Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:
Let’s Make a Deal
The New York Times
Economic growth is sputtering as the coronavirus continues to spread. Workers laid off temporarily in the spring or summer are discovering that their jobs are gone forever. Small businesses are guttering out like so many candles in a rainstorm. State and local governments are cutting services. Millions of children are hungry; millions of families can’t pay their rent.
In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, House Democrats, Senate Republicans and the White House moved with alacrity, at least by Washington standards, to pump out hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency aid. The nation is in need of an encore.
Democrats have made a series of progressively smaller proposals since May. The latest would provide $2.2 trillion, largely aimed at those who need it most, including health care providers, unemployed workers and local governments. Senate Republicans want a significantly smaller bottom line. And President Trump? He can’t seem to make up his mind.
The moment cries out for a president who knows how to make a deal.
Instead, over the last week, Mr. Trump engaged in manic bursts of tweeting, first insisting he wanted a stimulus deal, then pulling the plug on negotiations, then insisting he was ready to talk, then insulting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, then insisting again that he wanted to act.
The president’s confusing behavior, moreover, was just a condensed version of the past six months. Ever since House Democrats made their opening bid in May, Mr. Trump has yo-yoed between insisting that he wants a deal and losing interest in the hard work of negotiations.
The president failed to press for a deal in July, as the initial round of emergency aid ran out. He failed to press for a deal in August, as the economic rebound predictably began to slow. He failed to press for a deal in September, as evidence accumulated that more aid was needed.
Mr. Trump’s refusal to treat the coronavirus as a serious public health threat is not only a big reason another round of aid is necessary. It also has complicated the negotiations. It is easier to talk in person, but Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, has refused to visit the White House in recent months, citing the administration’s failure to impose basic safety measures. Ms. Pelosi said this week that she would no longer allow Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the president’s chief negotiator, to visit her office. Those safety concerns have proved very prudent.
Americans now should hope that the president’s latest position as of publication time is sincere — and that it is not too late to rope legislators into an agreement before the election.
Reaching a deal requires the president to go beyond his stated support for another round of stimulus checks and another targeted bailout for the crippled airline industry.
Democrats are right to insist that a stimulus bill should help those who need it most. There is no justification for helping airlines without helping others in need. It doesn’t make sense to send out stimulus checks to middle-class households while withholding aid from children who don’t have enough to eat.
Congress needs to provide funding for public health authorities and health care providers battling the pandemic.
Congress also needs to provide aid for those who are hungry, unemployed or facing a loss of housing. The unemployment rate remains at 7.9 percent, and many workers who lost jobs in the spring are nearing the end of their eligibility for weekly benefits. Such targeted aid is also the best use of taxpayer dollars. Supplemental federal payments to unemployed workers between April and July kept families from poverty and, as they spent, buoyed the broader economy, too. The distribution of $1,200 to most American adults, by contrast, was less targeted and less effective. One study found that recipients spent 40 percent of the money, on average — and households with more income from other sources spent a smaller share.
Aid for state and local governments is also essential. Declines in tax revenue so far have been smaller than many governments projected. Job losses have been concentrated among lower-income workers whose tax bills were relatively modest, while the rising stock market has increased receipts from more affluent households. But the aid Congress provided in the spring was a one-time deal, and state and local governments already have cut roughly 1.5 million workers in anticipation of reduced revenues in coming years.
Democrats and the Trump administration remain within shouting distance of a deal that would put Senate Republicans on the spot.
On Friday, the administration suggested it would back as much as $1.8 trillion in spending — just a little less than the $2.2 trillion in the last House proposal. There are still differences regarding how the money would be spent. But the quickest way for the White House to get across the finish line is to add a little more.
As Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chairman, said in a blunt speech this week, “the risks of overdoing it” are small at the moment. The greater danger is not doing enough.
Fiscal fiasco on the horizon for Long Island
The fiscal tsunami headed toward Long Island because of the federal government’s inability to approve aid for distressed states, municipalities, school districts and public transportation systems is still off shore.
State and local government entities and public authorities have mostly postponed the pain while they beg Washington for help. But individuals and businesses already feel the damage from the failure to replenish the relief that came from the CARES Act passed in March.
Now Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s 2021 budget, which includes staggering cuts in both staffing and services delivered to residents, reveals what changes will have to be made starting in July, absent further help. And Nassau County Executive Laura Curran’s plan to postpone repaying debt to prevent such cuts is nearly as daunting.
