Editorials from around New York
Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:
The Times Union of Albany on city tax breaks
Has legitimate economic development turned into needless corporate welfare?
A developer is certainly free to decide whether building another hotel in downtown Albany is a wise investment or not. But it isn’t the role of taxpayers to underwrite this sort of speculation.
Yet here’s Albany once again being asked to forgo more than $7 million in taxes to help Pioneer Companies of Syracuse build a $30.4 million hotel at 705 Broadway. Put another way: If the city agrees, it will be asking property tax payers to essentially subsidize nearly one-fourth of the project cost.
Pioneer originally came in with a somewhat more attractive idea that included apartments — which would contribute to what downtown Albany may need most: a critical mass of residents, enough to make it worthwhile to open the kinds of businesses that support vibrant neighborhoods, like a supermarket and retail shops. But the developer says construction bids came back too high, so it then scaled back the project to be just a hotel.
How this makes business sense in a downtown with multiple hotels already is questionable enough. It’s all the more so in a crowded hotel market where the Hilton Albany, already enjoying tax breaks, sought $14 million more over 30 years just to do repairs (and avoid the full tax bill that’s coming due a few years from now).
It’s also worth noting that downtown Albany is just now seeing a lot of public and private investment — close to a quarter billion dollars’ worth. The latest big project, by Redburn Development Partners of Schenectady, is an ambitious $78 million multi-building renovation in the Clinton Square area to create 350 mixed-income apartments along with commercial and retail space. It includes some of downtown’s prominent structures, like the Kenmore Hotel, the Steuben Athletic Club, the former Times Union plant, and Capital Repertory Theater. The public investment is relatively modest: a $5 million performance-based capital grant and $2 million from the Capital Region’s Upstate Revitalization Initiative fund. Given what this project would add to downtown’s revitalization and sustainability, these seem to be worthy expenditures.
Grants and tax breaks can certainly help stimulate private investment. But communities must consider just where they really need to target such stimuli. Could money be better spent on attracting more residential projects downtown? Or on breaks to encourage small businesses in neighborhoods elsewhere in the city that lack certain services?
There are other ways besides corporate welfare to welcome investment — such as streamlined, responsive planning, zoning, permitting and inspection processes, or well-kept roads and sidewalks and sound infrastructure. Those strategies also more broadly benefit the community rather than just fatten profits for a developer or business or investor.
As for Pioneer, which has already invested $10.5 million to buy and clear the site, if it believes downtown needs another hotel, it’s welcome to take that risk. If not, well, perhaps it won’t have too much trouble selling a shovel-ready site in a downtown that’s showing every sign of coming back.
The Auburn Citizen on sports betting in New York
The Oneida Indian Nation on Wednesday said that it is teaming up with Caesars Entertainment to offer sports betting at its Oneida County properties just as soon as it is able. The del Lago casino in Seneca County announced a similar partnership back in July.
But while New York’s casinos will be able to offer sports betting as soon as the state Gaming Commission sets up regulations, others are waiting on the sidelines to see if the state Legislature will legalize more far-ranging sports betting this year.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal ban on sports gambling, several states have jumped into the game. And some in New York believe the state has been missing out on some easy money by failing to play along. After all, neighboring Pennsylvania and New Jersey already allow it, and there is an argument to be made that since people already gamble illegally, it makes sense for states to regulate it and take a few bucks off the top.
But a recent analysis by the Associated Press shows that tax revenue from sports betting hasn’t brought in as much money as some states had anticipated — not nearly enough to put a dent in pressing costs like education, infrastructure and Medicaid. And the pool of money being gambled is continually being diluted by the fact that more states are offering more choices for customers.
Critics point out that sports gambling raises the risk of players being paid to influence the results of contests. And gambling of any sort carries with it the reality that some people will bet — and lose — a lot more than they can afford to, so states need to be prepared to offer help to people who get into trouble.
So as the Legislature considers the potential revenues that sports betting might bring to New York, lawmakers need to be realistic about the potential benefits and also be ready to accept responsibility for any social ills that come attached.
The Wall Street Journal on international trade markets
The world turns even if America doesn’t. That’s certainly true on trade, where a rebranded Trans-Pacific Partnership has begun with the new year in 11 countries two years after President Trump withdrew. The biggest losers are American producers.
The CPTPP, as it’s known, entered into force in Canada, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia and Singapore last week, where it will slash 95% of tariffs on goods among its members, which account for 13% of global GDP. The others include Vietnam, where CPTPP is in force Jan. 14, and Brunei, Chile, Malaysia and Peru, which are in the midst of ratification.
All but 20 or so of the more than 1,000 provisions in the original TPP remain in the revised agreement. Suspended provisions include U.S. priorities such as longer copyright periods and eight years of patent protection for biotech drugs. But other advances in intellectual property remain, as well as provisions protecting foreign investors and making state-owned enterprises more competitive.
