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Local
Stefanik faults Trump on 'rhetoric,' interim security clearances

GLENS FALLS — U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, said on Monday she disagrees with the current administration’s decision to allow interim security clearances for people who have access to classified information.

“I am deeply, deeply concerned with the security clearance issue,” Stefanik said during a meeting with The Post-Star editorial board.

The congresswoman was referring to White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who resigned last week after domestic abuse issues surfaced. It was noted at the time that Porter did not have an FBI security clearance.

“The staff secretary is one of the most important jobs; you handle every document that comes and goes from the Oval Office,” Stefanik said. “You handle every document sent out from the White House.”

Stefanik touts legislative wins in meeting with Post-Star editorial board

GLENS FALLS — With some of the government gridlock and the frustration that people feel on both sides of the aisle, focusing on delivering results to the constituents living in NY-21 is important, said Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, on Monday during a meeting with The Post-Star editorial board.

According to several news sources, about 30 to 40 people are still operating in the White House with no security clearance, including Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser.

“I think you should only have access to classified information if you have clearance. Period. End of story,” Stefanik said. “I worked in the West Wing as a young staffer and I had to go through the security clearance process. I had to be cleared because I worked in the Chief of Staff’s office. There was no such thing as an interim security clearance during the Bush Administration, to the best of my knowledge.”

During the hour-long discussion, Post-Star Editor Ken Tingley expressed the editorial board’s concerns.

“We just wanted to emphasize how concerned we are with what’s going on in the country, what’s going on in Washington, and specifically what’s going on with the current administration and the president,” Tingley said to the congresswoman, who was accompanied by spokesman Tom Flanagin. “We’re hoping you can give us your take on the president’s behavior, his tweeting, his brinksmanship with something like North Korea, his incessant lying or mischaracterizations of facts.”

And in what became a far-reaching discussion with the seven editorial board members, including three citizen members, Stefanik said she disagreed with the president or his administration regarding several key issues.

“As a member of Congress, I think it is important to remain focused and be the best representative you can be. I have been very independent and when there are issues I disagree with, I state so,” she said. “I opposed his rhetoric when it came to the specific cuts to the EPA; I’ve opposed his rhetoric numerous times toward women. Also, while I wasn’t in the room during that comment about refugee nations, I opposed it.”

She continued: “I think the past week is something worth talking about, the issues with domestic violence within the White House. There should be zero tolerance for domestic violence,” Stefanik said. “So there are areas where I disagree with the president, but if there are areas I agree with, then I am going to work with him.”

Tingley pressed Stefanik on issues of Trump’s behavior, asking her again, “Do you have concerns?”

“I do have concerns with some of the rhetoric in terms of some of the distractions that occur from the use of Twitter. I have said publicly before, I think that I don’t use Twitter the same way that the president does and I think that sometimes it’s a distraction from what the American public wants us to focus on,” Stefanik said. “I think most people, whether you vehemently disagree with the president or you agree with him, people want Congress to be working with the administration on issues that matter to their community.”

Still, while Stefanik has concerns about certain decisions and behaviors within the Trump administration, she did say there have been times he has reached out toward compromise.

“Again, I think that sometimes I don’t agree with his rhetoric, but he has reached out to forge bipartisan compromises,” she said. “This past budget is not perfect, but it is bipartisan. And I think when it came to the negotiations this past October, he prioritized Senators Schumer and Pelosi’s position. On immigration and DACA (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy), I anticipate there will be a bipartisan fix.”

In addition to security clearance concerns, the congresswoman said she is troubled by Russia and that country’s increasing aggression.

“I disagree with his (Trump) position on Russia. I believe that Russia is an adversary,” Stefanik said. “In terms of Russia’s use of cyberattacks, in terms of Russia’s use of information operation and influence campaigns, I’m deeply concerned.”

She pointed to what she calls Russia’s destabilization efforts.