Bellone delayed releasing his budget two weeks past the usual date, hoping the stalled negotiating process on stimulus would move forward.
But now the budget is out, and it’s frightening.
Bellone says the county has a multiyear shortfall in excess of $1 billion, and must cut 500 jobs, through attrition, layoffs and early retirement incentives. That’s in addition to canceling the hiring and training of 200 new police officers and 40 correction officers. The budget also eliminates 46% of Suffolk’s bus routes, saving $13 million, and cuts Suffolk County Accessible Transportation services for the handicapped, which would save $5 million but hobble our most vulnerable residents.
And Suffolk’s budget includes 50% cuts for the county’s contract agencies, which provide youth services and substance abuse and mental health treatment. That would save $16 million now, but cost plenty, in both human misery and dollars, down the road.
In Nassau, where the Nassau Interim Finance Authority can help address the county’s financial struggles, Curran says she’ll refinance $367 million in debt repayments through the state control board, something Bellone can’t do. That lets the county keep providing services and paying employees now, but will necessitate huge tax increases or service cuts and layoffs later if stimulus never comes.
The MTA, hemorrhaging billions, is talking about cutting 50% of Long Island Rail Road service, which would change the Island’s essential character. And some school districts are already laying off teachers.
Jerome Powell, President Donald Trump’s hand-picked Republican Federal Reserve chairman, has repeatedly said that postponing more stimulus could create “tragic” results for our nation. Both parties are blaming each other, but the fault is not equal: The Democrat-controlled House has passed a plan that works as one half of serious negotiation. The Republican-controlled Senate has not, and Trump’s seesawing demands that Congress both approve a big stimulus package immediately and stop trying to pass stimulus until after the election are making matters worse.
Meanwhile, Bellone’s budget reminds us that every job lost means a worker that is no longer spending, a family that is no longer stable, a future no longer possible and services that are no longer delivered to those who need them.
Elections may not feel peaceful, but they are
Adirondack Daily Enterprise
Election time — for some, it’s game time. They embrace the crackling energy and the confrontation between candidates vying for leadership.
For others, it is draining, depressing and scary to see our country divided, seemingly torn apart into rival factions. They can’t wait for the election to be over.
Here’s the good news: Elections, as nasty as they get, are a peaceful substitute for violence. We humans still have a lot of aggression in our DNA, but now when we choose our leaders, we channel that into words rather than physical attacks — for the most part. Yes, there have been battles between protesters and police in a few American cities, but even as Americans disagree on who’s to blame, few of us believe that is how it ought to be.
It’s just not how we operate in this country. We don’t let ourselves be led by those who seize power by force, or those who inherit it by birthright. We agree — all of us — to debate with vigor but without violence, we agree on election rules everyone (for the most part) follows, and we agree to peacefully transition from one leader to the next. That’s an amazing achievement. Ancient civilizations would envy us.
Sometimes, it might feel like all that is on the verge of falling apart, but we are not so sure. It’s easy to raise fears that the other side wants to destroy “life as we know it,” but really, it wouldn’t make much sense for leaders on any side to throw away what we have. As bad as things may be, in the perspective of human history, the United States still has a pretty good thing going on.
So does that make us optimists here at the Enterprise? Rationally, yes, we think it is most likely that the republic will hold through this election. But emotionally, it’s rough. Fear is such a driving force in human lives, and believe us — we are scared and discouraged, too. We are, at our core, peaceful. We want people to live and work with each other, if not as friends then at least as respectful neighbors.
The division and conflict won’t end after Nov. 3. We know that.
For one thing, with so many absentee ballots this year, it’s likely we won’t know all the results that night. We might have to wait a few days, or even (gulp) weeks. That will try our patience. In a way, that is a good thing, because we will need our patience strengthened for what lies ahead.
If our nation makes it through this trial without going crazy, we then have to accept the results, like them or not. That will be tough for a whole lot of people, one way or another. Nevertheless, we have done it every election since our nation’s founding, and we will do it again.
Then will come perhaps the biggest challenge of all: The election winners must at least try to govern for everyone, not just those who voted for them. And the people whose candidates didn’t win must try, at least, to live with the leaders others chose.
