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Editorials from around New York

March 7, 2018

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:

The Niagara Gazette on New York’s early voting proposals.

March 4

Among several reform measures to generate citizen participation in elections is Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s commitment of nearly $7 million in state funding to institute early voting across the Empire State.

As we remember, this was one of three proposals that the governor had outlined in his state of the state address that also included expanding automatic voter registration through the various state agencies and allowing same-day voter registration. The 30-day budget amendment which the governor has recently unveiled will provide funding for the new system to the 62 counties across New York.

Cuomo explained earlier that the proposals are designed to increase access for New Yorkers who often fail to show up on Election Day. In 2014, only 29 percent of the eligible population in this state voted, ranking New York as the 41st in the nation for turnout. That’s a shameful statistic.

The governor does raise a valid point when he says, “At this time of citizen alienation, the best thing we can do is let people know that their voice is heard, that they matter and that they can and should vote.” And, he says, we should make voting easier, not harder, with same-day registration, no-fault absentee ballots and early voting.

None of the proposals have yet to be taken up by the Legislature. And they’re expected at this point to sail through the process with few obstacles since Democrats have the majority.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said that New York’s registration system was outdated and prevented many young people from exercising their right to vote.

For the record, New York is one of 13 states that does not offer early voting. Under the Cuomo plan, each county would be required to open one polling site for every 50,000 residents for 12 days before an election. Each of those polling sites would be open eight hours on weekdays and five hours on the weekends. An estimated 65 percent of registered voters support the plan, according to the latest Siena College poll.

We agree with Jennifer Wilson, the dynamic program and policy director of the League of Women Voters in New York state. As she observes, the legislation will not become effective until the 2019 elections, but the $7 million provides crucial assistance to county boards of election as they begin to plan for future elections and upgrade their technology.

Online: http://bit.ly/2Ia3laV

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The (Middleton) Times-Herald Record on preventing gun violence.

March 6

If violence prevention is priority No. 1 when it comes to school shootings, as an editorial said on Tuesday, then priority No. 2 is making sure that we know how to prevent that violence, that the measures we are taking will make a difference. Once again this week, efforts to make that effort meaningful and effective collapsed in Albany courtesy of the Republicans who control the state Senate.

While there is nothing wrong with the package of bills the Senate Republican majority muscled through, measures designed primarily to help ensure that schools have more rigorous security measures, it did nothing to help prevent violence.

If we were talking about the recent flu outbreak, the Republicans would be the ones arguing that we need to stock the nurse’s office with Tamiflu but avoiding even the hint that students and faculty get flu shots because, after all, there is no guarantee that such preventive measures are 100-percent effective.

In the case of the flu, we do have a pretty good idea about how effective such precautions are because every year we add to the database of information. In the case of deadly gun violence, we are not as well-informed, courtesy of a Congressional ban on gathering such evidence. So you would think that elected officials would be eager to find out more, to see what is known about the causes of gun violence and the most effective ways to prevent it.

And when it comes to our Republican senators, you would be wrong because among the measures they reject consistently is one that would create an institute in New York to do what Congress has so far avoided, study gun violence in hopes that we can learn more.

Other countries that do not have an epidemic of gun violence, including Australia which had a strong gun-owning-and-using culture before a massacre inspired dramatic changes in the laws, have taken steps to make sure that these deadly weapons have a harder time getting into the hands of those who will use them to kill other humans. In Albany this week, that effort took the form of a proposal for more lengthy and thorough background checks before someone can purchase a weapon.

Republicans in the Senate said no.

With any other epidemic, prevention is universally understood to be preferable to a cure. Even allowing for the lack of certainty about efforts on both sides of that argument, rarely do you see anyone maintain that you should focus solely on one and completely ignore the other.

When the slaughter at a concert in Las Vegas last October educated the nation to the enhanced danger of something called a bump stock which turns a semi-automatic weapon into a virtual machine gun, there were calls to ban such devices in the interest of public safety.

Republicans in the Senate saw no reason to ban bump stocks.

And while even President Trump has been willing to consider ways to make sure that people who were demonstrably prone to violence would be prevented from buying weapons, that was too much for the Republicans in the Senate.

Again they said no.

