When it comes to pay raises, our state legislators just want more money. The people, though, want corruption in Albany stopped. That cleanup has to start with a ban on almost all outside income for Assembly and Senate members. And strict limits are needed on extra stipends, called "lulus," which leaders hand out in exchange for unquestioning loyalty under the guise of greater workloads.
With the state compensation commission expected to wrap up its work this week, lawmakers could get the money they want without the people of New York getting the ethics reforms they deserve. That should not be allowed to happen. But the word is that it could, if at least three of the four commissioners agree on a raise despite Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins pointedly refusing to guarantee reforms.
Here's what's fair:
• A strict limit on outside sources of earned income that both puts a hard cap on such earnings and limits the type of work legislators can do to tasks like teaching and writing. The raise should kick in only when the ban goes into place.
• A vast curtailing of lulus, currently received by about three-quarters of legislators, to just the few true leadership positions.
• An end to the loopholes on political contributions that let donors use shell corporations to kick in unlimited amounts of cash.
There is a clear method in state law for legislators to increase their own salaries and those of other top state officials. All they have to do is vote for it publicly and get the governor to agree. They demanded the creation of this commission specifically to evade that law and get pay hikes — without voting on the record and without passing reforms.
— Newsday, Long Island
It's hard not to be a bit nostalgic in marking the death of President George H.W. Bush. While we didn't agree with many of his policies — nor did a majority of voters, as he discovered in his failed bid for a second term — that does not detract from our appreciation of a man whose public life was one of long and exemplary service and principled leadership.
After attending Yale and earning a fortune in the oil business, he would return to public service as a congressman, ambassador to the United Nations and China, CIA director, vice president in President Ronald Reagan's administration, and finally president himself.
That long record of service — and the understanding it brought of the realities of war and complexities of foreign relations — doubtless informed his decisions as commander in chief during the 1990-91 Gulf War. Aware of U.S. military might but also mindful that America cannot go it alone, he led a coalition of 35 nations against Iraq in response to its invasion of Kuwait — and subdued Iraq in just 100 hours. Against many critics who wanted him to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, though, he chose not to press into Baghdad. His restraint, regrettably, did not result in a sustained peace, and his mishandling of the war's aftermath set the stage for conflicts in Iraq and the broader Middle East that continue to this day.
His presidency also marked one of the most politically perilous but intelligent policy reversals in memory — from his declaration as a candidate, "Read my lips: No new taxes," to his acceptance of reality as a president who inherited Mr. Reagan's deficits. His decision to raise taxes, along with a booming economy in the 1990s under President Bill Clinton, set the stage for federal surpluses and even federal debt reduction.
And it was no small thing that, as a former Republican president, he stood up to the National Rifle Association, whose pandering to anti-government paranoiacs and conspiracy theorists sank to new lows in a fundraising letter calling federal agents "armed terrorists" and "jack-booted thugs" out to "kill law-abiding citizens."
If a theme runs through Mr. Bush's life, it's his willingness to put country and principle ahead of party and his own political survival. That sort of sacrifice doesn't come around often. And can't come again too soon.
— The Times Union, Albany
State Sen. Michael Gianaris, D-Queens, recently told the Buffalo News that Senate Democrats are "committed to breaking the Albany mold" and plan to be "sensitive to regional needs" when they take control of the state Senate in January.
If that's really true, then Democrats in the Senate and Assembly will pass the School Bus Camera Safety Act. The legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, has passed the state Senate for the past several years only to expire in the state Assembly. The measure would allow school districts and school bus companies to install automated cameras to detect and capture images of vehicles that pass stopped school buses so that lawbreakers can be ticketed and fined. In states where the technology is already in use, reports indicate that the cameras reduce the incidence of these violations between 30 to 50 percent.
In early November, there were several deaths and injuries of young children in four states over a three-day span. At least three of the cases involved reckless drivers who illegally passed the buses that had stopped to pick up the students. In their desire to avoid waiting a few seconds, those drivers caused catastrophe, injury and death.
"No parent should have to endure such a loss or even worry that the simple act of taking the bus to school could be so dangerous," Young said in a news release. "Yet, statistics tell us that our children are at risk. Here in New York upwards of 50,000 cars each day illegally pass stopped school buses, endangering countless children in the process."
If Gianaris is serious about breaking the old Albany mold, the School Bus Camera Safety Act is a good place to start.
— The Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Saranac Lake