“Taking a step back, what is a bigger threat to me is Russia’s increased aggression, whether cyber tools, military operations filling voids that the U.S. has left,” she said. “The cyberattacks and influencer campaigns are a small but significant piece of broader Russian aggression that’s happening around the world. I think the bigger threat is their destabilization efforts when it comes to relationships with our NATO allies.”

Regarding the FBI and the Mueller investigation?

“I disagree on his (Trump) attacks on law enforcement and the Department of Justice. I have confidence in the Mueller investigation. I have repeatedly and explicitly said that I support the Mueller investigation.”

Regarding her own initiatives?

The congresswoman said that four of her initiatives have become law (see accompanying story) and that she works with both Democrats and Republicans to get things done.

“I’m proud to be in the top 10 percent of members with a bipartisan record,” she said. “I think that’s why I’ve been effective at getting some of the bipartisan legislation across the finish line.”

And she said that aside from the rumbling in Washington, “most people are focused on making sure their kids have opportunities, that they are able to save for college, and they are worried about health-care costs. They are interested in quality of health care and access. They’re focused on issues like broadband and cell coverage, jobs and potential wage growth over time.”

She continued: “Those are the nuts and bolts issues that are very important despite the controversy. I believe members of Congress need to be focused on the issues that matter in their communities. And that’s why I highlighted those four wins.”


Local
Stefanik touts legislative wins in meeting with Post-Star editorial board

GLENS FALLS — With some of the government gridlock and the frustration that people feel on both sides of the aisle, focusing on delivering results to the constituents living in NY-21 is important, said Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, on Monday during a meeting with The Post-Star editorial board.

“Since the last time we met with the editorial board, which I think was a year ago, I have had four of my legislative initiatives signed into law,” Stefanik said. “That’s fairly rare in this divided Congress and I wanted to touch on those.”

The first of the four pieces of legislation the congresswoman highlighted is the pre-clearance agreement between the U.S. and Canada, which includes pre-border clearance for Amtrak train riders, Stefanik said, adding that it helps tourism.

“The pre-clearance agreement is specifically a North Country issue. This was the top priority from the North Country Chamber of Congress,” she said. “We benefit here, whether it’s visiting The Hyde museum or visiting Lake George. (The agreement) is important to ensure having Canadian tourism in our region.”

At the request of community college leaders in the district, Stefanik said she worked on legislation allowing year-round Pell Grant funding for college students, a bill that the president signed into law.

“This was a top priority that I heard about directly from community colleges. It wasn’t my idea, it actually came from the president of Jefferson Community College,” she said. “Many students want to take classes during the summer.”

Stefanik continued: “We have more Pell Grant recipients than most other districts in upstate New York. As we’re looking for ways of making sure there’s a pipeline from high school, to higher ed, to jobs in the community, this is a good thing so they can graduate faster and access Pell Grants,” she said. “It also cuts the student’s tuition costs.”

The other two pieces of legislation signed into law assist military spouses’ transition when the family moves from state to state.

“When you move from state to state, if you are a teacher or a nurse, and let’s say you are licensed by California, you have to re-license in New York,” she said. “That’s money out of your own pocket. My bill covers up to $500 of that re-licensing fee for every military spouse.”


Local
Train engine derails, is left running for a week

JOHNSBURG — A Saratoga & North Creek Railway locomotive derailed near Route 28 last week and has remained off the tracks with its engine running for nearly a week as the company tries to right it, angering residents who have been inhaling diesel engine fumes for days.

The engine was being used to try to clear snow and ice from tracks between Johnsburg and Thurman on Feb. 6, when it jumped the rails and became stuck.

Efforts to get it back on the rail since have been hindered by ice and snow, said Justin Gonyo, SNCR’s general manager. And because it is a diesel engine that does not have antifreeze, SNCR has been forced to keep the engine running so it doesn’t freeze, he said.

That has included refueling it at least once.

“Believe me, I want it out of there as much as anyone,” Gonyo said.

The engine remained upright and was stuck in a stretch between Glen Creek and Route 28, just west of the Hudson River.

There are a number of homes and businesses clustered in an area known as The Glen who have been wondering about the progress in light of the noise of the engine and odor of diesel exhaust.

