Editorial Roundup: New York

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

Trump’s Post-Soleimani World

Wall Street Journal

Jan. 6

It may be true that no good deed goes unpunished, but only the ever-active Donald Trump could take it upon himself to punish his own good deed.

The good deed was ordering the elimination of Iran’s Qasem Soleimani, who as head of Iran’s Quds Force spent his years deploying one strategy: Export the 1979 revolution by killing people. The dead included Americans, Iraqis, Iranians, Europeans, Syrians and others across the Middle East. In the days before a drone hit his car, Soleimani was planning more death.

President Trump had a good couple of days after the strike. His statement on the action was measured and direct. Despite criticism, Mr. Trump kept quiet, letting the action speak for itself. Still, it was a major decision by the President involving the nation’s interests, and naturally his supporters across the country wondered what would come next. What came next was something familiar: a Trumpian crackback at his critics—in Iraq.

Though Mr. Trump kept the lid on Sunday as pundits and Democrats howled across social media and the morning shows, he apparently couldn’t abide a largely symbolic vote in Iraq’s parliament—most Sunnis and Kurds didn’t show up—to expel U.S. troops from the country. Aboard Air Force One Sunday evening, Mr. Trump threatened to “put very big sanctions on Iraq.” His twin threat to bomb Iran’s “cultural sites” quickly devolved into a debate about the Geneva Conventions, with some Republicans separating themselves from the remarks.

We think the President’s strike against Soleimani was justified on the merits, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spent Sunday morning explaining on TV. A concurrent reality, however, is that we are starting a presidential election. To win, the Democrats desperately need to be able to run against Mr. Trump personally, as Mike Bloomberg’s ad blitz is making clear.

If the President allows his Soleimani decision to look like a one-and-done event, with no follow-up beyond tweets and rhetorical barrages against the Iranian and Iraqi people, he’ll give his opponents an opening.

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren may be on the dismissable fringe of Democratic foreign policy, but moderates such as Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar and Mr. Bloomberg will seek to buttress their “return to normalcy” argument by saying Mr. Trump’s post-Soleimani behavior shows he is too impetuous and volatile to entrust with national security. They know their best chance lies with driving voter unease about Mr. Trump as Commander in Chief.

Mr. Trump’s obligation is to prove them wrong. Isolationists in his party will counsel Mr. Trump to wash his hands of the post-Soleimani world, but that isn’t possible now. With that decision, President Trump has put powerful forces in play in the Middle East and beyond. If events now spin in dangerous ways, such as if the U.S. leaves Iraq in a huff, Mr. Trump will not be able to blame everyone else. He should be reassuring Iraq that the U.S. is there to help preserve its sovereignty, not to exploit it.

The Iranian mullahs’ threats against U.S. citizens may or may not be bluster. Their announced intention to abandon limits on uranium enrichment under the Obama nuclear deal isn’t much more than they were already doing. But it is meant to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Europe while they wait for Mr. Trump’s successor in 2021.

Since pulling out of that pact in 2018, Mr. Trump has developed an increasingly strong hand with a “maximum pressure” campaign built around severe economic sanctions on Iran. The mullahs are unloved at home and have few real outside allies. Their cat’s paw, Qasem Soleimani, is gone.

The opportunity now exists to shape a coalition of allies, and perhaps even a few serious Democrats, in support of additional policy initiatives on Iran. We would not rule out proposing talks with the Iranian regime about negotiating an end game to its self-depleting 40-year struggle with the West.

Targeting Soleimani was a bold act that other Presidents probably would not have attempted to restore a measure of deterrence against an enemy state. Most Americans appreciated its show of strength. But now Mr. Trump has to show he can manage the consequences in a way that proves it was a wise decision in America’s interests.

Online: https://on.wsj.com/2T4hQVK

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Cuomo's bold plan for Penn Station

Newsday

Jan. 6

A Penn Station with more tracks, platforms, entrances and exits, modern waiting areas and expansive concourses. A Penn Station that's not dreary and overcrowded with a roller derby race to the train. One that's, dare we say, a welcoming, economically vibrant transportation hub.

We don't blame you if you think it seems hard to imagine, or nearly impossible to achieve.

But Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is putting grandiose thinking into New York's transit center. If such big ideas lead to real change, it'd be a monumental feat benefiting the region.

