Editorials from around New York

April 18, 2018 GMT

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


The Journal News on the World Trade Center health program

April 12

Seemingly every week, the first-responder community announces the death of one, or two or even more from 9/11-related illnesses. The losses will not stop soon. So many exposed to the toxic swirl of ground zero will continue to need health care and support for years to come.


Yet, President Donald Trump’s 2019 federal budget contains a proposal to reorganize key health agencies that provide treatment and monitoring for people exposed to deadly toxins during and after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks at Ground Zero, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

As former “Daily Show” host and 9/11 first-responder champion Jon Stewart said, the Trump budget proposal demonstrates “a special kind of incompetence.” This is hardly a mere paperwork shuffle — the reorganization could disrupt care for some 83,000 9/11 first responders and survivors who reside in all 50 states.

The Trump administration hasn’t really explained the goals of the changes, which would end up separating two key health programs that serve 9/11 first responders. Many worry that the shift could slow research and hamper the coordination of treatment for those who have fallen ill from the 9/11 rescue and recovery efforts. That could cost lives.

What’s at risk? The strength of the World Trade Center Health Program, which was created as part of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. You may recall the nasty battle in Congress in 2010 to launch the Zadroga Act, then again in 2015 to renew it. Some in Congress fought this critical program that ensures our nation lives up to its commitment to 9/11 first responders.

Since its inception, the WTC health program has been administered by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which is currently part of the Centers for Disease Control.

NIOSH and 9/11 health issues were inexorably linked long before the Zadroga Act. NIOSH began examining the health fallout from the 2001 terrorist attacks back in 2002. When the Zadroga Act established the WTC program, NIOSH became the point agency. Research by NIOSH has helped determine the diseases and cancers covered by the WTC program.

NIOSH and the WTC health program aren’t just intertwined in mission and research — NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard is administrator of the World Trade Center health program.

But the Trump budget would upend that convenient and efficient co-existence. The 2019 budget would move NIOSH from CDC and put it into the National Institutes of Health. But the WTC health program would remain with the CDC. The split would break up key research, staff, and expertise now shared between the WTC health program and the NIOSH. The World Trade Center health program would also lose the expert administration of Dr. Howard, the NIOSH director.


How could this save money or possibly preserve quality? All we see is pointless risk for the tens of thousands who rely on the WTC Health Program’s care and NIOSH’s expertise.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has implored Congress to block the change. “Separating the WTCHP from NIOSH would be unnecessarily disruptive and potentially dangerous for the victims of the greatest attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor,” Schneiderman wrote in an April 9 letter to key Senate and House members.

Many see the folly in the health program switch.

U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, New York Democrats, along with Democratic Sens. Corey Booker and Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, wrote to White House budget director Mick Mulvaney seeking to prevent the change. That was back in February. Their pleas have so far gone unaddressed.

The concern has been bipartisan. Republican Rep. Peter King joined his Democratic colleagues, Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler, to lobby the White House to scrap the change. The three were original sponsors of the Zadroga Act. In February, King told Newsday: “This program is working as perfectly as a program can be,” adding that the budget restructuring “serves no purpose.”

In March, Stewart stood with the firefighter unions, 9/11 survivors and elected officials that he worked alongside to get the Zadroga Act passed and then renewed. The comedian and political commentator reflected on the success of the World Trade Center health program, and the long fight to achieve such help. “They finally have some peace,” Stewart said of the 9/11 first responders who have battled health issues, including various cancers. “Are we really doing this again?”

The Trump administration needs to fix this. The first responders who are served by the WTC program continue to pay for their heroism with their health, and their lives. Why would the government consider an administrative shift that could cause them more suffering and put them at more risk?



The (Rochester) Democrat & Chronicle on the Judicial Conduct commission

April 14

With so many twists and turns in the story of Rochester City Court Judge Leticia Astacio, it is difficult to remember exactly how and when it started.

A New York State trooper found her sitting in the driver’s seat of her smashed up car, with two flat tires, on the side of I-490. Her breath reeked of alcohol, and her behavior strongly indicated she had downed a few too many drinks. This happened on the morning of Feb. 13, 2016.

