- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 15, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The New York Post on New York Republicans and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s re-election campaign.

Jan. 15

New York’s GOP must be in dire straits if its state chairman has to beg his fellow Republicans not to endorse a Democratic governor for re-election.

Yet that’s just what Ed Cox has done. In a letter sent this week to Republicans he believes are being targeted by Andrew Cuomo to support his re-election bid, Cox explained his case this way:

“When out of power, our job as a party is to provide loyal opposition, not for opposition’s sake but for the sake of the governing philosophy and principles that will advance our state. The Cuomo administration is well-known for their heavy-handed tactics in winning support, but for the sake of New York’s future, I hope I can count on Republicans such as yourself to be strong and to live up to our Republican convictions.”

Now, looking to New York Republicans to live up to Republican convictions sounds like a punch line in a Jon Stewart riff. Still, Cox is absolutely right about the role of a minority party - and he lays out a good case against the governor’s re-election.

After seven years and three Democratic governors, says Cox, New York “remains the most taxed, most regulated, least economically free state in America, with the highest out-migration and the most debt per capita.” He cites Cuomo’s opposition to “the most innovative industry in the United States” (fracking), his failure to address the state’s bloated Medicaid program, his refusal to call out Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver on the scandals in Albany, and so on.

That’s the argument the state’s Republican Party should be taking to the people of New York. But if Republican politicians aren’t even sold themselves, is it any wonder New York hasn’t elected a Republican to statewide office since 2002?

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The Watertown Daily Times on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address.

Jan. 13

North country members of the New York State Legislature gave Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo good marks for his State of the State Address delivered Wednesday in Albany.

“I certainly welcome the governor’s comments on cutting taxes,” state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, told the Watertown Daily Times for a Thursday story.

“I think overall it’s a very balanced set of initiatives he’s outlined for 2014,” said Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa.

“There were a lot of interesting and exciting proposals, particularly when you look at upstate regulatory reform and tax relief,” said state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome.

But Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, believes some of Gov. Cuomo’s proposals do not go far enough.

He said rather than freezing property tax rates for two years, the state should reduce them.

The governor expressed his pleasure that the Legislature has been able to convert what had been a $10 billion budget deficit to a projected $2 billion surplus by fiscal year 2016-17.

This will be good news if it plays out the way Gov. Cuomo expects.

The state would have to control its own annual spending growth each year to no more than 2 percent to see this surplus.

Given the fiscal discipline that has been put into effect so far, there’s no reason to believe state legislators won’t achieve this goal.

But we’re more than two years away from FY 2016-17, and anything can happen in between now and then to derail this plan.

Which raises the first question about some of Gov. Cuomo’s tax proposals. Any plan that sets out to return more money to New York taxpayers is well worth considering, but as always the devil is in the details.

Gov. Cuomo said he wanted to use the projected surplus to offer tax relief to homeowners, renters and businesses.

But is spending money that the state doesn’t have in hand just yet a good idea?

If the $2 billion surplus is not achieved, the deficit will worsen because now we’ve added at least $2 billion in lost revenue.

And Gov. Cuomo appears to exceed the $2 billion surplus with his proposals.

He said that his plan to freeze property taxes for two years will provide $1 billion in tax relief, and his property tax “circuit breaker” program will cost another $1 billion.

OK, there’s your $2 billion surplus.

Gov. Cuomo also proposed placing his Smart Schools bond idea on a referendum, with a price tag of $2 billion.

The debt service on such a borrowing will add expenses for the state.

The total now is $4 billion, plus the debt service on the bond.

Then there are the renters’ tax credit ($400 million), estate tax reform (no amount offered for how much this will cost), business tax cuts ($346 million), real property tax credit for manufacturers ($136 million), tax rate elimination for upstate manufacturers ($25 million) and accelerate phase-out of 18-A surcharge ($600 million) - a total of more than $1.5 billion.

Add this to the $4 billion, and the grand total amounts to $5.5 billion.

Some of Gov. Cuomo’s tax relief programs are rather complicated but geared toward the same people.

Why not simply lower the income tax rate for households earning, say, less than $150,000 a year?

The two-year freeze on property taxes, for example, offers rebates to homeowners if local property tax rates remain within the 2 percent cap the first year, and keeps within the 2 percent cap and if the locality agrees to a shared or administrative consolidation plan in the second year.

The goal here is to give voters an incentive to hold the feet of their elected officials to the fire by keeping tax rates low.

In affect this is a funded mandate - consolidate, and your taxpayers benefit.

Fail to streamline your tax, and local taxpayers fork over a double price.

This is an interesting plan, but it may not work the way the governor hopes.

Taxing bodies are more inclined to set their tax rates based on what they need that year.

Public officials certainly don’t want to be voted out of office for raising taxes.

But if they need more money to balance their budgets, they may not have much choice.

If an emergency occurs and property taxes exceed the 2 percent tax cap, taxpayers in that locality will have higher taxes and get no rebate from the state.

How does this help anyone?

It’s good that Gov. Cuomo is focusing heavily on tax relief, particularly for people here in Northern New York.

But his plans should be simplified to provide the maximum benefit for residents - if we can truly afford everything that’s been offered.

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The Press-Republican of Plattsburgh on reducing carbon emissions.

Jan. 15

If the scientists haven’t yet convinced you that man-made global warming is a menace to our planet, at least concede this: Basic reason tells us carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere can’t be good for anybody.

