On Jan. 3, the Gannett News Service Albany Bureau reported on a draft environmental impact statement from 2012 on high-volume hydrofracking (http://goo.gl/F2bjy). The state Department of Environmental Conservation assessment concludes that “by implementing the proposed mitigation measures identified and required in this (report), the department expects that human chemical exposures during normal HVHF operations will be prevented or reduced below levels of significant health concern. Thus adverse impacts on human health are not expected from routine HVHF operations. When spills or accidents occur, the department has identified numerous additional mitigation measures … so that significant exposures to people and resources on which they rely are unlikely.”
DEC officials told Gannett that these findings were preliminary and did not constitute “final DEC policy.” Fair enough-this is a draft.
Yet these findings are consistent with the text of a briefing paper on high-volume hydrofracking from the Environmental Defense Fund, which concludes: “In short, natural gas could be a win-win benefiting both the economy and the environment-if we do it the right way. The right way means putting tough rules and mandatory environmental safeguards in place that protect communities and reduce methane pollution.” See http://goo.gl/NbiUP. Read more »
The 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk underscored the gap in educational outcomes between the nation’s disadvantaged and the rest of society, while challenging the nation’s confidence in the entire K-12 educational system by unfavorable international comparisons. We have made little progress in closing either the gap between America’s rich and poor, or the gap between our students and those of other nations.
Since 1983, we’ve been looking for a quick fix solution, the one Big Thing that would close these gaps. This is ultimately fruitless. Rochester City School District Superintendent Bolgen Vargas seems to have taken this lesson to heart. As noted in a recent City Newspaper interview, he studiously avoids the temptation to predict speedy, miraculous success by imposing bold new policies bundled up with a clever name. Read more »
Several proposals to dissolve village boundaries were on the ballot last week. Voters in the villages of Malone (Franklin County) and Chaumont (Jefferson County), both rejected the idea. The Village of Lyons (Wayne County) embraced it, although by a very narrow margin (and absentee ballots, when counted, could change the vote).
Most village dissolution votes fail to gain the support of voters, putting Malone and Chaumont with the majority. Should these voters have chosen to dissolve these villages? Not being a resident of either community, we at CGR don’t have a voice in the decision. In fact, having studied the issue in both, we can make a case on either side. Our role is to lay out the facts to the best of our ability—informing the voters and empowering them to make their own decisions.
At issue in these votes is a possible loss of identity, and some loss of local control—the power to enact laws and to provide village residents with the services they alone vote to support. Village residents remain voters and taxpayers in the surrounding town and will look to their town for a continuation of needed public services. In exchange for giving up some autonomy, residents expect a smaller tax bill. Read more »
In 1940, fewer than one in twenty Americans had a college degree. Now it’s better than one in four. Fueled by a flood of American soldiers returning from WWII’s European and Pacific theaters, the GI Bill sparked an explosion in college enrollment that continues to this day.
Higher education boosts productivity and pay. The earnings gap between those with and those without a college degree is dramatic. According to the Census, individuals 25 or older with bachelor’s degrees earned nearly $22,000 per year (80%) more than those with only a high school diploma.
But what does college cost?
College pricing rivals health care in opacity—most students receive some form of “aid.” Just as in buying a car, few pay the “manufacturer’s suggested retail price.” Bloomberg Businessweek reports that 94% of students in NYS private colleges & universities receive some form of financial aid. Even in public colleges, two-thirds receive aid (in addition to the outright state support to the institution).
The College Board conducts an annual survey and reports that published tuition grew 52% from 96-97 to 11-12 while tuition net of aid (including federal tax credits) rose 22% over the period, suggesting that colleges and universities are increasing the “sticker price” at the same time that aid is also rising. Using the College Board’s figures on net tuition and fees, students beginning four year degrees in 2011 will pay an average of $52,000 in tuition over four years in private schools and about $10,000 in public schools. Many pay more and many pay less, of course. Consider, too, the cost of room and board—another $35-40,000—and foregone earnings. Read more »
Our nation’s fiscal house is held together with duct tape and Crazy Glue. The porch roof is teetering—left unrepaired, it may collapse onto our economy at the end of the year. And our home’s foundation has a crack in it. While this structural gap between revenue and spending—largely caused by Baby Boom retirements—won’t be dramatically worse next year, the crack will get larger and larger until we make major repairs.