That was just shy of 800 days ago.

At no point during this time was the State Commission on Judicial Conduct able to publicly issue a single word about Astacio. Not when she was convicted on a misdemeanor drunken driving charge in August 2016. Not when she violated the terms of her probation, twice. Not when she spent time in jail. Not when she was charged with a felony after allegedly trying to buy a shotgun. Not when she was suspended with pay by the state Court of Appeals.

That is because the Commission’s proceedings are, by law, confidential. The public is left in the dark as the Commission conducts its investigation and prosecution of judges who misbehave. In New York, it is not uncommon for the process to take nearly two years to complete — all behind closed doors.

Given that timeline, the Commission may very well be writing a final chapter in the Astacio saga. But, the interim silence has left us all wondering just how bad things must get before someone holds her accountable. Allowing judges to appear as if they are untouchable for years on end creates a dangerous erosion of trust in our judicial system.

There are two ways lawmakers in Albany can fix this.

First, legislators should make the Commission’s activities public, from start to finish. Thirty-four states in America already do this, and even our own state Judicial Conduct commission has been pushing for full transparency since 1978. Officials want us to see what they are doing. But this would require a change in New York state law. For 40 years, our legislators have failed to get it done.

Second, lawmakers must adequately fund the Commission so it can resolve cases much more quickly. Despite record caseloads, the agency is severely underfunded and understaffed. Its budget has remained flat since 2010. That has led to significant cost-cutting measures and a 24 percent reduction in staff over the past five years. While the Commission received a two-percent boost for the current fiscal year, that is not nearly enough to improve turnaround times.

Local Assemblyman Brian Kolb has introduced well-intentioned, but unrealistic, legislation. It would, in part, require the Commission to complete each case within 60 days. However, even with adequate resources, it seems highly unlikely the Commission could abide by that limit in most cases. Kolb’s bill would also broaden the Commission’s power to remove judges, something the Commission notes would require an amendment to the Constitution.

In a recent opinion piece he submitted to the Democrat and Chronicle, however, Kolb was right on target.

“While Judge Astacio may be a rare case,” he wrote, “we must ensure judicial law has the tools necessary to deal with these kinds of situations as they arise.

This case has brought significant problems to the forefront, and now is the time to resolve them.



The (Albany) Times Union on the power of Congress to declare war

April 17

Now that missiles are flying, will Congress fulfill its constitutional role?

If you’re at a loss to explain President Donald Trump’s strategy in Syria, you’re in good company. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley doesn’t seem to know what it is, either.

Ms. Haley thought she could speak for current U.S. policy in Syria when she declared Sunday that Mr. Trump would follow up Friday’s air strikes with tough new sanctions against its ally, Russia, on Monday.

Then came Monday, and the White House said, no, that’s not the plan.

What may merely be embarrassing for Ms. Haley should be deeply troubling for Americans and particularly their representatives in Congress who, under the Constitution, are supposed to decide whether the country goes to war.

Mr. Trump and his surrogates, including Ms. Haley, quickly sought to portray the president as a decisive commander in chief who acted firmly after reports that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had once again used chemical weapons in his country’s seven-year-old civil war. That myth doesn’t hold up, though, when the president hems and haws about pulling out of Syria one day and bombs it a few days later, or lobs more than 100 cruise missiles at a country and has no idea what to do next.

Given the gutting of the State Department and the disintegration of U.S. diplomacy on Mr. Trump’s watch, it seems his approach to foreign conflicts is to attack — with insulting tweets, trade sanctions, or actual missiles. With such instability in the White House, Congress must assert itself, and inform Mr. Trump that he can’t use the military for his erratic whims, especially when no immediate threat to the United States exists. Whether it’s boots on the ground or bombs in the air, Congress must insist on a coherent strategy before it allows the president to wage war.

Mr. Trump may get a kick out of the attention he gets from being unpredictable, but an America that flits and flails from one strategy to another does not promote national security or global stability.

