- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 13, 2019

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

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The New York Daily News on grounding the Boeing 737 Max 8

March 12

American hesitancy to follow in the flight path of Britain, France, Germany, China and Australia and ground the Boeing 737 MAX 8 until nagging doubts are laid to rest about its safety is a mistake. Pray it does not become a deadly one.

There is a great deal we still do not know about a relatively new aircraft that has crashed twice in five months, first in Indonesia and then in Ethiopia, killing a combined 346 people. When black boxes and other data are rigorously analyzed, it is quite possible there will be no common thread linked to the jet’s equipment or software.

However, time is of the essence, and circumstantial evidence alone is enough here to give authorities reason to fear that the crashes share a cause: a faulty sensor and automatic feature sending the plane’s nose pointing down while pilots tried to lift it up.

Even with 8,500 flights on this equipment every week happening without incident, discretion is the better part of valor, for a plane that has been in service for less than two years..

Put in the “definitely not helpful” column Tuesday morning tweets by President Trump. Musing that planes (apparently all of them up to and including Air Force One) have become too complex to fly, he basically longed for the good old days when pilots could guide a plane with strong and manly hands. As often, there’s a grain of truth in his primal whine: Air travel experts have long worried about the potential risks of ever-more-powerful autopilot systems.

But Trump conflates advances that have overall made the skies overall quite safe and specific technology that may effectively override pilots at crucial moments. His unseemly opportunism is showing: A year ago, Trump took credit for record 2017 global air safety, which resulted from many of the innovations he now smears with a broad brush.

Besides, the President isn’t some dude on a barstool. He wields unrivaled power to demand potentially dangerous aircraft stay on the ground. Will he use that power, or just carp?

If, God forbid, there is a fatal flaw on this airplane and if, God forbid, it rears its head again, regulators will not be able to plead ignorance. There are warning signs. They are flashing. Take all necessary precautions.

Online: https://nydn.us/2TET4gF

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The Albany Times Union on campaign finance reform

March 11

Do they want to reduce the influence of big money in politics, or not?

For years, Assembly Democrats blamed New York’s failure to create a system of public financing of elections on Senate Republicans. Now, they’re blaming … Assembly Democrats.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie dropped this bomb Friday at a business forum, citing concerns about the state’s budget shortfall, problems with New York City’s public campaign finance system, and questions about independent expenditures - the money private groups can pour into elections with advertising and other non-campaign spending. “The members want to discuss it,” he said, but “right now there’s not 76 members who want to move forward with it in the next three weeks in the budget.”

So much for Democrats finally getting power and putting the right thing ahead of their own political interests. So much for making it easier for more people with good ideas but not a lot of money or political connections to run for office. So much for taking a major step to reduce the influence of big money in government and make small donors matter more.

We haven’t seen such a brazen bait and switch since 2010, when Senate Republicans swore an oath to support independent, nonpartisan redistricting, and then went back on their word once the election was over. Just as the Republicans suddenly came up with constitutional concerns about that idea, Assembly Democrats now fret about issues that were around well before the election: Independent expenditures have been an issue for years, and it’s no secret that a few people have tried to take advantage of New York City’s public financing system. But by and large, it works. And if there are flaws, the state could address them in a system of its own.

Mr. Heastie’s own campaign finances show how the current system rewards incumbency and why it’s such a hard habit to break. Running for an open Bronx seat in 2000, he raised just $29,000, according to the National Institute on Money in Politics. After seven terms, he pulled in almost $250,000. And in the election after he became speaker, his contributions topped $1 million, much of it in big checks from unions, lobbyists, real estate groups and other well-heeled interests - money he could in turn dole out to maintain his grip on power.

It’s worth noting that Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has more than once rejected good ideas out of concern for their cost, hasn’t pulled this from his executive budget, but is standing by his proposal for a $6-to-$1 match of small (up to $175) contributions.

If the state’s budget shortfall really is a concern, there are ways to help pay for this. Here’s one: Pass a law that says that once an election is over and the bills are paid, any money left in politicians’ campaign accounts goes into the public finance system. Right now, money sits in the accounts of retired, convicted, and even dead elected officials.

To their credit, Democrats have passed a number of other election and campaign reforms after years of seeing them blocked by Republicans. They should get out of their own way now, and pass this one, too. Or they’ll have no one to blame but themselves.

