- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:

The Auburn Citizen on the immediate need to clean up Owasco Lake, which has been contaminated by algae toxins.

Oct. 3

In a way that no one hoped to ever see, the past week has brought Owasco Lake water quality issues into sharp focus.

Significant blue-green algae blooms this year have gone beyond the stage of being a major impediment to recreational use of the lake. Now the toxins associated with this type of algae have found their way into the public drinking water system.

Over the last eight days, officials have reported multiple cases of treated water testing positive for algae toxins. Fortunately, the levels of those toxins have remained below the federal thresholds for being considered a health threat, and therefore public officials have not advised that anyone stop using the public water that flows through their taps.

The scary part, though, is that there’s much that is unknown about blue-green algae. Water treatment facilities are not designed to combat it, but operators for the Auburn and Owasco plants are using all the best practices at their disposal, which have been enough to keep the water toxins below critical levels.

Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that will continue, especially if future blooms become even more intense.

With that in mind, it’s vital that no expense is spared on the local, state and federal level to get this threat under control, not just this fall but also for the long-term.

That means investments in scientific research and development for figuring out what it will take to make treatment facilities more effective at dealing with this threat. And then following through with funding to implement the changes needed.

The same goes for practices and regulations associated with watershed protection. And that likely will mean some dramatic changes for farming and land maintenance, residential and commercial development and even recreational use of the lake. We don’t know exactly why blooms happen when they do, but the excess nutrient loading from runoff from farms, golf courses, home lawns and ineffective sewage treatment systems all create an environment that allows algae to thrive.

There are models out there to study and potentially mimic. The Skaneateles Lake watershed restrictions for protecting public water systems in Onondaga County are an example, as is the Catskill region watershed for the system of massive reservoirs that supply New York City water.

To get to the place where those watersheds are will take substantial financial investment. But it will also require unprecedented political will to adopt and implement laws and regulations that are certain to be unpopular with some powerful groups that resist environmental restrictions and want to maintain the status quo.

But the alternative could be a broken public water system. And the price to pay for that would be much higher than any investment taken to protect this natural resource.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2dsAsK7

Newsday on leaving New York’s property-tax cap the way it currently stands.

Oct. 3

Long Island school leaders are fretting about what is projected to be another lean year for the state tax cap, and when school leaders fret, politicians worry, too.

The result is a quietly growing movement to change the property-tax cap law and loosen the taxpayers’ purse strings significantly - and that’s a change that can’t be allowed to happen.

From 1982 to 2011, school taxes in New York increased at a rate of 6 percent a year, growing from $3.5 billion to $19.7 billion, or more than three times faster than inflation. It was in that environment of out-of-control hikes that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was able to pass legislation in 2011 to limit property tax hikes to 2 percent a year or the rate of inflation, whichever was lower. With some exemptions, budgets could exceed the cap only with 60 percent or more of the vote.

The cap was set at 2 percent for the first school year it was in place, 2012-13. But since then, inflation has been practically nil, largely thanks to lower gasoline and heating costs. This school year’s tax cap was 0.12 percent. The 2017-18 cap on school tax hikes will not be set until January, but the limit for municipalities has been declared at 0.68 percent, and State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli predicts the school limit won’t be much different.

DiNapoli also warns that Albany might not have enough revenue to keep up its recent record of generous annual increases in aid to schools, although Cuomo is presenting a rosy picture, and state law says that aid will increase at least as fast as personal income in the state.

It is the rate of inflation and personal income growth that must limit how fast school spending can increase. No descriptions of need or pleas from education leaders or unions can change the simple fact that school spending cannot sustainably increase faster than prices and the earnings of taxpayers. And for all the years when property taxes grew faster than inflation, the income of the median taxpayer did not.

Most of education spending is on payroll, and it’s actually preferable for worker income to increase faster than inflation; that gap increases prosperity. But that gap is created by productivity increases. It’s an area that education experts say can create huge efficiencies and improvements as new technology is embraced, but which teachers unions and districts often resist.

We see each generation of students more comfortable with technology, constant learning, varieties of stimulus and instant access to information. Experts say the way they learn and relate to education is changing dramatically. We’ll always need great teachers, but how many we need and how they work should change and become more efficient.

There is no shortage of money for education in New York, where an average of $22,000 is spent per student each year, or on Long Island, where it’s $26,000. On Long Island, there is an extraordinary burden: Property taxes are quadruple the national average while house values are only double the national average. Taxpayers cannot face a burden that increases faster than inflation and their ability to pay.

And as Election Day approaches, candidates for the state Assembly and Senate need to assure them they won’t have to.

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Online:

https://nwsdy.li/2dRxz7J

The Wall Street Journal on liberating North Koreans as a new way to combat the regime of Kim Jong Un.

Oct. 3

The U.S. hasn’t been able to stop North Korea’s nuclear program, so bravo to South Korean President Park Geun-hye for her ground-breaking speech Saturday urging the people of the North to make the often dangerous journey to freedom. “We will keep the road open for you to find hope and live a new life,” she said. “Please come to the bosom of freedom in the South.” This may be a better path to regime change in Pyongyang than empty condemnations or unenforced sanctions.

