Editorials from around New York - InfoNews

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Editorials from around New York

December 06, 2017 - 12:50 PM

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

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The Syracuse Post-Standard on the federal tax reform bill

Dec. 1

The Republican tax reform bill is neither as bad nor as good as the partisan fight over it might have led you to believe. When you put aside emotion and focus on data, the proposal is likely to create more winners than losers. Most Central New Yorkers are likely to come out ahead.

It's been 30 years since the last significant revamp of the tax code. In that time, it has metastasized into more than 70,000 pages of mind-numbing complexity, costing businesses and individuals $37 billion annually just to comply.

Tax reform ought to accomplish four goals: cut tax rates, broaden the tax base, simplify the rules and not blow a hole in the federal budget.

The tax bill largely accomplishes the first three. It lowers individual tax rates and brings small business and corporate tax rates to levels more competitive with the rest of the world. It eliminates a raft of deductions that shield income from taxation. It significantly raises the standard deduction, eliminating the need for most taxpayers to itemize and reducing the complexity of complying with the law.

It fails on the fourth by increasing the deficit by $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion over the next decade — and possibly more, if you believe (as most people do) that Congress won't let individual tax cuts expire. That's a bit of budget sleight-of-hand to qualify the bill for a simple majority vote. Opponents of the bill use their own sleight-of-hand; they assume Congress won't renew the tax cuts, to show that taxes will rise disproportionately on lower- and middle-income people by 2027.

The bill has other defects that should be cured when the House and Senate get together to reconcile their separate bills. That would require both proponents and opponents of tax reform to bend.

President Donald Trump has made it clear he will not accept a corporate tax rate above 20 per cent, down from the current 35 per cent. There is room to raise the corporate tax rate a couple of percentage points to reduce the size of the projected deficit without jeopardizing economic growth.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo believes the Senate bill's elimination of deductions for state and local taxes will be "disastrous" for the state. We're not convinced the sky will fall. For most New Yorkers, it is likely to be a wash once other changes are put into place. Reporter Michelle Breidenbach's analysis of IRS data for Onondaga County shows why.

First, to claim SALT, you must itemize your tax deductions. Roughly one-third of taxpayers in Onondaga County (and the state, for that matter) choose to itemize; the rest take the standard deduction. Taxpayers who choose to itemize claim an average deduction of $23,569 in Onondaga County.

Second, the tax reform bill would double the standard deduction — from $6,350 to $12,000 for single filers, and from $12,700 to $24,000 for married couples. A higher standard deduction would make itemizing irrelevant for 96 per cent of Onondaga County taxpayers. Losing the SALT deduction won't affect them at all.

The House bill would allow taxpayers to deduct up to $10,000 in property taxes, which would cover most Upstate New Yorkers and help Downstate New Yorkers with high property tax bills. This may be the best deal Cuomo can expect to get on SALT from the GOP-led Congress. Reps. John Katko and Claudia Tenney, two of four New York Republicans to vote for the House bill, vow to flip to "no" if the property tax deduction isn't in the final bill. It was included in the Senate version at the last minute Friday.

Diminishing SALT will cast an even harsher light on the high tax burden state and local governments inflict on New Yorkers. It may force a rethinking of government that the tax cap, tax freeze and consolidation incentives so far have failed to stimulate.

Congress also should reconsider the tax bill's hit to higher education. Graduate students and children of college employees who receive "in kind" tuition will be taxed on those benefits, a financial setback for them and a blow to U.S. scientific research.

Loss of the federal historic tax credit will also disproportionately hurt New York, the No. 1 state to claim it. The federal credit, combined with a state credit, made the renovation of the Hotel Syracuse and other downtown Syracuse properties financially possible. Its elimination could dampen the resurgence of centre cities across Upstate.

The tax reform bill is far from perfect, but it moves us toward a tax system that encourages U.S. businesses to invest here and makes the tax code simpler for millions of Americans.

Online: http://bit.ly/2jYinW6

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Newsday on the ongoing investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller

Dec. 4

The president of the United States is now at the centre of an obstruction-of-justice investigation by the FBI. There can be no other conclusion after Friday's guilty plea by former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and the bewildering statements made in the past few days by Donald Trump.

