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letters to the editor

Contrary to rhetoric from some state legislators, most of upstate supports SAFE Act

Posted 23 March 2017 at 10:43 pm

Editor:

A minority of upstate legislators have introduced legislation to remove all of upstate NY from the protections of the NY SAFE Act. State Senators Robert Ortt and Patrick Gallivan introduced legislation to repeal the SAFE Act law everywhere in New York State except New York City.

We question why upstate should be treated any differently than New York City when it comes to gun safety legislation? Why should our children and grandchildren be exposed to the risks of gun violence in their homes, schools and at play?

Every reliable study on this issue has demonstrated, beyond dispute, that more guns equals more gun violence and that effective gun laws equates to less gun violence and fewer gun deaths in our communities.

You will recall that NY SAFE was enacted with overwhelming support by a large bi-partisan coalition of state legislators and to date, we have not heard any legislator publicly convey regret that they voted in support of the Act.

The SAFE Act has been upheld in every court that has heard a case involving the Act. In fact, the US Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal of a case challenging similar gun-safety-legislation in the State of Connecticut.

The most recent poll from Siena College shows that statewide the SAFE Act is supported by 60% of registered voters. And, despite the dissemination of “alternative facts”, each of the individual components of the SAFE Act receives overwhelming support from upstate voters. Background checks for all gun sales (81%); revocation of pistol permits for domestic orders of protection (78%); five-year pistol permit renewals (82%); assault-weapon ban (67%); ammunition background checks (56%); and limiting high-capacity magazines (52%).

It is also noteworthy that because of the low overall gun ownership across New York State (18%) and the SAFE Act, New York has the 3rd lowest gun death rate in the country despite a population of nearly 20 million people and more than 80 million visitors annually.

Moreover, in the grand scheme of things most New Yorkers are not overly concerned with debating the SAFE Act. Upstate voters, like the rest of the state, are more focused on education, the economy and jobs than opposing the SAFE Act. The Siena college poll referenced above shows that the issues motivating upstate voters are largely economic – 13% cite jobs, 12% each for taxes and education; less than 1% mention guns or the SAFE Act.

Legislators are being disingenuous when they assert that the SAFE Act is overwhelmingly opposed upstate.

New Yorkers, including those of us upstate, stand strong with the 90% of Americans who support basic and common sense gun safety laws, like our NY SAFE Act.

Respectfully,

Patricia Tuz – Capital Region

Paul McQuillen – Buffalo

Gary Pudup – Rochester

Alexandra Dubroff – Hudson Valley

Regional Coordinators

New Yorkers Against Gun Violence

Counties would see big property tax reductions if NY paid for Medicaid like most other states

Posted 21 March 2017 at 7:57 am

Editor:

NYSAC (New York State Association of Counties) and New York State’s county governments commend Congressman Chris Collins for introducing legislation that would reduce county property taxes in New York State by $2.3 billion dollars.

The federal legislation introduced by Congressman Collins attempts to do what the State has been politically unwilling or unable to do.  It provides real mandate relief for counties, so that counties can begin to reduce property taxes in the State.

Governor Cuomo continues to highlight that the largest tax burden New Yorkers face is the property tax. County leaders agree 100 percent – property taxes are too high in New York, especially compared to other states. One of the reasons that we have high property taxes is that counties in New York are required to pay for State services and programs that other counties across the nation do not.

To further illustrate this point, across the nation, there are 3,069 counties. Together, the counties across the nation contribute about $9.7 billion each year in locally raised taxes to support the direct program costs of providing Medicaid services to recipients in their state (not including the costs of operating more than 1000 county owned hospitals, clinics and nursing homes).  Alarmingly, the local taxpayers in New York’s 57 counties and New York City are required under state law to pay $7.5 billion annually to support New York’s largest in the nation Medicaid program. That means New York’s county taxpayers spend more than triple what all the other county taxpayers in the nation pay combined!

We are disappointed that the State’s Lt. Governor, who has been a friend to counties, would oppose an action that would reduce property taxes and take a position against the state’s county government partners.  The Governor’s administration can’t have it both ways.  They cannot keep shifting costs to counties and force us to continue paying for their programs on the hand, and then demand lower property taxes on the other.

Providing counties in New York authority to charge a local sales tax to help finance a state designed and controlled Medicaid program may have been important in 1966, but since then state elected officials have dumped more than 40 other unfunded state mandates on county government and broken more promises on maintaining state funding through programs sold as “partnerships” between the state and counties than we care to mention.