Despite the U.S. withdrawal, member economies still stand to make significant gains — some $147 billion in global income benefits, according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics. The research finds Malaysia and Singapore would see additional increases of 3.1% and 2.7% in real income by 2030, respectively. According to another estimate, Vietnam will see textile and apparel exports grow $3 billion among CPTPP countries.
Canada is due for a larger GDP boost than if the U.S. had remained in the pact, and that comes largely at the expense of U.S. farmers who are likely to be edged out of Japanese markets. Tokyo’s regular 38.5% tariff on beef, which applies to the U.S., will fall to 9% for imports from Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Ottawa estimates total beef exports will increase 10% as a result.
U.S. Wheat Associates President Vince Peterson said in Washington last month that U.S. producers’ 53% market share in Japan risks “imminent collapse” upon implementation of the CPTPP. U.S. wheat exports to Japan will face an effective 40-cent a bushel price disadvantage with Canada and Australia.
The news isn’t much better for U.S. pork, as Europe exceeded American pork exports to Japan in dollar value in 2017 for the first time in a decade. An imminent EU-Japan free-trade agreement will increase the European advantage. U.S. pork exports to China also face a 62% duty from Beijing’s retaliation in response to Mr. Trump’s tariffs.
The President’s trade supporters say his tariffs are merely short-term costs that will lead to better trade deals. But withdrawal from TPP is a deadweight economic loss because it has led to no other trade concessions from anyone. The U.S. and Japan are again talking about a bilateral trade pact, but the easier and far quicker path to open Japan was TPP.
The revised TPP is also spurring reform elsewhere. Vietnam is easing restrictions on foreign retailers and raising a foreign investment cap for financial companies as part of the pact. Malaysia is allowing banks from CPTPP countries to open twice the number of branches previously allowed.
The U.S. withdrawal from TPP was one of the worst own-goals in recent economic history. Mr. Trump isn’t likely to reconsider in the next two years, but perhaps the next President will.
Newsday on the newest session of U.S. Congress
The first few days of the new year contain the seeds of promise that Washington can move forward. Despite the shutdown of some federal operations, there is an appetite in Congress to retake that branch’s seat at the table of government. Democrats, who now control the House of Representatives, want to address the economic worries of many Americans, and some Republican senators want a compromise to end the more than 2-week-old shutdown over the funding of a wall on the Southern border.
There really is no alternative but for Congress to provide more checks and balances on the Trump administration. More chaos will only harden the cynicism and alienation that are corroding our democracy.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi will have to guide a new class of House members, historic in its diversity and more aligned with the nation’s population, toward delivering on what she calls kitchen-table concerns. And while the House must provide the oversight that Republicans in the last session failed to do, it must be done smartly and effectively. Simply lining Pennsylvania Avenue with subpoenas and repeating the pathetic political shenanigans of the GOP will ensure a divided government, not a bipartisan one.
Democrats would be wise to wait until special counsel Robert Mueller completes his investigation before deciding how to respond to the results. However, the House should investigate the separation of families policies of the Department of Homeland Security, and the rollback of regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency, and it must probe President Donald Trump’s financial entanglements with foreign governments, particularly Russia and Saudi Arabia.
The game also has changed for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Utah’s Mitt Romney already has signaled he is willing to take on Trump, and vulnerable members up for re-election in 2020 want to steer a path toward more independence from the administration. In all of this, there is opportunity for Congress to move forward on needed legislative changes.
Patch up the holes poked in the Affordable Care Act by shoring up the health care exchanges. Cement the requirement that insurers cannot deny coverage or increase premiums because of pre-existing conditions. Increase funding for marketing and outreach to get more people enrolled. Reduce the cost of prescription drugs.
Rebuilding, repairing and improving roads, bridges, rails, airports and sewers should be an easy area of agreement. Trump has talked about such investments since the 2016 campaign, but little has happened since his initial proposal in early 2018, which came up short. It included just $200 billion in federal funds over 10 years, and would have forced state and local governments to cough up the rest. Any infrastructure agreement has to involve significant federal funds and a commitment to the nation’s most critical needs, including rail-safety technology, sewer upgrades and the Gateway project to build a new Hudson River rail tunnel.
The 2017 tax overhaul has mistakes that need correction. There’s a concern, for instance, about how and when restaurant owners and retailers can depreciate costs from renovations. As of now, neither industry can immediately write off such renovations. That’ll require a fix — and it’s not the only one like that. So, while Congress fixes sloppy draftsmanship and mistakes, it needs to make one big change, too. Eliminate the egregious and damaging $10,000 deduction cap on state and local taxes, or SALT. Among the new Democrats in the House who won solid red seats are some from California, New Jersey and other high-tax states who campaigned on and recognize the need for a SALT fix. When Congress considers tax legislation this year, it must consider this: No fix to last year’s tax law would be complete without fixing SALT.
