Albany Times Union. September 25, 2023.
Editorial: Cannabis Control Board’s cruel summer
The board is failing to listen to those hurt most by the state’s botched recreational marijuana rollout.
We already knew the Cannabis Control Board hasn’t been up to the task of creating an efficient, effective framework for legalized recreational marijuana. What we didn’t know is that it is tone-deaf, too.
At a meeting last week, farmers, would-be retailers and others seeking to participate in this new industry spoke of the stress and injury they have suffered while waiting for the state to uphold its lofty promises. Rather than acknowledge the pain that was expressed to them, the board said it wouldn’t address concerns in that public forum — but assured participants that it is listening.
Yet the board went ahead and approved the rollout of recreational marijuana licenses to “Big Weed” — major medical marijuana companies — a brushoff to farmers pleading for time to sell a crop that’s been awaiting distribution for months. The board chose to hew to its schedule by approving these big competitors even as small growers have suffered delays due to lawsuits and other sticking points. Why start sticking to the timeline now? If the board had been “listening,” wouldn’t it have delayed “Big Weed” by as many months as the small growers already have waited?
There’s more. The board added insult to injury by erasing the public comments from that meeting before posting its video online, saying one of the farmers had gone too far in revealing that her circumstances as a cannabis grower have led her to consider self-harm. That’s right: Someone told the board that its policies have driven them close to ruin, and the board’s first response was to mute the message.
It’s asking too much, we know, to expect a government entity to say it’s sorry — and yet an apology isn’t the only way to show compassion. The Cannabis Control Board made this mess, both the insult and the injury. It can own that responsibility by posting the video in full, as a true reflection of what occurred at the meeting, and then by explaining — to the public, and directly to the people who put their livelihoods on the line — how it will work with Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Legislature to make these people whole.
Local means local
Give a half loaf to the state Legislature and Gov. Hochul for recognizing that public school districts need ways to allow students, teachers and staff to honor non-Christian holidays. Their impulse is spot-on. The leaders just went about it the wrong way.
Making Lunar New Year a mandatory public school holiday for all districts — even though just 10 percent of the state’s student population hails from a country that would celebrate the day — fails to recognize the other non-Christian holidays that are cherished by families in many districts.
A better approach would have been to allow local school districts, who know their communities best, to decide which holidays to recognize. Given that the state has more than 2.4 million students, giving such leeway to local districts makes sense. Some districts already have exerted local control by pausing school for observances of Yom Kippur and/or Rosh Hashanah. Other communities might choose to observe Eid al-Fitr or Diwali as a school holiday. Thoughtful local judgment is the way to go with this.
Local school districts exist for a reason. The state Legislature and Gov. Hochul would do well to remember that.
The Daily Star. September 26, 2023.
Editorial: Report on rural counties is just a first step
We’re glad to see state officials taking notice of the problems that plague rural communities, and we’d like to see them offer some help.
State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli released a report Monday of a study examining demographic, economic and quality of living trends in 10 rural counties in New York, including Delaware and Chenango.
The report concluded that many of the challenges faced by rural New Yorkers — housing availability and access to health care, food, transportation and broadband internet — may be similar to those in urban areas, but current public policies do not adequately reflect circumstances specific and unique to rural residents.
It’s a recognition that solutions that work in densely populated areas are much less effective here.
“New York’s rural areas have vibrant histories and vast potential, but they often face obstacles which amplify one another,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “Demographic and other changes pose difficulties for local and state officials as they look for policies to boost communities and increase connectivity and access to health care and other services.”
The report said the state can do more to leverage the local strengths of rural areas, such as outdoor recreation, tourism and agrotourism, as well as using technology and continuing education to bolster rural economies.
That’s not exactly news. Both local counties in the report, along with Otsego and Schoharie counties, which were not included, have been putting emphasis on those areas for years.
In addition to Chenango and Delaware, counties included in the study were Allegany, Essex, Greene, Hamilton, Lewis, Schuyler, Sullivan and Wyoming.
Some of the numbers, especially in Delaware County, were startling.
On average, the 10 rural counties have a 2.3% lower poverty rate overall than the statewide rate of 14%, but Delaware County has a higher rate at 15.9%.
From 2011 to 2021, New York’s population increased by 4.2%. During the same period, the 10 rural counties lost 3.4% of their population.
The greatest population decline among the rural counties was in Delaware County, which shrunk by 3,435 people, or 7.1%.
The problem of affordable housing was brought into sharp focus by the report, which said, of the vacant housing units in the rural counties, a disproportionate share are seasonal, recreational or occasional use — typically considered vacation properties or second homes and may be used as short-term rentals.
Of the 11,632 vacant housing units in Delaware, 9,283 are seasonal, or 79.8%. In Chenango, of the 4,564 vacant housing units, 1,962 are seasonal, or 43%.
That’s a problem that’s only getting worse, as investors turn housing stock into investment properties, pricing local people out of the market.
Delaware County Department of Planning and Watershed Affairs Director Shelly Johnson-Bennett said via email that while the report did a good job highlighting challenges in rural areas, none of the issues took county officials by surprise.
“It merely reaffirmed what we already knew,” she said.
“Delaware County has actively addressed nearly all of the issues highlighted through multiple programs,” she said, including use of millions of dollars of American Relief Plan Act funds to support agriculture, enhance broadband service, increase ambulance services and complete a transportation study.
Of course, those services will be needed long after the ARPA funds are gone. And a transportation study is not a transportation solution. More money will be needed to fix that problem.
“It is certainly encouraging to have the state address these issues as they are imperative to the continued sustainability of the more rural upstate regions,” Johnson Bennett said.
