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A sampling of editorials from around New York

Associated Press Updated: January 14, 2015 at 9:16 am

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The Poughkeepsie Journal on the New York State Thruway Authority.

Jan. 12

The only ones who seem shocked at the complete mess at the New York State Thruway Authority are those associated with the authority.

The public, good-government groups and the media have pointed to profound problems, so the "abrupt" resignation of two top officials — Executive Director Tom Madison and Chief Financial Officer John Bryan — should not have been a surprise.

After all, it came after the Thruway's board passed a budget with a deficit. It came after continued queries about the funding of the massive Tappan Zee Bridge project. It came after repeated and unanswered questions about whether the authority would raise tolls — and by how much. And it came after a series of confused meetings that clearly demonstrated those running the authority haven't got a clue.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo just announced he has appointed his budget director, Bob Megna, to acting executive director of the Thruway Authority.

The authority has a big job, overseeing the state's 570-mile superhighway, as well as the Tappan Zee Bridge in the Lower Hudson Valley.

And, since more than 95 percent of the Thruway's revenue comes from tolls, it's a no-brainer that an increase in some form is on the way. But, like those responsible for any massive quasi-public entity — including the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — Thruway officials ought to first demonstrate they are cutting costs, consolidating services and taking other actions that could mitigate the need for more revenue.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other state lawmakers have a pivotal role here, having long ignored dramatic reforms that would make authorities far more accountable and transparent in their actions. Regarding the Thruway Authority, specific suggestions have been offered for years. They include spinning off the canal system from the Thruway Authority to streamline operations and ordering toll agencies and the Department of Motor Vehicles to suspend vehicle registrations for people who aren't paying their toll bills. In December, the authority passed a $1.7 billion budget that had a revenue shortfall of $25 million. And that is nothing compared to the challenges it faces regarding the construction of a new Tappan Zee Bridge, which has a $3.9 billion price tag, though the state hasn't spelled out how all of it will be paid for.

Two years ago, Thruway officials suggested a humongous 45 percent toll hike on most trucks using the superhighway, but it ended up pulling back on that crazy notion after calling a string of meetings, some of which were canceled at the last moment.

The public needs confidence the authority can operate in a far more stable way. The road back to that goal is a long way off, for certain.



The Post-Standard of Syracuse on raising the minimum wage for workers who receive tips.

Jan. 11

More than a million New Yorkers got a boost in their paychecks on Jan. 1 when the minimum wage went up.

But for another 230,000 people who depend on tips for part of their earnings, there was no boost. The folks who serve meals in restaurants, pour drinks in bars and clean hotel rooms earn a minimum of $5 per hour, $5.65 for housekeepers. They're expected to make up with the rest in tips.

On Thursday, after listening to workers and employers across the state, the state's wage board looked at the minimum wage for those who depend on tipped income. Board members discussed raising the rate to $7 per hour but did not make a recommendation. We think a hike is in order and call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo, through his labor commissioner, to make it so.

Tips are meant "to insure prompt service." Instead, they've become a way for employers to skimp on paying wages. Customers shouldn't have to subsidize employer payrolls through tips.

Restaurants and bars pay workers a minimum of $5 per hour and workers are expected to earn enough tips to bring that amount up to the minimum wage of $8.75. Sounds easy enough, except at this time of year when cold winter nights keep patrons at home or a customer stiffs the wait staff on the tip.

Workers told the wage board that some employers don't make up the gap between $5 and the standard minimum wage, even though they're required by law to do so. And some take a percentage of the workers' tips, even though that's illegal too.

People who depend on tips work at the lowest end of the job scale, often at more than one job. The Syracuse Metropolitan Statistical Area had 4,480 people who worked as wait staff earning an annual mean wage of $19,660 in 2013, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's less than $500 a week to rent an apartment, cover transportation to and from work, pay the bills and put food on the table.

Tipped workers haven't gotten a raise since 2011, when the minimum wage for them went from $4.65 an hour to $5 an hour.

Employers told the board that raising workers' hourly pay would cut into profits, cause them to lay off workers and hike prices. We hear those complaints anytime a minimum wage increase is proposed.

Governor, it's time to hike the minimum wage for New York's tipped workers, and for the rest of us to remember to tip the hardworking people who serve us.



The New York Daily News on the march held in Paris in response to the terror attacks.

Jan. 11

Displaying powerful symbolic unity, in fitting and proper testament to the defense of civilization, more than 40 world leaders linked arms to lead the mass march in Paris in resolve against Islamist terror.

The United States of America, Barack Obama, President, was inexcusably absent from one of the most critical turning points in the war between radical Islam and the West since 9/11.

No Obama. No Joe Biden. No John Kerry from State. No Chuck Hagel or Ashton Carter from Defense. Not even Eric Holder from Justice, who happened to have been in Paris.

