- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 14, 2016

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

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle on increasing government funding to support programs that target child abuse and neglect, and the need for New York state to convene a task force.

Dec. 10

It should go without saying.

But, the very first line one encounters on the home page of New York state’s Child Protective Services website is this:

The abuse or maltreatment of children is against the law.

It is in bold text, and it’s followed by this sentence:

“Victims need an effective child protective service to prevent them from suffering further injury and impairment.”

Or an agonizing, and heartbreaking, death - like 3-year-old Brook Stagles of Rochester recently suffered, allegedly at the hands of her father and his girlfriend.

Child protective service workers in Monroe County, and many other counties across New York, are carrying unmanageable caseloads that undoubtedly lead them to be less than “effective.”

This should prompt outrage, not just from children’s advocates, but from every single one of us. We must, as a society, demand better. Local communities determine their own child protective staffing levels and caseload sizes, but the state issues guidelines for them to follow. The most recent statistics, from one year ago, showed nearly one-third of Monroe County’s case workers exceeded those recommendations. It is unclear if the recent spike in cases, at least anecdotally attributed to the heroin epidemic and increasing poverty throughout our region, is adding to that percentage.

The situation for kids is even more dire in many other places. More than 60 percent of the caseworkers in Erie, Steuben, Oneida, Herkimer, and Montgomery counties were overburdened, and caseloads in about a half dozen other counties were perilously close.

Part of the immediate solution, of course, is an increase in funding from all levels of government to support proven programs that target child abuse and neglect. Monroe County legislators should make this a greater priority when voting on the budget Tuesday. There are few other areas in the spending plan where inadequate funds could directly contribute to the injury or death of a young child. With the proper amount of outrage, finding those other areas would be a no-brainer for local lawmakers.

But, that is just one of many steps that need to happen.

To determine a course of action, New York state should convene a task force. It could include strategies for local governments to help them streamline services, eliminate red tape, utilize technology, and support and retain the workers who regularly deal with very stressful family situations. It could look for system failures, and remedy them. It could identify the best methods of prevention, and determine how to put those into place statewide. It could raise awareness, so employers and individuals know how they can play a role in saving our children. That’s our responsibility.

Because we should not expect our small children to save themselves.

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Online:

https://on.rocne.ws/2gy8rE4

The Syracuse Post-Standard on a recently signed New York law that requires appeals of Freedom of Information Law requests to be filed within 60 days.

Dec. 8

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently signed into law a bill that strengthens the state’s Freedom of Information Law. It’s a welcome change from last year, when Cuomo vetoed a similar bill. But New York can go even further to improve government transparency.

FOIL requires state agencies and local governments to release documents and other information about their activities to citizens, with some narrow exceptions. When a FOIL request is denied, the citizen can go to court and seek to have the decision overturned. It used to be that the government agency then had nine months to appeal the judge’s decision - essentially denying the records request by delaying it.

Dragging out the appeal also increases legal fees for both sides. Citizens and taxpayers bear those costs.

The bill Cuomo signed into law Nov. 28 will require an appeal to be filed within 60 days - double the 30-day window in the bill he vetoed last year, but a clear improvement over nine months.

The bill was sponsored by Assemblyman David Buchwald, D-Westchester, and Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer, R-Amherst. It passed both houses of the state Legislature unanimously and was supported by a host of good government groups and the New York News Publishers Association, of which Syracuse Media Group is a member. We’re glad the governor saw fit to sign it this time.

Next, the Legislature and the governor should work toward agreement on a bill that would award lawyers’ fees to the plaintiff if a court finds the agency denied a FOIL request without having a reasonable basis to do so, and when the agency failed to respond to a request or appeal within the time prescribed by the law. This is intended to discourage government officials from frivolously denying access to public records and from running out the clock on the usefulness of public information.

Here’s a timely example of why a cudgel often is necessary to get a government agency to comply with the law.

Earlier this week, Syracuse.com’s Katrina Tulloch reported on multiple delays to her request for New York State Fair concert records. Tulloch filed a FOIL request with the state Department of Agriculture and Markets on Aug. 10. A response was promised by Sept. 9 but was delayed four times. On Wednesday, almost four months after the original request, the agency responded with some records and gave a reason why it’s taking so long to gather others. A full response is anticipated by Dec. 21.

