Newsday. April 25, 2022.
Editorial: NYS appeals court must void election maps
The state Court of Appeals on Tuesday takes up the crucial case on redistricting, with potential national consequences for which party will control the House of Representatives. It will also be a test of the credibility of the state’s top court.
Democratic supermajorities in the State Legislature approved new congressional maps that would slash from eight to four the number of Republican-favoring seats statewide. The problem: Gerrymandering was explicitly barred in 2014 when state voters approved a constitutional amendment that requires districts “shall not be drawn to discourage competition or for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring incumbents or other particular candidates or political parties.”
Yet there’s no other way to explain how the legislature, for example, put the center of the 3rd Congressional District in the middle Long Island Sound, throwing pieces of Westchester County, the Bronx and Queens in with parts of Nassau and Suffolk counties. Long Island’s CD1 was made Democrat-friendly by aligning Montauk and Orient Point with Nassau, while CD2 was designed as a safe space for Republicans.
It was an arrogant and embarrassing play by state Democrats. The only honorable path for the high court is to strike down these contorted districts — even as candidates relying on the maps have already completed the process to get on the June primary ballot.
There’s more to this court fight than the House seats. Chief Judge Janet DeFiore and her colleagues must also decide whether members of the Assembly and Senate violated the law when they brushed aside and effectively nullified the role of the first-ever Independent Redistricting Commission, instead drawing their own districts. While both lower courts rejected the House maps, they were split on the legislative maps.
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Republicans brought the lawsuit, but the nonpartisan League of Women Voters makes a compelling argument that if this year’s stunted process is allowed to stand, the state’s future efforts at an independent process will become a mockery. The court should order a do-over.
At this point, the top court should deploy the special master hired by the lower-court judge, reschedule the affected primaries for late August, and establish easier hurdles to get on the ballot.
The court should take encouragement from what happened in Maryland earlier this season. A longtime Democratic judge ordered Democratic-drawn maps rewritten — and primaries there were put off from March to July. And in Kansas on Monday, a judge tossed out a Republican redistricting from a legislature he said overreached its power.
All seven members of New York’s highest court were nominated by Democratic governors — six by Andrew M. Cuomo and one by Kathy Hochul. That shouldn’t predict how they will rule on this case. But their background will influence how this ruling is perceived and judged by a public eager for assurance that the judiciary, federal or state, makes impartial calls.
To provide that assurance, this court must smash the gerrymander.
Dunkirk Evening Observer. April 21, 2022.
Editorial: SUNY SYSTEM One-time funding won’t stop bleeding
Fiscal troubles at both Chautauqua County State University of New York campuses have been well documented over the years. Both locations at Fredonia and Jamestown Community College have grappled with deficits for too many years while watching enrollment decrease.
Earlier this month, Gov. Kathy Hochul included increased funding for the SUNY system as part of the recently passed budget. In all, the 2022-23 spending plan includes a $255 million increase in operating aid, and more than $660 million in additional capital for the system alone.
While that is positive news, SUNY understands that Albany is unlikely to be in a giving mood in future years. Dr. Frederick E. Kowal, Ph.D, president of the United University Professions, in hailing the increased aid noted the elephant in the room: “In the coming years SUNY will need consistent support, including direct state aid to campuses, to achieve Governor Hochul’s ambitious goals of strengthening the system.”
“Consistent support” is something that normally goes missing when it comes to the history of higher education and our state capital.
Jamestown Post-Journal. April 25, 2022.
Editorial: State Makes Right Decision – Finally – On Panama School Fine
What’s that old adage again — the 15th time is a charm?
It surely feels that way for Panama Central School and its $4.9 million fine from the state Education Department. After what seems like a decade of being told no by governors, the local school district has finally seen the fine wiped clean.
Bert Lictus, retiring Panama Central School superintendent, said $1,117,883 of the $4.9 million penalty has been forgiven. Of the remaining penalty, $782,117 in state aid was withheld from the school district. The school was aided in the process through efforts by former state Sen. Cathy Young, who delivered $3,000,000 in bullet aid.
“That’s a lot of money that could have been used for programs here in Panama. That was an expense that we had that no other school had … there’s only so much money to be had. If I’m spending $80,000 a year having my aid taken away, that’s a teaching position, or a counselor, or a social worker, or a resource officer or after school tutoring or a bus run. There are all sorts of ways you can look at it. But it certainly didn’t benefit the district at all — it was a burden.”
