- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 2, 2017

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

The New York Times on Steve Bartman

Aug. 1

It took the Vatican 359 years to come to terms with Galileo and acknowledge, in 1992, that it had wrongly condemned him for heresy when he said the Earth revolved around the sun.

It took descendants of the original Hatfields and McCoys at least 125 years to sign, in 2003, a formal truce in America’s most famous family feud.

It didn’t take nearly that long for reconciliation between the Chicago Cubs and Steve Bartman - not quite 14 years. But that was long enough. And when it arrived this week, it came adorned with jewels and magnanimity.

Mr. Bartman has been America’s most vilified fan, a devotee of America’s longest-suffering team. Until they finally took it all last November, the Cubs had gone 108 years without winning a World Series, and 71 years without even playing in one.

Back in 2003, the team was tantalizingly close to reaching the Series when Mr. Bartman got in the way. During a pivotal playoff game, he reached for a foul ball at Wrigley Field and thus possibly prevented his team’s left fielder from catching it for a crucial out. Disaster followed. The Cubs fell apart and went home losers. Again.

Many in Chicago, unfairly, blamed it all on Mr. Bartman. He had to be escorted from the ballpark by security guards. For a while, he needed police protection outside his home. “Law & Order” even had a 2004 episode with a Bartman-like character killed in a barroom.

Through the years, Mr. Bartman lay low. But time is a healer. On Monday absolution was bestowed on him, at last, with a flourish: The team gave him a bejeweled 2016 World Series ring. “While no gesture can fully lift the public burden he has endured for more than a decade,” the ball club said in a statement, he “has been and continues to be fully embraced by this organization.” In a statement of his own, Mr. Bartman said he hoped the ghosts of 2003 could now be banished and his ordeal would be a lesson in the need to “prevent harsh scapegoating.”

The generosity of spirit affirmed Pat Conroy’s observation in “The Prince of Tides” that “in families, there are no crimes beyond forgiveness.” That goes for baseball families, too.

Online: https://nyti.ms/2vj3LZ3

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The Journal News on a fatal 2015 Valhalla train crash and the NTSB investigation

July 31

For almost two-and-a-half years, this region waited for the National Transportation Safety Board to explain what caused the deadly Valhalla train crash of Feb. 3, 2015. What’s more, commuters and all affected have been anxious to finally learn the risk of similar accidents occurring at other rail crossings, and whether action needs to be taken to prevent such tragedies in the future.

Well, the NTSB released its findings on Tuesday. We learned almost nothing beyond the obvious observation that the driver of a vehicle is at fault when it and a train on tracks collide.

After 29 months, the federal investigative agency’s report echoed what was known, in a general sense, on Feb. 4, 2015.

NTSB blamed the accident on Ellen Brody, the Edgemont woman who inexplicably drove her SUV onto the Harlem Line track at the Commerce Street crossing, in the path of an oncoming train.

The NTSB also told us that the penetration of the deadly third rail into the lead passenger car “contributed to the severity of the accident,” which took the lives of Brody and five commuters, and injured 28.

Why did the electrified third rail peel up during the crash and pierce the front train cab? And to the heart of commuters’ concerns: Could it happen again?

NTSB wasn’t quiet on the issue, but the agency also wasn’t specific. The agency recommended that Metro-North conduct “risk assessments” at grade crossings with third rail systems and implement correctives to reduce the risk of future accidents. It suggested that the state Department of Transportation assess intersections near rail crossings and make necessary adjustments. And it recommended that the Town of Mount Pleasant “take action” to improve grade crossing safety.

Assessing risk and taking action are fine ideas. Obvious ideas. Couldn’t the NTSB have suggested that all agencies begin taking these basic steps in 2015? Risk assessments could be completed by now. A conversation could already be underway about how to modify grade crossings - if modifications were deemed to be necessary.

The NTSB is due to release its full report in the next several days. But its executive summary hardly includes a word that could not have been written a year ago, maybe two years ago.

Why did the NTSB take so long to produce findings that say so little? At a board meeting in Washington on Tuesday, officials said the agency was busy investigating other rail accidents, like a 2015 Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia and a 2015 electrical malfunction that filled a Washington, D.C., subway station with smoke.