It really shouldn’t be this hard for the members of the public, or the media standing in for them, to get information about their government. But if the government is going to obstruct such requests, there should be consequences.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2htwGCP

The Glens Falls Post-Star on the need for national and state leaders to improve water infrastructure in addition to roads and bridges.

Dec. 11

National and state leaders looking for a way to stimulate the economy and strengthen the country for the future should cast their eyes downward, at the infrastructure that keeps the water we need flowing into our homes and businesses, and the water we have used flowing out.

A seemingly endless supply of clean, fresh water, piped into our homes, and a sanitary way to pipe out the wastewater is one of the great technological achievements of modern human society. Imagine what life was like in Victorian-era London, where millions of people lived - the poor without water to wash and just about everyone in close proximity to human and animal feces in the parks, in the streets and in cesspools located in the basements of houses.

We aren’t going back to those days, but overflows from the municipal systems during hard rainstorms, which can end up dumping untreated sewage into waterways, are a regular occurrence in the local area. Meanwhile, as reporter Kathleen Moore detailed in a Page 1 story last Sunday, aging water and sewer systems represent hidden but inevitable disasters for numerous municipalities that do not have anywhere near the money needed for full-scale replacements of their pipes.

Unfortunately, in many local communities - and we assume this is true across the state and country - money has been collected for operating the sewer and water systems but not for a regular schedule of pipe replacement. Out of sight, our pipes have gotten older and weaker, so that now, many communities have been forced into doing replacements on an emergency basis.

Undertaking a system upgrade one broken main at a time is an expensive way to go, not to mention the inconvenience and risk to users who can have their water supply cut off or be forced to boil water for drinking and cooking.

Although water and sewer bills are already high in many communities, municipal leaders are going to have to start budgeting for capital upgrades. In recent years, the city of Glens Falls has been accomplishing a little at a time - replacing one neighborhood’s pipes here, one pumping station there - which is much better than doing nothing.

The state and federal governments also have to contribute to this effort. Roads draw more attention and bridges get a lot of press, but our water and sewer infrastructure is just as critical to our survival, if not more so. We have seen in Flint, Michigan, where the health of a generation of children was compromised by lead contamination, the way a failure to maintain a water system can lead a community to the brink of collapse.

Protecting our children against the poisoning of their drinking water is a matter of national security, if anything is. President-elect Trump has spoken about wanting to invest billions in infrastructure. If he means it, this would be the right place to start.

Even if federal funding does not come, the state can do a lot. It’s not as if Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been shy about throwing money around. Unfortunately, the governor has a preference for splashy projects like the “Buffalo Billion,” which focuses on green energy; or the new Tappan Zee Bridge, which will cost almost $4 billion.

That kind of money, used for competitive grants and low-interest loans to municipalities, could go a long way toward making sure New York’s local water supplies are safe.

Just this week, we learned that several water infrastructure projects in Washington County did receive money - in the hundreds of thousands of dollars - in the latest round of Regional Economic Development Council funding. That’s a great start.

This isn’t only about pipes. As we saw in Hoosick Falls, this is also about detecting and preventing industrial contamination. The public water supply in Hoosick Falls was contaminated by PFOA, a chemical determined to be hazardous to human health that was used by the Saint-Gobain company to make non-stick coatings.

Ensuring the water supply is safe and clean in every community will require local, state and federal participation. We almost never think about water until something goes wrong. That is a great luxury and one that, with some forethought and attention, we should be able to continue to enjoy.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2gT2qh5

The Gloversville Leader-Herald on the need for Congress to help retired coal miners who are at risk for losing health insurance and pensions.

Dec. 9

Everyone on Capitol Hill seems to want to help retired coal miners whose health insurance and pensions are in dire jeopardy. But disagreement over how to do it may leave the miners and their families out in the cold.

Time is running out. By Jan. 1, health care benefits for an estimated 16,300 retirees will be eliminated. Pensions also are in danger, though the time frame there is not as immediate.

A few Democrats have seized upon the situation to score political points. They insist Republican leaders are abandoning the miners.

It is not that simple, as we have pointed out repeatedly. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and others concerned about a bill to bail out the health care program have legitimate worries about it.

