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

Build on Common Ground

The New York Times

Dec. 12

Promises to pursue national healing and unity helped put Joe Biden in the White House. Americans embraced that vision. But the overall election results, with Republicans gaining seats in the House and possibly retaining control of the Senate, both exposed and increased the magnitude of the incoming president’s challenge.

In a nation so politically divided, making even modest progress on critical issues can be a slog. Mr. Biden will need to rally the public behind a Decency Agenda with broad-based appeal. That means first turning down the temperature of the culture wars, backing a policy agenda with broad public support and returning to constitutional norms that served the nation well for so long.

Common ground on policy is not terra incognita. The question is what to do with the common ground that’s already been scouted and surveyed. This effort can target the usual bipartisan suspects, like shoring up infrastructure and lowering the price of prescription drugs, but can also reach further afield, guided in part by the imperatives of the pandemic.

As the new administration’s top priority, addressing the coronavirus crisis will serve as the organizing principle — and legislative opening — for much of Mr. Biden’s agenda. Take infrastructure, the policy area most often cited as having bipartisan potential. Lawmakers and voters from both parties recognize the need to overhaul the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges, as well as to develop its digital infrastructure. But when it comes time to talk about how to pay for projects, things get stickier. Americans have for years expressed resistance to raising the gas tax. Other funding plans bring their own challenges. Despite its worthiness, the issue never generates quite enough urgency to get many lawmakers past their spending qualms.

These days, Mr. Biden is talking up infrastructure as part of his larger pandemic recovery proposal. At a Nov. 16 virtual summit with business and union leaders, he stressed the need to “modernize infrastructure, roads, bridges, ports,” as well as to invest in new affordable housing and high-speed broadband for “every American household.” The gross inequities of the nation’s digital divide have become more glaring as the pandemic has pushed school, work, medical appointments and other everyday activities online. “We should be spending $20 billion to put broadband across the board,” the president-elect recently told the Times columnist Thomas Friedman. “We have got to rebuild the middle class,” he said, “especially in rural America.”

Going forward, look for Mr. Biden to stress how many of his policies could help voters in Republican enclaves.

In making his infrastructure pitch, Mr. Biden emphasizes job creation at every opportunity. The unemployment rate has recovered considerably from this spring, when it cracked the low double digits, but it is a far cry from where it was pre-pandemic. Some of the lost jobs may not be coming back for a long while — if ever. Infrastructure projects, both low and high tech, could help take up some of the slack in the labor market.

Mr. Biden is taking a similar line with climate change, another policy area with bipartisan support among voters, if not necessarily lawmakers. A survey this spring by the Pew Research Center found that 65 percent of American adults think the federal government is not doing enough to reduce the effects of climate change. Large majorities, including majorities of Republicans, favor measures such as providing business tax credits for carbon-capture technology, tightening emissions standards on power plants, taxing businesses based on their carbon emissions and imposing higher fuel efficiency standards for vehicles.

Many Republican legislators haven’t caught up with their constituents’ evolving views and still present the issue as a death match between the environment and the economy. Reframing the discussion, Mr. Biden is relentless about talking up green jobs. Making buildings more energy efficient, modernizing the electric grid, installing charging stations for electric vehicles — these are measures that put people back to work.

More narrowly, promoting climate-resilient agriculture has cross-aisle appeal. This June, a bipartisan bill was introduced in the Senate that would set up a certification system, overseen by the Agriculture Department, that would make it easier for farmers, ranchers and other landowners to participate in carbon markets and receive credits for adopting climate-friendly technology. The proposal is favored by the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance, a new coalition of environmental and agricultural advocates.

As with infrastructure, policy watchers think green proposals will have a better shot of passing if sold as part of a comprehensive recovery plan. It wouldn’t be the first time. The 2009 economic recovery act included $90 billion for clean energy.

