- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 28, 2018

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

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The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle on displaced Puerto Rico residents living in Rochester

March 24

Six months after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, many on the island are still struggling to restore a sense of normalcy to their daily lives. The federal government has failed this U.S. Territory, where more than 100,000 residents remain without power and many of their other basic needs, such as home repairs, go unmet.

In Rochester, however, displaced Puerto Ricans have made a remarkably smooth transition toward normalcy. Despite the sheer number of them, they have roofs over their heads, beds to sleep on at night, electricity and clean water. As we wait for spring weather to arrive, they have warm winter clothes to wear. They are learning the bus routes and how to use Uber. They have health care, and some (though not nearly enough) mental health counseling. They are enrolling in English classes. Their children, nearly 600 in all, are going to school again.

These families, who have experienced incredible trauma in their lives, got to see our better side at a time when anything less might have caused more harm. We welcomed them with open arms, and we showed them extraordinary collaboration between nonprofit organizations and government agencies. Everyone involved in the response so far deserves praise.

Rochester has not failed them.

“These people cannot believe there is a community that cares so much,” Hilda Rosario Escher, president and CEO of the Ibero American Action League, told our reporters.

The challenges these new Rochesterians face are far from over, and full assimilation could take years - or even a generation or two. They are in an unfamiliar climate, a long way from the homes, neighborhoods, jobs, family members and friends they lost in the upheaval. They are still relying heavily on help from others, and we must keep caring.

A Hurricane Maria Fund has been established to assist these families as they continue to settle in. Individuals can send checks made out to the Ibero American Action League to 817 East Main St., Rochester, NY 14605. Write “IBERO’s Hurricane Maria Fund” in the memo line.

On a broader level, we can urge our state legislators to increase funding for programs - like the one operating at SUNY Brockport - to train and recruit bilingual teachers, who are in short supply nationwide. State leaders should be open to creative solutions - even if it means breaking a rule or two - for smaller school districts that have fewer bilingual resources at hand.

Investments like these are critical for our youngest arrivals - many of whom are considered high risk due to the trauma they have faced and the language barrier. We want them to stay in school, learn and excel so that, one day, they help further build and strengthen our community.

In a way, they have already started - by bringing out the best in Rochester. Let’s keep it going.

Online: https://on.rocne.ws/2pR2Omf

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The New York Post on overtime pay for Port Authority police

March 27

As pay packages for Port Authority cops continue to soar, the case for scrapping the PAPD grows stronger by the day.

As the Empire Center reported Tuesday, the insanity brought the average pay for the PA’s 8,169 employees to nearly six figures - $99,654 - in 2017, up 1.7 percent over 2016’s astronomical levels.

The 1,776 PA cops averaged $132,414. Some 214 PAPD employees got more than $200,000 each; eight, more than $300,000.

And Sgt. Kevin Cottrell raked in a jaw-dropping $403,028, with $214,835 from OT - after drawing a whopping $319,922 last year.

Cops’ pay includes not just base salary and overtime, but comp-time cash-ins, longevity bonuses and more. The OT (which in turn boosts pensions) is driven by obscene “contractual issues and a culture within the police department,” as ex-PA commissioner Ken Lipper has put it. Indeed, the 400-page contract is 10 times the length of NYPD cops’.

That’s partly why Judith Miller and Alex Armlovich in an in-depth 2016 City Journal analysis called the PAPD one of America’s “most overpaid, poorly supervised and unresponsive forces.” It’s “a weak link” in the area’s “public-safety profile,” they warned.

The sky-high police pay helps explain why drivers must shell out a whopping $15 for PA bridge and tunnel tolls. It’s got to stop.

Last year, we urged the agency to rein in the abuses as it renegotiated the police-union contract, which lapsed in 2010. Those talks continue - as do the obscene payouts. Far better to just ditch the PAPD altogether and hand the job to cops who can do it better - and for less.

Online: https://nyp.st/2pKLrUz

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The Auburn Citizen on the New York state budget

March 25

When the 2018 session calendar for the state Legislature came out last year, experienced participants in and observers of New York state government did a gulp when they saw the end of March and early April.

The deadline for getting the 2018-19 state budget approved by the Legislature is falling squarely on a couple of major religious holidays: Easter and Passover. And the traditional two-week legislative recess connected to those holidays was built into the schedule.

The common practice in Albany has been for leaders to wait until the final days before the budget deadline to hammer out a deal and announce it to rank-and-file lawmakers and public. This has resulted in budgets often approved in the middle of the night, with little or no opportunity for public review. In fact, there’s often been little or no opportunity for the voting legislators themselves to even read the budget bills.

That’s bad government … but all the signs are pointing to a repeat of that process again this year.

Based on this year’s legislative calendar, which starts a recess of more than two weeks on Friday, an on-time budget will require lawmakers to finish their final votes by midnight on Thursday. The law says that those budget bills can’t be voted upon for three days after they are officially put on legislators’ desks. But a commonly used workaround for that provision has been the “message of necessity” that eliminates that requirement. It’s supposed to be used for emergency legislation, not for fixing the consequences of procrastination.