One is that the measure would help only retirees who worked as members of the United Mine Workers union. Non-union retirees would not benefit from the current bailout bill.

That needs to be remedied at some point.

For now, however, thousands of retired union coal miners need a bailout to keep their health insurance, and they need it very soon.

Another concern is that several union pension plans in addition to the one serving retired miners are in deep trouble, too.

At some point, Congress will have to deal with the other retirement programs. But, again, the ex-miners need help now.

McConnell, whose constituents include many in the coal industry, has offered a compromise to get something done before the Jan. 1 deadline. It would fund the mine retirees’ health care benefits for about four months. A more permanent solution would be crafted later.

Incredibly, some of the very Democrats who have accused McConnell of not wanting to help the miners now reject his compromise.

That is politics at its worst. It appears the only way the mine retirees will get the immediate assistance is for lawmakers to go along with the McConnell plan or something like it. That being the situation, those resisting the idea will deserve all the blame if thousands of retirees and their families find themselves worried about a new year without health insurance.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2hwxBzZ

The Wall Street Journal on President-elect Donald Trump’s selection of Goldman Sachs executive Gary Cohn to chair the White House National Economic Council.

Dec. 13

Liberals are clucking about the many Goldman Sachs executives coming to populate Donald Trump’s emerging economic team, as if ties to Big Finance are ipso facto disqualifying. But this facile populist vs. Wall Street debate obscures the larger question, which is that nobody seems to know what Mr. Trump’s economic team thinks about economics.

The President-elect’s latest Goldman hire is Gary Cohn, the No. 2 at the investment bank, who will chair the White House National Economic Council. The Goldman president and chief operating officer joins alums Steven Mnuchin, Mr. Trump’s nominee for Treasury Secretary, and Stephen Bannon, his chief White House strategist.

Mr. Cohn began his career as a commodities trader and then switched to operations once he became a Goldman partner. He’ll “put his talents as a highly successful businessman to work for the American people,” Mr. Trump said in a statement, adding that “he fully understands the economy and will use all of his vast knowledge and experience to make sure the American people start winning again.”

What this means is anyone’s guess. We scoured the CQ financial disclosure database of transcripts of analyst calls and investor conferences for insights into Mr. Cohn’s convictions. While clearly immersed in the day-to-day details of the Goldman business, his observations about macroeconomic questions are scarce.

Here’s Mr. Cohn at a Stanford C. Bernstein conference in 2014: “The retirement of the baby-boomer generation will require solutions to a new set of issues. Our industry will play an important role in allocating capital, and providing advice to meet these challenges.” He added: “Globalization remains an unrelenting force that will continue to drive increased demand for financial services around the world.”

Now, there is a man not courting headlines. Executives aren’t supposed to pontificate about politics at these events, but they usually go a little deeper. The only Cohn op-ed about public policy we turned up was a 2014 piece on these pages about high-frequency trading.

The most important economic question - for wage growth, job creation and upward mobility - is why GDP is growing so slowly. Presumably Mr. Cohn agrees with his new boss that tax reform, smarter regulation and less political mediation of investment would help. But what does he think about fiscal and monetary policy? How about marginal tax rates, or too big to fail, or international trade, or the phantom stimulus spending “multiplier”?

Mr. Cohn’s Goldman pedigree is important not because of some alleged betrayal of Mr. Trump’s populist message but because Goldman is a hothouse of standard-issue Keynesianism. Goldman economists claimed in 2011 that Paul Ryan’s budget would subtract as much as two percentage points from GDP and cause a recession on the theory that all government spending produces benefits. Goldman’s former chief economist, William Dudley, now runs the New York Federal Reserve and has been a major advocate of Obamanomics.

Often these Goldmanites pose as nonideological technocrats and problem solvers, but their views are the kind of conventional center-left views you’d find at Davos. Mr. Cohn’s answers matter not merely because he is a registered Democrat, but because the National Economic Council manages economic debates inside the Administration.

Goldman long ago grew beyond its Wall Street base to become a global player in the capital markets, and no one doubts that a financial heavyweight like Mr. Cohn knows a lot about finance. But Mr. Trump needs to surround himself with strong voices for consistent economic principles, and let’s hope he’s found one.

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Online:

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


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