One climate-friendly move that should be quick and painless: The Biden administration can join the international push to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, a class of ozone-depleting refrigerants, by sending the Kigali agreement to the Senate for ratification. More than 100 countries and the European Union have already ratified this amendment to the Montreal Protocol. Globally, HFCs are on their way out, and many U.S. manufacturers back the plan as a way to bring regulatory stability to the market and to avoid losing ground to foreign competitors. Despite this, President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency could not bring itself to embrace the deal, largely for broader ideological reasons. Mr. Biden’s administration will presumably have no such reservations, and the Senate should wave it on through.

Certainly, the pandemic has laid bare flaws in the nation’s health care system. Many of these will require major partisan battles to address. But some relatively targeted issues have bipartisan potential, including relief spending for community health centers. This year, many health systems have been pushed to the breaking point, including in rural areas — giving Republican lawmakers incentive to hop aboard.

Ending surprise medical bills is another bipartisan favorite. After two years of working on this issue, members in both chambers are trying to put through a bipartisan proposal with the must-pass government funding bill. The chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Representative Richard Neal, had been holding up the effort in favor of his own plan. Something similar happened last December. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been pushing the Massachusetts Democrat to compromise, and, Friday night, a potential deal came together. But if this latest effort falls apart, the new Biden administration may need to step in.

When it comes to aiding lower-income Americans, passing tax credits is often a better bipartisan bet than direct spending. Mr. Biden has proposed temporarily expanding the child tax credit and making it fully refundable. This means that if the credit exceeded the amount of taxes a family owed, the government would issue a check for the difference. Bipartisan variations on this proposal have been introduced in the Senate.

Other tax relief proposals favored by Mr. Biden include enhancing the tax credit for spending on child and dependent care, expanding the work opportunity tax credit to include military spouses, enhancing tax breaks for and accessibility to 401(k) retirement plans, and giving tax breaks to small businesses that offer workers retirement plans.

When it comes to foreign policy, Mr. Biden and congressional lawmakers are in agreement about the need to take a tough line on dealings with China. (The president-elect has said that he will not automatically remove the high tariffs imposed by Mr. Trump.) In the interest of improving American competitiveness, Mr. Biden may be able to win Republican support for some of his America-first proposals, including increasing federal investment in critical industries such as biotech, quantum computing and artificial intelligence.

Reining in big tech is a hot topic for both parties, with widespread agreement that the tech titans have too much power. Repealing or overhauling Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gives social media companies liability protection for users’ posts, also has bipartisan support in Congress, albeit for different reasons. (Republicans remain fixated on the idea that Big Tech is biased against conservatives. Democrats worry more about the spread of disinformation.) There are related bills bumping around Capitol Hill. Looking for a late-term win, Mr. Trump pushed lawmakers to attach a repeal of Section 230 to the military spending authorization bill currently making its way through Congress. That didn’t happen — at least not in the House version that passed on Tuesday — but the issue is not going away.

Tech concerns across both parties have prompted larger antitrust discussion about whether the companies need to be subject to stricter antitrust action oversight, and possibly even broken up, as evidenced by this week’s suits against Facebook filed by the federal government and 48 attorneys general. Unsurprisingly, there are partisan differences about how this should be approached and how far it should go. But both sides seem to agree that the applicable regulatory agencies need more resources for the task at hand. Lawsuits claiming misbehavior by Google and Facebook promise to keep this topic on the front burner.

Even in the hot-button area of immigration, most Americans agree on the need to address the plight of so-called Dreamers, the undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. A Pew poll this summer showed that around three-quarters of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, favor granting them permanent legal status. If lawmakers could stop demagoguing long enough to pass a version of the Dream Act, iterations of which have been circulating for a while, the majority of Americans would be grateful.

Consider all of this a starting point — with other, even more promising avenues out there to explore. As always, the details matter. So does the degree to which lawmakers in both parties decide that it’s in their political interest to gum up the works. Mr. Biden and, perhaps more important, American voters will need to make clear their expectations for action and bring the necessary pressure to bear. There is common ground to be found in a host of policy areas. Political leaders should be pressed to cultivate it.