After the wall impasse is resolved, Congress should take the next, ever more difficult step of trying to repair our broken immigration system — one in which more people arrive by air and illegally overstay their visas than actually cross our Southern border. It should grant legal status to people brought here as children and extend temporary protected status to Haitians, Hondurans, Nicaraguans and Salvadorans who were granted legal status to live and work here after they fled social unrest and natural disasters. A significant number of these immigrants came to Long Island and have become integral members of their communities, having bought homes and started businesses. Trump’s decision to revoke their status is cruel. Overall, we must redesign the visa system to make it more flexible to meet our labor needs.
There is common ground for both parties and both chambers of Congress. Find it.
The New York Times on President Donald Trump’s first Oval Office address
How fitting is it that President Trump’s first Oval Office address, which he requested be televised live in prime time by every major network, was aimed at stirring up the American public about a crisis largely of his own making?
Not that the border crisis is one of Mr. Trump’s self-serving political fictions — like the deep state or widespread voter fraud. It may have started out that way, but the situation has, with the president’s nurturing, become something far more tragic.
Pursuing poorly thought-out and even more poorly executed policies on the pretext of battling a nonexistent national security crisis, Mr. Trump has helped create a pressing humanitarian one. Desperate migrant families being detained en masse at the border are overwhelming a system pushed beyond its limits by an administration that chose to ignore the implications of its actions — overcrowding, children falling gravely ill and, paradoxically, the haphazard release of throngs of detainees into border communities stretching from California to Texas.
Mr. Trump is now invoking the urgency of the situation as a justification for pursuing more wasteful, hard-line measures that most Americans do not support, chiefly the ludicrous border wall over which he has shut down critical pieces of the government. The president and his enablers have been busily knitting together inaccurate data, misleading anecdotes, exaggerations and other “alternative facts” about the flow of criminals, drugs and terrorists across the southern border. He seems to hope he can paint a dystopian landscape of security threats and human suffering so dire that the American people will rally to his side and pressure congressional Democrats to succumb to his demands for a towering wall — preferably concrete, but at this point, it seems, steel will suffice.
Failing that, Mr. Trump has also been floating the possibility of stiff-arming Congress altogether. With his advisers increasingly anxious that Republican lawmakers are poised to abandon them on the shutdown, the president has raised the threat of declaring a national emergency, which he thinks would allow him to command the Pentagon to build his wall.
Such a move would prompt a swift and furious legal challenge, if not a full-blown constitutional crisis, that could drag on indefinitely. It would, however, also give Mr. Trump a way to reach a wall-free funding deal with Congress without losing face, thus weaseling out of the shutdown box into which he has nailed himself.
The border wall began life as an applause line at Mr. Trump’s rallies, and it has endured as the rare — perhaps even sole — policy objective that actually matters to him. The substance of true border security may not interest him much, but this symbol sure does.
While Mr. Trump proved a wily campaigner and political street fighter, as president he has been painfully out of his element. Two years in, he remains ill-suited to the complicated, thankless, often grinding work of leading the nation. Governance clearly bores him, as do policy details both foreign and domestic. He has proved a poor judge of talent. He prefers grandstanding to negotiating, and he continues to have trouble with the whole concept of checks and balances. While the Republican base remains enamored of him, most of the electorate has grown weary of his outrages and antics.
Which is why, with his wall on the line, Mr. Trump so desperately needs to convince the American people that they are facing an acute crisis — maybe even a bona fide emergency.
In times of trouble, an anxious public looks to its leaders, and the ability to telegraph strength, decisiveness and certitude assumes greater value than in periods of calm and prosperity. Circle-the-wagons patriotism, maybe even a little jingoism, becomes more appealing. People long to feel protected.
With his demagogy, Mr. Trump managed to fuel a sense of insecurity and unease throughout his campaign, along with the idea that he alone could Make America Great Again. In office, he has attempted to perpetuate that angst by proclaiming existential threats to the Republic, be they migrant caravans storming the border, Muslim terrorists flooding the airports or violent immigrants roaming the countryside. Shutting down the government is only the most recent effort at getting what he wants by traumatizing the nation he has sworn to serve.
Were Mr. Trump truly interested in securing the border, and easing the suffering his policies are making worse, there are immediate steps he could take. For starters, he could end this wretched shutdown so that the people responsible for protecting the border can get paid, immigration judges can return to processing asylum claims and, yes, the physical and virtual barriers already in place can be maintained and perhaps even improved.
Beyond that, he would need to ease up on the my-way-or-the-highway swagger and sit down for a real discussion with lawmakers about how to address the deep dysfunction of this nation’s immigration system.
None of which would be as sensational as grabbing some prime-time airtime.
It would, however, be a sign that the president is at last getting serious about immigration concerns he has thus far done nothing but exacerbate.