ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The Times Union of Albany on children living in poverty in upstate New York.
You can shrug off the fact that more than half the children in Schenectady and more than a third of the kids in Albany live in poverty as just another symptom of the Great Recession, one that will surely improve when the economy does.
That would be a mistake.
Poverty has a staying quality that can stretch across generations, something New York's leaders need to remember as they make decisions now about how they spend money, or don't. The decisions will bear not only on the poor, but on state government and taxpayers who foot the bills for health, food and other programs for the poor.
The latest poverty statistics reveal some of the worst numbers in decades. Nationally, poverty had been on the decline since 1959, when it stood at 22.4 percent nationally. It was down to 11.3 percent by 2000, but has been creeping up since, reaching around 15 percent the last two years.
The child poverty figures in some parts of the Capitol Region are even more alarming: 50.8 percent in Schenectady, 40.9 percent in Troy and 37 percent in Albany, according to the federal American Community Survey.
To be sure, the poverty rate nationally has reached these levels twice in the last half-century, in 1983 and 1993. This time, though, many economists speculate it will last longer because of a slow jobs recovery, unemployment benefits running out and possible cuts in programs like food stamps, Medicaid and welfare.
While there isn't one simple solution, one area in which state government could do more than just help people survive is to better educate them. Not surprisingly, unemployment is highest among people who didn't finish high school — 11.3 percent. It drops steadily the more education one has — to 8.7 percent for high school graduates, 6.5 percent for people with associate's degrees, and 4.1 percent for those with a bachelor's degree or higher.
Getting a young person to stick out high school and go college requires, yes, a value on education at home, but it also takes quality schools and children who start school ready to learn. On those counts, New York has had a mixed record. While the state has required school districts to implement tougher teacher performance reviews to improve the work force and remove bad teachers, it has also imposed a 2 percent cap on local property tax levies and scaled back state aid. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature also have yet to relieve schools of the costs of unfunded state mandates requirements in any significant way.
The state has also cut back on funding for one of the best anti-poverty programs — pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. Experts say these programs most benefit low-income children. But with funding down since 2008, schools are cutting back on early education programs even as the number of children in need of them grows.
And now Mr. Cuomo is signaling his intent to hold state budget growth to 2 percent or less next. But what does that mean for education — the best ticket out of poverty that kids have? He and lawmakers need to begin talking about that as the budget begins taking shape this fall.
Here's a test for the governor and lawmakers: When you boast next year about what a great budget you've passed, will you be as proud to tell it to a poor kid in Schenectady or Albany or Troy as to a group of Wall Street executives at a fundraiser in the Hamptons?
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle on New York's low-ranking business and tax climates.
A national report last week that found New York's business climate to be the worst in the nation rightly focuses attention on the state's array of business-discouraging taxes. While the report doesn't reflect recent efforts by the Cuomo administration to improve the conditions for fostering corporate investment in the Empire State, it identifies a persistent problem.
To boost the state's ability to attract and retain businesses — and reverse the perception that New York is business averse — Gov. Andrew Cuomo will need to continue more forcefully down the path of tax relief and regulatory reform.
The need to improve business conditions in the state is not lost on Cuomo, who has made some progress on the issue. His first six months saw passage of a statewide 2-percent property tax cap and establishment of 10 Regional Economic Development Councils, which last year divvied up some $785 million for local economic development projects. In December, Cuomo and the Legislature approved a modified tax code.
But such efforts have failed to brighten the state's overall economic climate, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation. The widely respected think tank ranked New York dead last among the 50 states in terms of cumulative tax burden on businesses — property, sales, income, unemployment-insurance and corporate income taxes.
Cuomo officials carped about the foundation's methodology, but the fact remains: There is much to be done to improve New York's business and tax climates.
Whether by coincidence or in response to the report, Cuomo's office last week announced members of a state tax panel would finally be named. The 13-member commission, which was first mentioned by the governor last December, is to suggest reforms to the state's tax structure.
That's a start, and tax reform is needed, but so too was mandate relief, and a much-ballyhooed Mandate Relief Council's report resulted in no action.
