- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 7, 2017

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

The (Albany) Times-Union on growth in the state pension fund.

June 5

Record growth in the state’s pension fund stands to deliver some relief for fiscally strapped localities this year. But rather than reap a big immediate windfall, they should hold off for a more long-lasting solution that could buffer them, and their taxpayers, for years to come.

The state’s Common Retirement Fund is fueled by local government contributions and growth from investment. Under its sole trustee, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, it’s doing quite well these days, hitting a record value of $192 billion, returning an estimated 11.42 percent in growth during the state fiscal year that ended in March.

But over time, the contributions required from municipalities can go up and down like a roller coaster, depending on the value of the fund - which, in turn, depends on a comptroller’s investment strategy and, even more, on the health of the economy.

For local governments, this can wreak budgeting chaos. When Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan served previously as the city treasurer, she decried the “rapid, rampant increase” in pension expenses. It’s no wonder when you consider that Albany’s annual pension costs skyrocketed from $500,000 in 2000 to nearly $18 million in 2012.

Now, as a mayor who has to wrestle with the challenges of balancing her budget, she and her counterparts across the state are likely to want to take every dollar they can in savings now, while the fund is flush.

Yet local leaders and state lawmakers should consider what some self-imposed discipline now could mean for the long run. Keeping contributions level over time would relieve the wild swings and pressures on local budgets. It would allow more accurate multi-year planning and not leave governments and taxpayers at the mercy of the markets from year to year.

One long-discussed idea deserves a fresh look. In times like this when the pension fund is ample and local government contributions would normally go down, some of the savings could instead be pooled and held, to stabilize the contributions needed in times when the fund doesn’t do as well, or even loses money. It’s something like the way residential heating costs are calculated: one pays a consistent bill every month rather than having to cut big checks in the winter for the luxury of no bills in the summer.

Such a state plan does have risks, particularly if an abnormally large, sudden drop in the financial markets occurs. For that reason, some escape valves would be needed, with market forecasts and actuarial assessments determining necessary corrections. If set up conservatively, the balancing pool could always be adjusted down.

Such a change requires approval by the state Legislature and governor. They need to look at it now, while the markets are favorable and implementation would be painless for local governments. Discipline is a whole lot easier when it costs nothing.

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Online: http://bit.ly/2sSXFJV

The Jamestown Post-Journal on President Donald Trump’s proposed budget.

June 5

Now the bare-fisted battle for money begins: President Donald Trump is recommending a $4.1 trillion federal budget. There is something in it - or, rather, not in it - to anger just about every member of Congress.

Both senators and House of Representatives members from both our states already are on record with their criticisms. Some of them, such as proposed cuts to Medicaid, are generic. Others are parochial, involving government programs that affect specific regions.

Beyond any doubt, the budget Congress eventually will adopt will be strikingly different than the one Trump has proposed.

But we simply must reduce federal spending. It is not an option.

To that end, we suggest a formula: Budget line items should be cut or eliminated unless they address a genuine need.

And that need should be more than getting members of Congress re-elected. That should save taxpayers billions of dollars a year.

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Online: http://bit.ly/2rVeeb3

The Wall Street Journal on the response to the attack in London.

June 4

Saturday’s terror attack in the heart of London, Britain’s third murderous assault in 72 days, poses a difficult choice for free societies: Do more to contain this internal Islamist insurgency now, or risk a political backlash that will result in even more draconian limits on civil liberties.

Islamic State claimed responsibility late Sunday, and the operation that killed seven and wounded 48 bore the hallmarks of recent jihadist atrocities. The London Bridge area and nearby Borough Market are packed with bars and restaurants popular with tourists and young people. The three alleged perpetrators rammed a van into pedestrians, then began stabbing people before police shot them.

Prime Minister Theresa May said Saturday’s attack wasn’t directly linked to the suicide bombing committed by Salman Abedi at a pop concert in Manchester last month. But the three attacks in succession show why governments must target the threat at its roots, in self-isolating Muslim communities that reject mainstream values and create homegrown or Islamic State-inspired radicals like Abedi.

On this front, Mrs. May is well ahead of many of her European counterparts. The Prime Minister in a speech Sunday morning outlined a new counterterror strategy that puts ideology and Muslim integration at the forefront. The trio of recent attacks in Britain, she said, were “bound together by the single evil ideology of Islamist extremism.”

Mrs. May went on to call for a battle of ideas against Islamism and tough love for British Muslims who have failed to confront radicals in their mosques and community centers. Said the Prime Minister: “We need to live our lives not in a series of separated, segregated communities, but as one truly United Kingdom.”