There are signs that sentiment may finally be changing in a Congress that has been shirking responsibility ever since it gave President George W. Bush overly broad authority to wage a vague war on terror after the 9/11 attacks. The Senate, at least, is talking about a better balance more in accord with the Constitution, assuring the president flexibility in addressing immediate threats while affording Congress its rightful role in setting policy.

Unfortunately, there is less optimism for such an approach in the House of Representatives, which seems all too content to keep issuing this president, like his predecessors, a blank check rather than take responsibility for national defense, or, in Mr. Trump’s case, offense.

Doing nothing, however, is indeed doing something. The representatives who prefer to give Mr. Trump free rein to wage an undeclared war had better be prepared to answer for his policies — assuming, that is, any of them can even figure out what they are from one day to the next.



The Niagara Gazette on legalized sports betting

April 12

New York has now scored another breakthrough with being added to the list of states looking at the possibility of legalized sports betting.

That could become a reality if the U.S. Supreme Court issues a landmark decision that would lift the current ban on that form of gambling. Last month, state Sen. John Bonacic introduced Senate Bill S-7900 that would amend the racing, pari-mutuel wagering and breeding law to allow sports betting, including mobile wagering, at casinos, racetracks and off-track betting parlors like those in the Buffalo-Niagara area. It should be noted that operators will only be allowed to move forward with sports betting if the federal law changes.

In a press release, the senator stated, “New York has historically been behind the curve in dealing with developments in the gaming world, and it has been to our detriment. If allowed sports betting, will be a revenue enhancer for education in New York. We have the chance to ensure that our sports betting statute is fully developed and addresses the needs of the state and all stakeholders.”

Amidst all the debate, there’s an increasing number of people looking at approval of sports betting as a safe bet instead of just another longshot.

By the way, the U.S. Supreme Court is involved in the whole matter because it is reviewing the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act as part of the suit by the NCAA, NFL and other major sports leagues brought against New Jersey which has been attempting to legalize sports betting for more than five years.

The court had expected to come in with its decision by the end of March, but for whatever reason that did not come to fruition.

We do take exception to the senator’s claim that legalizing sports betting would automatically produce a major source for funding the educational needs across the state. Many New Yorkers still are reluctant to believe that when the state lottery was created, education was to be among the main beneficiaries

The proposed New York bill is based on modified versions of the leagues’ requests. David Purdum, an ESPN staff writer, says the leagues would receive some data rights and sports betting operators would remit to the New York State Gaming Commission a fee up to 0.25 percent of the amount wagered, which will be used to reimburse sports governing bodies for expenses related to integrity operations. He notes that the NBA and Major League Baseball have been seeking 1 percent in several other states.

New York is already the epicenter of illegal sports betting and could see a major windfall if the nation’s highest court overturns the federal statute blocking wagering on athletic contests here and in 45 other states.

If that happens, it’s important New York’s leaders make sure the potential windfall provides tangible benefits to state taxpayers who could surely use some relief.



The Leader-Herald on paying the tax bill

April 17

If you are like many Americans, you will spend part of this evening finishing your income tax returns for 2017. The deadline to file them is today, unless you request and get an extension.

Oh, well. At least the government will be paid for .

Wrong. The Internal Revenue Service collects only about $1.69 trillion in income taxes each year. Another $1.24 trillion flows in from payroll withholding, but most of it is earmarked for programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

On the other side of the equation, Washington will spend about $4.1 trillion this year. President Donald Trump wants that to go up to $4.4 trillion next year.

So you see the problem. The income taxes most of us see as a major burden cover only about 70 percent of the government’s spending.

There is income from other sources, of course. Corporations pay a substantial chunk of money. Various fees bring in more. Estate taxes, tariffs and various other moneymakers chip in billions.

In the end, however, we still spend far more than the government collects. The deficit for this year will be around $500 billion.

That will feed the national debt, now more than $21.2 trillion.

That has a cost, now and in the future, for every American. So, as you file your tax returns, reflect on this: You have to pay your bills with real money.

Government doesn’t.