The election is over at last


Dec. 15

With airplanes, they say any landing you can walk away from is a good one. With an election to choose the leader of the world’s oldest and most iconic democracy, the standard should be far higher.

But this year it wasn’t.

When state electors from across the nation brought President-elect Joe Biden’s win in for a safe landing Monday, they triggered relief that our hallowed institutions held against false claims by President Donald Trump and his supporters, and concern at how battered they’ve become. The resignation of Attorney General William Barr Monday evening via a bizarre letter, and seemingly timed to take attention away from Biden’s Electoral College triumph, only drove home that point.

Barr often operated as if Trump and not the nation were his client, drawing rebukes even from federal prosecutors who normally won’t make such comments publicly. In the opening paragraph of his letter, Barr promised “voter fraud allegations will continue to be pursued,” even though his admission that there are no incidents significant enough to have swayed the outcome seemed to turn Trump against him.

Biden received New York’s 29 votes and 306 overall, and although Republican lawmakers and activists in both Pennsylvania and Georgia created alternate slates of electors to vote for Trump, the real-life casting of those votes in line with the wishes of the voters held up.

So now it’s over, like a football game in which one team is winning by 65 points with three minutes on the clock. There will still be frantic plays, like the plan of Alabama Republican Rep. Mo Brooks to challenge the congressional tallying of the Electoral College votes of Arizona, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Georgia and Wisconsin. But on January 6, the final whistle will blow when Congress certifies the results.

Brooks won’t get the majority in the House needed to disqualify a state’s votes, just as Trump’s supporters could not get the electors to become “faithless” and ignore voters. Brooks may, though, have the aid of Long Island’s Lee Zeldin, who has repeatedly and shamefully supported Trump’s attacks on this election and was the only Long Island representative to sign off on the attempt to get the Supreme Court to seize the election for Trump, which had no legal merit.

What Brooks will attempt, however, is not unique to this year, or to Republicans. Democrats tried it, a tad more symbolically, against George W. Bush in 2001 and 2005 and against Trump in 2017. Democracy is messy, which is why our election only now is settled. The outrage from Trump supporters will persist. But on January 20, Biden will take control of the effort to better this very troubled nation.

The dangers we face will be tough to overcome, the progress we desire hard to produce, particularly after battling a devastating pandemic. And while Barr is right to insist incidents of voter fraud be investigated, if the nation remains divided by Trump’s imaginary grievances of widespread irregularities or conspiracies, the difficulty will become impossible.



County Legislature Really Likes To Spend Your Money

The Post-Journal

Dec. 16

Chautauqua County is trying really, really hard to spend your money.

During budget discussions, legislators approved 3% raises for county managers despite the fact that the county is still in the middle of a pandemic. State-related revenues are difficult to count on given the state’s several billion dollar budget deficit. The exact amount of that deficit fluctuates depending on the day and which state official you are talking to, but it’s anywhere from $7 billion to $15 billion.

Some school districts, including Jamestown, are looking at mid-year budget cuts to keep their budgets in balance. State-level employees are seeing pay freezes.

In Chautauqua County, managers got 3% pay raises as part of the 2021 budget. Some of those managers have reached the top of their salary ranges and can’t receive the full 3% raises. They’d have to settle for roughly 1.5% depending on where they are on their salary schedule. A local law discussed last week by the Administrative Services Committee, however, would amend the management salary raises to reflect an additional 1.5% so they can receive the full 3% raises included in the budget.

That all means that in a year in which a lot of people are out of work or not receiving raises because the pandemic ruined their business, Chautauqua County is bending over backwards — which means the county could have saved a little money.

What, exactly, is the purpose of a civil service salary schedule if the schedule isn’t followed? Managers took these jobs knowing there was a top dollar figure they could earn. No one twisted their arms to take these positions. Not only is this move unwise during a pandemic when there is general economic uncertainty regarding any government’s revenues, it is a bad move for the future. Increasing the salary ranges increases the upper salary range for every manager to hold that position in the future.

