- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 11, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The Daily Gazette of Schenectady on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and teachers.

March 10

While Gov. Andrew Cuomo was in Lake Placid over the weekend riding a snowmobile while promoting the state’s winter activities, dozens of local teachers were at a forum at Schenectady High School discussing their differences over state education policy.

Their grievances covered the governor’s proposals for teacher evaluations, standardized testing, the Common Core curriculum, school funding, tenure and a host of other matters.

This forum in Schenectady was just the latest held around the state, as teachers from Buffalo to Long Island to the state Capitol in Albany have shown up in droves to express their views.

The governor ramped up the dispute when he issued a budget message earlier this year linking state aid to his education reforms, threatening to hold up the state budget if he doesn’t get his way.

Both sides have clearly articulated their positions, drawing their lines in the sand.

But the public posturing is getting us nowhere closer to a resolution of the dispute. It’s time for the two sides to come together in person and hammer something out.

For starters, the teachers have been inviting Gov. Cuomo to visit schools and see what they’re up against every day. He should take them up on it. He could gain some credibility by showing that he’s truly interested in their issues. He might even learn something that softens his positions.

After he’s visited a few schools, some big ones and small ones, wealthy ones and poor ones, met with teachers and administrators and parents, he’ll be ready to meet with the teachers as a statewide group.

The teachers, for their part, must show they understand what the governor is after and why, and they must be willing to give a little as well.

New York famously spends more tax money on its schools than any other state in the country, but ends up somewhere down the list when it comes to test performance, graduation rates and other measures of success.

Fighting to maintain the status quo by holding on to existing performance measurements for teachers and students, existing teaching methods and existing mediocre quality for the existing money is not acceptable.

We’ve had the rallies. But we’re nowhere closer to resolving the differences.

The governor needs to move this matter forward, first by putting himself in some schools, then putting himself in front of the teachers and hammering out a solution that best serves the children in our state. That is the ultimate goal, after all, right?

It will be a far better use of his time for the citizens of New York than riding around on a snowmobile.




Newsday on reforms in the state Legislature.

March 7

The argument in Albany over ethics reform is upside down.

The issue isn’t about stopping bad people from committing crimes. It’s about changing Albany’s notorious pay-to-play culture in which laws and policy seem to favor the connected. So let’s stop talking about the right of a couple hundred elected officials to make some money from outside jobs, and the handful who earn an awful lot. Let’s talk about the right of 19 million New Yorkers to be assured their representatives put constituents first. Let’s start talking about how trust can be restored.

The best system would make membership in the State Legislature a full-time job, banning practically all outside income earned from working. That would draw a clear line: You work for the people, and that’s where your allegiance must be. It can be done. It’s how the U.S. Congress works.

Today, New York has a part-time legislature. Members earn $79,500 a year, plus stipends, and are allowed to earn unlimited money from other sources.

Many don’t earn much or any outside income. But some do as lawyers, real estate agents, investment advisers or other occupations. The potential for conflicts of interest is great, and rules requiring the disclosure of the sources of that income are too lax. Legislators who are lawyers, for instance, can list their firms as sources of income and don’t have to identify each client. That lack of disclosure is one of the reasons former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) faces criminal indictment and what led to federal criminal charges against former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, a Republican from upstate.

The public has a right to know a lawmaker’s clients and what the lawmaker does for those clients. How else can we be sure they aren’t being paid just for the power they wield? Isn’t that known - in a less polite way, and in indictments - as influence peddling?

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said ethics reform is his No. 1 priority, and has spoken about making lawmakers full time. But he’s more ardently championing a five-point ethics proposal that would require total disclosure of outside income, reform stipends, further restrict the use of campaign funds, increase disclosure of campaign donations and mandate forfeiture of convicted lawmakers’ pensions. The last one would require amending the state constitution. And he has tied the reforms to passage of the next state budget, which is due on April 1.

While some lawmakers say they support the idea of a full-time legislature with better pay and restricted outside income, many oppose it. One defense is that without members who have outside jobs, the legislature would lose real-world expertise — the romantic notion of a citizen legislator. But even though members of Congress can’t hold other jobs, current and recent local federal representatives include a war veteran, a district attorney, a fireworks manufacturer, a nurse and a university provost.

We asked Long Island’s 31 Senate and Assembly members whether they support a better-paid full-time legislature that couldn’t work other jobs, and whether they support full disclosure of outside income. Most did not want to give yes or no answers. It’s hard not to conclude that the legislators think voters don’t care, and that lawmakers can duck approving stricter rules.