Counties in other states do not need sales tax authority because they do not have such enormous fiscal burdens placed on them by their State elected leaders. The Kerr-Mills health program mentioned in the Lt. Governor’s press release started out as a “partnership” but was identified as a miserable failure by Congress within a few years because of a lack of resources with less than 1 percent of eligible seniors nationwide receiving services and less than 2 percent of seniors in New York State.

This is not a partisan issue. This is a stewardship issue.  In 2011, when Congress enacted the stimulus plan, Senator Chuck Schumer made sure to protect New York State county property taxpayers because of the role we play in paying for Medicaid.

Counties want to do the work of reducing property taxes for the homeowners and businesses in New York.

Again, we commend Congressman Collin for introducing this legislation, and we encourage the rest of our congressional delegation to sign on to the measure.

It’s time for the State to stop playing the blame game and start lowering the costs it imposes on counties so that we can begin to lower property taxes.

Stephen J. Acquario

NYSAC Executive Director

Albany

Sheriff thanks first responders and others who stepped up during power outages, big snow storm

Posted 17 March 2017 at 4:39 pm

Photo by Tom Rivers: Greg Rosato, a county employee, clears snow from a county parking lot on Wednesday. About two feet of snow fell from Monday through Wednesday, closing schools for two days and many local governments for at least a day.

Editor:

In light of recent severe weather events, Sheriff Randy Bower and the Orleans County Sheriff’s Office would like to extend a special “thank you” to all who worked diligently many hours over the course of the March 8th windstorm [and subsequent power outages] and the heavy snowfall this past week.

I would like to thank the 911 Center, Emergency Management Office, Law enforcement, Fire and EMS responders along with highway and public works departments.

Also, thanks go out to American Red Cross, local officials, National Grid utility workers, and OrleansHub.com for keeping the public informed.

But, most of all, thank you to the Orleans County residents who showed resilience and fortitude in the face of adversity. Citizens helping their neighbors and being there for one another is the backbone of this fine community.

Sincerely,

Sheriff Randy Bower

8 Democratic Party county leaders say Collins should have town hall in district, not on CNN

Posted 16 March 2017 at 10:05 am

Editor:

The 8 county Democratic Chairs of New York’s 27th Congressional District wish to make it clear that Rep. Chris Collins’ decision to appear on CNN with Van Jones on Thursday evening in a televised town hall is an insult to the voters of this district.

While constituents have been gathering outside his offices on a weekly basis in good weather and bad to ask for a town hall, Mr. Collins has repeatedly insisted he has no intention of holding such a meeting, even calling town halls “useless.”

But when invited to appear on a cable television program with a studio audience in New York City that will not represent his constituents, Rep. Collins jumped at the chance. So he may find out what the concerns are of a New York City audience, but he’s still avoiding people in his own district. That is unacceptable, and that’s why we will support a vigorous campaign to replace Chris Collins in 2018 with someone who will actually represent New York’s 27th District.

Jeremy Zellner, Erie County Democratic Chair

Jamie Romeo, Monroe County Democratic Chair

Nick Forster, Niagara County Democratic Chair

Jeanne Crane, Orleans County Democratic Chair

Michael Plitt, Genesee County Democratic Chair

Cynthia Appleton, Wyoming County Democratic Chair

Judith Hunter, Livingston County Democratic Chair

John Hurley, Ontario County Democratic Chair

Trump rhetoric creates concern for farmers and their foreign workers

Posted 13 March 2017 at 10:59 am

Editor:

The year was 1998.  As I recall, the Reagan era Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 was largely responsible for governing our approach toward undocumented immigrants.

At the time, the entire grounds crew at Atlantic City Country Club was of Mexican descent.  The course superintendent had the highest regard for every one of them, just as he had for the Vietnamese immigrants who had earlier comprised much of the crew at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland.

In 1998, the Social Security Administration discovered that the entire 23-person Atlantic City CC grounds crew was illegal. To prevent them from being deported, the course superintendent knew that each of his crew would have to come up with $2,000 initially, jump through a bunch of hoops, and pay another $2,000 in order to become legal, though not citizens. Some called this “amnesty”. Many still do. Tom Reynolds called it “amnesty” as I recall.

