Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York's newspapers:
The Niagara Gazette on how New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan to raise wages could hurt small businesses.
Any time an employer gives his workers a hefty pay raise, it's probably worth a hearty cheer from the appreciative recipients.
As we know, however, there's two sides to every story and the ongoing debate over the statewide $15-per-hour minimum wage boost is a prime example.
When announcing his ambitious plan in January, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said that raising the wage scale would be good for business because past hikes have definitely helped increase the economy.
As expected, there's countless New Yorkers across the state who have virtually doubled down on supporting the sharp boost, even though many school business officials warn that the increase could put their district in a financial bind, likely to result in a severe loss of jobs. Still, unions and coalition groups have been lobbying for the $15 rate for all workers. Those same groups held a series of rallies across the Empire State with enthusiastic demonstrations in Albany, Rochester, Buffalo and Binghamton. Large rallies also were staged downstate in Kingston, Poughkeepsie, and New York City.
While it's thoroughly understandable that the teachers' union (NYSUT) would argue it's entitled to more pay, it is inevitable that the governor's proposal could increase the pressure and burden on the already cash-strapped school districts. In those areas, it would be hard to raise the necessary revenues because of the current property tax cap.
For the record, the state Association of School Business officials — they are obviously close to the situation — contend the wage increase would cost an estimated $276 million. At the end of the day, that would mean an average property tax hike of 2.6 percent, unless the state suddenly decides to allocate more education aid to help districts cover the additional expense. And that is unlikely, based on the Legislature's actions to date.
Although the governor and the Assembly Democrats are supportive of phasing in the wage increase, many senators have not yet weighed in on the issue. Sen. Jack Martins, chair of the Senate Labor Committee, notes that many regions in the state lack the opportunities for any work that can offer a middle class salary, and help the small businesses to thrive.
E.J. McMahon, president of the fiscally conservative Empire Center, an Albany-based think tank, is convinced the wage hike would trigger the closure of small stores. He correctly points out that if the price of employment goes up, those businesses will lose their edge. Big chain stores like Home Depot and Wal-Mart are better situated to pay higher wages. McMahon also offers a sensible solution to the issue: a regional minimum wage, taking into account an upstate economy still recovering in many ways from the last recession. "The current campaign is based on workers in McDonald's in mid-town Manhattan," he says.
Ironically, some fast food employees themselves have served up yet another reason to take a cautious approach in the better pay scheme. Some waitresses in the Buffalo-Niagara area have raised their own concerns whether the bigger paychecks will impact the amount of tips customers now leave.
We're not against giving any worker a reasonable pay raise, but such a sharp boost deserves a closer look at the effect on the communities involved.
The Staten Island Advance on New York cracking down on habitual toll cheats.
With not much fanfare, the state just announced a new way of cracking down on habitual toll cheats who use New York State's highways and bridges.
With the immediate adoption of this regulation change, violators who cannot get the charges dismissed will be required to pay all the tolls and penalties they owe in order to have their car or truck registrations reinstated.
The deadbeats do have limited rights.
Before their registration suspensions takes effect, the holder of the registration may request a hearing before a DMV administrative law judge. If such a hearing is requested, the suspension won't take effect until the hearing is concluded.
Of course, if a scofflaw continues to ignore the notices and fails to request a hearing, his or her vehicle registration suspension will take effect as declared by the DMV. And the suspension will remain in effect until the tolling authority in question notifies the DMV that the owner has paid the outstanding tolls, fees, and other charges.
Together, all the agencies with tolling authority in the state, including the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Bridges and Tunnels as well as the New York State Thruway Authority, report that they lose about $16.5 million annually because of unpaid tolls.
Here's the kicker: Over an 18-month period, these agencies tallied some 35,000 cases in which violators racked up five or more unpaid toll violations, even though separate notices of violations were sent out for each individual violation. Of course, the deadbeats simply ignore them.
And until now, they could do that and get away with it for a remarkably long time without suffering any consequences.
Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye, whose agency controls Staten Island's three New Jersey bridges, said, "The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey applauds the significant penalty that Governor Cuomo's new regulation imposes, offering toll authorities another sanction to force toll deadbeats to pay up. It is simply unfair to the majority of law-abiding drivers who pay their tolls that some individuals consistently seek to flout the law. The potential suspension of their registrations should make toll cheats think twice."
And MTA Bridges and Tunnels Acting President Donald Spero said, "When scofflaws fail to pay their tolls, everyone else is forced to cover their share of the cost of maintaining and improving our seven bridges and two tunnels. Adopting this new regulation is good news for MTA Bridges and Tunnels and for the 800,000 vehicles that use our facilities on an average weekday. As we explore the expansion of all-electronic tolling, this regulation will ensure we can move traffic safely, quickly and efficiently while everyone pays their fair share."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who had announced his intention to get tough on toll cheats last year and is now following through, said, "We are sending a clear message that New York State will not tolerate toll violators. For far too long, these scofflaws have skirted their responsibility of helping maintain the state's transportation network and placed the burden on the backs of law-abiding motorists. With this regulation adopted, we can now ensure that those who travel in New York State pay their fair share."
