ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The Times Union of Albany on part-time elected officials exploiting New York's pension system.
How would you like to earn a pension while getting your hair cut, playing golf or going to a cocktail party? Sounds sweet? Well, run for public office.
Those are some of the presumably vital public activities that Albany County legislators had the gall to list in their time sheets in order to amass enough hours to qualify for pension credits.
What a scam.
Standing out in a pretty shameful crowd was the Legislature's chairman, Shawn Morse, who went so far as to earn two pensions simultaneously, a Times Union reporter found in a review of time sheets. Mr. Morse booked hours in his part-time county post while he was on duty as a full-time Cohoes firefighter. That's not allowed by the state pension system, even if he was doing county business during his downtime in a firehouse.
But don't just single out one lawmaker or one county legislature. This is a problem all across New York at every level of government: politicians feathering their personal nests at taxpayer expense.
The issue isn't just the rank cheating that goes on as lawmakers stretch the meaning of work in order to qualify for pension credits. The issue is also whether such part-time elected posts should even been treated like government jobs at all.
Elected officials in New York state can qualify for state pensions if they work at their office full time, which in local governments across the state is defined as 30 hours — the minimum allowed — under resolutions passed annually by — you guessed it — the very town and county legislative bodies that benefit from this definition of full-time employment.
The state requires officials to provide, once every eight years, a three-month sample of their time to prove they meet that threshold. And lo and behold, many do — some by plugging in activities that really have no government purpose, and whose main purpose is to keep the politician elected — fundraising, speaking to community groups, or just showing up, which, for better or worse, could easily be the entire job description of some lawmakers.
We need strong watchdogging by the state comptroller's office over these officials, to be sure, to catch the cheating. But what New York's long-suffering taxpayers need perhaps even more is a re-examination of who qualifies for a state pension and who doesn't. Perhaps they're appropriate for full-time mayors and supervisors and highway superintendents, most of whom likely put in a full week, week in and week out. But what justification is there at all for public pensions for part-time legislators — village, town, city, county, and, yes, state. Perhaps state legislators most of all.
It's state lawmakers, remember, who make the big decisions on the state's costly retirement system. How can we expect them to take what needs to be a compassionate but hard look at the system and make sensible decisions about it, when lawmakers themselves stand to gain or lose by those very decisions?
We elect people to local, county and state legislative bodies to represent and govern, not to become part of the bureaucracy. Ending pensions for these representatives would be a step toward focusing them more on the public's interest and less on their own.
The Middletown Times Herald-Record on campaign finance reform and investigating government corruption in New York.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, except when it comes to preventing corruption in Albany.
That's what you need to know about the Moreland Commission, that posse of prosecutors Gov. Andrew Cuomo is about to unleash to cure abuses that have landed so many legislators in jail.
After talking for several years about preventing the kinds of behavior that results when too much money chases too many votes, the governor increased the pressure as the most recent legislative session came to a close.
Either pass a package of laws to reform the relationship between money and politics — that would be the approach most similar to prevention — or he would use one of the powers that a governor has and start investigating just who collected what from whom and for what purpose. That would be the approach more similar to seeking a cure after the body politic has been infected.
Assembly Democrats were fine with letting candidates use more public money to run for office and diminish the role of private contributions, especially from political action committees and businesses. There are those who say that this is more about Democrats getting their hands on more taxpayer money than it is about having clean elections. They have a point.
Senate Republicans are opposed to expanding the use of public money in elections, money that they said would be better used for other purposes. There are those who say that Republicans feel this way because they are afraid of losing the advantage they have with their appeal to wealthy donors. They, too, have a point.
When legislators called his bluff, the governor had no choice. Now, investigations will be launched, press conferences will be held, perps will take walks and trials might eventually land a few careless and greedy legislators in jail with the others who have come before them.
For all of the good that the commission will do in putting more resources into the investigation of real criminal activity, it will fall far short of the alternative, reducing the influence of money in elections.
Because the legislators make the laws, much of what they do is legal even though it should not be. That was the problem that federal prosecutors ran into when they tried to charge Joe Bruno, the powerful leader of the Senate Republican majority, with crimes. It turned out that what most people might consider criminal was legal in New York if you did it a certain way. And Bruno, who was one of three people who decided what went into the laws and what did not, knew how to avoid going over those legal lines.
The Moreland Commission will have a hard time bringing indictments or getting convictions for behavior that betrays a very cozy, but not illegal, relationship between money and legislation. That's something that true campaign finance reform could address.
Until reform gets majority support, fans of good and clean government will have to rely on revenge. Senate Republicans say if the governor is going to investigate them, they will start investigating him. With all those investigations going on, somebody is bound to find something.
Newsday on immigration reform and the need for leadership from House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner.
The immigration battle has shifted to the House of Representatives, giving Republicans a chance to wrest control of their party away from its uncompromising right wing. They should seize the moment. Unless they do, reform will be doomed, and the nation could remain saddled with a mess of an immigration system for decades to come.
That would be an important opportunity lost for some traditional GOP interest groups, including defense contractors, farmers, tech companies, retailers and employers generally, which stand to gain from reforms that would meet their workforce needs and strengthen the nation's economy. Those interests should press House Republicans to embrace pragmatism, compromise and progress on immigration.
House Republicans are united against a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally, at least unless the border is first sealed impossibly tight. Their security-only approach will be difficult to reconcile with the plan the Senate passed last month, calling not just for unprecedented fortification of the border, but also new and expanded visas and an arduous path to citizenship. That's the kind of broad fix the broken system needs.
It's been 27 years since Congress last passed legislation reforming immigration. Millions of immigrants got legal status, but the border was never adequately secured. That must not happen again.