The summary seems to go out of its way to avoid the pressing questions so many have: Was the Valhalla tragedy a fluke, or something that could realistically reoccur without modifications? Should state and federal agencies consider spending enormous amounts of money to modify rail crossings, particularly in third-rail systems?

But the agency had an obligation to work faster. Metro-North, the Town of Mount Pleasant, the state Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have been waiting for the NTSB to release its findings.

As Acting NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt himself said when releasing the Valhalla findings: “Any railroad passenger has the right to expect that everything possible is being done to assure their safety.” He didn’t say “…will eventually be done.”

The Town of Mount Pleasant did a traffic study after the tragedy and concluded that it might be wise to shut down two rail crossings. Since the NTSB has now recommended, in vague terms, that the town “take action based on the results of your traffic study,” Town Supervisor Carl Fulgenzi is left to assume he should pursue the closing of at least the Commerce Street station, a complex process that would require the support of the MTA and state Department of Transportation.

Any modification, such as the building of a bridge for the roadway or the railroad, would be difficult and expensive. We still don’t know if such a change is necessary. Maybe we’ll have some indication by the third anniversary of the accident. Or the fourth.

The state’s response has been uneven. Improvements have been made at some downstate grade crossings; the state has more than 5,000 such road-rail intersections. Gov. Andrew Cuomo called in early 2016 for the elimination of all grade crossings on commuter rail lines, saying New Yorkers should be “ashamed” that such crossings still exist. In November 2016, he signed a bill, sponsored by state Sen. David Carlucci, D-New City, and Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti, D-Mount Pleasant, that required the state Transportation Department to do a definitive statewide study of rail crossings, including their safety and possible design changes to increase safety.

The DOT report was due by April 1, 2017. But there’s no report filed, and it’s unclear what’s been done. Abinanti said he has tried to check the status of the study, but the DOT won’t respond. “We need to take action,” Abinanti said.

DOT Commissioner Matthew Driscoll, appointed by Cuomo five months after the Valhalla crash, needs to provide answers.

As far as explaining Ellen Brody’s behavior on the tragic night of Feb. 3, NTSB officials were as mystified, as conflicted, as so many others. Why would she drive onto the grade crossing, leave her SUV to see where a crossing arm came down on the back of her vehicle, and then get back inside pull up onto the track? Sumwalt pushed the board to say that Brody had “lost situational awareness,” meaning that she was somehow distracted and didn’t realize she was at a railroad crossing. Another board member said there was no evidence for such a conclusion.

Brody’s husband, Alan Brody, continues to blame the outdated design of the rail crossing for the accident, accusing the NTSB of avoiding the real issue. His wife had been diverted there because of an accident on the Taconic State Parkway, which she normally took home from work.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to know whether Alan Brody may have some valid points. A whole bunch of risk assessments of rail crossings will have to be done first. May the process finally begin.

Online: https://lohud.us/2w7mqEH

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The Dunkirk Evening Observer on school mergers

Aug. 1

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is serious about pursuing local mergers and consolidation.

The governor has done more than pay lip service to the idea. He has put taxpayers’ money behind the idea, offering incentives to consolidate and the opportunity for counties leading the best consolidation plans to receive millions of state dollars to implement them.

Most of local property tax bills, however, aren’t paid to town or village governments. Schools take the biggest bite out of taxpayers’ wallets. Knowing this, Cuomo should lend his weight during the next legislative session to a change in state law that would help make the possibility of school mergers more likely by pushing legislators to approve legislation introduced by state Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, that would allow for the consolidation or annexation of school districts by a majority of all qualified electors voting.

Current law requires a majority of voters in each district to approve a proposed consolidation, annexation or centralization. In 2013, Brocton overwhelmingly supported merging with Westfield 643 votes to 74, but Westfield rejected the merger by about 200 votes, 718 to 507. The fact that more people voted for the merger than voted against it didn’t matter. Four years later, both districts stagger forward.

Both the New York State Commission on Needed Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness and the New York State Commission on Property Tax Relief released reports in 2008 that recommended school consolidations and mergers as economically beneficial for school districts and by extension the taxpayers. Both reports and the state Department of Education recognized mergers and consolidations as a means to provide greater opportunities to students, including advanced classes and specialized classrooms. Why shouldn’t the process be made easier? The benefits are likely even greater in Chautauqua County with its high number of small, rural school districts that struggle to provide advanced classes, electives and extra-curricular opportunities to students.