Online: http://bit.ly/2Iabuw3

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The (Syracuse) Post-Standard on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal.

March 2

Gov. Andrew Cuomo reminds us at every opportunity that Congress and the Trump administration aimed a “missile” at New York with its tax reform legislation. Never mind that most middle-class New Yorkers will see their federal taxes go down, and that the state already faced a budget gap of $4.4 billion before Washington lifted a finger.

And with so much uncertainty about the federal funding picture, you’d think the governor would put forth a cautious, even austere, spending plan for 2018-19.

You’d be wrong.

Cuomo’s $168.2 billion budget proposal increases school aid by 3 percent, continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into economic development programs and funds dozens of new policy initiatives. The governor also preserves the phase-in of a middle-class tax cut passed in 2016.

To keep up that level of spending, Cuomo proposes almost $1 billion in “revenue actions” -- which the rest of us call tax increases. They include tax on opioid prescription drugs, a highly speculative tax on health plans that convert from nonprofit to for-profit status, a tax on for-profit health insurers who will pay less in federal tax, a tax on “vaping” products and a sales tax on all internet purchases, no matter where the retailer is located.

Cuomo also boasts that the portion of the budget he controls does not exceed the state’s 2 percent tax cap. But the governor only gets there by employing sleight-of-hand -- moving some spending off-budget, changing the timing of debt payments, reclassifying other spending. When you add those back into the budget, State Operating Funds spending would increase by more than 4 percent, according to an analysis by the state Comptroller’s Office. Remember that the next time Cuomo criticizes your school, city, county, town and village officials for complaining about the tax cap.

Cuomo’s budget also would use $383 million from the $10.7 billion pot of settlement money that has flowed into state coffers from banks, insurance companies and automakers who settled claims for alleged misdeeds. “One-shot” revenues should be used for one-time expenses, not to fill a budget gap. The proposed budget also would give the governor’s budget director even broader powers to impose budget cuts, without legislative approval, if Washington cuts more aid than expected. The Legislature ought to think twice about ceding its oversight and accountability.

After much sound, fury and missile hyperbole, in the end, Cuomo’s budget fails to circumvent the cap on federal tax deductions for state and local taxes for 2018. The governor proposes some ridiculous, unworkable, flawed schemes to convert federal taxes into state taxes, make school taxes into charitable contributions and otherwise get around the $10,000 cap on the SALT deduction. These are not serious tax proposals. We agree with the assessment by the Empire Center for Public Policy that they add up to “a solution in search of a problem.”

In his recent budget amendments, the governor did get around to rectifying an omission that would have forced New Yorkers to pay $1.5 billion more in state taxes. Cuomo proposed legislation “de-coupling” the state tax code from the federal tax code, preserving itemized deductions for state tax filers -- including the deduction for local property taxes.

We’ll have more to say about the governor’s spending priorities and policy initiatives in the coming weeks. But here’s the bottom line: Cuomo’s budget keeps the gravy train rolling while pushing tough fiscal choices into the future. That may help his re-election prospects this year, but it’s not a responsible way to govern.

Online: http://bit.ly/2FyET4w

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The New York Times on a looming famine in South Sudan.

March 6

In the catalog of horrors afflicting the world’s most hellish places, South Sudan can check about every bloodied box. More than four years of civil warfare has left tens of thousands dead, two million displaced, half the population at threat of starvation without aid and a trail of atrocities — genocide, child warriors, rape, castration, burned villages. And now, warns the United Nations, famine stalks the tortured land.

A recent report by the United Nations and the South Sudan government said 150,000 people could slip into famine this year. A formal famine declaration means people have already started to starve to death. But even with food aid, humanitarian workers warn, much of South Sudan could face severe hunger by May. And the U.N. response plan has received less than 4 percent of its 2018 funding.

A year ago, South Sudan declared famine in two regions, but international responses checked it. Even if that were repeated this year, famine will be a threat in the future unless the land’s predatory soldiers are driven out. This is caused by the struggle for power and loot, not by nature.

With so many conflicts around the globe, it is not surprising that those like South Sudan’s attract attention only when they rise to horrific levels. But South Sudan has the dubious distinction of being the world’s youngest state and the one most likely to fail. The latter status is bestowed by the Fund for Peace, a nongovernmental organization that compiles an annual Fragile States Index listing countries most vulnerable to collapse.