South Korea has until recently tended to pay lip service to the right of North Koreans - enshrined in its constitution - to resettle in the South. Seoul arranged transport when defectors made it through China to third countries but did little to encourage mass defections.

Pyongyang has been able to control the flow of defectors for its own benefit. During some periods of economic hardship it used the outflow as a safety valve. At other times the regime tightened border controls.

The number of defectors peaked in 2009 at 2,914, but then third-generation dictator Kim Jong Un strengthened surveillance over the border. The number has begun to grow again, totaling 894 in the first eight months of this year.

The regime’s elite are also defecting in larger numbers, which suggests internal dissent is growing. Last year a senior colonel in the North’s spy agency crossed over, and in August the North’s deputy ambassador to the U.K., Thae Yong-ho, resurfaced in Seoul. The overall proportion of defectors identifying as middle class has grown to 55.9%, up from 19% in 2001.

Can President Park turn this trickle into a flood? One key will be a program to get the welcome message past the North’s censorship. In February the South announced it would drop leaflets on the North for the first time in a decade. It can also help human-rights groups with launches of balloons carrying information about life in the South and how to escape.

The biggest challenge will be convincing Beijing to stop violating international conventions that forbid sending refugees back to their country of origin without considering their asylum claims. Seoul has avoided confrontation on this issue to secure China’s support in containing the North’s nuclear program. But as Beijing’s refusal to support further sanctions after the North’s nuclear test last month shows, it wants to ensure the survival of the Kim regime no matter how egregious its behavior.

Ms. Park deserves credit for ending the last vestiges of the “Sunshine Policy,” the appeasement of Pyongyang begun under President Kim Dae-jung in 1998. Earlier this year she closed the Kaesong Industrial Zone that had supplied the regime with $100 million a year that it used to fund weapons programs.

But the real key to ending Kim Jong Un’s rule is liberating the North’s people. A stream of defectors would weaken the regime economically and help send more information about the outside world back home. Let North Koreans vote with their feet for an end to tyranny.

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Online:

https://on.wsj.com/2cSApZ4

The Poughkeepsie Journal on Democrat and Republican lawmakers in Congress avoiding a potential shutdown.

Oct. 4

Considering it is such a volatile election year, Congress had every incentive to cut a major budget deal and avoid a government shutdown that has caused so much angst and economic paralysis in the past.

But it never should have taken this long. And it is a testament to how rotten relations are between Democratic and Republican leaders that they would come close to another shutdown and bicker over such basic issues, including whether they were going to do anything to protect public health. Republicans and Democrats are looking for every edge they can find in the November elections, so finding compromises on the level of funding and what would and would not be in these big pieces of legislation proved to be daunting.

There is good news, though. Federal lawmakers passed a stopgap measure that keeps the government funded through Dec. 9, which gratefully gets the county past the November elections, when cooler political heads likely will prevail.

Significantly, the legislation tackles the long-ignored problem of addressing the Zika crisis; Congress has agreed to plow $1.1 billion in prevention, research, education and other efforts to fight the disease. A mosquito-borne virus, Zika has spread throughout parts of South and Central America. But there also are hundreds of cases reported in New York, including the Hudson Valley, all travel-related, meaning those affected either had recently traveled to an affected area or had sexual contact with someone who did. Experts say the disease is likely to spread, but at the least the federal government now has approved the resources to tackle the problem aggressively.

Fortunately, the agreement also includes a side deal that will provide long-sought aid for residents of Flint, Mich. who, partially through government incompetence have been victimized by polluted water.

Nevertheless, there is no shortage of important matters indefensibly being ignored by Congress, ranging from improving the health care system and reforming the tax code, to addressing comprehensive immigration reform and curbing gun violence.

These days, just keeping the federal government fully open and operating is a major achievement, but it is still no cause for a celebration.

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Online:

https://pojonews.co/2cT6LOv

The Jamestown Post-Journal on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s insistence that America is already safe.

Oct. 3

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s pledge to make America’s streets safer is nonsense, opponent Hillary Clinton has insisted. Why, the nation already is safe, she explains.

Let us give her the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps she just was not aware of an upsurge in violent crime.

FBI officials know about it, however. On Monday the agency’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program released a report that the number of murders reported by local law enforcement officials last year was up more than 10 percent from 2014.

Overall, violent offenses of all sorts increased by 3.9 percent from 2014 to 2015, the FBI noted.

Violent crime had been decreasing in the United States. As FBI officials hastened to note, the 2015 statistics still show lower rates of offenses such as murder, assault, etc., than five and 10 years ago.

But as Attorney General Loretta Lynch admitted during an event in Arkansas, “we still have much work to do.”

Indeed we do. Now, the focus should be on whether last year’s numbers were part of a trend or merely a one-year blip.

Beyond any reasonable doubt, one thing that has changed is the attitude of many toward law enforcement officers. Not since the 1960s and early 1970s have Americans heard shouts from crowds such as the shameful, “What do we want? Dead cops now,” chants that have been in the news recently.

Obviously, incompetent, evil police officers need to be held accountable. But they are a minuscule fraction of the total number of dedicated officers and deputies serving and protecting us. Those men and women deserve our trust - and we need them, badly.

Discounting the importance of law and order as Clinton has done clearly is a mistake.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2dRKdn0

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