- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The Times Union of Albany on ethics reform efforts in the state Legislature.

Feb. 4

Rock: meet hard place. A Legislature so resistant to ethical reform may finally be forced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to swallow a dose it.

Mr. Cuomo, who inexplicably shut down his Moreland Commission on Public Corruption in exchange for some minor reforms, now says he’ll put five major ones in his executive budget. Nor will he sign off on the 2015-16 spending plan, he says, unless lawmakers accept the changes. That means come April 1, when the budget is due, they can either go along or risk going without paychecks.

Let the howls of protest begin.

An abuse of the budget process, they’ll declare. A violation of the principle of coequal branches of government, they’ll object. He’s not playing fair, they’re bound to huff.

Yeah? Well, tough.

If Mr. Cuomo were pushing through some wild, reactionary agenda we might have some sympathy. But New York has been waiting in vain for the Legislature to get its ethical house in order. Reform has become a campaign cliché; once elected, lawmakers hide behind the unaccountability of back room deals where good government goes to die. It’s never anyone’s fault.

Are there any real objections to Mr. Cuomo’s plans?

Just what is wrong with these amply paid part-time lawmakers disclosing where their outside income comes from, and what interest those writing the checks have in what state government does or does not do?

Why shouldn’t public officials contemplating corruption have the threat of losing their public pension to think twice about? Why should any sitting legislators be exempt from this?

Why not have lawmakers itemize expenses rather than get a flat per diem payment just for showing up in Albany - or for claiming to?

Why shouldn’t the campaign finance rules be tightened so that donations aren’t just a legal form of graft that politicians can spend as they please? And why shouldn’t New York insist political donations and spending be as transparent as possible?

Here’s a thought for lawmakers feeling stuck in Mr. Cuomo’s ethics trap: Why not show him up?

The governor has offered a serious list, though an incomplete one. It does not bring down the state’s obscenely generous campaign contribution limits, nor does it close the notorious LLC loophole, which allows wealthy donors to skirt the caps by creating limited liability companies - each considered a separate individual. Mr. Cuomo himself has been a prime beneficiary of this loophole.

Missing, too, are an overhaul of the ineffective, highly politicized state Board of Elections and a system of public financing of campaigns. So is any discussion of a ban on outside income in exchange for a modest raise.

There is ample room here to take Mr. Cuomo’s plan and make it better.

Or lawmakers can cry foul and try to convince New Yorkers that they’re not thinking of themselves, but of future legislatures. Of democracy. Of the constitution. Of good government.

Good luck getting anyone to buy that.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1AspjPw

The New York Times on raising the minimum wage for tipped workers.

Feb. 4

In New York, restaurants are allowed to pay servers a minimum wage of $5 an hour, as long as that hourly wage plus tips equals at least $8.75, the state minimum for nontipped workers (rising to $9 by 2016). That subminimum “tipped” wage is a vestige of the early days of modern labor law, when minimum-wage mandates were riddled with industry-specific exemptions, long since ended. It survives for tipped workers because of the strength of the restaurant lobby.

Last week, a Wage Board convened by the state labor commissioner to propose reforms to the tipped wage issued its recommendations. Regrettably, the board squandered the opportunity to propose ending the subminimum wage altogether. It called, instead, for a somewhat higher tipped wage and a study on whether to eliminate it entirely sometime in the future.

This is an unnecessary delay. Experience and research from eight states that have ended subminimum tipped wages show no adverse effects on growth or jobs in the restaurant industry. What they do show is reduced poverty among the largely female work force of servers.

The board’s proposal, in contrast, would do little to combat poverty. It starts out by calling for a raise in the tipped wage in New York to $7.50 an hour, and $8.50 in New York City if legislators enacted a separate city minimum wage. Those levels would be better than the present $5, but still less than the state minimum wage. To make matters worse, the proposal goes on to say that employers don’t even have to pay the new tipped wage if a server’s weekly wages, plus tips, average out to a sum that is modestly above the full minimum wage. In that case, an employer would need pay only $6.50 an hour outside New York City and $7.50 an hour in the city, in effect, penalizing workers for the tips they earn, while keeping them poor.

Mario Musolino, the acting labor commissioner, has the authority to accept, reject or modify the board’s proposals. He should reject the idea of a two-tiered subminimum wage and use his discretion to extend the full state minimum wage to tipped workers.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for his part, should support the commissioner in those moves. The continuation of subminimum wages for tipped workers is a gift to an industry that has been kowtowed to for too long. It smacks of legalized wage theft, and it is unworthy of a state that regards itself as progressive.