Online: https://bit.ly/2TJw0wo

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The Leader-Herald on nicotine vaporizers

March 11

His heart felt as if it would pound out of his chest, the 15-year-old boy told a resource officer at a high school in Ohio March 1. The deputy called for an ambulance to take the student to a hospital.

Two other boys, one 14 and the other 15, experienced similar distress. They saw the school nurse, then were taken to a hospital, too.

What drug had they taken? Nicotine. The three students admitted to having used a Juul nicotine vaporizer. We suspect more than a few young people have experienced similar scares.

“Vaping” is viewed by many as a relatively safe alternative to cigarettes. That, combined with the fact that nicotine vaporizer cartridges can be bought in virtually any flavor you can imagine, from cucumber to mango, make them appealing to many young people.

If you are an adult non-smoker, you may remember the first time you lit up a cigarette and took a puff. Chances are, it was not pleasant. Perhaps the experience kept you from acquiring the nicotine habit.

But would things have turned out differently if, instead of a lungful of tobacco smoke, you had inhaled a cool blast of “silky strawberry?”

That is one reason public health officials are so concerned about nicotine vaporizers. Whether smoked or “vaped,” nicotine is harmful to one’s health.

As the students learned, there can be more immediate hazards. Vaporizers can deliver far higher doses of nicotine than found in cigarettes. Especially for first-time or occasional users, a few puffs of nicotine-laden vapor can increase blood pressure and heart rate, cause dizziness and headaches, even result in nausea.

So, if you are a parent or guardian, now may be a good time to talk to your children about “vaping.” Think they’re too smart to fall for fruit-flavored addiction? Think again.

Lots of children find ways to obtain nicotine vaporizers. A study by the U.S. surgeon general concluded that about 11 percent of high school seniors, 8 percent of 10th-graders and 3.5 percent of eighth-graders have tried “vaping.”

So, have that talk. It could help your son or daughter avoid far worse problems than a trip to the emergency room and an unpleasant visit to the principal’s office.

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

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The Press-Republican on community colleges

March 9

SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson has proposed a new methodology that would go far to keep community colleges around the state in business.

She wants to see a New York state “maintenance of effort” in place for the funding of those schools that would prevent cuts in base aid and create a state funding floor for each campus, a press release from the New York State Association of Counties said.

As well, Johnson is calling for an increase in state funding for full time equivalent students by $125, from $2,847 to $2,972 per student.

New York’s counties support the proposal, as do community college presidents and faculty, the Association of Counties said.

Among them are Clinton County and its Clinton Community College in Plattsburgh.

Funding for community colleges comes from three sources: New York state, the county in which the school sits (or counties, as in the case of North Country Community College in both Essex and Franklin) and student tuition and fees.

Originally, Clinton County Administrator Michael Zurlo said, the split was even: a third would come from each.

“Over time, that has skewed considerably,” he said.

The CCC budget passed last August for the 2018-19 school year saw 41.8 percent resting on the backs of the students through tuition and fees, 33.6 percent coming from Clinton County and 24.6 percent from the state.

“It’s been around those same percentages for some time,” Zurlo said.

The maintenance of effort proposed by the chancellor, he said, would ensure community colleges would not receive less state funding than in the previous year.

Base aid from the state does not reflect an overall increase for community colleges even if it goes up, Zurlo said, noting that for 2018-19, CCC’s base aid rate came in at $100 more than in 2017-18.

“It went up, and (the college) took a revenue hit of $240,000,” he said.

“An established floor would make a huge difference in planning and stability for the future,” said CCC President Ray DiPasquale.

As it is, he said, “you never know from year to year, and that makes it extraordinarily difficult.”

The state financing mechanism is now linked to the number of full-time equivalent students on each campus, the Association of Towns said.

And that, it said, “creates a roller coaster state funding impact for students and counties.”

Sixty percent of CCC’s student population is now part time, DiPasquale said, which under the present funding methodology is extremely problematic.

“Because they’re part-time, there’s no funding.”

And over the past 10 years, the association added, “state support has fallen far short of the rate of inflation.

“This is especially concerning at a time when community colleges play a crucial role in workforce development for counties in all parts of New York state.”

CCC is renowned for its contributions to the area workforce, with its jewel-in-the-crown Institute for Advanced Manufacturing in full swing.

“It’s doing exactly what it was supposed to do, help our workforce stay strong in the area and train new workers,” DiPasquale said.