Monday's announcement that the state is negotiating to acquire the block immediately south of Penn Station, and build new entrances and eight new tracks below ground, is visionary and welcome. But it comes with questions, complications and unknowns. Let's start with three big ones: There's no real timetable, no price tag and no details on how all the transit pieces in Cuomo's plan will fit together seamlessly.

Cuomo is rightly fixated on Penn, a disgraceful entrance portal to NYC. Some efforts are underway, as the Moynihan train hall and a new Long Island Rail Road Road entrance on 33rd Street are slated for late 2020 completion.

But as the governor indicated Monday, those changes don't address the need for additional track capacity to handle Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and the LIRR, along with the eventual addition of Metro-North in 2024. While it's been the holy grail for years, particularly with the Gateway Project to rebuild the train tunnel under the Hudson River, there's never been a clear plan to add tracks, until now.

Consider this: the tracks under Penn were added in 1910.

Adding eight tracks to Penn's 21 tracks could increase capacity by nearly 40%. It remains unclear which railroads will get the new tracks, but they should help everyone. More space for the LIRR is particularly helpful since the assumption was it would lose slots to accommodate Metro-North. The new tracks could even alleviate congestion in the East River tunnel, if fewer Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains would need to use Sunnyside Yard for storage or turnarounds.

The block between West 30th and West 31st streets must be acquired and, possibly, the Eighth Avenue-facing theater at Madison Square Garden, too. Then there's the question of the tunnels the tracks feed into. It's likely they'll connect to the Hudson River tubes. Increasing capacity under Penn might work best if the Gateway tunnel is built, as a new tunnel under the Hudson could better accommodate new tracks than the existing, decrepit ones.

Cuomo's plan also highlights the need for an expedited effort to rehab the East River tubes used by the LIRR. The involvement of Amtrak, which owns the tunnel, will be vital. And it'll be important for Cuomo to put the LIRR's needs at the top of the to-do list. LIRR commuters have suffered the brunt of Penn's problems long enough.

The funding mechanisms remain concerningly vague. And Cuomo needs to deliver on the execution. But with the right partnerships and planning, this train could reach its destination.

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

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It Is Time To Pay Off Our Obligations And Handle Our Debts

The Post-Journal

Jan. 6

As we Americans celebrate the beginning of a new decade, we continue to allow a serious challenge to escalate to crisis proportions. It is the national debt — $23.2 trillion as 2020 began.

As we Americans celebrate the beginning of a new decade, we continue to allow a serious challenge to escalate to crisis proportions. It is the national debt — $23.2 trillion as 2020 began.

Thoughtful Americans understand the perils of a big national debt. It can increase inflation. It diverts about 7% of annual spending to interest payments (roughly $280 billion a year). It is an obligation that has to be paid off at some point.

For many years, economists and realistic politicians have warned us we simply must stop using deficit spending to fulfill our every wish as a nation. Yet not only do we continue to do that, we have stepped up the pace.

Just five years ago, the national debt was only about $17.8 trillion. By the end of this calendar year, we will have added at least $6.5 trillion to that.

The debt today amounts to more than $70,000 for every man, woman and child in the United States. If you are a homeowner, chances are your family’s share of the debt is higher than the value of your residence — probably a lot more.

Of course, not all of us share equally in funding the federal budget and thus, in liability for the debt. It is nearly $188,000 for every taxpayer.

We have resolved many times in the past to deal with the debt. This new year would be a good time to stop breaking such resolutions — before the consequences catch up to us.

Online: https://bit.ly/2Qy424f

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Have a brew, support higher education

Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Jan. 3

Just think: Every time you crack open a cold one, you could be supporting higher education in New York a little bit more.

That’s the idea behind one New York City assemblyman’s bill to raise the state’s tax on beer — to double it, in fact — and to dedicate those funds to the SUNY and CUNY college system.

Before you flip out, know that New York has one of the nation’s lower beer tax rates: 15 cents a gallon, regardless of price or quality — from the most exquisite craft brew to the most mass-produced grog. That works out to about 1.4 cents per 12 ounce bottle or can. The highest beer tax, Tennessee’s $1.29, is more than eight-and-a-half times New York’s, followed by Alaska at $1.07 and Alabama at $1.05, according to a recent report by Gannett newspapers.

Assemblyman Harvey Epstein, D-Manhattan, proposes to raise New York’s beer tax to 30 cents per gallon, which would be about 2.8 cents per bottle or can, more in the middle of the pack with other states. It would also bring it in line with New York’s tax on wine, which is already 30 cents per gallon.

