Friday, May 31, 2013

Get ready for college loan rates to rise

Posted By on Fri, May 31, 2013 at 5:10 PM

It’s hard to imagine enrolling in college considering the staggering cost of tuition. What are young people supposed to do if they come from lower income and middle class families? The competition for grants and scholarships is fierce, and on July 1, student loan rates will jump unless Congress intervenes.

Student loan rates for more than 7.4 million students will literally double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent in a month. US students are carrying about $1.1 trillion in college loan debt, and roughly 35 percent of the students under 30 are on the verge of default.

It would seem like investing in educating our young people would be one of the most nonpartisan issues before Congress. But that’s hardly the case.

An article posted on Commondreams.org by Dave Johnson does a good job of laying out the differences in a slew of bills that attempt to address the problem. Republicans are proposing market-rate loans, which would cap at 10.5 percent for graduate students.

Among Democrats, Senator Elizabeth Warren is pushing for a .75 percent or nearly a no-interest loan rate.
Student loan debt now exceeds credit card debt, and the only debt higher for most American families is mortgage debt.

It’s hard to imagine a robust economy anywhere in the near future when so many students and their families are indentured to the government.

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Report: lobbyists and interests generous to area legislators

Posted By on Fri, May 31, 2013 at 2:02 PM

A new New York Public Interest Research Group report says that New York legislators representing the Rochester region relied heavily on campaign donations from lobbying and special interest groups in 2012.

The report says that the 18 legislators representing counties in the Rochester region brought in $2.1 million from lobbying firms and their clients, business groups, trade associations, union political action committees, and nonprofits. The analysis includes districts in Monroe, Orleans, Genesee, Wyoming, Livingston, Ontario, and Wayne counties, according to a NYPIRG press release.

That's not to say that legislators are doing anything illegal or unethical. And in its report, NYPIRG says it's not implying "a cause and effect relationship between campaign donations and legislative or other government action." In fact, the area's legislators are honest and ethical, said NYPIRG research coordinator at a press conference this morning in front of Rochester City Hall.

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Questions linger about RCSD's plan for longer days

Posted By on Thu, May 30, 2013 at 4:13 PM

Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas has made longer school days a cornerstone of his strategy to improve student performance. Three schools served as pilot programs this year, and Vargas plans to have a total of 10 schools with longer days beginning this fall.

But some parents, teachers, and school board members aren't sold on the plan. And there was confusion about the concept at a recent public forum to meet the non-incumbent candidates vying for a seat on the Rochester school board. The biggest concern: What will students do during the added time they’re in school?

Vargas frequently says city students receive less instruction time than any other students in the area, even though they have the highest needs. The administration has created a graphic to illustrate the point. (See below.)

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Robach introduces campaign finance legislation

Posted By on Wed, May 29, 2013 at 12:13 PM

The State Legislature has had no shortage of scandal this year. For a while, it seemed like a new lawmaker was being charged with something almost weekly.

Of course, the scandals spurred various high-profile ethics and campaign finance reform proposals, though few have passed. Last week, Republican State Senator Joe Robach added his own proposal to the pile.

Most of the other campaign finance proposals call for smaller contribution limits or public matching funds as a way to limit the influence of money in state politics. But Robach's bill would cap spending on Assembly and Senate campaigns. Specifically, Assembly candidates would be able to spend no more than $150,000 while Senate candidates would have a $300,000 limit. It's pretty common for candidates in contested Senate elections to spend more than $1 million.

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Rochester school board candidates see only the tip of the iceberg

Posted By on Wed, May 29, 2013 at 11:32 AM

Some of the most memorable politicians possess a remarkable mix of showmanship, persuasiveness, and likeability. But they often lack the ability to predict future disasters even when the signs are floating all around them.

Howard Eagle, Ernest Flagler, Ronald Hall, Tim McCauley, and Candice Lucas each made compelling pitches to mostly parents last night for a seat on the school board. Three incumbents are up for re-election this year — Van White, Cynthia Elliott, and Jose Cruz. White, Cruz, and newcomer Lucas have been endorsed by Monroe County Democrats. It is unknown at this time if Elliott is staying in the race.

Some of the candidates’ themes are as perennial as the candidates themselves. Flagler said he wants the district to help students with skills training to become firefighters, police officers, plumbers, and electricians. He also advocated for better health services for students, as well as for the adults who work with them.

Eagle said he identified with children living in deep poverty, and he pushed back on the idea that children who come from poor households can’t achieve. He also said that social promotion in the district has to stop.

High salaries for Superintendent Bolgen Vargas’s growing cabinet concerned Hall, who said he isn’t seeing enough support for students being directed down to the classroom level. McCauley said he wants to see more resources devoted to early childhood development.

And Lucas pined for more parent engagement.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Week Ahead: Monroe Community Hospital's new advisory board meets for the first time

Posted By on Tue, May 28, 2013 at 9:50 AM

Monroe Community Hospital’s new advisory board meets for the first time at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, according to a report by the Democrat and Chronicle.

Maggie Brooks.

County law requires MCH to have an advisory board, but for unknown reasons, the board disbanded sometime in the early 2000’s.