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Online:

http://nyti.ms/1CveJbq

The New York Post on President Obama’s tax proposal.

Feb. 1

After the lickin’ he took in the congressional mid-terms, President Obama has rediscovered the middle-class. Naturally, his idea of relief is a big fat new spending spree - to be paid for by closing “tax loopholes” benefiting the wealthy.

That, of course, was also the theme of this year’s State of the Union Address. The conceit is that raising taxes on the “rich” can fund programs for the middle-class.

Just one problem: Aiming for the “rich” is a sure-fire way to hit those lower down the ladder. And we had a pretty good example with the new tax on 529 college savings accounts he was forced to back down on after proposing it in the State of the Union.

The tax was designed to fund his scheme for “free” community college. The idea was that 529 accounts - where savings now grow tax-free - benefit only the rich. So naturally he would tax them.

It helps to remember that back in 2008, when he was running for president, Barack Obama time after time publicly insisted no family earning less than $250,000 a year will see “any form of tax increase.” Emphasis on any form.

But a tax on 529s would have done just that. According to a study by the Government Accountability Office, the median income for families with 529 or similar plans is $142,400.

Plainly, that’s not poor. But it sure is well under the $250,000 he once used as the threshold for the rich Americans who would have to bear his tax hikes.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1u2rzuF

The Buffalo News on the measles outbreak in California and vaccinations for children.

Feb. 2

The year is 2015 and yet we seem to have gone back 50 years to a time when a routine - and dangerous - part of childhood was getting the measles.

The measles.

In the United States, measles was declared all but eliminated back in 2000. But now a measles scare is mushrooming. An outbreak that began at Disneyland in California last month is spreading. Scores of cases have been reported in at least 14 states.

Measles is a highly contagious viral illness spread through coughing and sneezing. Before vaccinations became commonplace in 1963, about 3 million to 4 million Americans contracted the measles each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and about 400 to 500 died from it. The vaccine, which is safe and very effective, put an end to that, saving thousands of lives.

The outbreak that began in California includes children and adults who were never vaccinated, and some who received only one of the two required doses.

We shouldn’t be facing a scourge that is so easily prevented. So, why are we facing this problem now? The unfortunate answer is that a significant number of parents are deciding not to vaccinate their children. All states require children to be vaccinated before they enter school, with exemptions for medical reasons. But some states also allow parents to opt out based on vague personal beliefs. In 2014, the CDC says, 79 percent of the measles infections among unvaccinated people were contracted by people who chose not to be immunized because of personal beliefs, not medical necessity.

Much of that opposition stems from the now-debunked claim of a British researcher that the vaccine might increase the risk for autism.

Forgoing vaccination not only makes a child vulnerable to the measles, it makes it possible for that child to spread the disease to people who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons, such as a compromised immune system.

Effectively illustrating this point was an article in the New York Times about the father of a 6-year-old boy with leukemia. As any parent would be, Carl Krawitt of Corte Madera, Calif., is frightened that his son might be exposed to infectious diseases from unvaccinated children.

The CDC cites the measles as the “most deadly of all childhood rash/fever illnesses” and cautions about its ease of transmission and the importance of protecting against infection.

When parents decide not to vaccinate their children because of some vague idea that it’s bad, they are creating a path for a preventable disease to spread.

Around the world, according to the CDC, there are about 20 million cases of the measles annually. Last year, 145,700 people died of the disease. This country got a handle on the disease half a century ago. While there need to be some exemptions, parents should be vaccinating their children.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1BSoM4N

The Adirondack Daily Enterprise on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Feb. 2

Seventy years ago last week, Soviet army troops stormed through the front gate of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp in southern Poland. What they found stunned many of the battle-hardened soldiers.

More than 1.1 million men, women and children were murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Most of the victims were among the more than 6 million Jews killed as part of “the final solution.”

Ceremonies held Tuesday at the camp - one of dozens of killing factories operated by the Nazis - were a reminder of what can happen when vicious fanatics gain power.

Only about 300 survivors of the camp were able to attend. Few of those victimized by Hitler’s regime remain among us today.

Fewer and fewer eyewitnesses to the Holocaust, combined with those who deny it ever happened, place an enormous responsibility upon the rest of us. The terrible inhumanity of The Holocaust - in all its aspects - must not be forgotten or minimized. “Never again” needs to be in our minds, not just part of books and movies. Otherwise, the horror will be repeated.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/16gAD4c

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