Congressman Chris Collins, one of President Trump’s earliest camp followers, insists that neither local farmers, nor their valuable employees, need worry about farm workers being rounded up by a deportation force.

Hopefully, Representative Collins is keeping track of the wind direction coming from Washington.  Our food supply and economy may hang in the balance.

A reporter from The Boston Globe was in Orleans County earlier this week having a difficult time finding farmers who would speak to him on the record. It isn’t hard to understand their reluctance.

President Trump puts on a good show. It may be he is smart enough to realize that it had better be nothing more.  From what I hear, farm workers are not so sure of his intentions. Even if he is mostly talk, he has many of them scared.

My brothers are two generations removed from what has ironically become a sort of stigma—immigration status—in a nation of immigrants!  I guess my Austrian grandparents were legal (not sure about the ‘refugee’ thing), though they thought it wise to change their last name nonetheless.

My brother, Keith, worked for Martin Farms for many years.  Cutting cabbage was his specialty, and he was the only “Anglo” Martin’s had who could cut cabbage with the migrant workers on a consistent basis—for years.

My brother, Kevin, was the only “Anglo” I ever saw who could match– hamper for hamper– the cucumber picking stamina of the Ramos family and the other Mexican-Americans from Mercedes, Texas who worked at Spalla Farms. (In case you missed that history lesson, Mexican people have been living in what is now the United States longer than Captain John Smith’s people.)

In the late 1960’s, I tried picking cucumbers for a grand total of three hours before surrender. Crying “Uncle” got me on the wagon dumping hampers.

Guess what?  If Mr. Trump gets too carried away playing to his base and trying to match campaign rhetoric with “Presidential” action, we are in a lot of trouble.

Farm workers reclaim abandoned houses, have their own local businesses, keep many local farms going, and are among the best students in Orleans County’s schools. None of the ones I have known was/is a “bad dude”, and I have known quite a few.

Sincerely yours,

Gary Kent

Albion

Hochul is critical of Collins for trying to shift counties’ Medicaid costs to state

Posted 10 March 2017 at 8:57 pm

Editor:

Our Founding Fathers warned us this day would come. Partisan politics would overtake good government for the people. The Medicaid changes being proposed in Washington would cut taxes for wealthy special interests while devastating New York State’s finances and all but eliminating health care for the most vulnerable New Yorkers.

What’s worse, a New York Republican Congressman, Chris Collins is offering an amendment that would wreak havoc on the state. While I understand that the Democrats in Washington are attacking Collins on ethics issues and are having a heated political fight, they shouldn’t be played out at the expense of everyday New Yorkers.

Here are the facts: The overall Medicaid plan would cost the state billions of dollars of lost federal funds and jeopardize hospital stability. As if that were not enough, Rep. Collins would have the state assume the counties’ share of Medicaid expenses outside of New York City. The current breakdown is 13 percent county, 36 percent state, and 51 percent federal. This ill-conceived plan would cost his home state approximately $2.3 billion. Unbelievably, that’s on top of the cost of the Republican Affordable Care Act repeal plan – another $2.4 billion.

Translation: Rep. Collins is proposing a tax increase on New Yorkers to the tune of $4.7 billion. This one-two punch would destroy all the hard work the Governor and Legislature have accomplished in the last six years to lower taxes across the board and achieve the lowest spending increases in recorded history. New Yorkers will be at risk of losing their healthcare, hospitals will be forced to lay off workers, and our vulnerable elderly will find it much harder to afford nursing home care.

On the merits, the counties have no right to claim this is an undue burden. They paid a percentage of health care costs even before Medicaid – and in fact, currently have a more favorable agreement than in decades.

In 1960 – well before New York State and most counties had any sales tax revenue to pay for it – Congress passed the Kerr-Mills Act, which created a national role in funding health care for the elderly. Under this program, the counties in New York paid approximately 44 percent of the cost of care, the state paid about 38 percent, and the federal government paid around 18 percent.

In 1965, Medicaid replaced that program and the counties paid 25 percent. That same year, the state began giving counties the option of collecting sales tax on their behalf. Every county in New York has subsequently agreed to this option. Many counties in the nation don’t get sales tax, and most of those receive less than our counties. Moreover, the state recently agreed to give the counties additional help – after hearing the counties’ complaints of the growing Medicaid costs, the state has held them harmless for any increases since 2011.

