Imagine a Very Different Public Library

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

If you live in Monroe County NY, and especially if you reside in Rochester, you have an immediate opportunity to weigh in on what you want your public library to be. Take a brief survey, developed by CGR, about how to shape Rochester Public Library’s future: www.cgr.org/RochesterPublicLibrary .

Kirstin PryorJust what do we want from a bricks and mortar public library in our digital age? Just over half of Americans, age 16 and up, visited one in the past year, according to the most recent Pew Internet & American Life national survey, and 91% of visitors called libraries an important part of their community.

Further, they said they value, in order of importance, books to borrow, reference librarians and free public access to computers and the Internet. Clearly, most of the traditional aspects of libraries—that quiet hush, the many stacks, the quintessential librarian, and (for some decades now) the rows of computers, matter to a great many of us.

The question communities everywhere are grappling with is how to balance the traditional library with digital world realities. What used to require a reference librarian is now often a quick Google or Wikipedia search. Many of our book recommendations come from booksellers’ “customers who bought, also liked” features or Facebook posts. And countless books, articles and newspapers that used to be print only are now downloadable to e-readers and smartphones. Read more »

NYS Waits a Decision on Fracking

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent GardnerOn 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 »

We’re on a Long Trek to Fix Urban Schools

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent Gardner

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 »

Glad That Election is Over? Now it’s Time to Vote Again!

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Paul BishopNew York Fire District Election Day for FIRE DISTRICT commissioners is Tuesday, December 11. Surprised?  You are not alone.  In 2010, only 20 people showed up to vote in the Monroe County Town of Brighton’s fire district election. The year before, only 19 voted in the county’s Town of Henrietta. These elections have a real impact on fire district tax rates, but few people vote in them.

By submitting Freedom of Information Law requests to several Monroe County towns in my own community, I was able to secure voter turnout for a number of fire district elections held in the past 3 years. Average voter turnout across these districts was under one-half of one percent—fewer than 5 of every 1000 registered voters cast ballots. Unlike the election day that just passed, there is no “Get Out the Vote” effort attached to fire district elections—these elections are little noted, unless there is a specific financial issue such as bonding for a large purchase. Read more »

Reducing Uncertainty when Voters Consider Dissolution

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent GardnerSeveral 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 »

Change Is Coming, Higher Education

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent GardnerIn 1940, fewer than one in twenty Americans had a college degree. Now it’s better than one in four[1]. 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[2]. 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.[3] 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 »

Irreconcilable Differences: The Problem of Health Care

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Journal of the Monroe County (NY) Medical Society.

Kent GardnerHealth care is different from other goods and services.

  • As a wealthy society, we aren’t willing to limit access to care based on ability to pay (at least entirely).
  • Caveat emptor—let the buyer beware—fails in the face of complexity: The patient (the “buyer”) is often incapable of understanding what is appropriate or necessary and must rely on the provider (the “seller”) for essential advice.
  • The pace of technological change outstrips our capacity to set limits on what constitutes adequate care.
  • Public policy, operating through payment schema and regulation, is a blunt instrument, influencing the marketplace in both intended and unintended ways. Read more »

Deferred Maintenance on our Nation’s Fiscal House

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent GardnerOur 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.

Taxmaggedon

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 »

Promoting Healthy Births – The Challenge of Expanding Early Care

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Erika RosenbergPremature childbirth increases the risk of death or a lifetime of disability and nearly always drives up cost. Early care for expectant mothers can help increase the chances of a healthy, full-term pregnancy. Now that the Supreme Court had upheld national health reform and its mandate to carry health insurance, we might hope to see more expectant mothers receiving care early in their pregnancies. Studies suggest that access to health insurance isn’t the only factor, however.

The nation had set a goal for 2010: 90% of pregnant women getting care in the first trimester of pregnancy. In New York and in the Rochester area, we’re not close: in 2010, 79% of mothers in our region started prenatal care that early, higher than the state rate of 73% but largely unchanged over the past decade.[1] Generally speaking, rates of early access to prenatal care haven’t changed much over the past decade, and neither have rates of problems that prenatal care helps prevent, such as low birth weight. Even more troubling, low-income and minority women tend to be less likely to start care early, another stubborn pattern. Read more »

Let’s be Globally Competitive—for Workers

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent Gardner

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 »