Mrs. May suggested this would involve “difficult and often embarrassing conversations” with the Muslim community, and she is right. This has to include an end to political coddling of so-called soft Islamist groups and imams who treat candor about the Islamist threat as anti-Muslim or refuse to identify radicals in their midst.

The one misstep in an otherwise clear-eyed speech is Mrs. May’s suggestion to outsource surveillance of jihadist online speech to social-media platforms. This line is popular among Western leaders because it provides an excuse for their failure to defend the need for Big Data surveillance and threat analysis following Edward Snowden’s National Security Agency thefts.

Silicon Valley companies such as Facebook and Google bear some of the blame because they joined the fashionable campaign against the NSA’s metadata collection. And by all means Facebook, Twitter and other social media need to police their sites against the promotion of violence and jihad. If they refuse, politicians will eventually do it for them because Western publics will not allow mass murder to become a new normal.

But that’s all the more reason for governments to revive the use of Big Data and surveillance to prevent attacks to avoid even worse intrusions on civil liberties. As attacks continue, so will political pressure for measures such as quarantines and mass preventive arrests of people on terror watch lists.

On that score the U.S. is no exception. President Trump responded to the London attack in a typically heavy-handed way with a tweet urging “the courts” to restore his travel ban. But the anti-antiterror left needs to realize that hostility to surveillance and honest debate about jihad will make such bans inevitable if attacks continue - and Mr. Trump won’t be the only politician pushing them.

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Online: http://on.wsj.com/2qWtUaM

The Poughkeepsie Journal on dredging the Hudson River.

June 2

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has made a deplorable, short-sighted decision by failing to recommend further dredging in the Hudson River, saying “natural attenuation” will accomplish the goals of reducing the pollution.

The agency’s statement is callous and disgraceful, coming, as it is, from those entrusted to protect the environment. The river, and the people who rely on it in so many ways, will suffer greatly as a consequence.

During years of scientific studies and court cases, arguments and accusations, the Hudson River cleanup debate focused on whether PCB pollution should be left on the water’s bottom, capped or dredged. Proponents of dredging astutely contended that, unless removed, the contamination could be washed away in a storm and that other options wouldn’t restore the river to a more natural state.

Fortunately, those arguments prevailed, and the federal EPA and General Electric reached an agreement to clean up the river. This, after the company had dumped the PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, into the Hudson before the practice was banned in the late 1970s. Over the course of six years, tainted sediments were scooped from the river, taken to a plant for processing and sent by rail to an out-of-state landfill.

Yet, despite the ambition and scale of this endeavor, it’s abundantly clear this Superfund project has not gone far enough. Empirical evidence demonstrates this. In fact, two other federal agencies - the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - published a peer-reviewed study suggesting unsafe levels of PCBs will remain in fish in the lower Hudson for much longer than the EPA predicts. As is, the EPA’s own review says people will be able to eat a fish meal from the Hudson River once a week without concern for their health - in 53 years.

This pollution, quite frankly, has ruined the commercial fishing industry on the Hudson, leaving various health advisories in effect and causing the public to question the competence of federal environmental regulators.

Environmental groups and plenty of others correctly point out that, while dredging took part over a 40-mile stretch between Fort Edward and Troy, more can be done by performing this action along about 136 acres of river bottom that contains a concentrated amount of the pollution. That project, at the very least, should occur.

Keep in mind General Electric long rejected the idea that a cleanup was necessary, then questioned whether dredging would work. The company was wrong on both accounts.

Also keep in mind that, after decades of wanton neglect and abhorrent industrial practices, it took an unrelenting campaign by environmental groups and the public at large to get government and businesses to begin restoring the Hudson back to health. That pressure must continue. This fight is not over.

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Online: http://pojonews.co/2spB9Jl

The (Gloversville) Leader-Herald on critics of the president.

It is one thing to disagree with a president’s policies or to dislike his personality. It is quite another to engage in the hysteria - and that is the appropriate word - that some have directed against President Donald Trump.

Led by some entertainers and politicians, a few critics of Trump are behaving insanely, in the literal meaning of that word.

Entertainer Kathy Griffin’s internet video of her holding a bloody likeness of the president’s head is merely the most recent example of the lunacy.

So outrageous was her stunt that CNN, which has used her on its New Year’s Eve broadcasts, immediately terminated her employment. Griffin apologized, but one wonders whether that was a sign of repentance or an attempt to save her career.

That is the question, isn’t it? Will the entertainment world, full of virulent critics of Trump, blacklist Griffin or rescue her?

Our bet is she will be tossed a lifeline, signaling that antics like hers are not just tolerated, but encouraged. She and those like her are not really resisting Trump, however, as much as they are engaged in a collective tantrum.

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Online: http://bit.ly/2rLSyvK

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