In fact, mandate relief — the second part of the economic one-two punch led off by the tax cap — should be high on the governor's economic development list. From Medicaid reimbursements to changes in union arbitration and prevailing wage laws, this is the area where lawmakers can make the biggest impact on state taxes. They must act.
New York has labored for too long under business-killing taxes. Albany has reversed the perception that it cannot function. Now it must demonstrate that New York can function without high taxes.
The New York Times on the vagueness and unrealistic expectations of Mitt Romney's tax proposals.
To the annoyance of the Romney campaign, members of Washington's reality-based community have a habit of popping up to point out the many deceptions in the campaign's blue-sky promises of low taxes and instant growth. The latest is the Joint Committee on Taxation, an obscure but well-respected Congressional panel — currently evenly divided between the parties — that helps lawmakers calculate the effect of their tax plans.
Last month, the committee asked its staff what would happen if Congress repealed the biggest tax deductions and loopholes and used the new revenue to lower tax rates. The staff started adding it up: end all itemized deductions, tax capital gains and dividends as ordinary income, and tax the interest on state and local bonds, along with several other revenue-raisers.
The answer came last week: ending all those deductions would only produce enough revenue to lower tax rates by 4 percent.
Mitt Romney says he can lower tax rates by 20 percent and pay for it by ending deductions. The joint committee's math makes it clear that that is impossible.
The analysis doesn't include every possible tax expenditure, leaving out, for example, the tax break employers get for providing health insurance. But because Mr. Romney refuses to raise capital gains taxes and wants to end the estate tax, it is hard to see how he could do much better than 4 percent.
This is why Mr. Romney has refused to say which deductions he would eliminate, just as Representative Paul Ryan refused when asked a direct question in last week's debate. Specify a deduction, and some pest with a calculator will point out that it doesn't add up.
Even Fox News isn't buying it. Ed Gillespie, a senior adviser to the Romney campaign, said on Fox News Sunday that Mr. Romney would work out those details later with Congress. As the program's moderator, Chris Wallace, pointed out, that's like offering voters the candy of a 20 percent tax cut without mentioning the spinach they will have to eat.
The Romney campaign claims it has six studies proving it can be done, but, on examination, none of the studies actually make that point, or counterbalance the nonpartisan analyses that use real math. Two of the studies, for example, were done by the same Republican economist, Martin Feldstein, an adviser to the Romney campaign, who said it would require ending all deductions for everyone making $100,000 or more. But Mr. Romney has explicitly said he would not do that.
It is increasingly clear that the Romney tax "plan" is not really a plan at all but is instead simply a rhapsody based on old Republican themes that something can be had for nothing. For middle-class taxpayers without the benefit of expensive accountants, the bill always comes due a few years later.
The Kingston Daily Freeman on the Supreme Court and affirmative action.
Back in 1978, when Jimmy Carter was president and light-hitting New York Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent was entering the tortured history of the Boston Red Sox with a bloop home run, the U.S. Supreme Court took up the issue of affirmative action.
In the case of University of California Regents v. Bakke, the Supreme Court ruled race could be used as a preferential factor in university admissions.
But it was a split and complicated decision. In what should have been a warning to all involved, the court also ordered that Allan Bakke be admitted, in part because the university couldn't prove he hadn't been illegally excluded by a quota system.
The court has been forced over the years to revisit and redefine its guidelines for what is and what is not permissible, preferential treatment.
In the most recent major case, decided in 2003, the Supreme Court again narrowly upheld the federal constitutionality of affirmative action programs. The court said universities could use race as a factor in admissions to achieve diversity, but could not make that factor dominant in any given decision.
Good luck threading that needle.
Unsurprisingly, then, the issue is back before the Supreme Court this term.
The current case has been brought by Abigail Fisher, a 22-year-old, white Texan who contends she was discriminated against when the University of Texas did not offer her admission in 2008. She claims she was excluded by virtue of a racial diversity program that offered admission to 216 students in a class of more than 6,600.
