Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Some thoughts on student loan interest rates

Posted By on Wed, Jul 24, 2013 at 2:11 PM

I've read a couple of stories today about Democratic senators, including New York's Kirsten Gillibrand and Massachusetts' Elizabeth Warren, who oppose a compromise student loan interest bill.

For what it's worth, they're right to oppose the bill.

The bipartisan compromise legislation that the White House backs would immediately set interest rates for federally subsidized undergraduate loans at 3.86 percent. That's better than the current 6.8 percent rate that kicked-in on July 1, after Congress failed to extend the previous 3.4 percent interest rate. Still, the 3.86 percent rate is probably higher than it should be. (By comparison, Chase bank offers a standard 60 month auto loan at a 3.14 percent interest rate. I don't think it's a stretch to argue that society's better off when someone goes to college than it is when someone buys a car.)

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Battery testing center headed to Rochester

Posted By on Tue, Jul 23, 2013 at 12:48 PM

A Pennsylvania energy storage testing lab is relocating to the Eastman Buisness Park.

DNV KEMA Energy & Sustainability, a global energy consulting company that specializes in testing, inspection, and certification, will work with the New York Battery and Energy Storage Technology Consortium to relocate its lab, says a press release from Governor Andrew Cuomo's office. 

NY-BEST is establishing a battery testing and commercialization center at the business park and DNV KEMA's lab will be part of the facility. The project represents a $23 million investment, says the press release. The company is investing up to $16 million while NY-BEST is putting up $6.9 million in state grant funds, which will be used for building improvements and equipment purchasing, says the release.

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New focus on Rochester's at-risk male students

Posted By on Tue, Jul 23, 2013 at 12:22 PM

This is a corrected version of this blog
It’s been more than a year since Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas launched efforts to significantly expand the amount of time students spend in school.

The concept, often referred to as expanded learning, usually extends the amount of time students receive instruction in core subjects. And students are also offered afterschool activities designed to help students retain what they’re learning, as well as explore their interests such as art, music, and sports. (Charter school advocates also frequently cite longer school days as crucial to student improvement.)

A new partnership between North East Area Development (NEAD), School 33, and the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education will develop the Literacy Engagement and Achievement Program, or LEAP. The goal for LEAP is to test whether high quality summer and after school programs significantly improve the academic outcomes of some of the city’s most at-risk children—particularly African-American and Hispanic boys.

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Report criticizes campaign contributions by pro-fracking groups

Posted By on Tue, Jul 23, 2013 at 11:17 AM

A coalition that's advocating for public financing of New York elections wants Governor Andrew Cuomo's Moreland Commission to look into campaign contributions made by pro-fracking groups and lobbyists.

Fair Elections New York issued the call yesterday, basing its arguments on a Common Cause/NY analysis of the contributions, which was also released yesterday. Common Cause is a member of the coalition.

In its analysis, Common Cause says that between January 2007 and March 2013, 183 pro-fracking entities gave state legislators $14 million. In an article this morning, Gannett Albany Bureau's Jon Campbell points out that many of those entities have clients besides oil and gas companies or interests besides drilling. Many are law firms, construction companies, or unions.

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Monday, July 22, 2013

WEEK AHEAD: RCSD considers big grant, COMIDA to vote on Xerox tax breaks, shaming animal abusers

Posted By on Mon, Jul 22, 2013 at 10:02 AM

The Rochester school board’s meeting this Thursday, July 25, should be interesting. Board members will likely discuss whether to accept a $1.2 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

The grant’s main purpose is to help the district improve its systems efficiencies and to save money. But some board
members are skeptical of the foundation’s pro-charter and pro-business leanings.

The decision could open another conversation about the district’s participation in the compact with local charters to share information. An agreement was initiated under former Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard, but was later dissolved.

The board will also vote on a resolution to close School 44. Thursday’s meeting is at 6:30 p.m. at the district’s central office, 131 West Broad Street. Tim Louis Macaluso


The Monroe County Industrial Development Agency will meet at 11 a.m. Thursday, July 25, to vote on a package of tax breaks for Xerox.

The meeting’s location hasn't been made public, yet. [UPDATE: COMIDA's website says the meeting will be held at the board's usual meeting place, the Watts Conference Center, 49 South Fitzhugh Street.]

COMIDA held two public hearings on Xerox’s application last week. And the agency is holding two more public hearings this morning, both in Webster.

Xerox is deciding where it wants to locate its toner plant operations, and the Webster plant is one of the options. It is the only potential site in the United States.

Xerox officials have said that if the company does choose the Webster site, it’d invest $5 million to expand the building and another $30 million for equipment. The expansion would create the equivalent of 25 full-time jobs, says a summary of Xerox’s COMIDA application.

Xerox is seeking $441,508 in property and sales tax exemptions in return, the summary says. Company officials say they want to know what incentives would be available if they choose Webster. They’ll take the potential incentives into consideration as they evaluate the different sites.

But Webster town Supervisor Ron Nesbitt has spoken against incentives for Xerox. The company earned substantial profits last year, he says, while suing the town to get its assessment lowered. Xerox has also laid off many local workers, Nesbitt said.

 
Democratic County Legislator Willie Joe Lightfoot has introduced legislation to establish a countywide animal abuser registry. Legislature Democrats will hold a public meeting on the proposal on Thursday, July 25.