Even more salient is that the United States bears a special responsibility. During the long civil war between northern and southern Sudan, which Christian groups in the United States came to perceive as a struggle of Christians in the south against Muslim oppression from the north, Washington brokered an agreement that led to independence for South Sudan in 2011 — along with billions in American aid.

It all unraveled into ethnic warfare less than two years later, when President Salva Kiir, a member of the majority Dinka group, turned on his former vice president, Riek Machar, a Nuer. Other tribes joined in, setting off a senseless war that has defied numerous agreements and cease-fires. Its illusions shattered, the United States recently called for a United Nations Security Council arms embargo, while the American ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, declared that Washington had “given up” on Mr. Kiir.

An arms embargo is a must, and the United States must continue to press for one in the Security Council. Washington should also continue to lead the way in providing emergency assistance. Beyond that, it would be good if European donors and the African Union joined Ms. Haley in letting Mr. Kiir, and Mr. Machar, know that they are far too big a part of the problem to ever become part of the solution.

Online: http://nyti.ms/2FkR5a2

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The (Gloversville) Leader-Herald on the Supreme Court’s decision to block the Trump administration’s deportation plan.

March 5

Our slow learner in the Oval Office has just received another tutorial in our constitutional separation of powers. The Supreme Court has backed a federal appellate ruling blocking his plan starting next month to deport nearly 700,000 American immigrant “dreamers.”

The decision of the high court, whose conservative majority was strengthened last year by President Donald Trump’s nomination of Justice Neil Gorsuch, has given the beneficiaries of former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program at least a temporary lease on life.

The move hands Congress more time to come up with a solution to avoid the mass deportation of young aliens who know no other country as their own, having been brought here as children by their immigrant parents. Most seek a path to U.S. citizenship, and Trump has said he favors it eventually if Congress so rules.

But he has taken no actions to facilitate that outcome. Rather, he continues a verbal assault on American immigration policies, opposing various applicants from certain Latino and African countries seeking family unification and visa preference status. He also continues to press for millions of taxpayer dollars to build his proposed southern border wall.

That notion, oft-rejected by Mexican President Pena Nieto, led to cancellation of a planned visit to the White House after a testy Trump-Nieto phone conversation in which the Mexican leader declined to stop saying Mexico would not pay for the wall.

The current judicial rebuke is not the first delivered to Trump in his brief presidency. Early on, two other federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland said no to him when he ordered a ban on admission of immigration by applicants from certain Muslim countries.

A more recent ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., said the ban “denies the possibility of a complete family to tens of thousands of Americans,” an immigration objective derided by Trump and other critics as “chain immigration.” It goes on: “On a fundamental level, the (ban) second-guesses our nation’s dedication to religious freedom and tolerance.” Another Supreme Court ruling, however, has allowed the ban to stand pending review, probably in late June.

Trump’s uncommon relationship with the judiciary branch, as well as with his executive branch Department of Justice, has kept this president either on the defensive or in open hostility toward it almost from the start of his presidency.

First came his firing of FBI Director James Comey, following his reported pitch to Comey to give National Security Adviser Michael Flynn a free pass on lying to the FBI.

Then, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself in the Justice investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign, Trump became openly hostile to Sessions, whose recusal prevented him from the power to absolve the president of any malfeasance.

Instead, control of the Justice Departments was passed by Trump to Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who quickly demonstrated he intended to keep hands off the investigation being pursued by the tenacious Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Amid all this internal Trump administration turmoil and chaos, the new president chose to declare war on his own FBI in the hands of another Trump appointee, career FBI official Christopher Wray, who so far has proved to be no Trump patsy.

Trump meanwhile charged that certain FBI agents who expressed personal comments favorable to rival Hillary Clinton during the Mueller investigation proved it was stacked against him. He finally felt obliged to have aides say he had no intention of removing either Mueller or Rosenstein from the investigation, which by now had the earmarks of a prelude to an impeachment process against the president.

Why Donald Trump would take this course of waging a running battle against elements of his country’s prime law-enforcement branch boggles not only imagination but common sense as well. ...

Online: http://bit.ly/2G32YOU

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