This is a perilous time. Regardless of your feelings about Trump and whether there is evidence that he broke any laws, there is a great risk to his attempts to undermine our independent system of justice.

Firing special counsel Robert Mueller, who is conducting a legitimate and serious investigation, would bring disastrous consequences. So would a pardon of Flynn to stop him from telling the FBI what he knows, information that will enable prosecutors to determine whether anything more than rank incompetence resulted in improper contacts with Russia and the firing in May of FBI Director James Comey.

Trump continues to lash out at the FBI and the attorney general, and to demand the Justice Department open criminal investigations of his political opponents. A statement Trump tweeted Sunday encapsulates it all: "After years of Comey, with the phoney and dishonest Clinton investigation (and more), running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters — worst in History! But fear not, we will bring it back to greatness."

In mistakenly venting his frustrations and worries about the special counsel's probe, Trump is turning to the playbook that made him a successful candidate — the twisting of facts, discrediting of the media and undermining of intelligence and investigatory agencies.

For instance, Mueller properly removed a top FBI agent on the Russia case because of a text last summer to another agent that seemed to favour Hillary Clinton over Trump. And shortly after the dramatic Flynn news broke on Friday, there was an erroneous report by ABC News that Flynn was directed by Trump to contact the Russians. To Trump, this was a boiling stew of fake news and deep state conspiracy theories. Combined with his own flaw of telling lies for his convenience, the result is to sow deep doubts about the legitimacy of the few institutions that can check his power. All the while, Trump assures his followers that he is the only one who can fix all these problems.

Remember, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were all investigated by some version of a special counsel for obstruction of justice. Only one, Nixon, tried to use the CIA to interfere with the FBI's efforts to follow the money. He fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox and ransacked the Justice Department, all of which led the House Judiciary Committee to approve obstruction of justice as its first article of impeachment. Nixon resigned before a full impeachment vote in the House of Representatives, but Watergate left the nation reeling for decades.

Flynn pleaded guilty to lying about two conversations he had with the Russian ambassador. Why did he lie to the FBI about the contacts? Was it to hide dealings with Russia, including collusion, to interfere with the 2016 election? Was it to protect the president? Did Trump fire the FBI director to stop the Russia probe?

Any finding by Mueller that the president obstructed justice would be deeply troubling for the nation. If the president prevents us from finding out what happened, it would be even worse.

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

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The Wall Street Journal on the decision to shrink the size of national monuments in Utah

Dec. 5

President Trump announced Monday that he will dramatically reduce the acreage of two national monuments. The order ends excessive federal control of Utah land, allowing residents to protect their own territory and conserve their cultural relics.

Congress passed the Antiquities Act in 1906 to give Presidents emergency authority to prevent the looting and destruction of national treasures. The law said designated monuments should be limited to "the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects," but Bill Clinton and Barack Obama misapplied this power to carry out a Washington land grab.

Without public comment, the federal government unilaterally seized control of more than 3.2 million acres of southeastern Utah that together constitute the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments. Residents and their elected representatives had minimal influence on the draconian land-use restrictions imposed by Washington bureaucrats. In September, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke described how the Antiquities Act had been abused "to prevent public access and to prevent public use" of land, harming everyone from cattlemen to cross-country skiers.

Last spring Mr. Trump ordered a review of 27 supersized monuments. The Interior Department made recommendations only after accepting formal public comment. Mr. Trump announced Monday that he would shrink Bears Ears by about 85% and Grand Staircase-Escalante by nearly 46 per cent.

Over the past few days, thousands have marched in Salt Lake to oppose the decision. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance denounced the order as "the single most harmful attack any president has ever launched on public lands." The group claims the Trump Administration acted "at the behest of ideological extremists and dirty energy barons," adding that the decision is "an insult to the tribes that advocated to protect Bears Ears."

Calm down, guys. Most of the two million newly undesignated acres are still public lands, subject to rigorous federal and state protections. The Trump Administration increased Native American representation on the advisory Bears Ears Commission.

Utah Reps. Chris Stewart and John Curtis are introducing two bills this week to govern the scaled-down monuments, with the support of Natural Resources Chair Rob Bishop. Under the Shash Jáa and Indian Creek National Monuments Act, locals would administer and protect the former Bears Ears land, with tribal representatives holding the majority vote.