But it could be decades more before the nation gets this close to reform again if Speaker John Boehner keeps his pledge to abide by the "Hastert rule," which means refusing to bring any bill to the floor that isn't supported by a majority of House Republicans. No comprehensive reform will pass that test. Too many House Republicans represent deeply red districts where immigration is unpopular, and where they would risk a primary challenge from the right if they voted for broad reform.
But that focus on 2014 puts them at odds with Republicans who believe the party's opposition to immigration reform prompted seven in 10 Latino voters to cast ballots for Barack Obama in 2012, and could cost Republicans the White House again in 2016.
For the nation to have any chance of getting an immigration system that works, Boehner will have to walk away from the Hastert rule — named for former Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert — and allow an opportunity for a bipartisan majority to coalesce.
Those GOP interests that stand to profit from reform that creates or expands visas important to their industries should nudge Boehner in that direction. That's the only way they will get access to an increased supply of employees with advanced degrees in science, math, technology and engineering; and employees with extraordinary abilities, such as professors or researchers or multinational executives. Reform would also ensure an adequate supply of farm workers and make sure the nation stops turning away job-creating entrepreneurs. And defense contractors have to be drooling over the possibility of billions of dollars in new spending for helicopters, drones, motion sensors and other technology that the Senate bill mandates to secure the border.
Abandoning his Hastert rule pledge could cost Boehner the speaker's gavel. That's a lot to sacrifice. But being the leader is meaningless if no one is following and none of the nation's important business gets done.
The Plattsburgh Press-Republican on Food Network star Paula Deen's downfall since admitting she used a racial slur.
Every now and then, something happens in the world outside politics that defines the sharp divide that exists in this nation. The Paula Deen debacle is one of them.
It came to light recently that Deen used the N-word in her past, prompting a controversy that ended in her forced separation from just about everything that had made her a kitchen icon. She lost her show on the Food Network and lucrative deals with Target, Home Depot and diabetes drug maker Novo Nordisk, among others.
Her use of the racial slur emerged during a lawsuit filed against her.
To some people, it seems as if her penalty is too harsh for something that, decades ago when the slur admittedly occurred, was far too common as a form of behavior, particularly in the South. She is from Savannah, Ga.
To many people, though, the idea of anyone using that kind of language is reprehensible. It should be no surprise to anyone that use of the N-word is considered, by people of all races, to be a great affront. It has been for many decades now.
A full-scale battle is on between those who now demonize Deen and those who still adore her. Boycotts have been undertaken against Food Network and others who have cut ties with the cooking queen, and orders for her new cookbook are soaring.
At this newspaper, we have seen elements of the fray. Some readers wonder, for example, why the N-word is seen any differently across America from age-old slurs against other groups: Italians, Irish, Puerto Rican, Jewish . practically any group, in one way or another.
"I just accept that, as an Irishman, I'm going to be called names associated with my ancestry," one man said. "I don't take particular offense against it, and I don't expect anyone to feel sheepish about it."
However, there is a big difference between use of the N-word and just about all other insulting terms linked to national origin or religion. Few groups have undergone the long-term, repeated assaults and hatred that African-Americans have in this country — starting with brutal capture, importation, sale and exploitation in slavery.
The N-word, alone among them all, remains a hateful insult that, when used, immediately brands the user as a thoughtless, insensitive boor — and possibly a racist.
One measure of how reprehensible its use is considered is the reaction of corporate America to Deen's admission of past use. How could anyone use it while knowing that it creates such a deep wound?
Deen has certainly tried her best to make amends, but it's hard not to feel that her frantic apologies are compromised somewhat by the matter of her lost fortune.
Most of us just shake our heads when reflecting on anyone using racially offensive language. Those people certainly deserve censure. It is up to society to judge whether they also deserve forgiveness.
The Jamestown Post-Journal on President Barack Obama, coal and federal energy regulations.
President Barack Obama is intelligent enough to understand what his declaration of war on the coal industry will mean to tens of millions of Americans. For them, climate change will be among the least of their worries.
Obama actually has been waging war on coal for much of his term in office. Yet he and his defenders bristle at use of the term.
Even that pretense ended this week. On Tuesday, Obama announced he will assume power traditionally reserved for Congress to battle global warming. A reporter asked Daniel Schrag, a member of the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, about Obama's plan.
"The one thing the president really needs to do now is to begin the process of shutting down the conventional coal (power) plants," Schrag responded. He added that "politically, the White House is hesitant to say they're having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what's needed."
So there you have it. Radical environmentalists — with Obama leading them — have declared war on the coal industry.
Though specific regulations the White House plans to use have not been released, the strategy is clear from Obama's remarks in the past. Remember his pledge to make coal-fired power plants so expensive no one could afford them?
Now the president plans to do just that. He wants to shut down all coal-fired power plants.
Electric generating capacity handled now by coal will have to be replaced. Only one practical means of doing that exists. It is construction of scores, perhaps hundreds, of new generating stations fueled by natural gas.
For now, Obama is able to claim that will be a bargain for utility customers. Advances in well drilling technology have brought gas prices down.
But gas prices already are starting back up: According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, industries paid an average of $3.71 per thousand cubic feet of gas in March 2012. By this March, the rate had gone up to $4.58.
A vast increase in demand for gas caused by construction of new power plants using it will send prices skyrocketing.
Regions relying on the coal industry will become economic disaster areas. Tens of millions of Americans will pay much more for electricity.
Tens of thousands of businesses and industries providing good jobs will suffer.
Obama is intelligent enough to understand that. But he has made it clear he plans to plow forward in his war on coal.
Obviously, the president simply doesn't care about the casualties.