A wide array of tax cuts are due to expire at the end of 2012. As the Bush White House couldn’t muster the 60 votes required for a permanent tax change, the 2001 tax cuts were passed using the Senate’s arcane “reconciliation” procedure, which forced a 10 year “sunset” provision. (The vote was 50-50 with Vice President Dick Cheney casting the tie-breaker.) Unable to reach consensus on much of anything in 2010, the President & Congress kicked the can down the road another 2 years. In February, the 2 percentage point reduction in the payroll tax rate originally passed in 2010 was extended to the end of the year.
So, what happens if Congress & the President don’t do a deal? Read more »
During the Olympics we freely show unabashed pride in our native sons and daughters. The Rochester region cheers Jenn Suhr’s triumph over her longtime Russian rival in the pole vault and Abby Wambach’s soccer gold against Japan. Yes, some of the U.S. Olympians are transplants, immigrants to our nation. But most were born here.
While a burst of nativism is excusable during the Olympics, anti-immigration sentiment doesn’t serve our economy well. Asked by local businessman Dutch Summers to explore why Canada’s Golden Horseshoe—anchored by Toronto—has prospered and grown while Upstate New York has languished, we concluded that immigration policy is a powerful contributing factor. Read more »
The Supreme Court—through the actions of tie breaker Chief Judge John Roberts—has resolved the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). In the best tradition of the court, his Solomonic ruling declares that the law is within the powers of Congress. Good law? Bad law? “Not my problem. It’s constitutional.” He also applied the “duck” test to the Administration’s “penalty”—if it looks like a tax and quacks like a tax, it’s a tax.
The constitutional sideshow behind us, let’s get back to the Main Event: Health care remains an unaffordable, inequitable mess. ACA addresses some of the coverage problems built into the American health insurance model, but it will inevitably create some inequities of its own.
Cost is still an enormous problem. In fact, the law will increase the share of GDP spent on health care. ACA’s supporters are eager to report the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) finding that the law will not increase the deficit. First, remember that this is a forecast built on complex models, loaded with assumptions. The CBO finding is an estimate, not a measurement. Read more »
Given a conflict between “good for us” or “good for me,” people generally pick the second. That proposition, obvious as it is, underlies most of economics. Thank goodness, human beings often rise above self-interest in ways that redeem human society.
But politicians shouldn’t push their luck. Consider what the European Union is asking of the Greeks. The austerity imposed as a condition of the bailout goes beyond expecting Greeks to behave like Germans, which would be heroic enough. No, the Greeks are expected to do penance for their past profligacy, the “sackcloth and ashes” Full Monty.
Reluctant to think ourselves selfish, we have a remarkable capacity to convince ourselves that “good for me” is also “good for us.” That capacity for self-delusion is evident in results from the Pew Global Survey: Respondents in Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Spain, Italy, Poland and the Czech Republic were asked to identify the “hardest working” people of Europe. Seven picked the Germans. The Greeks picked themselves. For the title, “least hardworking,” five picked the Greeks, but the Greeks fingered the Italians.
Is it any wonder that the Greeks’ penance is insincere? Or that support for austerity among voters proved to be so tenuous in Sunday’s election? Read more »
School districts share needs that can be more efficiently provided regionally, just as individual schools share needs that are more affordably provided by districts. What are we to think when the State Comptroller reports that New York’s approach to regional service sharing in the schools (BOCES) costs more than it saves? Read more »
There is nothing like the IRS Form 1040 and NYS Form 201 to get you in the mood for tax reform.
We need a simpler system. Complexity is expensive by itself—we spend money simply keeping records and paying professionals to figure out what we can and can’t claim. The Taxpayer Advocate’s Service (TAS) of the National Taxpayer Advocate (appointed and funded by Congress) estimated in 2010 that taxpayers spend 6.1 billion hours filling out taxes each year (down from an estimated 7.6 billion hours in 2008, probably courtesy of tax software). 60% of Americans pay someone else to complete their tax forms. In 2008, TAS put the total cost of compliance at $163 billion, about 11% of total tax receipts. Read more »