We now wonder what former County Executive Vince Horrigan thinks after he wrote a recent letter to this newspaper that noted “County is a model for good government” (Nov. 28). By the way, Mr. Horrigan, we didn’t propose wage increases to create public controversy or sell papers. We just report on the story and present it to our readers and let them decide on the topic.

Give credit to legislators Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia, and Lisa Vanstrom, R-West Ellicott for their opposition last week.

At least two legislators show some common sense. We hope the rest of the legislature follows their lead — but we’re frankly not optimistic because, as we said earlier, this group really, really likes to spend your money.



NY elections boards should expect the unexpected

The Auburn Citizen

Dec. 10

The series of errors and missteps in the race for a central New York congressional seat is more than just an embarrassment for those involved, it demonstrates flaws in the system that need to be repaired to avoid having it happen again.

In the state’s 22nd Congressional District, first-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Anthony Brindisi trailed his challenger, former U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney, by several thousand votes after the majority of ballots were tabulated on Nov. 3. Tenney’s lead disappeared, however, when absentee ballots were later counted, and the campaigns then began to closely scrutinize — and raise objections to — a small number of the votes, meaning the final outcome would come down to a judge’s decision on the disputed ballots.

But more than a month later, with a state Supreme Court judge weighing arguments regarding disputed absentee and affidavit ballots, there was a unexpected twist.

After election officials told the court that their figures showed Tenney holding a 12-vote lead, Chenango County officials said they had found 55 ballots that had apparently been “mislaid and never counted.” The court also learned that some ballots that had been objected to had been labeled with sticky notes that later fell off.

To be clear, the court has found no evidence of fraud, but complained that the counties failed to alert voters of fixable issues with their ballots, failed to properly record objections to ballots, and failed to count hundreds of ballots that candidates had objected to.

Now, just weeks before members of Congress are set to be sworn in, the judge has postponed court proceedings on the matter until Dec. 18 and ordered the election boards in that district to go back and count every uncounted ballot.

Super-close races like this one are somewhat rare, but making sure that every vote really does count demands action by the state Legislature, which needs to take a hard look at making sure every county is better prepared to deal with the array of concerns involving not just Election Day but the important followup work in properly handling mail-in ballots and objections by campaigns.



Amazon doesn’t need you; local sellers do

Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Dec. 12

It is no fault of billionaire Jeff Bezos that COVID-19 is the grinch who stole Christmas. Bezos did not bring the virus to us. We have no hesitation in suggesting that if he could end the epidemic by spending his entire fortune, he would do so.

Still, the coronavirus has increased Bezos’ wealth greatly. He is the founder of the online marketing goliath Amazon, which has never been more popular than now.

Tens of millions of Americans will do most, if not all, their holiday season shopping with Amazon and online retailers like it. They will argue that it simply is not safe for them to patronize local brick-and-mortar stores.

Local retailers, from mom-and-pop specialty shops to the big-box stores, rely on Christmas shoppers for significant chunks of the revenue that keeps them open year-round. If they have a bad holiday shopping season, they suffer terribly. Some may not survive long into the new year.

So what? Well, put on your thinking cap for a moment.

How many local residents work for Amazon? In all likelihood, none. Yet thousands of our friends, family members and neighbors rely on local stores to put bread and butter on the table.

What portion of local taxes — supporting our schools, law enforcement, snow plowing and other local goverment services — are paid by Amazon? Almost none, except maybe a bit of trickle-down from state and local sales taxes. And New York didn’t even start taxing online purchases until last year.

What happens when we need donations to support worthwhile local initiatives ranging from youth baseball to helping the needy at Christmas? Amazon doesn’t do local worthy causes, except in very rare situations.

Local retailers — many of which have their own websites, by the way — are the very lifeblood of our communities. In a very real way, they are us.

Don’t let Amazon be the grinch who stole Christmas from them — and thus, our communities. Shop at home, if you can while staying safe. On Dec. 25, the knowledge you have supported local retailers will make your Christmas brighter.