We agree, but we’d note that a report from the comptroller is not the same as action by the legislature and the governor.
Chenango County Director of Planning Shane Butler summed up the situation for rural counties well: “Our population continues to age and shrink, broadband continues to be spotty, the opioid epidemic and homelessness continues to plague us, and labor force participation is low,” he said. “This report should serve as a wake-up call that rural counties like ours need additional financial investment to solve these issues.”
DiNapoli has taken a good first step. We hope to see many more from our state leaders.
Dunkirk Evening Observer. September 25, 2023.
Editorial: New York state Borrello takes to court on issues
State Sen. George Borrello is turning into the litigious lawmaker all of a sudden.
Twice in the span of three days it was Borrello’s legal arguments making news instead of his often fiery speeches on the Senate floor. On September 14 you could find Borrello sitting in a Rochester courtroom as his attorney, Bobbi Flowers Cox, argued on Borrello’s behalf in his lawsuit against the state Health Department’s isolation and quarantine rules. On Monday came news that Borrello was suing the state in federal court over provisions in the Concealed Carry Improvement Act that impose a background check and tax when buying ammunition for a gun.
Only time will tell if Borrello’s litigious streak is good or bad.
If the Fourth Department Appellate Division agrees with Borrello that the state Health Department had no statutory authority to change the state’s isolation and quarantine rules, or the U.S. District Court agrees the ammunition tax violates the Second Amendment, then the Sunset Bay Republican will be able to rightly claim he is standing up for constituents who are concerned that the state is trampling on their rights. It would certainly bring Borrello additional weight when he makes his case about the flaws of a particular piece of legislation on the Senate floor.
But what happens if the courts don’t end up agreeing with Borrello? It certainly doesn’t make his life any easier in the state Senate, where many of Borrello’s arguments are already countered by the state’s Democratic Party leaders as merely partisan posturing. And a pair of court defeats could make it harder for Borrello to make relationships with the rank-and-file Democrats that our region’s state senator needs to get some of his policy aims — like Nourish New York, itself a victim of administrative overreach that effectively gutted the program — back on track.
Whether he wins or loses in court in the coming weeks and months, one thing is certain — Borrello doesn’t believe in being a meek minority party representative.
Jamestown Post-Journal. September 25, 2023.
Editorial: Where Did The Money Go From Eliminating Toll Booths On Thruway?
It really is amazing the New York State Thruway needs to raise tolls next year. Only two years ago, the Authority was eliminating jobs left and right when it was getting rid of the booths.
By going to E-Z Pass, they were saving millions of dollars by reducing worker costs and benefits for the now non-existent toll takers. But the normally greedy agency could not resist. Just this week, they approved new 5% rate increases that will go into effect Jan. 1 and Jan. 1, 2027.
“The toll adjustments approved … by the Board of Directors follow a year-long public process and represent a responsible approach to ensure continued investment in the 570-mile Thruway system for years to come,” Board of Directors Chair Joanne M. Mahoney said. “The Thruway Authority receives no dedicated federal, state or local tax dollars and relies primarily on toll dollars to maintain and operate the Thruway which is one of the safest and reliable toll roads in the country.”
Great soundbite, but let’s also not forget another recent boondoggle in the reconstruction of the service areas. Those costs, we must note, are $260 million more, due to higher prices in construction and inflation. Someone will be picking up those costs — likely the taxpayers.
No price hike is convenient. We just wonder where all the savings from job reductions, that took place within the last three years, have gone so quickly.
New York Post. September 24, 2023.
Editorial: NY Dems’ latest bid to snub voters, flout the Constitution — and lock in power
Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York Democrats are once again snubbing voters and flouting the state Constitution, this time with their new “mail-in-on-demand” voting law.
On Wednesday, the gov signed the Democrats’ bill, which says any registered New Yorker can vote by mail on demand.
Republicans sued instantly, pointing out that New York’s Constitution allows only two acceptable excuses for not casting your ballot in person at the polls: being away or otherwise physically unable to vote in person.
So why didn’t the gov and her party-mates set out to amend the state Constitution first?
Oh, right: They did, putting a proposal to do so on the ballot back in 2021 — which the public nixed solidly, 55%-45%.
New Yorkers clearly stand behind the constitutional requirement to show up to vote, if you’re able to.
And with good reason: Mail-in voting is more prone to fraud, for starters.
Plus, anyone who truly cares about their government and sees voting as a sacred right shouldn’t mind traveling a few blocks to cast their vote at a polling place.
So the Legislature’s Democratic supermajorities, and Hochul, decided: To hell with voters. To hell with the Constitution. Maybe the state courts will let us get away with it.
Rather than try to persuade New Yorkers to change their minds, they simply rammed through this new “state law.”
This echoes their arrogance in ramming through gerrymandered voting districts to disenfranchise voters of both parties — an effort they’re still pursuing despite court defeats.
In 2014, voters passed a constitutional amendment strictly prohibiting gerrymandering — and reaffirmed their will by rejecting another ballot proposal to loosen the rules in 2021.
No matter. Dems gerrymandered anyway last year, producing maps aimed at shrinking the GOP’s New York House seats to just four, of 26.
Republicans sued and won at trial; Dems’ appeal failed in the state’s top court, the Court of Appeals: A court-appointed special master drew up fair maps, leading to 11 GOP seats.
But Dems haven’t given up: Progressives have since tried to pack the top court with more biddable jurists and to get it to OK new gerrymanders starting in 2024.
Democrats keep thundering that democracy is under threat, but in New York (at least), they’re the ones threatening it.