Editorial Roundup: New York

Albany Times Union. January 30, 2024.

Editorial: Throw this watchdog a bigger bone

The Commission on Judicial Conduct deserves more funding than Gov. Hochul proposed for it.

The work of the Commission on Judicial Conduct is vital to the functioning and integrity of New York’s court system. And as this editorial board has noted before, the commission’s work has seemed to be hampered by a lack of resources (see: cases dragging on for far too long).

So it was disappointing that Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive budget, released earlier this month, didn’t do right by the watchdog. The $8.3 million Gov. Hochul proposed doesn’t even cover legally required salary increases.

The caseload of the commission, which is responsible for reviewing complaints against jurists, continues to rise, according to the Times Union’s Dan Clark. Two years ago, the commission reported 170 investigations from a record 2,439 formal complaints. Last year, the commission opened 205 investigations, a 28 percent increase over its 10-year average.

The commission asked for a $770,000 increase in this year’s budget, which would have covered salary increases, steep rent hikes in New York City and Rochester, and a new $400,000 case management system to improve efficiency. Those rent hikes give us pause: In this post-pandemic era of overabundant office space, including empty state-owned offices, why does the commission have to rent at all?

It’s up to the state Legislature to hash out a compromise here. But a proposed bill that would require the governor’s office to essentially rubber-stamp any commission budget request is not the answer. If nothing else, the watchdog’s rent increases show that it needs to look at rightsizing its costs as much as any other state agency — especially when the state has a $4 billion deficit.

A better ring to it

From streetlights to storefronts to front porches, video cameras are everywhere. It’s enough to make us a little wary — not only from the erosion of privacy rights, but because a culture of surveillance can foster suspicion and mistrust, even as our communities need connection and tolerance.

So to find out that Amazon-owned Ring doorbell camera footage had been given to law enforcement agencies without warrants, and without informing the cameras’ owners — well, that’s downright unnerving.

According to a recent Associated Press article, Ring had let employees and contractors access user videos, which led to a $5.8 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission in 2023.

Since 2021, Ring had made law enforcement requests publicly visible through its Neighbors app. But that didn’t stop them from giving police 11 videos by mid-2022 without notifying users.

Last week, the company, in a public blog post, said it will eliminate its “Request for Assistance” tool, meaning police departments will no longer be able to request doorbell camera footage from users.

That said, Ring will still share videos without user consent in “limited circumstances,” and when law enforcement presents a warrant; and it will allow law enforcement agencies to publicly post in the Neighbors app.

Civil rights advocates have argued that doorbell-video sharing has made racial profiling worse. And the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, questions whether Ring’s “limited circumstances” will be trustworthy. The FTC should continue to monitor Ring’s efforts.

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New York Post. January 31, 2024.

Editorial: Easing work rules will only make New York’s migrant crisis worse

One more time: Getting legal jobs for illegal migrants is not the answer to New York’s unprecedented migrant crisis.

Yet the state Civil Service Commission is looking to loosen rules to let migrants with federal work authorization take jobs in the state workforce — and skip over unimportant trifles like English proficiency or proof of previous employment.

Even more absurdly, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office is trying to sell this nonsense as part of a push to modernize the state workforce and eliminate red tape.

Sorry, Gov: This is the opposite of forward-looking reform.

Civil Service Commissioner Timothy Hogues promises that the new rules, if adopted, would apply to all New Yorkers equally.

That is lower standards for all hires. Great.

New York’s overall unemployment rate, at 4.5%, lags the nation’s; the city’s is 5.4% — so it sure seems like these jobs (which Albany is quick to assure us are “hard-to-recruit, entry-level titles”) should be prioritized for legal residents of the state

Not a growing, gray-zone class of illegal migrants given ever-expanding privileges by progressive lawmakers and administrators.

The number of state gigs that would fall under this new rubric is 4,000.

So this is hardly, even on paper, a solution to the 170,000-plus migrant arrivals New York has seen.

And there’s very little evidence these migrants want to work legally: Only 2% of NYC migrants have applied for work permits since the crisis began.

But the real problem is that the move would add yet another incentive for migrants to come here — and stay.

Free food, shelter, and now the promise of easily obtainable civil service gigs.

The past months with their record-smashing inflows — December saw more than 302,000 migrant Customs and Border Protection encounters alone — have shown that President Biden’s open-border policy is far more disastrous than even the most pessimistic imagined.

The literal last thing we need is for state executives, instead of solving the crisis, to try to make it permanent.

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Adirondack Daily News. January 27, 2024.

Editorial: New York state lawmakers should adopt STR tax bill

Buried in the depths of the executive budget unveiled by Gov. Kathy Hochul last week there’s a proposal designed to close some short-term vacation rental tax loopholes — such as the “bungalow rule,” which allows some units without typical amenities to skirt sales taxes — and ensure that all STR platforms collect and remit state taxes on behalf of STR owners.

These measures have been proposed over the years, despite opposition from STR groups. Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo included a similar proposal in his 2021 budget, only for it to be scrapped before the final budget was passed.

The state Legislature should move these measures forward. They are common sense tweaks that could make taxes easier for the average STR owner. They could also generate upward of $16 million in new revenue for the state, according to a memo from Hochul’s office on the proposal.

Hotel owners have pointed to STR platforms’ lax or piecemeal tax requirements in some areas as evidence that there is no longer a level playing field in the hospitality industry. This became a point of contention a few years ago as the Lake Placid Village Board of Trustees and North Elba Town Council crafted STR regulations. After all, if some STR owners pay fewer taxes, the price of STR units can be kept lower than the price of a hotel room and still yield plenty of revenue for the owner.

To be clear, STR owners do pay taxes. In Essex County, local, county and school taxes and occupancy taxes are collected on STRs, according to the Essex County Treasurer’s Office. But STR platforms such as Airbnb don’t collect sales taxes on behalf of its hosts. STR owners have to collect the sales tax, making it more complicated for the average STR owner.

This bill, Hochul notes, would require vacation rental marketplace providers to collect sales tax on the STRs, easing the tax compliance burden on rental owners.

If this proposal is adopted as is, these changes would take effect immediately and apply to rent received or collected by either an STR owner or an STR platform after Aug. 31.

The state Legislature should not only ensure that these measures remain in the final budget, but go further.

Sen. Michelle Hinchey, D-Saugerties, has proposed a bill that would create a statewide STR registry managed by the state Department of State. In villages such as Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, and towns such as North Elba and Wilmington, there are already STR registries because of permit requirements. Those registries wouldn’t go away; they would be integrated into the broader statewide database.

Hinchey’s bill would also impose new state guidelines on STRs and provide municipalities with data and monthly reports that could help local boards craft their own regulations.

Hinchey’s bill strikes the right balance between state and local. It wouldn’t impose occupancy caps or ban non-owner-occupied rentals, instead leaving that choice up to local lawmakers, who know their own communities’ needs better.

In communities such as Lake Placid, where the vacation rental industry has curbed the availability of long-term housing to such a degree that the character of entire neighborhoods were changed, local lawmakers were left to craft legislation that is now a model for other municipalities.

The state Legislature is late, but better late than never.

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