Editorial Roundup: New York

Albany Times Union. January 21, 2024.

Editorial: Migrant crisis’ growing tab

While New York’s bill to deal with the huge influx of migrants rises by billions, House Republicans stand in the way of an immigration deal they insist they want.

By Gov. Kathy Hochul’s estimate, it will cost New York state $4.3 billion in the next fiscal year to deal with a migrant crisis that’s the result of one thing above all else: the longstanding, bipartisan failure of Congress and presidents to address this country’s clearly broken immigration system.

With that kind of money — $2.4 billion more than the state committed for this year — must come better accountability.

And that price tag ought to light a fire under New York’s congressional delegation to urge their leaders in Washington — whether it’s Democrats pressing President Joe Biden or Republicans pushing House Speaker Mike Johnson — to get a deal done on immigration. A comprehensive one, not the oversimplistic build-the-wall nonsense spouted by a former president and too many sitting members of Congress who don’t know the difference between a campaign slogan and coherent, effective public policy.

Ms. Hochul, in her executive budget, proposes to spend the money on sheltering migrants and their families, primarily in New York City but also in other parts of the state to which they may voluntarily locate. She also proposes to use the funds for legal and other assistance to help asylum seekers deal with the paperwork necessary for them to obtain jobs. Funding would also go for some health services such as immunizations and tests for communicable diseases, for relocation programs, and for other state costs such as National Guard deployment.

We have advocated before for the state to take a larger role in directing the response to this crisis, in part in order to better control its costs. That challenge is underscored by the recent revelation that a state-run shelter at the flood-prone Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn is costing up to $383 per bed per night.

We realize that providing migrants with shelter, food and health care, even temporarily, is enormously costly. But beyond those crucial humanitarian needs, the state must think about the long term. And that means adequate funding for services that will help people reach self-sufficiency — including finding jobs and permanent housing.

But all of that is only half the issue. Which takes us from New York to Washington, D.C.

President Biden and Congress are talking about an agreement on national security spending in which House Republicans are holding up aid to Israel and Ukraine in order to secure a deal on border security. That’s a perfectly legitimate topic for a national security discussion, but it’s hard to believe, given history and recent events, that House Republicans intend to engage in sincere negotiations on immigration policies and procedures. Making real progress on immigration, after all, would take away one of Republicans’ favorite cudgels for battering Democrats.

Past efforts, including a bipartisan deal more than a decade ago, collapsed as hard-liners saw a reliable campaign and fundraising issue about to vanish. And just last week, when a bipartisan immigration deal looked to be coming together in the Senate, House Republicans passed a resolution condemning the Biden administration’s handling of immigration. What’s their solution to the crisis? They didn’t offer one – other than one sentence urging “President Biden to end his administration’s open-borders policies.”

This is a crisis, all right — a migrant crisis that is increasingly affecting communities far from the southern and northern borders. It’s also a crisis of wanton political malpractice from elected representatives who can’t stop campaigning and fundraising long enough to actually govern. The cost of House Republican intransigence: In New York, it’s $4.3 billion more, and counting.

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Advance Media New York. January 21, 2024.

Editorial: Gov. Hochul’s proposed budget shows some restraint, for a change

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s budget blueprint for 2025 tempers her policy ambitions with some welcome fiscal restraint — or what passes for it in big-spending New York.

Hochul’s proposed $233 billion budget reflects a modest increase of $1 billion, or 0.5%, over this year’s enacted budget. It does not increase income taxes and bolsters the state’s rainy-day fund, while also funding initiatives on crime, mental health treatment and economic development. The governor also must deal with an expensive crisis of Washington’s making, the influx of migrants into New York City.

In one respect, Hochul got lucky. Better-than-expected personal income tax revenues helped to erase a deficit without new taxes or spending cuts. (A dip into reserves helped, too.) She will not be so lucky in future years when a projected shortfall of $15 billion will be harder — and much more painful — to close. That should be a warning to legislators who treat the governor’s plan as a floor, not a ceiling, and add spending to it.

Here are some items we’re watching as budget negotiations begin:

Education funding: Hochul proposes $35.3 billion in total school aid, an increase of $825 million, or 2.4%. Accounting for inflation, we’d consider that flat. That seems about right after a record state aid increase of $6 billion over two years, a $20 billion infusion of federal and state Covid aid into school districts, the highest per-pupil spending in the nation and declining enrollment. Hochul meets the state’s obligation to fully fund Foundation Aid for poor districts like Syracuse (which is in line for a 3.77% increase in aid). It’s time to recognize that money is not the issue with poor student performance, and to shift the focus onto teaching, learning and parental involvement. We want to know more about the governor’s push for a change in how reading is taught in elementary grades.

Housing shortage: The legislature last year soundly rejected Hochul’s ambitious housing agenda, which would have loosened local zoning laws and set modest targets for new construction. Hochul listened to communities, including Onondaga County, which wanted to retain local control of housing decisions. Her budget puts the ball in their court. The governor proposed a new tax incentive for housing; making $650 million in state aid for localities contingent on being “pro-housing”; and $500 million to build 15,000 units on state-owned land. It’s up to counties, towns and villages to get moving on creating more housing. We’re encouraged by two big housing developments just announced by Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh. The suburbs need to get cracking before Micron revs up.

Immigration crisis: Hochul proposes $2.4 billion to help feed and house the more than 100,000 migrants who have streamed into New York City over the past year. The governor takes $500 million from the state’s rainy-day fund, justifying it as a one-time, emergency expenditure. Caring for migrants is the right thing to do from a humanitarian perspective but the expense really should be borne by the federal government. The state budget is not the place to argue immigration policy; Congress is. That’s a rare point of agreement between governors of red states and blue states. Congress resists fixing immigration because complaining about its brokenness is good politics. That needs to change.