The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. and will be held in room 204A of the Perinton Community Center, 1350 Turk Hill Road.

Under the legislation, people convicted of animal abuse crimes would have to register within 10 days of either their conviction or release from custody. Animal shelters and most larger “pet sellers” would be prohibited from selling, transferring, or adopting out animals to anyone on the list.

The legislation would put the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office in charge of developing the registry’s rules. But the Humane Society of Greater Rochester — better known to many as Lollypop Farm — would maintain the registry.

A press release from the Democrats says that comments received during Thursday’s meeting will be shared with legislators of both parties. Jeremy Moule

Friday, July 19, 2013

Glock with your soda?

Posted By on Fri, Jul 19, 2013 at 5:12 PM

The Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case focused most of the country’s attention on race relations. And that’s where much of the conversation remains.

But if you would like to know more about how Florida’s Stand Your Ground legislation got signed into law, watch this report by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. SYG was signed into law by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush during his last term.

Since then, 20 more states have passed some version of SYG. Unfortunately, no one seemed to see the downside to the law’s shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later plausibility, and the number of justifiable homicides in those states has steadily climbed since 2005, according to Maddow.

Also interesting is how the NRA helped to promote the law through its involvement with the American Legislative Exchange Council. Many of the biggest consumer companies in the US are also members of policy-pushing ALEC — brands like Pepsico and Kraft. Oops!

Many of these companies are now rethinking whether it’s good business strategy to be seen supporting an organization that promotes legislation that could potentially result in the death of their customers. And they’re dropping their membership.

Will any of this attention to SYG lead to repeal of the law? Unlikely, Maddow says.

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Irondequoit Dems lay out Medley plan

Posted By on Fri, Jul 19, 2013 at 10:11 AM

There's no way around it, Medley Centre will be an issue in the Irondequoit town elections.

And this morning, the Democratic candidates for supervisor and Town Board held a press conference to lay out their plan for dealing with the dead mall. During a separate interview, Adam Bello, who's challenging incumbentRepublican Mary Joyce D'Aurizio for the supervisor seat, explained the plan. First and foremost, the Dems are calling for the termination of the mall's tax incentive agreement. Bello says Medley's developer, Scott Congel, hasn't met investment milestones laid out in his payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement.

That's not something that the town can do on its own; the Monroe County Industrial Development Agency has to make the call whether to initiate termination proceedings. But Bello says Democrats want the town to advocate for the termination.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Biking image and infrastructure go hand in hand

Posted By on Thu, Jul 18, 2013 at 10:11 AM

It's no secret that cycling advocates, transportation planners, elected officials, and health officials have been trying to make the Rochester area more bikeable. They've put considerable time, effort, and money into developing plans, building infrastructure, and encouraging the public to pedal more and drive less.

And each year, Rochester gets better ratings from the League of American Bicyclists through its Bicycle Friendly America initiative. Right now the city's ranked at the bronze level, but officials say they want to do better. The city has already developed a bicycle master plan, and it's in the process of developing bicycle boulevards: basically bike routes that parallel difficult-to-bike streets.

I talked to city transportation specialist Erik Frisch about the effort last week and he said that city officials hope the bike boulevards help move the city toward a higher ranking from the League. (That's not the sole reason the city is pushing the bike boulevards and other bike infrastructure. Rather, the ranking is simply a way for the public to measure how the city is progressing in terms of bikeablility.)

It's with all of that in mind that an article on MinnPost.com caught my attention. The article draws heavily on a post, "US cycling from a Dutch perspective, from the Bicycle Dutch blog. But they both make the same point: to get more Americans to bike, there has to be a focus on infrastructure and image.

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URMC study shows socioeconomic status determines who gets pain meds

Posted By on Thu, Jul 18, 2013 at 9:46 AM

Anyone who has experienced severe pain or pain that becomes debilitating and chronic knows that pain medications can play an important role in recuperating and returning to a normal life. But concerns about narcotic abuse, also a serious health problem in the US, cause many physicians to be reluctant about prescribing these types of medications.

And a new study by the University of Rochester Medical Center shows that there is an additional set of issues at work. If you’re white and affluent, you are more likely to receive opioid drugs for pain relief than if you are black, Hispanic, poor, or have less education, according to the URMC study, which was recently reported in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Analyzing data of more than 50,000 visits to about 1,400 emergency room departments showed that medications like Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet were less likely to be prescribed to patients of color And they were less likely to be prescribed to people who live in poor neighborhoods compared to people who live in more affluent areas.

Researchers already knew that racial and ethnic disparities existed, but the URMC study may be the first that discovered socioeconomic status, such as poverty, income, and education levels, also determine who receives opioid pain prescriptions.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Solar manufacturing facility coming to Greece

Posted By on Wed, Jul 17, 2013 at 1:15 PM

The newly independent SUNY College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering plans to establish a solar power manufacturing and technology development hub in the Town of Greece.

The new Photovoltaic Manufacturing and Technology Development Facility will be located in a 57,000-square-foot former Kodak building at 115 Canal Landing Boulevard. The building contains a clean room, which will be expanded to 20,000 square feet. Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy and officials from the college announced the new facility during a press conference this morning.

"It's a great adaptive reuse of this former Kodak building," Duffy said.

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