And the numbers don’t lie: Led by a small boost in coal burning by energy companies, the amount of carbon introduced into our skies rose 2 percent in 2013.

Coal used to be the way many homes were heated, until smart people looked at what was pouring out of their chimneys and changed to less damaging - and less expensive - alternatives.

But coal remains attractive to some utility companies. Luckily, most of the electricity produced up our way comes from unlimited natural resources, such as moving water and, to a much smaller degree, wind. Those can create energy far less expensively and far more safely than combustion.

Still, the rise in the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere after seven years of enforced, steady decline, is alarming. And it calls for action.

President Obama has called for a 17-percent reduction in carbon emissions between 2005 and 2020, and America would be wise to take the initiative seriously.

For some reason, media conservatives refuse to listen to the informed voices warning of calamity from avoidable carbon emissions. They reject the concept that humans are causing the crisis and that we can put the brakes on it with prudent practices.

This, of course, is just what their listeners, viewers and readers want to hear. We don’t presume to have more sway over this constituency than their compelling spokespeople, so we won’t argue the details of global warming. We’ll leave that to people like the learned Ray Johnson, who writes a regular Press-Republican column on climate change.

But it should be plain to anyone that a jump in carbon emissions into the air is harmful. It’s obvious that clear, blue skies weren’t meant to be tainted by soot.

So we hope that the latest carbon-dioxide numbers - which are linked to a rise in the cost of natural gas that has made coal a little more appealing, financially - are a temporary setback.

And the problem isn’t just with heating fuel. Cars contribute immensely to the pollution problems.

Over the years, there have been reports of powerful petroleum companies quashing efforts to develop vehicles that run on something other than gasoline. But more and more, we are seeing hybrid and alternative-energy cars being promoted. Word just came recently that a nitrogen-burning automobile is on the horizon.

Even with the slight rise in carbon-dioxide pollution last year, emissions in the United States are 10 percent below 2005 levels, and that is encouraging news.

It’s crucial to future generations that the scientists’ wisdom on this subject is not ignored.

Carbon emissions must be cut before it’s too late.

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The Times Union of Albany on public transparency regarding transporting dangerous rail cargo through their communities.

Jan. 14

A train rumbling through people’s backyards, pulling car after car of crude oil, would understandably raise concerns and questions. But what’s a reasonable response when the public can’t get answers to those questions? Deeper concern, for sure. Frustration, certainly. Outrage wouldn’t be far behind.

Albany is now an increasingly important point in the route of crude oil from North Dakota and other points west. From the Port of Albany, the oil is transported via tankers down the Hudson River and on to refineries. The amount of oil passing through Albany is about to get a lot bigger.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has approved a Houston company’s plan to more than double the amount it now ships through the Port of Albany - to up to a billion gallons annually.

Another firm, based in Massachusetts, is seeking the city’s permission to construct a facility at the port to heat its heavy crude, also brought in by rail. The warming is necessary so the especially thick tar-like oil can be pumped onto the tanker vessels. The company, Global Partners, has not divulged the type of oil or its origin. It’s speculated to be from Canadian tar sands, possibly rerouted due to the stalled Keystone XL pipeline project. The Obama administration has delayed approval of the pipeline, which would carry the crude from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico.

This is all part of a growing national trend that raises concerns locally, regionally and globally.

Locally, there are safety issues. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, shipments of oil and other petroleum products by rail were up nearly 50 percent during the first half of 2013, compared to a year earlier. With that increase has come a rise in accidents - through early November, there were 137 crude releases in 2013, The Associated Press reports, compared with just one in 2009, before the boom.

There have been several disasters, like July’s runaway oil train that derailed and exploded in Lac Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and destroying dozens of buildings in the town. Last month, a rail collision in North Dakota sent flames and thick smoke into the air for more than 24 hours, forcing 2,400 residents to flee due to air quality concerns.

The frequency in spills is partly being blamed on the wide use of older-model tanker cars, which the National Transportation Safety Board says tend to rupture in accidents. While tanker standards were raised, most of the nation’s fleet is not yet retrofitted.

The city of Albany must demand full transparency from Global Partners. What specifically will be processed at the facility? What tanker cars will they use? What safety measures will they incorporate?

On a national level, the rail transporters must be required to quickly upgrade to newer, safer rail tankers.

The nation, of course, needs to become less dependent on fossil fuels, period. In the meantime, citizens have a right to know what’s rumbling through their backyard, and how safe it is. An accident is too late for those answers.

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The Adirondack Daily Enterprise on President Barack Obama’s pledge to run a transparent government.

Jan. 9

Like many presidents during the decades after the Watergate Scandal, Barack Obama promised to run an ethical, transparent government. That didn’t last long.

Providing more evidence of the shallowness of Obama’s pledge was the recent news that Joseph Jordan, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, is leaving the White House.

Jordan is taking a job with FedBid, a company that operates reverse auctions for the government. In reverse auctions, buyers, in effect, solicit bids from potential suppliers of goods and services.

That’s right: Jordan, whose job includes buying goods and services on taxpayers’ behalf, is going to a company involved in the process of such sales. His new job will include working with the government reverse-auction program.

Talk about a revolving door. But Jordan “is abiding by all ethical and legal obligations,” a White House spokesman insisted.

Perhaps Jordan is complying with technicalities in the law - but the ethical issues are crystal clear.

Unfortunately, this sort of outrageous conduct is nothing new. Taxpayers should not put up with it.

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