Economic development: Hochul follows up on her big play for Micron by proposing $275 million over the next decade for artificial intelligence R&D; $500 million more for advanced chip research at Albany Nanotech; and $200 million for five Upstate job training centers along the Thruway corridor, anchored in Syracuse. These investments in the future are a hedge against the outmigration sapping New York of its young people.

But the state needs to do more to cut the cost of living and doing business here. Just once, we’d like to see the governor’s office make news by taking a big whack at taxes, spending and regulation.

There’s more to learn about Hochul’s plans to attack organized retail theft (or is it the perception of it?); to boost mental health treatment; and to shore up Medicaid. We’ll address those in future editorials.

We can say this: Hochul and legislative leaders must do better than last year’s budget process that dragged into May. The start of the new fiscal year is April 1. Let’s have an on-time budget this year.

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Adirondack Daily Enterprise. January 18, 2024.

Editorial: Hochul’s budget fails to address one big issue

Gov. Kathy Hochul revealed her executive budget on Tuesday. This massive $233 billion spending plan includes packages to address everything from the housing crisis to swimming pools, but left out one of the state’s major problems: Government transparency.

When Hochul, a Democrat, took office, she pledged that her administration would usher in a new era of government transparency. After her very first address as governor, in fact, Hochul said: “I want people to believe in their government again.”

New York state has better government transparency and open records laws than some other states, but that doesn’t mean much when those laws are unevenly implemented, rarely enforced, purposefully vague and there is no independent hearing system for Freedom of Information Law and Open Meetings Law appeals.

The Center for Public Integrity gave New York a D- ranking in its 2015 State Integrity Investigation, saying that this state is “beset by corruption, backroom deals and voter scorn” and has a “significant ‘enforcement gap,’ which measures the difference between the laws on the books and how well they’re actually implemented.” There has been little significant progress made since.

This problem is not just at the state government level. On Wednesday, the New York State Coalition for Open Government said that there is “documented, large-scale noncompliance with the Open Meetings Law and the Freedom of Information Law at the local level.” The coalition’s statistics are damning, but not surprising to anyone that’s tried to get information from a government agency. Seventy-two percent of towns do not post meeting documents online; 25% of towns do not post meeting minutes or a recording; 39% of counties failed to acknowledge a FOIL request within five business days as required by law; 75% of planning boards do not post meeting documents online; only 25% of villages post meeting minutes online; 35% of villages do not even post a meeting agenda. Out of 158 school district executive session motions reviewed by the coalition, 61% were not in compliance with the Open Meetings Law.

These are the basics of government transparency and accountability — these statistics do not detail just how many records requests are routinely, and perhaps wrongfully, denied across this state, nor how many people have to wait many months to receive the information they are legally allowed to access.

We are living in a time where public trust in government is low. In New York, residents have become accustomed to fighting for basic transparency. We’ve also become accustomed to seeing elected officials brought down by corruption charges.

There are a few ways Hochul, and the state Legislature, can start to make some progress on repairing trust:

— Right now, members of the public who sue over FOIL or Open Meetings law violations can have a hard time recouping attorney fees if they win their case. The state should pass bill A5357A/S5801A, which would reform the state’s attorney fee statute for litigation involving FOIL and Open Meetings law.

— The state should also pass bill A7933, which would establish an independent hearing officer system for complaints about open government law violations. The New York State Coalition for Open Government likens this system to one created back in 1982, which allows property owners seeking to dispute their property assessments to complete an application, pay a fee and have a hearing officer assigned to the case to make a decision on the complaint rather than having to hire an attorney and file a lawsuit in Supreme Court.

Hochul was right to say in her budget presentation on Tuesday that focus on the state’s housing crisis must remain at the forefront, but Hochul’s promise of greater government transparency is one she must keep.

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New York Post. January 22, 2024.

Editorial: Gov. Hochul will slam congestion toll cheats, so why not farebeaters (and other crooks)?

Gov. Kathy Hochul has finally found a group of scofflaws she’s willing to stand up to: congestion-pricing cheaters.

In her state budget plan, the gov included harsh penalties for people who cheat on Manhattan’s coming $15 congestion toll.

The act of dodging the toll would become a Class A misdemeanor.

Sure seems like a stark contrast to her “First one’s free; second’s half price” proposal on farebeating.

If you duck more than $1,000 worth of tolls, you could be looking at a felony rap.

Let’s get this straight.

The gov’s a squish when it comes to subway and bus farebeating, a crime that costs the MTA— a fiscally imperiled agency under her ultimate aegis — $690 million a year.

But she’s for hardcore law and order when it comes to congestion-toll cheats, a new class of offenders that doesn’t even exist yet.

Dodging any public-service charge should be a serious matter.

That’s true for congestion pricing, bridge tolls and everything else.

But it goes double for farebeating, which (as MTA head Janno Lieber memorably put it to The Post ) “tears at the social fabric” by undermining public trust, suggesting that the lawful are suckers for paying at all and letting the violent and insane hang out in the system.

Perhaps the gov feels safe targeting congestion cheaters simply because progressives basically despise all drivers.

Whereas the fact that progs bizarrely see criminals as victims explains why her efforts to repair the state’s disastrous criminal justice “reforms” have been so hapless.

If congestion cheats deserve a big response, so do other crimes, Governor.

Time to stand up to the crime fans in your own party on every issue.

END