Editorials from around New York
By The Associated Press
Nov. 29, 2017
Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York's newspapers:
The Utica Observer-Dispatch on government transparency.
A bill soon will be placed on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's desk.
It's one he needs to sign and one for which we all should be concerned.
As a citizen, it's your right to know the decision-making process in state and local government. The Freedom of Information Law declares that the public, not just the press, has the right to review documents and statistics as to how decisions are made. Its use is widespread and a valuable resource to keep our government in check.
The aforementioned bill and its genesis have to do with the ability of government agencies to deny access to public information without a reasonable basis.
A "don't like it, then let's go to court" tactic can be used to circumvent FOIL — as those denying access know the expense involved for the public to head to court for a resolution.
As the law stands now, even if a judge rules in favor of the plaintiff, that judge may or may not decide to award attorneys' fees. All the risk falls on the plaintiff — and those denying access know it. That expense risk is why so few people take the fight to court for enforcement.
This bill would amend FOIL to require the mandatory award of attorneys' fees to a plaintiff when the plaintiff substantially prevails and no reasonable basis for denial was determined.
Would this make agencies think twice?
Would this give the public more muscle?
Remember, this all has to do with denial without a reasonable basis. If there's something to hide, denial of a request can be the biggest blockade to the truth — with little fear of ramification.
This bill has passed both houses of the legislature and likely will be sent to the governor to sign before the end of December.
Government officials often promise transparency when they're campaigning.
This bill will hold them to it.
We're telling the governor to sign the bill. You should, too.
The New York Post on the pope's remarks about Myanmar.
A suffering refugee summed it up best: "It's so sad to see that even the holiest man cannot cite our identity."
So said Kyaw Naing, a Rohingya stuck in a confinement camp in Rakhine state, to the Associated Press of Pope Francis' remarks Tuesday in Myanmar, also known as Burma.
The pope called for peace without naming the victims of an ongoing ethnic cleansing.
Most Rohingya have lived in the country for generations, certainly since the birth of the modern Union of Burma in 1948. But the military dictatorship (which also imposed the name "Myanmar") rescinded the citizenship of this ethnic and religious minority.
Though it has ceded some power to civilians, the military retains overall control — and went berserk after militant Rohingya rebels attacked government forces last year.
Regime forces have burned villages down, raped women, beheaded children and even burned innocents alive. More than 620,000 Rohingya have fled to next-door Bangladesh.
Perhaps the pope had harsh words in private for the military ruler, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing. But his bland public comments only urged "respect for each ethnic group and identity" and "a commitment to justice and respect for human rights" to advance "the arduous process of peace-building."
Local Catholic officials reportedly asked Francis not to say more for fear of reprisals against Burma's small Catholic community.
Count it as a grim lesson in how to move Pope Francis away from his much-vaunted willingness to speak truth to power.
The Plattsburgh Press-Republican on sports betting.
Sports betting will be coming to New York state — eventually, if not immediately. The time to debate the morality of it passed long ago.
As the Press-Republican reported, it looks very much as if sports betting will reach state voters as early as 2019.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected next month to take up the legality of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which bans betting on professional and amateur sports in all states except Nevada.
If, as anticipated, the law is wiped out, New York lawmakers are eager to enact legislation allowing gambling in racinos, Off-Track Betting Corp. parlors or elsewhere so the state could begin reaping some of the benefits of this billion-dollar industry.
The case was brought to court by the state of New Jersey, our neighbor to the south. If and when New Jersey has clearance — it already has casinos in Atlantic City, of course — surely New York will insist on competing for the virtually limitless profits, which would provide significant tax relief for its citizens.
Former Gov. Mario Cuomo told the Press-Republican Editorial Board decades ago that he was against legalized gambling because, as he said, "Until you've seen the sad consequences gambling can impose on families, you can't understand how evil it really is."
Yet citizens must ask whether it's the government's job to protect gamblers from themselves while watching billions of dollars pour into the pockets of other individuals, corporations and governments.
And isn't New York state, for example, already profiting from the proceeds of its own legal lotteries and horse-racing industries? The hypocrisy of such prohibitions is obvious — and obviously not good for the taxpayers.
Offshore companies share immense profits with legal operations in Nevada every day, especially this time of year, when professional and college football are building to their crescendos.
The linchpin of sports gambling is the point spread, and no sport lends itself to this device more accommodatingly than football. It is the point spread that has enabled football to overtake baseball as America's true national pastime.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association, which oversees college sports, has historically opposed sports gambling. So have the organizations in charge of the four major-league team sports: baseball, football, basketball and hockey. That is largely because of the perceived threat of game-fixing that surfaced way back in 1919 with Major League Baseball's Black Sox scandal, when the Chicago White Sox infamously threw the World Series.
But sports and sports salaries have surged well beyond the point at which vulnerability to a game "fix" is still prevalent.
Sports and the money they generate for themselves and others have captured America's interest. The Super Bowl every year is the most-watched television event in the nation.
If people want to bet on it — and the predominance of office pools is evidence they do — they should be able to without a hypocritical government wagging a finger.
The (Glens Falls) Post-Star on the Republican tax proposal.
If you know what the Republican tax bill will do, please call your local U.S. representative and tell them.
Were you even aware that an overhaul of our income tax system has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and will soon be voted on by the Senate?
If you were aware of that, do you have any idea how it will affect your personal tax bill?
This bill is a rush job, pushed by a president and Republican majority in Congress desperate to pass something — anything — that they can brag about, however unworthy of praise the bill may actually be.
