A sampling of editorials from around New York

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 28, 2014 at 9:21 am •  Published: May 28, 2014
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Yet even President Barack Obama has conceded he doesn't "yet know how systemic this is."

The administration must get a handle on this problem and, working with Congress, find solutions quickly.

For nearly a decade, Americans have realized that there has been a backlog of medical cases, ever since the first soldiers started coming home from Afghanistan.

That burden was greatly increased after the United States declared war on Iraq and stretched our troops incredibly thin, often sending them to multiple deployments before allowing them to come home.

Yes, Veterans Affairs has acknowledged the problems, but efforts to fix the system clearly have not worked.

Members of New York's congressional delegation — including U.S. Rep Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat — have suggested loosening the rules to allow more veterans to use local medical facilities to aid the VA to alleviate the backlog. That idea should be embraced quickly.

What's more, it has taken way too long to shift the VA from a paper-based operation to one that is fully integrated electronically, including a key link to Defense Department databases to help transition important records.

Yes, that is a heavy lift, but it's one that should have been accomplished long ago.

Today, communities across the United States will hold ceremonies, parades and other fitting events to honor fallen veterans, including those lost in our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's a day of reflection, but it shouldn't end there. A massive effort must be waged on behalf of the soldiers who have made it home from war but are in critical need of the country's help.

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http://pojonews.co/1ozRMu9

The Schenectady Daily Gazette on the spike in utility bills this past winter.

May 22

As utility bills continue to rise, it's time for power companies to come clean about what really drove up electric and gas bills for New Yorkers and others across the country last winter.

On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand added her voice to those of Sen. Charles Schumer, the state Public Service Commission and a host of others in demanding that federal officials conduct a full investigation into why the bills rose so drastically and without warning this past winter, more than 60 percent for some utility customers.

Many residents were shocked this winter when they opened their National Grid bills, some of which were hundreds of dollars higher than the previous year. The unexpectedly high bills put many families, particularly those on tight budgets, in the position of weighing the need for other necessities vs. paying their power bills. As a result of the spike, New Yorkers currently owe about $1 billion in overdue utility bills.

The federal Energy Department on Wednesday reported that customers spent $14 billion more this winter to heat their homes nationwide. Natural gas expenses rose $5.8 billion, a 16 percent hike. Residents spent 27 percent, or $6 billion, more on heating oil and propane. And electricity expenditures increased $7.9 billion, or about 10 percent. More than half the homes in the Northeast use natural gas as their primary heating fuel. Heating oil is second and electricity is third.

There's no question that prices went up a lot. The question that hasn't been answered to anyone's satisfaction is, "Why?"

The nation did experience an unusually cold winter; the Northeast was about 13 percent colder than the previous year and 10 percent colder than the average for the last decade.

But it seems awfully suspicious that as the nation was gripped by a polar vortex, power customers suddenly faced a financial vortex thanks to their heating bills. Utility bills usually go up in winter, but not like this.

Utilities blamed the increase on those low temperatures and subsequent higher demand. But some question whether the huge increases were manufactured by power companies, by charging more for fuel than they're allowed, and by fuel providers, by withholding supplies to keep prices artificially high.

Gillibrand said Wednesday she sent a letter to the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission asking for an investigation. Schumer last month asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate.

Whomever investigates, the public deserves answers. If the utilities are on the up-and-up and the price increases were the legitimate result of supply-and-demand, force them to document that.

But if utilities in any way manipulated the markets to take advantage of the cold winter and generate higher profits, then the federal government needs to step in, punish the offenders, and take steps to prevent it from happening again.

Despite our glorious spring weather, a new winter will be upon us in just a few months. Residents can ill afford a repeat of what happened last winter.

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Online: http://bit.ly/1h95xjR

The Gloversville Leader-Herald on funding in Congress for the nation's highways.

May 26No one in Congress wants to take the blame for higher gasoline taxes just weeks before a major election. That probably explains delays in addressing long-term problems with the Highway Trust Fund.

But unless something is done to provide an infusion of money for the fund, it will dry up within months. By August, payments to states for road construction and repair will have to be cut off.

State transportation officials understand the challenge. Many highway departments receive much of their funding through state taxes on vehicle fuel. The federal fund relies entirely on it.

As we have noted previously, more fuel-efficient vehicles and inflation in general have opened gaps between fuel-tax funding and highway needs. That is why the federal fund will run out of money later this year.

Senators already have passed a stopgap measure that would provide $265 billion for the fund during the next six years. That would allow states to receive money at current levels.

But President Barack Obama wants a $302 billion, four-year funding scheme. His idea is to provide much of the money through higher business taxes.

Simply adjusting the federal gasoline tax, now 18.4 cents a gallon, upward would resolve the problem. Again, no one wants to do that just before an election.

House of Representatives members should agree to the Senate bill - in order to prevent highway repairs throughout the nation from grinding to a halt in August. Then, a long-range plan can be tackled.

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Online: http://bit.ly/Rx4ygO



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