It’s about time a New York governor saw the stupidity of fining school districts for a clerical error. It certainly shouldn’t have taken a decade for former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Gov. Kathy Hochul to realize the lunacy of this situation.
Let this be a teachable moment to students across the state. Even adults can learn from their mistakes — eventually.
Auburn Citizen. April 28, 2022.
Editorial: Safety, accountability both important after NY limousine tragedy
In the years following the horrific Schoharie County limousine crash that killed 20 people, including a man from Moravia, the most important part was finding out what went wrong and why so that another tragedy can be avoided.
Some headway has been made in that regard, in the form of new regulations regarding seat belts, GPS technology and a requirement for drivers to be specially licensed and undergo drug and alcohol testing. Badly-maintained brakes may have been the biggest factor in the crash, and the state Department of Transportation has confiscated dozens of for-hire vehicles in recent years that have been found to pose a risk to the public. And while enforcing existing regulations and creating new ones is small comfort to the families who lost loved ones, it’s at least a sign that things can be improved.
Aside from the safety aspect, there is also the question about the appropriate penalties that violators should be subjected to, whether as outright punishment or a deterrent to others who may be breaking the rules, so it’s disturbing to hear that the FBI may have intervened in the crash investigation so as to shield the owner of the limousine company, an FBI informant, from legal consequences.
The public doesn’t get to check vehicle maintenance records when considering renting a limo, so there must be some trust there that safety standards are being monitored. And the public needs to be able to equally trust that law enforcement can be relied upon to be completely objective in their investigations. The families of the victims — and all New York state consumers — deserve a fair and accurate assessment of everything leading up to this crash, as well as everything that took place afterward.
It’s good that the FBI has finally agreed to look into the matter. If the investigation is found to have been compromised, that also must be remedied to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.
Advance Media New York. April 27, 2022.
Editorial: Gov. Hochul’s ginormous budget barely dented NY tax burden
As befits an election year, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s 2022-23 state budget included something for everybody: generous aid for schools, more money for childcare, a raise for some healthcare workers, a temporary gas tax holiday, a new property tax rebate check for homeowners, even a $600 million gift to the billionaire owners of the Buffalo Bills for a new football stadium.
The budget was big, weighing in at a whopping $220 billion. It was late, as Hochul and legislative leaders sparred over bail reform, ethics and other policy matters. The leaders negotiated it in secret, despite the governor’s promise that transparency would be the watchword of her administration.
There’s a lot to fault in this spending spree, starting with the stadium largesse. But focusing on individual line items misses the forest for the trees.
The real “miss” in this year’s budget was Albany’s failure to make a dent in the tax burden driving New Yorkers out of the state, despite having the resources to do so.
The state is rolling in dough, thanks to federal pandemic relief and higher-than-expected tax revenues. That allowed Hochul and lawmakers to spread the wealth to their constituencies in an election year. They showed minimal restraint.
Hochul used some one-time funds to set aside reserves equal to 15% of state operating funds for a rainy day. That won’t be enough to cushion the blow from the next emergency or recession, the watchdog Citizens Budget Commission points out, meaning New Yorkers could be in for tax increases or budget cuts if another emergency strikes or the economy goes south.
The budget supplied some tax relief. A middle-class income tax cut scheduled for 2025 will happen sooner. In the fall, 2 million Upstate homeowners will receive a one-time property tax rebate check, totaling $2.2 billion. Suspending the state portion of the gas tax from June to December will save New Yorkers $585 million, if the oil companies truly pass it on to consumers. The budget also tinkered around the edges of various business and farm taxes.
As noted by Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, these piecemeal efforts “will not adequately address the persistent affordability crisis that drives families and businesses out of New York.”
It’s beyond argument that New York’s property taxes are egregiously high — so high that the state keeps on coming up with one confusing tax relief scheme after another to help us afford them. Local governments and school districts easily get around a tax cap that was supposed to constrain spending growth. The new STAR rebate check was cut loose from a requirement that school districts stay within the tax cap.
State government isn’t the only taxing authority with a spending addiction. Federal Covid relief money rained down on local governments and schools, too. Watch your school district and municipal budgets closely. Is the tax levy — the amount of tax revenue needed to balance the budget — going up, down or staying the same? In many communities, property tax assessments are going up to capture rising values in a hot real estate market.
Now’s the time to tell your local government leaders to show more restraint than Albany did — and use their windfalls to lower taxes on everyone.