Look at the way a repeal of the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate — the requirement to buy health insurance or pay a penalty — was jammed into the tax bill at the last minute. This is a cob job, a slapped-together structure that has every sign of eventual collapse.
Look at the way the personal tax cuts included in the bill expire in 2026, because Republicans could not figure out a way to make their math work. Having the tax cuts expire for individuals (the corporate tax cuts, in contrast, are permanent) is the only way Republicans could figure out to write this bill without exploding the deficit to an unacceptable size.
Mick Mulvaney, the federal budget director, has said the administration is willing to take out repeal of the individual mandate if that will persuade moderate Republican senators like Maine's Susan Collins, to support the bill.
So is there anything about this last-minute bill the Trump administration likes enough to stand behind?
Yes, the huge corporate tax cut, from a 35 percent rate to a 20 percent rate, and the changes in business tax rules, which will allow "pass-through" companies to pay at a much lower rate. "Pass-through" companies are set up so owners can claim the business income on their personal returns.
The changes in the pass-through rules would benefit larger companies more than smaller ones, making it harder for the smaller companies to compete. That is why Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, a former small business owner himself, has come out against the bill.
The business tax cuts are the heart of the bill. Coincidentally (perhaps), many of Donald Trump's companies are set up as "pass-through" businesses, and these cuts would save him millions of dollars.
Regardless of the effect on Trump's personal wealth, some experts have supported the business tax cuts, arguing they will improve the U.S. economy.
But who knows?
These are issues that should be debated, publicly. But no hearings have been held in Congress on this bill, and very little time is being allowed for public discussion.
We're certain that most people can tell you more about what was on their Thanksgiving table than what is in the tax bill. We bet more people have started their Christmas shopping than have even a basic understanding of the bill.
But this bill will have a direct and significant effect on most Americans. You might pay less in taxes. You might pay more. Either way, you are going to have to change the way you fill out your tax forms.
Speaking of paying more, we noticed that our Republican congresswoman, Elise Stefanik, voted against the bill, because it drops the deduction for state and local income taxes. That deduction benefits residents of high-tax states like New York, Massachusetts and California. Coincidentally (a lot of coincidences pop up with this bill), those are Democratic states.
You have to give Stefanik a smidgen of credit for trying to protect her constituents' interests, although we suspect she was given the OK to vote no by Republican leaders, because the bill was going to pass anyway.
Instead of putting the blame for the soak-the-blue-states strategy on Paul Ryan and crew, where it belongs, Stefanik blamed New York state leaders (Democrats, coincidentally) for failing to reduce state taxes.
But if you want to talk about New York and the federal budget, you should point out that our state contributes far more revenue to the federal treasury than it gets back in federal spending. In 2016, New York sent about $41 billion more in tax payments to the federal government than it received back in federal spending, according to the state Comptroller's Office.
The apparent partisanship in the proposed changes to the tax code is another reason far more debate is needed on this bill.
A University of Chicago survey of economists found that 69 percent of them were either uncertain of what the Republican tax bill will do or believe it will not substantially boost the nation's gross domestic product. That leaves 31 percent who agree with the Republican assertion that the bill will create economic growth.
The point is, even economists don't know, and that is because this bill has not been thoroughly vetted. Congressional hearings should be held, as they should be on any major piece of legislation and were, for example, on the Affordable Care Act. This bill is much too important for a rush job.
The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle on sexual assault in the military.
The Military Justice Improvement Act is getting old. For the fifth year in a row, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has dusted it off and introduced it for a vote. But, the New York senator has yet to see the bill pass the Senate. Last year, it was pulled out of the national defense budget without an ounce of debate.
This time, Congress needs to make it happen.
Gillibrand has been leading the charge against sexual assault in America — on college campuses, in the workplace, and in the military — long before the issue exploded into what now feels like a daily roll call of creeps who should have known better. Harvey Weinstein, Roman Polanski, Ben Affleck, George H.W. Bush, Kevin Spacey, Michael Oreskes, Roy Moore, Louis C.K., Al Franken, Charlie Rose. In addition to these men, more than a dozen other, lesser known names are on a list being kept by USA Today. We suspect that list will grow.
But, we must remember that you don't have to be rich, powerful or famous to sexually assault someone. In fact, these Hollywood types, politicians and business leaders who are facing allegations or have recently confessed to wrongdoing make up a miniscule fraction of a fraction of those who commit these crimes. The overwhelming majority of people who commit sexual assault do not make headlines, and may only be known to their victims.
Gillibrand has been targeting these perpetrators since she first landed in Washington, D.C. The Military Justice Improvement Act is among the proposals she has made to try to raise awareness, make it easier to report and investigate alleged crimes, and make sure that justice is served.
In the last four years alone, the Pentagon has documented hundreds sexual assault and harassment, against generals, admirals and senior civilians. Last year, the Department of Defense announced a record number of sexual assaults reported against service members, and the lowest conviction rate. More than half of military sexual assault survivors say they've suffered retaliation for reporting the crime.
"Congress should finally be out of excuses to continue the status quo that harms our service members and protects predators," Gillibrand said in a statement. "How much longer do we need to wait for Congress to do the right thing?"
She's right. There are no acceptable excuses for allowing the system to remain the same. The Military Justice Improvement Act would give independent, trained military prosecutors authority over serious alleged crimes. Right now, military officers within the alleged victim's chain of command decide whether to prosecute the accused. That discourages victims from reporting sexual assault, particularly when the attacker is one of the victim's supervisors. The absurdity of this would be laughable if it was not such a serious matter.
There is some bipartisan support for the bill. It should be unanimous.