- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 13, 2016

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:

The Gloversville Leader-Herald on medical marijuana markets in New York state.

Jan. 12

On Thursday, New York state’s much-anticipated medical marijuana market opened for the first time, allowing the legal sale of marijuana in medicine form, including capsules, vaporizers and liquids. So far, the market is pretty small, with only 71 patients signing up for the necessary permits as of Friday, according to the state Department of Health.

We’re hoping that market expands in size, because if it does, local medical marijuana producer Vireo Health of New York may be able to expand employment at its plant in the Tryon Technology Park, which currently employs about 24 people.

New York state’s medical marijuana market is highly regulated. Each of the five companies granted licenses to produce the drugs can only distribute them to customers from dispensaries in specific places.

Vireo Health controls dispensaries in Queens, Albany, Broome and Westchester counties. This system isn’t very competitive and will probably slow the growth of the market for medical marijuana. New York state is working with Vireo and the other medical marijuana manufacturers to help set up regulations to allow home delivery of medical marijuana. We support that effort because it should help expand the market and hopefully spur more employment at Vireo as well as help get needed drugs to people who can’t easily travel to Albany to get them.

New York state has set up a highly regulated, probably too regulated, medical marijuana market. If the state’s regulations help a company like Vireo grow and expand its workforce, they are good for our area, but in areas like home delivery, the state should open up regulations and give Vireo a chance to grow and hopefully hire more workers.




The Syracuse Post-Standard on cutting high property taxes in New York.

Jan. 10

Gov. Andrew Cuomo will unveil his proposed 2016-2017 budget on Wednesday but he has already previewed the broad outlines of his agenda: a $15 minimum wage; investments in infrastructure, downtowns and the environment; a reduction in Thruway tolls; and tax cuts for small businesses.

The tax cuts are especially welcome, coming on top of reductions in corporate, manufacturing and income taxes enacted on Cuomo’s watch. Yet New York’s high-tax reputation is slow to turn around.

In an analysis released in November, the 49th out of 50 states. The group, an advocate for lower taxes, said corporate tax cuts in the pipeline are likely to improve New York’s ranking next year. If so, we’re moving in the right direction. But being No. 48 isn’t anything to crow about. New York still has a long way to go.

The real driver of high taxes in New York is the property tax, which pays for local government operations, schools, Medicaid and pensions. The Cuomo administration points to several initiatives to get at this problem: a 2 percent tax cap, STAR property tax rebates, a property tax freeze and rebate program, a freeze in Medicaid increases for counties, an increase in school aid and incentives for municipalities that share services or consolidate. Again, if a turnaround is in progress, it’s painfully slow. We know our property tax bills haven’t gotten any smaller.

So what will break the back of the property tax that ate New York?

Cuomo lays the problem at the feet of local governments. He points to the redundancy of 10,500 taxing jurisdictions flipping 10,500 light switches every day and mobilizing 10,500 fleets of vehicles. It’s a bit of hyperbole in service of a good point: The difficult work of streamlining government must move forward. The governor will propose a $20 million competition to get local governments to consolidate. A portion of the $500 million Upstate Revitalization Initiative grant won by Central New York will fund an effort to streamline and modernize Central New York governments through the Consensus commission.

Yet in spite of everything it has done to keep a lid on property taxes, we think state government can do more to ease the burden on local taxpayers.

It can fund schools properly and equitably. In Syracuse, this would include abiding by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decision that awarded millions to underfunded urban schools, a promise that hasn’t been kept since the Great Recession.

How’s this for a bold stroke? In 1991, the governor’s father, then-Gov. Mario Cuomo, proposed a state takeover of the counties’ share of Medicaid. In 2014, the good government group EffectiveNY proposed a phased-in takeover over eight years that eventually would save Onondaga County taxpayers more than $100 million a year.

We can all agree the state is in a much better financial position than it was when Cuomo took office, going from a $9 billion deficit to a $4 billion surplus, thanks to one-time settlements. Even keeping to the idea that one-time revenues shouldn’t be spent on recurring expenses, the state is in a better position than ever to tackle these difficult issues.




The Adirondack Daily Enterprise on why Congress should ensure that Social Security is viable for future generations.

Jan. 8

Another year has come and gone with neither Congress nor the White House doing anything to ensure Social Security is viable for future generations.

That is despite the fact that, at 80 years old, Social Security is feeling its age. Federal officials say the Social Security trust fund will run out of money by 2033.

Without ever-increasing contributions from working Americans, benefits to retirees cannot be made. By 2033, the pool of Social Security recipients will total about half the number of working people in this country. That means that, on average, benefits for one retiree will have to be covered entirely out of the wages of two workers.