Besides the tough disclosure rules, how does Cuomo’s plan hold up if we can’t have a full-time Senate and Assembly? Pretty well. The things he wants would make a difference in tamping down the legal ways legislators can abuse the system.

The $172-per-day stipend legislators get for physically being in Albany is abused in particular. Rules and enforcement that let campaign funds be spent on personal expenses like meals and travel are too lax. Lawmakers convicted as criminals should be stripped of their pensions.

If a lawmaker receives outside income from private sources but did no work, we want to know why. No high-ranking official should be allowed to earn money without taxpayers knowing who paid and for what.

Serving in the legislature is a privilege. If our public servants don’t want to play by rules that ensure we get honest representation, surely willing and qualified replacements can be found among the 19 million residents of New York.



The Poughkeepsie Journal on rail safety.

March 11

Improving commuter rail safety is an imperative undertaking - something that has become quite apparent in recent years as Metro-North has dealt with a spate of accidents, some leading to fatalities.

After a deadly derailment last year in the Bronx, the Federal Railroad Administration issued a troubling report, citing a host of shortfalls, including delays to track maintenance and upgrades to equipment.

New York’s congressional delegation has been pushing for fixes and funding, and just last week, the House of Representatives scored big. It passed bipartisan legislation that, in part, makes commuter railroads eligible for federal loans to install better technology and make safety improvements to the tracks and to at grade-crossings. Competitive grants for capital improvement projects also are included in this massive bill called “Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015.”

Both U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-Cold Spring, and Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, supported the bill.

Maloney has been pushing for installation of “positive train controls,” which have the ability to slow trains as they go around bends but also could be used to lead to the detection of grade-crossing malfunctions or objects on the tracks. Maloney has noted that there are more than 5,300 crossings in New York alone, and that upgrades can improve safety for train passengers, motorists and pedestrians.

Metro-North, part of Metropolitan Transportation Authority system, has made some upgrades but far more must be done. The House of Representatives has affirmed its federal support for passenger rail programs, but this is a big bill that includes many changes to how Amtrak operates as well. It goes to the U.S. Senate for consideration and eventually will need a compromise package. When that occurs, there should be no doubting the need to include the tools to improve rail safety in any final legislative product.




The New York Post on Hillary Rodham Clinton’s emails.

March 10

If you found the Patriots’ Bill Belichick convincing when he explained underinflated footballs in the playoffs by citing “atmospheric conditions,” you no doubt thought Hillary Clinton was persuasive at the Tuesday press conference where she explained why her e-mails as secretary of state ended in clintonemail.com rather than state.gov.

Start with her claims that the server she had in her New York home was set up for her husband, and that she’d deleted some e-mails rather than hand them over to State because they were “personal” exchanges between her and Bill.

That’s strange, because that same day her husband’s spokesman told The Wall Street Journal he “has sent a grand total of two e-mails during his entire life.”

Hillary also said she used one device for the sake of “convenience.” Two weeks ago, she admitted to using an iPhone and a Blackberry.

And if “convenience” were the priority, why - as Fox News’s James Rosen reported - did her server have multiple accounts?

The State Department says it will sift through the 30,000 emails (of 55,000 pages) Hillary turned over and make them public.

But unless Mrs. Clinton submits her personal server to a third-party computer expert, we’ll just have to take her word that there’s nothing else in Deleted Land we should know about.

Notwithstanding her claims to the contrary, in setting up her e-mail as she did, she went well past what any of her predecessors had done.

And as secretary of state, she left important communications more vulnerable to our enemies.

Contrary to earlier assertions, moreover, President Obama did get e-mails from her on her private account. In effect, Hillary is declaring that only she gets to decide what the American people are entitled to see.

Put it this way: Hillary’s presser Tuesday demonstrated why she’s not fit to be president - but more than ready to coach the New England Patriots.




The Leader-Herald of Gloversville

March 11

In what counts - displays of pure evil - there is no difference between Islamic State terrorists in Iraq, Syria and Libya and their cousins with Boko Haram in Nigeria. Both organizations should be eradicated.

During the weekend, Boko Haram announced it is affiliated with the IS. That is something like scientists learning two deadly viruses share some DNA.

Also during the weekend, soldiers from Nigeria and Chad launched an offensive against Boko Haram. It appears the assault included some troops from other countries, pursuant to an agreement by the African Union to help defeat the terrorists.

Obviously, the United States should provide any help that is within President Barack Obama’s power to give to Nigeria and Chad. Helping West Africans wipe out Boko Haram - and attacking evil extremists everywhere else - ought to be as much a priority as taking on the Islamic State.




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