap. Consider the aging water system. Two years ago, Becher said that many of the water lines in the 700-mile system are 150 years old, and since 2000, MVWA has spent $55 million on line replacements and other improvements. If the authority replaced two miles of line per year at $175 per linear foot (nearly $1 million per mile) it would cost $2 million annually and take 350 years to replace the entire line.
Older lines are replaced as breaks occur, and the Authority has taken steps to reduce water loss through a proactive leak detection program. But it’s a constant struggle, especially in the bone-chilling weather. Cuomo knows this.
“Cold weather makes everything worse,” he said during a visit to the Ilion Municipal Building Jan. 31. “This was a very bad water main break ... and it’s depleted the water reserves.”
Cuomo deployed 40,000 bottles of water and two Water Buffalo water trailers from the state’s emergency stockpiles to support Ilion residents, but said that providing the water only fixes a “short-term problem.” He said the “long-term problem” needs to be fixed, which includes improving the aging water pipes.
To the state’s credit, there has been some help. In October 2017 more than $14 million in grants were awarded to several municipalities in Herkimer and Oneida counties through the state’s Water Infrastructure Improvement Act, as well as the new Intermunicipal Water Infrastructure Grants Program. The grant applications were for upgrades and replacements for drinking water systems, filtration plants and water mains, as well as the construction or enhancement of wastewater treatment plants, pump stations, and sewer systems.
A year later, $25.2 million in grants was awarded to support 14 critical municipal water infrastructure projects in the Mohawk Valley, again funded through the state’s Water Infrastructure Improvement Act and Intermunicipal Grant programs. Among local municipalities receiving grants for water upgrade projects were the village of Camden, town of Verona, cities of Rome and Utica and Oneida County, and village of Ilion in Herkimer County.
But needs remain. Gov. Cuomo spent considerable time in his State of the State/budget address talking about fixing the MTA.
“Less certain,” said Griffo, “is the specific amounts that are going to be allocated to upstate communities for road, bridges, rural transportation hubs and other infrastructure needs such as broadband, gas, electric and sewer.”
He has vowed to fight for it. Every other upstate lawmaker must join him. A weak infrastructure will be a detriment to future development and the upstate economy. We must not let that happen.
The Times Herald-Record on sports gambling
The Alliance of American Football kicked off its premier season over the weekend.
Well, that’s not quite accurate because this new professional football league does not believe in kickoffs. It also does not believe in kicking extra points, forcing teams to run or pass.
Aside from those and a few other unique rules, the new league should be very familiar to football fans with its roster of coaches and players, most with National Football League ties. The season is designed to complement, not compete with, the NFL, starting right after the Super Bowl and ending before the draft.
But there is one big difference that makes this an urgent topic outside of the sports pages. While the founders, who own all the teams and have contracts with all coaches and players, were setting the schedule and designing the uniforms, they also were creating new ways to bet on the sport.
Gamblers will be able to watch on an app and bet at the same time. One of the investors is MGM, new owner of the Yonkers raceway and racino and a company sure to be applying for a gambling license once the state gets to the new round of allocations or even sooner.
MGM and others are impressed by the tech more than the teams because they envision a time when people will be able to bet not only on the outcome of the game but on the play being called — run or pass? — and many other possibilities.
Right now, such action would be available only in a few states. With New York apparently on the verge of joining that crowd, with visions of sports betting enhancing the bottom line at the four new casinos, state legislators have a bit more to consider beyond the amount of revenue they think betting can bring in.
While they consider that, they need also to look at the most recent warning coming from the state comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, who said that while opportunities to gamble legally in New York have exploded over the past decade, the state has done very little to understand the kinds of problems it can bring or the kinds of treatment that are necessary.
“Gambling addiction destroys lives and families,” he said. “When New York expanded casino gaming, it took on the responsibility of making sure there were adequate services to meet the rise in addiction that comes with it.”
But it has not.
His warning came in an audit, one that raised questions but did not offer any conclusion. What the state needs to do is make sure that the relevant part of government, in this case the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, has the resources it needs to study the topic and propose plans for treatment and prevention.
When the auditors asked if the state has the resources to do this, they came up with a clear answer — they have no way of knowing.
Before the state allows people to bet on whether the next play will be a run and if so how far the player will go, legislators need to be sure that we are prepared for the consequences.
The Auburn Citizen on the state budget
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli held a news conference last week to alert New Yorkers to a budgetary problem that the governor likened to a “heart attack.”
The state has experienced a bigger-than-expected shortfall in tax revenue, and as a result a $2.3 million budget deficit has developed.
But rather than dive into potential solutions to this deficit, Cuomo chose instead to focus on what he views as the major culprit for this deficit: the federal tax law changes made in 2018 by President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress. The governor said the newly imposed federal limits on state and local tax deductions are driving high earners out of New York state. He urged the state’s congressional delegation to prioritize getting the deduction limits removed.
While the governor’s call for changing this aspect of federal tax law makes sense, he is being disingenuous to claim that it’s the major cause of the state’s budget deficit. His partner at last week’s press conference, DiNapoli, pointed to another huge factor for New York state: the horrendous performance of the stock market in the final quarter of 2018. As the home of Wall Street, New York’s tax revenues have always been more reliant on the performance of equity markets than other states.
The bigger problem with Cuomo’s fixation on the federal tax law is that he instead should be putting much more public energy into discussing possible ways to close the New York budget deficit. No matter how successful he is trying to get federal tax law changes, nothing can be done on that front to address the acute budget crisis for this year.
As the governor gets ready to put forward budget proposal amendments and state legislators dive into finalizing the spending and taxing plan for 2019-20, the focus needs to be squarely on what New York programs can be cut and what taxes and fees, if any, should be added. Time wasted on railing about Trump and Congress could result in damaging state budget decisions that are made without adequate public input.
The Leader-Herald on Medicare for All
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, continues to explore his potential as a candidate for president. During the weekend, he took his “Dignity of Work” tour, he visited New Hampshire.
True to form — and his record — he stuck to issues of interest to working men and women. Higher wages, improved benefits, paid family medical leave and other “pro-family” proposals are his focus.
But Brown — who is worlds away from being a conservative — has not moved far enough to the pie-in-the-sky visions being used by most other Democrats seeking the presidency. They are pandering to what they view as their party’s base.
“Medicare-for-all” is one of their key promises. During a swing through Iowa, Brown made it clear he does not believe such a pledge is realistic.
He is right about that. Forcing all Americans into a Medicare-like program, without allowing them to buy private health insurance, would be a fiscal disaster for the nation as well as a medical catastrophe for millions of people.
Brown wants changes in health insurance. “I think . we should do Medicare at 55,” he said in Iowa.
He also wants more federal action to thwart climate change, but has not embraced the radical “new green deal” suggested by some Democrats.
Brown has been successful as a senator in part because many of his Ohio constituents consider him a defender of working people. Too bad the leading Democrat contenders see themselves instead as leaders of the radical leftist fringe.