If budget bills can get printed out by Monday and allow for the full review period, we urge lawmakers to conduct their due diligence and listen to their constituents and cast the vote they think best represents their districts. But if the votes are forced without any meaningful review under a message of necessity, we urge them to vote no and insist on following the proper legislative process.

At the same time, we don’t want this budget deadline to get pushed into the middle of April. School districts, municipalities and nonprofits - especially those in the middle of their of own budget formulations - need to have some clear-cut information about what they can expect from the state in terms of revenue assistance and cost mandates. Therefore, if this budget can’t be passed via the proper process this week, lawmakers must cut their vacations short and get back to Albany to finish the work they were elected to do.

Online: https://bit.ly/2ux5yKK

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Newsday on March for Our Lives

March 26

The poignant signs have been put away for now. Tired feet and voices have been rested. This weekend’s massive marches in support of gun control have sent their message.

But the story of a new generation’s peaceful civic engagement is still unfolding. In a time of mistrust toward many of the nation’s foundational institutions, once again young people are using our fundamental freedoms to assemble and speak to power. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered Saturday, registering their anger about the lack of real gun reform both before and after 17 people were killed at a Florida high school on Feb. 14. It was heartening to watch students flex their political muscles, previewing a vision for the country’s future.

But the marches were also crowded with strollers and baby boomers among a wide coalition of people calling for overdue changes to the nation’s gun laws, indignant that politicians have ignored them for so long.

Some politicians are at least feigning listening. A Justice Department rule proposed last week would ban bump stock accessories that allow for rapid firing of powerful weapons - the kind of rifle used in the mass shooting in Las Vegas in October. That’s far from enough, and many marchers expressed disappointment in the lack of real gun-control measures in the federal budget deal signed last week.

But positive change might be on the horizon, from smart state laws to businesses distancing themselves from guns. Those changes will deepen only if people keep demanding them in the voting booth and in the streets.

This weekend, marchers displayed their commitment, working a time-honored lever of our political system. That’s an element of success already.

Online: https://nwsdy.li/2GhNmus

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The New York Times on the contents of the federal omnibus spending bill

March 27

In this time of political division, the broad story line of the omnibus spending bill approved late last week is largely a heartening one. With the Democratic leadership in full resistance mode and the Republicans facing a treacherous political climate in the fall elections, Congress repudiated President Trump’s extreme budget cuts in rare bipartisan fashion. In doing so, it protected a range of domestic programs the president had targeted for huge reductions, if not outright elimination, and sent an infuriated Mr. Trump scuttling off to Mar-a-Lago with yet another problem to worry about: a mediocre Congress making a lazy president look even worse by actually accomplishing something.

A cynic observing this unusual Capitol Hill lovefest could plausibly argue that it’s easy enough for Republicans and Democrats to link arms when there’s serious money to be spent. And it is: There is plenty of old-fashioned pork in this bill. Even so, it is hard to argue with an outcome that preserved and in some cases increased funding for vital health, education, foreign aid, infrastructure and environmental programs while providing a fraction of what Mr. Trump wanted for his border wall - the presumed reason for his choleric withdrawal to his Florida fortress.

There is another story line within the broader one, and it too is heartening: the willingness of the Democratic leadership to stand up to mischief-makers in Congress itself. A bill of this magnitude - $1.3 trillion altogether, including hundreds of billions for the military - is fertile ground for legislators who wish to sneak in provisions that are unlikely to survive on their own and thus need the protective cover of a big must-pass bill. As a rule, these so-called riders have nothing to do with spending and are aimed primarily at changing policy or undermining basic laws.

Most of the most damaging riders in the bill were devised by Republicans and involved environmental policy. Among other things, they would have delayed enforcement of clean-air regulations, killed two Obama-era rules aimed at reducing greenhouse gases from oil and gas wells, weakened protections for endangered species and insulated the Trump administration from legal challenges to its efforts to repeal clean-water rules.

That these and many more riders were deleted from the bill is a tribute to Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, and Senate allies like Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Tom Udall of New Mexico and Thomas Carper of Delaware, all willing to annoy some powerful interests along the way. Lisa Murkowski, Republican from Alaska and chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, had hoped to torpedo protections for old growth trees in Alaska’s forests. Thad Cochran, Republican from Mississippi, had hoped for a retirement present after 40 years in the Senate in the form of a flood-control project known as the Yazoo Pumps, a bad idea that has been kicking around for decades and would drain 200,000 acres of wetlands in the Mississippi Delta so that soybean farmers, who have drunk liberally from the public trough, could plant more crops. Both he and Ms. Murkowski were denied.

The budget for the Environmental Protection Agency, which Mr. Trump proposed to cut by 31 percent, stayed even. Funding for energy-efficiency and renewable-energy programs, facing a 70 percent cut, went up. Money for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a vehicle for protecting threatened open space, rose to $425 million, far more than the $64 million in the president’s budget.

Congress’s generosity is unlikely to enlarge the cramped vision of the people who run the agencies most responsible for the environment - the E.P.A. and the Interior and Energy Departments - and whose driving impulse has been to roll back any Obama-era initiative that discomfits the coal, oil and gas industries. All in all, however, Friday was a sunny day for the environmental and scientific communities, which have known nothing but gloomy days since the moment Mr. Trump took office. It’s time they got a good one.

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


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