As a result, the counties’ share for Medicaid is down from 25 percent to 13 percent, and the state assumed this cost while still living within the 2 percent spending cap, and all while cutting taxes. The state is not asking the counties to do anything more than we have done ourselves. In fact, the state has done far more. If the Collins amendment passed, the state would need to raise income taxes or the counties would have to forego their share of sales tax in exchange for the state picking up the additional Medicaid costs.

In short, Rep. Collins’ amendment and the Affordable Care Act repeal would transfer $4.7 billion in costs to the state which would translate into a new tax for New Yorkers. I know firsthand that the people of the 27th Congressional District face enough challenges in their lives – they don’t need to worry about increasing health care costs or new taxes.

Rep. Collins should stop prioritizing his wealthy friends and start helping his home state by protecting the most vulnerable from losing their healthcare and putting the state budget at risk. Remember, as my mentor Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to always point out, New York is a donor state – we pay more in federal taxes than we receive back.

Mr. Collins, try practicing good government rather than partisan politics.”

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul

Hawley wants governor to address ‘illegal’ I Love NY signs on Thruway

Posted 10 March 2017 at 6:10 pm

Editor:

This week, residents of Western New York were devastated by a hurricane-like storm that caused major damage and left thousands without power. We are now focused on cleaning up the mess left behind by the storm and ensuring that everyone is safe and has power.

The powerful winds blew many signs down in my district, including at least three ‘I Love NY’ signs at mile post 381 on the Thruway just east of Batavia. These gimmicks cost taxpayers $25 million and were installed by the governor despite being in violation of federal law.

I am calling on the governor not to waste another cent of taxpayer money on these illegal signs and put that money into repairing our infrastructure and the damages from this horrific wind storm that wreaked havoc on our region.

State Assemblyman Steve Hawley

Batavia

NYC lawyers should do environmental impact of their travel in Squirrel Slam lawsuit

Posted 28 February 2017 at 10:09 am

Editor:

It is a sure sign that there is a population explosion of New York City lawyers when the august law firm Winston and Strawn sends three attorneys to defend the squirrels of Holley.

I would suggest that that Winston and Strawn be required to file an environmental impact report as to whether this influx of high-powered legal providers might upset the delicate ecology of common sense in Western New York.

Charles F. Lind

Medina

Former Medina mayor accepts apology, urges respectful and rationale dialogue of issues

Posted 27 February 2017 at 9:43 pm

Editor:

Karen Jones offered a letter to this forum containing a personal and public apology to me for statements she made during our Medina village dissolution discussion from 2013-2015. (Click here to see “Medina resident apologizes to former mayor for public criticism when village faced dissolution.”)

I humbly accept it with appreciation.

Karen, your actions exhibit class and courage.

You and I agree that facts matter – now, more than ever. Getting them straight, even more.  This is the foundation of rational, deliberative decision making. Without it, fear can quickly consume us. It manifests in rumor, innuendo, gossip and general negativity. You are wise to recognize the difference and correct course.

The greater responsibility, however, lies with those among us who incite fear – and divide us – to exert or preserve power. Sadly, this often makes villains of new ideas that may improve our community and the lives of our friends and neighbors.

Karen, you remain resolute in your stance on consolidation, and reaffirm your commitment to the facts in reaching your conclusion. This I respect. With the community’s greater good mutually at heart, I look forward to more policy discussions, and hope you will remain open to being persuaded. As will I.

Andrew W. Meier

Medina

Lyndonville resident thanks some individuals for leadership, despite pressure

Posted 23 February 2017 at 9:59 am

Editor:

I want to thank certain individuals in our community for their leadership. Thank you for looking out for the best interests of our community, despite the noise and pressure.

Thank you for planning for the future of your citizens, not just the ones that are the loudest and those who manipulate information. Thank you for looking for opportunities for economic development so that our community might thrive again.

Thank you for looking for ways to enhance our services. Thank you for changing with the times, for realizing that change may be difficult but it is inevitable.

Thank you for listening to all your constituents and for making decisions based on the greater good. Thank you for looking out for our children, and for our children’s children…hopefully some of them may also want to come back to this area, if there is something left.

Thank you for leading by example.

In times like this, it’s always important to look at every angle, every possible pro and con, and every viewpoint. I thank you for being a leader and making difficult decisions, weighing the many possibilities and serving your constituents.

Linda Fisk

Lyndonville