In other words, the Trump Administration's order not only ends federal overreach but restores power to local people. That's a monumental and welcome change.

Online: http://on.wsj.com/2nApyJ2

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The Daily News on the creation of a searchable city lobbyist database

Dec. 2

How convenient that just when city government is deluged with more lobbying by special interests than ever recorded . . .

Just when the mayor asks his city to trust him that his second term will be free of the rotten influences that soiled his first . . .

. . . and just when eight City Council members each ask to wield the power of the speakership, vital facts about influence-peddling the Council is legally required to share remain under wraps.

Surely the powers that be have anything to hide from the people of New York City about the paid favour-seekers they consort with. Surely not.

The local law in question was passed way back in 2013, under the leadership of the then-Council Speaker Christine Quinn, following the recommendation of a joint mayoral-Council Lobbying Commission.

It is plenty clear.

It required, no later than Dec. 17, 2015, the City Clerk — he's an employee of the Council — to create a modern, searchable online database enabling anyone to instantly figure out which real estate developers, labour unions, immigrant advocates and on and on (more than 1,800 interest groups in all last year, a record) are hiring which lobbying firms to wheedle which Council members and city officials to pass or block which bills.

Want to get a full picture of which industries lobbied City Hall for a leg up in this year's $85 billion city budget?

Which groups whispered in which Council members' ears to drive New York City's most prolific legislative session ever?

Who's looking to fly tourist helicopters or curb Uber or park tour buses on more corners?

Or maybe which lobbyists have gotten the most face time with each of the leading contenders to take over as Council speaker next session?

No dice. Even though City Clerk Michael McSweeney dutifully collects all the information needed to answer inquiries like these, he has so far refused to make it available for search, law be damned. Which forces the public to rely on a primitive and incomplete old system.

Going on two full years out of compliance, city government keeps this important information shielded at an especially dangerous time.

As the Daily News reported in March, the sheer volume of lobbying has surged to unprecedented levels — reaching an astounding $95 million in work billed in 2016, a 54% increase since de Blasio and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito took office.

She'll soon walk out the door thanks to term limits, leaving de Blasio to be held to account.

He's the one who by the skin of his teeth survived a federal investigation into his suitors. Whose team after months and months of stalling says that the search system will arrive . . . soon.

Each passing day city officials flout their legal duty reinforces one conclusion: Someone must be hiding something.

Online: http://nydn.us/2jMvQAj

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The Auburn Citizen on making state websites cellphone friendly

Dec. 3

State government, particularly the legislative process, can sometimes be maddeningly slow. The lack of mobile-friendly state agency websites is a great example of this fact.

In the business world, the push to make internet sites easily readable and functional on small screen devices took place several years ago. It was simply a matter of basic customer service and survival. The number of consumers who use smartphones as their primary information source has grown rapidly, and in the case of many websites, blown past the number of desktop users.

Governments, which tend to be more methodical about most things, have been much slower to catch on. But the speed at which New York state is moving has become unacceptable.

We'd like to think that's one reason why a bill to mandate that all state websites become mobile-friendly by the start of 2019 was approved 62-0 in the Senate and 141-1 in the Assembly earlier this year.

Despite the nearly unanimous support from legislators who represent New York residents, Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week vetoed the measure. He said such an ambitious mandate needs to have funding secured as part of the budget process. And he also said his IT experts are already working on a plan to get mobile sites done — by 2022.

The funding issue is one the governor frequently employs with his vetoes, as his goal is to get virtually all important measures done through that heavily secretive budget process in which he and the Assembly speaker and Senate majority leader hold all the power.

But even if his argument has some level of conceptual merit, it's beyond reasonable to demand that the state needs four more years to get this upgrade done. The governor has promised and pushed for far more ambitious and expensive initiatives throughout his tenure.

There's also the glaring reality that the state is already way behind. In fact, this bill is not the first time the goal has been put into proposed legislation. A 2015 bill envisioned mobile-friendly sites by the start of 2017.

The veto of the 2017 bill has most likely killed the 2019 goal at this point, but we urge legislators and the governor not to be satisfied with a 2022 deadline, either. Get together early in the next session to come up with a plan to fund and implement this most-basic technological step forward.

Online: http://bit.ly/2kpM8Dc

News from © The Associated Press, 2017
The Associated Press

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