More importantly, Epstein estimates the tax would generate almost twice as much revenue for state colleges, from $51 million to $96 million.

That’s a very small portion of the $7.6 billion New York spent on higher education this fiscal year, but still, to us it seems like a fair and minor sacrifice for something very important.

New York’s 64 SUNY campuses, 30 community colleges and 26 CUNY campuses are a critical lifeline for our economy. New York has more of them than almost any state, and they are more affordable than most, too. They keep a large portion of New Yorkers well educated and train people for all kinds of jobs and trades — although the potential exists for way more training opportunities. And the campuses are major economic engines for small towns and cities across the state.

New York state is facing a $6 billion budget deficit for the coming fiscal year. We strongly believe the vast majority of that should be made up from cuts. Trimming high leadership salaries and benefits, tax break giveaways that aren’t worth the cost, and unproductive programs will improve our state government’s health. We would even be open to cuts in the SUNY system as long as they came from things like presidents’ salaries rather than student aid or essential education.

In general, we don’t need more taxes, as New York is arguably the most taxed state overall.

But as always, the solution will have to involve a mix of cuts and tax increases, hopefully heavier on the former. As for the latter, we’re willing to accept matching the beer tax with the wine tax.

The beverage industry and the millions of people who enjoy its products won’t be seriously hurt by this little proposal. Besides, New York has stepped up to boost the beverage industry into a gigantic success story these last few years. Breweries, wineries and cideries have popped up all over the place, often doing great economic good for upstate New York towns and cities that really need a boost. That’s partly a national trend and partly thanks to New York leaders such as Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who have eliminated outdated legal obstacles. As of December, New York had 1,153 craft beverage makers, including beer, wine, liquor and cider — up 68% from 686 in 2014, according to the state Liquor Authority.

The Gannett report said Epstein’s bill “will likely face an uphill climb garnering support in the state Legislature and from Gov. Andrew Cuomo,” but we don’t think it deserves to get poured down the drain so quickly.

Online: https://bit.ly/37LWtwA

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Public officials should not hire their relatives

Syracuse Post-Standard

Jan. 5

Two recent cases of nepotism make Onondaga County look awfully swampy.

Twice in the past week, people in power sought to hire family members. When relatives are put on the public payroll, it undermines confidence that government is being administered for the people’s benefit. It causes them to ask: Did the best person get the job, or did it go to the person with the closest connections?

Worse, the public officials involved know what they are doing is unethical, and are unapologetic about it.

Solvay Police Chief Allen Wood wants to hire his son as a Solvay police officer, a blatant violation of a local law that prohibits department heads from directly supervising their relatives. The village board is considering appointing Wood’s son anyway, against the advice of its lawyer and the opposition of Solvay Mayor Derek Baichi.

Solvay’s government already is a mess, thanks to Baichi’s bad behavior in public meetings and conflicts with his fellow village officials. The last thing Solvay needs is another controversy – or a lawsuit.

The village’s anti-nepotism policy is clear. The board simply ought to obey it. Board members should choose another qualified candidate, or send the chief back to the civil service list to find one. If Wood’s son would make such a good police officer, he should have no trouble catching on with another local department. Lots of them are hiring.

Last week, Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick hired his daughter, Sara, to be a prosecutor in his office. Before voters re-elected him in November for an eighth, four-year term, Fitzpatrick should have disclosed that he intended to hire his daughter.

The DA was brazen about the nepotism: “To those ... who question the hiring and say she has an advantage because she’s my daughter, you’re right."

“Ultimately, Sara will rise or fall on her own abilities,” Fitzpatrick said.

Please. What supervisor or co-worker will have the temerity to bring any performance issues to the boss, who also happens to be her father?

Sara Fitzpatrick might well be qualified for the job. Other candidates might have been better qualified.

Nepotism also is unfair to the relative who was hired. For the duration of her career in the Onondaga County DA’s office, Sara Fitzpatrick will have to contend with the notion that she only got the job because she is the boss’s daughter, or is getting special treatment for the same reason.

Federal and state laws prohibit nepotism in government, and for good reason. In addition to undermining the public’s trust in government, it’s bad for workplace morale. Co-workers perceive the boss’s relative to have more power than he or she has earned, or given responsibilities beyond his or her experience.

Onondaga County does not have a law on the books prohibiting county officials from hiring their relatives. It’s time it did.

Online: https://bit.ly/2N6dBFx