So something still needs to be done to get Social Security revenue balanced with benefits. We’re not exactly sure what that something should be, but we expect it won’t please everyone - yet we also expect it should be reasonable and fair to the millions of Americans who need it. We hope Congress takes up that challenge.




The Staten Island Advance on the $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot.

Jan. 12

OK, admit it: When you heard that there was no winner in the record-shattering $949.8-million Powerball drawing on Saturday night, you quietly pumped your fist, because you knew that you would have one more shot at a jackpot that surpasses the gross domestic product of some developing nations.

And sometime before tomorrow night, you’ll make sure you have one or fresher Powerball bets down for the jackpot that was estimated to reach $1.4 billion as of last night.

Sure, we all like to tell people we don’t know what we’d do with all that money, and insist that we’d probably give most of it away. We claim that windfalls such as that only cause headaches, what with envious relatives and friends coming out of the woodwork, etc.

Yeah, right.

If trying to figure out what to do with all that money is such a daunting task and coping in the aftermath of winning a windfall of that size is so much bother, as so many claim, how come there were so many people buying so many tickets in the run-up to Saturday’s drawing?

In a number of places, the lines for Powerball tickets stretched for blocks on Friday and Saturday, and the wait was an hour or more.

All to plunk down two bucks for a one in 292 million-plus chance of unimaginable (for most of us), life-changing riches.

It seems as if a lot of us are perfectly willing to risk the tsouris of acquiring instant, mind-boggling wealth. Even winning a portion of that kind of money can ease a lot of worries for the winner, even if some of his or her jealous relatives get their noses out of joint in the process. (Heck, you can always buy new relatives. Just kidding.)

But as this Powerball prize goes to where no jackpot has gone before, something else struck us.

Reports have it that more than $1 billion in Powerball tickets were sold in advance of Saturday’s drawing. Yet not one of the hundreds of millions of tickets sold had all six numbers. So while that may have meant all the non-winners get to play again on Wednesday, it also shows just how difficult it is to beat the odds against matching all six numbers.

It’s said that lotteries are nothing but a tax on people who are really bad at math. That’s true, but on the other hand, some bad-at-math person who purchased a Mega Millions ticket in a Willowbrook deli last week beat similarly impossible odds to win a $165-million jackpot Friday. So it happens, which is exactly what keeps most of us coming back, every time the jackpot starts to climb.

So, for $1.3 billion or thereabouts, most of us are still willing to go out and buy at least one ticket and probably more.

At least it buys a fantasy - or as the lottery people like to say, “a dream” - we can savor until Wednesday night before the balls roll down the chute, those ungodly odds finally kick in and the fantasy bubble bursts again.




The Wall Street Journal on the Obama Administration supporting a new oil pipeline project in Africa.

Jan. 10

TransCanada took Uncle Sam to court last week to reclaim some of the damage done by the Obama Administration’s multiyear, drawn-out rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline. It may not come up in the litigation, but someone should point out that the same Obama Administration that rejected Keystone seems to have no problem supporting a new oil pipeline project in Africa.

That was the story last week out of Kenya, where U.S. Ambassador Robert Godec told Kenya’s energy minister that Washington would help Nairobi raise $18 billion to finance its PowerAfrika project. The pipeline would stretch from Kenya’s Rift Valley to Lamu on the coast. “Kenya needs $18 billion worth of financing,” Mr. Godec said, according to a dispatch in Oilprice.com, “so one of the questions we are discussing is how we can work together with the private sector and governments to raise that sum, to find ways to make certain that this financing becomes available.”

Has Mr. Godec checked with Secretary of State John Kerry, or, perhaps more important, anti-oil Democratic financier Tom Steyer? Kenya and Northeast Africa could certainly use the investment and jobs that would come from the oil project. Then again, so could the United States. What’s with the double standard on pipelines?

Meanwhile, TransCanada said it is bringing an international arbitration case against the U.S. for not treating the Canadian company the way it would an American company, as it is obliged to do under the North American Free Trade Agreement. The company said it would seek to recover some $15 billion in costs and damages, and don’t be surprised if the case succeeds given the extraordinary regulatory barriers the U.S. imposed on the investment. Though multiple reviews showed no environmental harm, President Obama rejected the pipeline on arbitrary political grounds. TransCanada also filed a suit in U.S. federal court claiming that Mr. Obama’s decision to block Keystone exceeded his constitutional authority.

These cases are worth watching, especially by those who still want the U.S. to welcome foreign investment. Meanwhile, U.S. taxpayers will want to keep an eye out to see if their dollars are used to finance the Kenya project.




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