Yet there was British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Jordan's King Abdullah and so many others — most extraordinarily including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

All linked arms with French President Francoise Hollande, leader of the country where terrorists killed 17 in a deliberate attack on democratic values, leader of one of America's most stalwart allies in the war on terror.

Still worse, Obama's abdication of leadership reflects a larger presidential failure to convey the gravity of the Charlie Hebdo attack, even if the substance of his anti-terror policy remains strong.

On Friday, shortly after the assault reached its fatal climax, Obama appeared at a campaign-style rally in Tennessee to tout economic good news. He opened with happy talk, then devoted 310 perfunctory words to the events in Paris. Two hours later, he delivered more happy talk at a second Tennessee rally.

On Saturday, he opened his weekly radio address: "Hi, everybody. About a year ago, I promised that 2014 would be a breakthrough year for America. And this week, we got more evidence to back that up."

Bypassing Paris, the President closed, "Thanks, everybody, and have a great weekend."

Not in Paris. Not in the U.S. Not in the world under siege.



The Times Union of Albany on the president's proposal to offer free community college education.

President Barack Obama's proposal to make community college free to all is a well-intentioned idea. But you don't need a political science degree to know it could go wrong.

The president wants the federal government to invest $60 billion over the next 10 years to cover 75 percent of the tuition for community college students. States would pay another $20 billion. To qualify, students would have to attend at least half time, maintain a C-plus grade point average and make steady progress toward their degree.

For schools to qualify, academic credits would have to be fully transferable to local public four-year colleges and universities, or they would have to be occupational training programs in areas of high demand among employers. Colleges would have to implement programs to improve student outcomes, such as offering help to pay for books and commuting, enhancing academic advising and flexible scheduling.

Expanding free public education for two years beyond high school could have a number of benefits. It could help high school graduates enter into a more focused course of study toward a career, making them more ready for the job market. It could give others a way to earn two year's worth of credits toward a bachelor's degree, cutting in half the debt many face after a full stint at a four-year school. And it could help more students obtain a college degree, raising the overall quality of the American work force and the future standard of living for these graduates.

But it has to be done right.

We can't view community colleges as the new 13th and 14th grades, two extra years for students and the public education system to attain what should be accomplished in 12. Too many students are already entering college unprepared and needing remedial help. The problems in elementary and secondary education still have to be dealt with, from early preparedness to better targeting school aid where the needs are greatest.

This should also not be an excuse for community colleges to inflate tuition or lard up their administrations. This new spending must benefit the people it's intended for: students.

And while the program would require states to continue existing investments in higher education, it should mandate more — that those investments continue to grow as they otherwise would over time. A bad example can be found right here in New York, where the state promised to "maintain" its commitment to SUNY when it initiated a program of regular tuition increases. What actually happened was that state funding stagnated and students now pay a greater share of SUNY's cost.

None of this is to say that Republicans who control Congress should treat this the way they have handled most of Mr. Obama's middle class initiatives - that is, dead on arrival. This program could help give millions of Americans a better shot at the American dream. All we're saying is go for the dream with eyes wide open.



Newsday on security at the nation's airports.

Jan. 8

The arrests of five men accused of flying loaded guns into New York City has revealed a gaping hole in the nation's airport security that is breathtaking in its utter simplicity and catastrophic potential. It must be plugged.

The massacre of 12 journalists and police by heavily armed terrorists in Paris Wednesday underscores the urgency of staying a step ahead of bloodthirsty extremists.

Officials allege that the key player in the gunrunning scheme was a baggage handler at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. He allegedly was able to simply walk into the secure area of the airport with guns in a backpack and hand them off to an accomplice, a passenger who had cleared security and was waiting to board a flight. Detectives bought 153 guns they say were carried to New York City on 17 flights in 2014 alone.

Airport employees who work in or have access to areas behind security checkpoints, like those who load bags or clean planes, often are not physically screened when they report to work. Pilots and flight crews are required to pass through metal detectors. Airport employees should be, too, unless officials come up with a more effective plan.

The suspected gunrunners busted last month were apparently just garden-variety bad guys, perhaps looking to avoid the long drive North or to beat rivals by providing same-day delivery on selected firearms. But the ease with which terrorists could use the same approach to smuggle guns or bombs onto planes is frightening and intolerable.

Individual airports, in conjunction with the Transportation Security Administration, develop their security plans to fit their layout, number of entrances and other unique features. The TSA requires that job applicants pass background checks. And once people are on the job, the TSA runs periodic security checks -- for instance, to ensure a worker hasn't been added to terrorist watch lists.

But very few airports use metal detectors to screen all workers daily, said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). Together with Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, he has asked the TSA to mandate that screenings be included in security plans at airports nationwide.

It's a simple fix for a lapse in security that could be deadly.



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