They shouldn’t stop speaking up and make rational appeals for justice, reason, compassion and compromise. That is the stuff democratic government is made of. But bitter grievances aren’t helpful. We can’t treat each other like enemies. We are fellow citizens. Opposing parties may not like each other very much right now, but we all have to live with each other going forward.
How? It makes us think of a scene in Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s book “The Little Prince,” when a fox appears and asks the prince to tame him.
“(I)f you tame me, then we shall need each other,” the fox said.
…“What must I do, to tame you?” asked the little prince.
“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “First you will sit down at a little distance from me — like that — in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day …”
State’s Best laid Plans Are Not At All Foolproof
It’s hard to understand how COVID-19 spread so quickly inside Tanglewood Manor if all of the state’s nursing home and assisted living guidelines for testing were being followed.
After all, one of the reasons families haven’t been allowed to visit with loved ones inside the facility since three Tanglewood residents tested positive for COVID-19 in early September. If the virus didn’t come in through family members, how did it?
If it was through staff, how did the infected staff members so quickly infect so many residents? Were the residents wearing masks inside the facility to protect themselves? Photos posted on the facility’s Facebook page show they weren’t.
Forty-seven COVID-19 cases inside a facility here, with all of the precautions that have been mandated by the state, simply shouldn’t happen.
One can have legitimate debate over some of the state’s COVID policies for those who are young and healthy. There should be little debate that nursing home policies protect those most at risk from COVID-19 and must be followed, even visitation limitations that are cruel for families and nursing home or assisted living residents.
Speaking of families, families of Tanglewood residents would have liked to have known as early as possible that COVID was spreading through the facility. County health officials knew as early as Friday that there was a concentration of cases at Tanglewood. Four positive tests came back Friday, four more on Saturday and six more on Sunday. On the county’s end, public notification of the outbreak should have happened Friday or Saturday at the latest, and all facilities should have some sort of plan to notify families much sooner than four days after an outbreak begins.
Availability of a vaccine against COVID-19 cannot come too quickly for residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. That may be the only hope some have of surviving the epidemic — because clearly, the state’s best laid plans aren’t foolproof.
New plans for ShoppingTown Mall? We’re not buying it
The tax-delinquent, bankrupt owner of ShoppingTown Mall has a new gambit to stave off Onondaga County’s bid to seize the property: not one, but five different concepts for redeveloping the mall.
The county’s lawyers aren’t buying it. Neither should the bankruptcy court judge overseeing ShoppingTown Mall NY LLC’s reorganization.
Oh, the renderings are nice. The existing enclosed mall is divided into boxes labeled “indoor sports complex,” “proposed future development opportunity” and “proposed parking garage wrapped with high-density residential.” Outparcels are earmarked for adult living, a town square, a municipal services complex and a hotel.
We’ve seen this movie before. Moonbeam Capital Investments LLC, of Las Vegas, bought the distressed mall in September 2013. Company executives talked a big game about redeveloping the property with retail and entertainment tenants. Instead, mall owners became embroiled in a dispute with the town of DeWitt over the mall’s tax assessment. With investments on hold, tenants began leaving in droves. The coronavirus pandemic closed the mall’s few remaining tenants in March. Late last month, the owners gave them 30 days to leave for good.
The mall hasn’t paid taxes since 2015 and is $9.8 million in arrears. Last year, Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon formed a local development corporation to go after tax-delinquent properties. Before it could act against ShoppingTown, the mall declared bankruptcy.
Now, with its back against the wall, ShoppingTown has put forward five scenarios for redeveloping the property. From here, it looks like just another tactic to delay a final reckoning for that troubled property.
The county’s lawyers say the plans are “fatally flawed.” The mall doesn’t say where it will get the money to execute its plans, or whether the new uses it proposes will raise enough money to pay off debts and keep current on its bills.
The bankruptcy court should not accept a couple of pretty renderings as evidence that ShoppingTown’s owners have turned over a new leaf. On their watch, the mall went from struggling to vacant, and well-kept to so poorly maintained that it’s raining inside.
The bankruptcy court, located in western Pennsylvania, should look beyond the debtor and creditors for stakeholders that also will be affected by its decision in this case. The taxpayers of Onondaga County deserve to be made whole. The residents of the town of DeWitt are sick of living with an eyesore in their midst.
Retail development is flourishing all around it. Other struggling malls in the area have successfully retooled. The right owner can unlock ShoppingTown’s potential to thrive once again – if the court will reject its current owner’s cynical tactics.