The monetary incentives have long been available for school mergers. The process, however, needs to be changed.

Young has introduced similar legislation during each of the past four legislative sessions, but has never made it out of the Senate’s Education Committee. If state lawmakers really want to encourage school mergers and consolidations rather than just talk about it, they will approve Young’s legislation.

Online: https://bit.ly/2vtUQVl

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The Gloversville Leader-Herald on the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act

Aug. 1

Obamacare, formally known as the Affordable Care Act, has become the “gift” that keeps on taking. It has made obtaining health insurance more difficult and more expensive for millions of Americans. It is choking many already stressed state budgets. And it has locked in a federal deficit of around $100 billion a year.

Yet it appears many in Congress are ready to throw up their hands and walk away from the mess.

Their frustration is easy to understand. After weeks of efforts to pass both partial and comprehensive Obamacare replacement bills, the U.S. Senate has made little, if any, progress. Worse than that, attitudes toward change seem to have hardened.

After another defeat Thursday night, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell washed his hands of the matter, at least for now. “This is clearly a disappointing moment,” commented McConnell, R-Ky. “It’s time to move on.” Next week, senators will consider business other than health care reform, he explained.

Perhaps it is time for lawmakers to take a break from health care and deal with important matters such as tax reform. Let us hope they have more luck there than they have with repealing and replacing Obamacare.

But the ACA, if left standing, will taint virtually every other issue lawmakers address. Tax reform is an example.

Clearly, it needs to be a priority. American families and businesses send too much of our hard-earned money to Washington. Both tax rates and the complexity of the tax code put a severe drag on job creation.

But in considering tax reform, members of Congress and the White House need to keep the effect on revenue in mind. The very existence of Obamacare gives them about $100 billion a year less in latitude to provide tax relief. That works out to about $1,200 a year for every family of four in the country.

It is unlikely any member of Congress - including Democrats who have opposed reform efforts - is not aware of horror stories regarding the damage Obamacare has done to millions of Americans.

President Donald Trump suggested, “let Obamacare implode, then deal.” But the ACA already has imploded.

Americans elected our members of Congress to show leadership in tackling the tough issues. They need to do just that.

Online: https://bit.ly/2uWG6MU

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The Syracuse Post-Standard on President Donald Trump telling residents of upstate New York to leave for jobs

Aug. 1

New Yorkers may have one of their own in the White House, but last week he didn’t do the state any favors - especially the part he calls “Upper New York state.”

President Donald Trump urged Upstate New Yorkers to leave our houses behind and move to Wisconsin, where the Taiwanese electronics giant Foxconn is building a liquid crystal display factory. The company plans to hire 3,000 people. It claims that its workforce eventually may grow to 13,000.

“You’re going to need people to work in these massive plants,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal. “I’m going to start explaining to people, when you have an area that just isn’t working like upper New York state, where people are getting very badly hurt, and then you’ll have another area 500 miles away where you can’t get people, I’m going to explain, you can leave. It’s OK. Don’t worry about your house.”

Upstate New York went “bigly” for Trump in November; he won 43 out of 53 Upstate counties north of Westchester and Rockland. Many Trump voters no doubt agree with him that the area “just isn’t working” after manufacturers like Carrier Corp. — a favorite target of the president — sent U.S. jobs overseas. An invitation to move to another state is not exactly the kind of help they were looking for.

Instead of trashing Upstate New York, the president might have used his influence to boost the area. Oneida County was actually in the running for the Foxconn plant and all those jobs. Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente, a Republican, took to Trump’s favorite medium to express his disappointment.

There’s no mystery about why Foxconn chose Wisconsin. First, it’s good politics to build a $10 billion manufacturing plant in House Speaker Paul Ryan’s district, in a state that helped the president win the electoral college vote. Second, Wisconsin promised a whopping $3 billion in subsidies, to New York’s offer of $600 million.

The deal works out to $66,600 a year per employee over 15 years - more than the $54,000 a year the jobs will pay. Great for Foxconn, bad for Wisconsin taxpayers.

After making such a hefty investment, don’t be surprised if Upstate New Yorkers moving in on Wisconsin jobs get a chilly reception.

Online: https://bit.ly/2w6rVDz


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