But while the state provided $12.7 million to build the facility, CCC has received no operating funds since.

That in itself is short-sighted.

The chancellor’s proposal comes in the midst of state wrangling and a deficit that seemed to have caught the governor off guard.

“There’s a lot of pressure on a lot of great programs, and the county is affected by many of them,” Zurlo said of these weeks leading up to the April 1 state budget deadline.

“But it’s critical Clinton Community College receives a stable funding stream,” he said, especially considering the workforce development programs there.

“We’re obviously hopeful (the state) will see this as a solution to the problem,” DiPasquale added.

“Without it, it will be very hard to be sustainable.”

Online: https://bit.ly/2T3dM4n

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The Wall Street Journal on defense spending

March 11

The White House released its budget blueprint for fiscal 2020 on Monday, and the details reinforce the country’s real fiscal problem: Entitlement spending is swallowing up every other national priority, including defense. The big question is how much defense spending President Trump can salvage without accepting another bipartisan budget blowout known as an omnibus spending bill.

The President’s 2020 proposal reflects the budget choices made in the last two years: Outlays would soar to $4.75 trillion in 2020, a 4.8% increase, following an estimated 10.2% increase in fiscal 2019. This is a product of the bipartisan deal the GOP struck to concede more spending on domestic programs to Democrats in order to make up for the long defense decline of the Obama years. Democrats had political leverage because of the annual spending caps passed in the Budget Control Act of 2011, and those caps were waived for two years.

The deal had to be done, but it isn’t cheap, and federal spending will rise to about 21.3% of GDP this year and next. Revenues will rise more slowly due to the 2017 tax reform, but they will still increase by 9.5% over two years, or an average of $155 billion a year, if the economy keeps growing as it did in 2018. The feds are expected to take in about $3.65 trillion in fiscal 2020, for a budget deficit of $1.1 trillion.

Even that deficit may be understated given that the White House budget includes a 5% cut in nondefense spending, though it proposes more money for some departments like Veterans Affairs but less for the others like the Environmental Protection Agency. The cuts have little or no chance of happening with Democrats running the House.

The real political action will be the debate over defense. Interest on the federal debt is on track to exceed defense spending by 2024. Mandatory spending is on auto pilot, and these entitlements are now about two-thirds of the federal budget. Defense spending is about 3% of the economy, down from 6% in 1986. That compares to 15% of GDP in 2017 for “payments for individuals,” such as transfer programs like Medicare and food stamps, up from 6.2% in 1970 and 11.7% in 2005.

The President wants $750 billion for defense in 2020, up from $716 billion in 2019 - a substantial 5% increase. The budget includes important priorities like more missile interceptors, 110 new jet fighters and artificial intelligence research and development.

The White House considered a defense cut for 2020 but wisely backed off. Republicans fought to increase defense spending because years of sequestration cuts had eroded the military to the point of a readiness crisis. The decay came from reduced personnel proficiency such as fewer flying hours and less skilled maintenance staff. The rebuild will take several years.

The Administration is proposing to reach the $750 billion defense target by using an account known as the overseas contingency operations fund. That fund exists ostensibly to supplement funding for the war on terror and is exempt from the budget caps. The White House would bump contingency funding to $165 billion in 2020 and $156 billion in 2021, up from $69 billion in 2019.

Democrats are already objecting, so the contingency fund work-around has a chance to succeed only if Senate Republicans and House defense hawks hold firm on the nondefense spending caps that will need 60 Senate votes to break. Some GOP budget strategists think they can use the overseas contingency fund work-around to break the defense caps with 51 votes while enforcing the domestic cap with 60 votes. Barack Obama used that loophole to fund the State Department.

That would lead to a political brawl but it’s the best chance Republicans have to gain leverage over nondefense spending while getting more money for defense. And the spending brawl will happen in any case.

Mr. Trump would be on stronger ground politically here if he hadn’t declared a national emergency to raid military construction funds for his border wall. This has angered GOP defense hawks. Democrats will remind voters that the last time they increased defense spending, Mr. Trump pilfered some of it to pay for his political project.

If Republicans don’t hang together, this will probably end with another game of government-shutdown roulette, and another omnibus bill that obviates the President’s spending veto. Congress’s budget process is broken, but Congress doesn’t want to fix it because it works for the spenders, if not for taxpayers. Better hope the economy keeps growing enough to fund national defense.

Online: https://on.wsj.com/2XSdxNb

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