The board is being reactivated in response to a state Department of Health report, which accused former hospital director Todd Spring of mistreating a patient. Spring was subsequently fired by County Executive Maggie Brooks.

Advisory board members were appointed by the County Legislature and the hospital’s Residents Council. Jeremy Moule

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sheppard, Warren events stress dire need

Posted By on Thu, May 23, 2013 at 12:06 PM

Corrected version.

I've spent some time in the West Main Street-Chili Avenue area over the last few days, first to listen to Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard talk to residents gathered at Junior's Barber Shop & Unisex Salon on West Main, and then to observe a Lovely Warren campaign event at the Iglesia Educational Center on Thurston Road. Warren, who is running for mayor, came to talk about education, but also ended up discussing crime, drugs, parenting, and other issues.

The events were less than two miles apart in an area of the city struggling with poverty, crime, high unemployment, and other seemingly intractable issues. I was struck to see that while people in both places are interested in higher-concept, longer-term discussions like neighborhood schools versus school choice, they also want to know what Sheppard and Warren can do to help them right now: How is the Rochester Police Department going to protect the beaches and other public places given this trend of youth using those opportunities to stage fights? (Sheppard talks about the youth fight at the 2013 Lilac Fest in the above video). A woman at the Warren event said she has a son with attention deficit disorder and no school seems to be able to handle him. Could Warren help her?

The point is, their needs are immediate. They can't wait for committees and studies and prayers to pay off. Sheppard talked about how the RPD monitors social media so they know where fights might take place. And Warren gave the woman the names of a couple of schools that might be able to help her, while promising to also follow-up later with more information.

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Senate Dems push for fracking moratorium

Posted By on Thu, May 23, 2013 at 11:27 AM

Democrats in the New York State Senate are pushing for legislation to enact a moratorium on shale gas drilling in the state. The Assembly has already passed moratorium legislation, which would ban drilling through May 2015.

Yesterday, Senate Dems called on the chamber's ruling coalition to allow a vote on legislation. A press release sent out by the Dems doesn't mention a specific bill, but Senator David Carlucci, a Democrat who belongs to the separate Independent Democratic Conference, has introduced a moratorium bill. His legislation calls for the moratorium to remain in place until two outside health studies are completed — one is a Geisinger Health System study of fracking's impacts on health in Pennsylvania, the other is an Environmental Protection Agency study on fracking's effect on water quality.

Yesterday, Senator Ted O'Brien, a Democrat, sent out a statement supporting a fracking moratorium. O'Brien's spokesperson says the senator supports legislation introduced by Senator Tony Avella, which O'Brien cosponsors. The legislation would establish a moratorium through May 2015.

Here's O'Brien's statement:

“My district in the Finger Lakes region is home to some of our nation’s most pristine fresh water sources, acclaimed vineyards and beautiful landscapes. Preserving these natural resources is not only important to our environmental and public health, but to our economic future as well. Until we truly understand the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on our families, our environment, and our emerging industries, we must not allow any new fracking projects to take place in New York. A moratorium will give us more time to study this process and ensure the safety and future prosperity of the Finger Lakes region and our entire state.”

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Richards' campaign off to a slow start

Posted By on Wed, May 22, 2013 at 2:45 PM

When is Mayor Tom Richards going to join this campaign? Lovely Warren, City Council president and Richards’ likely opponent in a September primary, is active on Twitter at #lovelyformayor, and Facebook. She’s making appearances and holding events; she has two scheduled for Thursday, one to talk about education and an evening fund raiser at a Central Avenue nightclub.

Tom Richards.

Richards got the Democratic endorsement, but right now, Warren’s got the mojo. As far as I can tell, Richards doesn’t even have a complete, properly functioning campaign website up and running.

I get the feeling that Richards isn’t really into campaigning. He didn’t become a politician until a few years ago, having spent most of his career in the private sector. But his campaign team should tell him that the old logic that races don’t heat up until summer winds down is obsolete. Warren is laying track. When the public really starts paying attention, her campaign will be oiled, tuned, and ready to hit its stride. Where will Richards be? Remember, he didn’t win the Democratic endorsement by a giant margin; more than 40 percent of the citywide weighted vote went to Warren.

Of course, Richards is starting off with much more money than Warren, so Warren has to hustle to be competitive. And as the chosen candidate, Richards will have the party machine and its resources behind him.

You can reasonably argue that being mayor every day is, essentially, campaigning; it’s a high-profile job. And Richards has probably been extra busy given that it’s budget season — along with the myriad other tasks and obligations that come with leading the city.

But humbly, Mr. Mayor, I do believe you’re making a mistake. You need to get moving.

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Good government groups take aim at soft money

Posted By on Wed, May 22, 2013 at 10:41 AM

A new report says that between 2006 and 2012, the Monroe County Republican Party took in more so-called soft money contributions than any other county-level political committee in New York State.

According to the report, which was put together by Common Cause/NY and NYPIRG, the party's housekeeping committee took in $4.4 million in contributions. By comparison, the Queens County Democratic Party's housekeeping committee took in $3.5 million, making it the second-highest county-level committee.

The Monroe County Democratic Party took in approximately $1.3 million in soft-money contributions. Overall, county parties raised $25.7 million in soft money between 2005 and 2012, the report says.

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