This time, court observers believe, there is a good chance the court may reverse altogether the unsteadily supportive course of the last 34 years.
So what's changed?
The simplest answer is the court.
Sandra Day O'Connor, who wrote the 2003 opinion, retired and was replaced by Samuel Alito, who has signaled his skepticism, if not outright hostility, to affirmative action.
So much for the rule of precedent, to which all judicial nominees, including Alito, routinely swear fealty during confirmation hearings.
It's an open question whether American society also has changed sufficiently to no longer need — or tolerate — a program that never had widespread popular support.
Supporters of affirmative action say it not only rights past injustices aimed at classes of people, but also improves our institutions.
Colleges and universities long before affirmative action had elevated the squishy concept of "diversity" to a high place in the process of parsing applications for admission. Think athletics and extracurricular activities.
The broad rubric of diversity has the virtue of justifying just about anything an admissions board wishes to do.
Grade point averages, class ranks and, yes, aptitude/achievement tests have been shown repeatedly to correlate strongly with academic success. That's no small thing when the issue at hand is admission to an academic institution.
The case for diversity as a deciding factor in admissions is different.
Diversity isn't a predictor of success for the individual.
Instead, diversity benefits institutions by exposing all of its community to a broader range of ideas, values and experiences.
But the question is not whether diversity is good for institutions, but what kind of diversity, at what price, and, in the case of Abigail Fisher, who pays for it?
Most Americans probably agree that diversity of experience is a good thing.
The problem comes when entire classes of people are given a preference by simple virtue of membership in that class, despite their individual experiences. The rationale for affirmative action has been to reverse the historical oppression of classes of people, including blacks, women and other groups. The program has assumed that long-running institutional and societal prejudice becomes deeply engrained and, therefore, will not be easily reversed without such special consideration for those entire classes.
This may very well be true.
But it is indisputably a hard sell in a nation that has enshrined the idea that equal protection of the law for individuals is bedrock to our political order.
The Oneonta Daily Star on politics and the failure of Congress to pass a farm bill.
For the first time in more than 60 years, Congress failed this week to pass a farm bill, choosing instead to take up the issue during the lame-duck session after November's elections.
And as with much of the dysfunction in Washington these days, both parties have earned their share of the blame.
A bipartisan bill proposed in July by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma would have extended the law for five years — a priority for farmers who'd rather not see the bill used as a pawn in negotiations over the year-end "fiscal cliff" of tax hikes and spending cuts.
But hopes for quick passage were dashed when the bill's markup was delayed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who seems content to wait until after the elections to see if his party gains any leverage.
Cantor is skeptical of Lucas' $957 billion package and would like to use the opportunity to crack down on school lunch and food stamp programs, which are funded through the farm bill. The same goes for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who has decried such agricultural subsidies as "Soviet-style" programs.
To be fair, the sheer size of a farm bill makes it a magnet for wasteful spending. According to University of Missouri-Columbia agricultural economist John E. Ikerd, more than 60 percent of all farm subsidies in 2009 went to states whose senators serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee, and four of the top five congressional districts receiving subsidies had representatives on the House Agriculture Committee. More than half of all farm subsidies go to just 35 congressional districts.
But what Cantor and Boehner don't realize is how important the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) is for dairy farmers. To insulate them from the volatility of milk prices, MILC pays producers when the price falls below a certain level.
After Lucas' five-year bill failed in September, a three-month measure was shot down by Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who demanded a five-year bill. A stopgap measure extending MILC may have been the right thing to do for farmers, but locking in five years of pork was priority No. 1 for Peterson, who receives more campaign donations from the agriculture lobby than any other House member. A three-month measure also wouldn't have allowed Peterson to exploit an internal Republican rift between fiscal hawks such as Cantor and Boehner and heartlanders such as Tea Party freshman Kristi Noem, who was one of a handful of Republicans to join dozens of Democrats in signing a House discharge petition to force a vote on the five-year bill.
Let Congress' failure on the farm bill be a warning for voters headed to the polls next month. Regardless of party affiliation, the ability to compromise and cooperate should trump the values of spite and brinkmanship.