Hear! Hear! Some of those who have gamed the system and skipped paying tolls will try to justify their law-breaking as some sort of rogue protest against high tolls. And some ordinary folks may sympathize.
We get the idea, but as these officials point out, it's those ordinary folks who are forced pick up the tab for those who are only too willing to sponge off law-abiding drivers — to the tune of $16.5 million over the past year and a half.
The only statement the deadbeats make is that they are shameless cheats.
It's about time officials figured out this obvious way of making them pay up.
So, how come it took them so long?
The Jamestown Post-Journal on making college more affordable.
Federal student loan and grant programs have not made college more affordable. They have merely provided billions of dollars in taxpayer money to help pay for it.
President Barack Obama wants to add $2 billion a year to that price tag by expanding the Pell Grant program. Congress should say no.
Pell grants already provide $29 billion a year in assistance to college students, with few, if any, strings attached to prod higher education to hold down costs.
Incredibly, part of Obama's idea is to pay grant recipients $300 to reward them if they take 15 or more credits' worth of work in a semester. Why not insist on that as a requirement for any assistance, unless special circumstances are involved?
Making college more affordable is a laudable, vital goal — but Obama's proposal would not do it.
Last summer, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan suggested the government should be paying more attention to whether students are getting their money's worth at colleges and universities. Federal aid involving higher education should focus "on whether students are actually graduating in a timely way with a meaningful degree," he explained.
Apparently Obama and liberals in Congress were not listening. Duncan may well have had ideas such as the president's in mind when he suggested that current higher education policy is "merely finding better ways of paying for an unsustainable status quo."
The Gloversville Leader-Herald on whether or not Iran can be trusted.
President Barack Obama wants us to believe anti-American Iranian officials are our friends, now. They can be trusted, he insists.
Iran has released four Americans held captive for years, in exchange for the United States turning over seven Iranians accused of various misdeeds.
Robert Levinson was not among the Americans set free. He is the FBI agent, allegedly on a mission for the CIA, who disappeared in Iran in 2007.
During the past nine years, there has been a substantial amount of discussion about Levinson between the two countries.
Now they say they didn't turn Levinson over because they don't have him. In fact, they don't know where he is, the Iranians claim.
And we're supposed to believe and trust these people?
The Wall Street Journal on U.S. companies going overseas to stay competitive.
Here we go again. A major U.S. company merges with a foreign firm in part to avoid America's punishing corporate tax code, and the politicians who refuse to reform the code denounce the company for trying to stay competitive. The gullible in the media then dutifully play along. Sigh.
Let's try to explain one more time why it makes perfect business — and moral — sense for Johnson Controls to merge with Tyco, as it announced Monday it would do. Tyco has a U.S. headquarters in New Jersey but is legally domiciled in Cork, Ireland. Johnson Controls will own roughly 56 percent of the combined company and its legal headquarters will move to Cork from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where it has been based for more than a century.
To simplify for Democratic presidential candidates: The U.S. federal corporate income tax rate is 35 percent. The Irish rate is 12.5 percent. Johnson Controls says the tax savings from its move to Cork will be roughly $150 million a year.
A CEO obliged to act in the best interests of shareholders cannot ignore this competitive reality. The merger means that Johnson Controls will have more money to invest back in the U.S. because the income it earns overseas would not be subject to the U.S. tax rate. Only if Johnson kept its headquarters in the U.S. would its foreign earnings be double-taxed upon repatriation. If Johnson Controls refuses to do such a deal now, a foreign competitor might end up buying Johnson Controls anyway to achieve the same savings.
As with other such tax "inversions," there are also non-tax strategic reasons for the merger. The new company will have under one roof much of the equipment and services desired by the owners of large commercial buildings, from air conditioning to fire suppression.
But none of this business logic impresses Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, who helped to write the U.S. tax code as Senators but are now competing as presidential candidates to see who can demagogue more ferociously against American employers. Clinton called the merger "outrageous" and Sanders is calling the executives "corporate deserters."
Neither one wants to reform the tax code to make U.S. tax rates more competitive with the rest of the world. Instead they want to raise the costs of doing business even further. Clinton's solution is to raise taxes on investors with higher capital-gains taxes, block inversion deals, and apply an "exit tax" to businesses that manage to escape.
Sanders would go further and perform an immediate $620 billion cashectomy on U.S. companies. The Vermonter would tax the money U.S. firms have earned overseas, even though that income has already been taxed in foreign jurisdictions and even if the companies aren't bringing it into the U.S.
Sanders's campaign website says that after the big revenue grab in year one, his change would increase federal revenue by perhaps $90 billion a year thereafter. And he would limit future corporate inversions by taxing many inverting companies as if they never left. His revenue goal is a fantasy, because the practical effect would be to encourage many more companies to flee American shores.
Never mind the lost tax revenue, this kind of punishing tax policy is immoral. Multinational corporations with global customers can always relocate to wherever it makes the most business sense. Their American employees aren't so lucky because their livelihoods depend on thriving and competitive U.S. companies. If the employees can't move, or their companies can't compete, they're the ones who lose their jobs or don't get raises. Has the Democratic Party moved so far left that it doesn't understand even this most basic of business realities?