Johnsburg Supervisor Andrea Hogan said a number of residents have taken issue with the “really bad” odor from the engine’s fumes.

“I have been hearing their frustration,” she said Monday.

She said railroad management had promised to have the train back on the tracks as of Saturday, but that day came and went without success.

“It might be time for them to pay for a contractor,” she said.

One resident said that railroad workers did not come to the site for several days last week, after the Wednesday snowstorm. They were there during the snowstorm and returned on Saturday.

Water from flooding last month blocked the tracks in several areas along the Hudson River, and Gonyo said the company has been working to clear it so snow train trips could resume. The company has scaled back the length of the snow train trip to avoid the flooded area, but Gonyo said ticket sales have been good and the company wants to re-open the full line as soon as possible.

“The ice has been a big problem, and we haven’t gotten to the worst of it yet,” Gonyo explained.


Local
Ski coaches credited with saving girl during ski lift fall

QUEENSBURY — Quick thinking by a couple of ski coaches at West Mountain Ski Area saved a young girl from injury over the weekend after she slipped out of a ski lift chair while going up the mountain.

Queensbury resident Kyle Flaherty, who coaches a freestyle ski team at the ski center, and snowboarding coach Brady Swanson were headed down the mountain near the terrain park Saturday when Swanson spotted a child dangling from a lift and pointed her out to Flaherty.

“I thought to myself, ‘That doesn’t look right,’” Swanson said.

The girl, who they later learned was 7, was part of a skiing lesson, but slipped out of the chair as the lift headed up. The person on the chair with her was holding on to her.

Flaherty and Swanson moved underneath her, about 15 to 20 feet below, Flaherty estimated.

A group assembled to help, knowing that the child couldn’t hold on much longer.

“They were just going to try to catch her when she fell, but those skis are sharp,” Swanson said.

So the duo quickly went to a nearby ski lift tower and removed the cushion that was attached to it to protect skiers from injury, pulled it off, and with the assistance of two skiers, held it underneath the child. She let go, and landed on the cushion without injury.

Flaherty, 18, and Swanson, 21, both SUNY Adirondack students, are going to be chosen “employees of the week” for their resourcefulness, West Mountain co-owner Spencer Montgomery said.

“It was smart thinking on their part,” he said.

Montgomery also praised the lift operator, who spotted the child slipping on the chair and stopped the lift before it got too far up the mountain and high off the ground.

He said the child probably wouldn’t have been seriously hurt by a fall from that height.

Ski school students practice getting on and off chairlifts, using a stationary chair before they try the real thing, Montgomery said.

So was the child shaken up by the incident?

Not according to the two young coaches who helped her.

“She just got up and skied away. I think she skied the rest of the day,” Swanson said.


State-and-regional
Cuomo wants voluntary payroll tax to ease pain of US tax law

ALBANY — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration laid out an ambitious plan Monday to restructure the state's tax code to ease the burden of the recently enacted federal law.

The centerpiece of the Democrat's proposal is a voluntary payroll tax that companies could adopt in lieu of the existing income tax paid by workers. The recently enacted federal tax law will raise many New Yorkers' federal taxes by sharply capping a deduction for state and local taxes that was especially popular in high-tax states. Shifting to a state payroll tax instead of an income tax is seen as one way to reduce employees' federal tax liability.

Take-home pay would remain the same for workers, and businesses wouldn't see any additional taxes, according to the administration's plan. The switch would be optional, and the changes phased in, to minimize confusion for workers and businesses.

"We are taking action to protect hardworking New Yorkers from this attack from Washington," Cuomo said in a statement. "With these reforms to our tax code, we are doing everything we can to protect the rights and wallets of families across New York."

Another proposal from Cuomo includes creating a tax credit for individuals who make charitable contributions to public education or health care programs. Taxpayers making such contributions would get a deduction on their federal taxes. Lawmakers in California are considering a similar move.

The payroll tax proposal, which would require legislative approval, prompted mixed reactions and some skepticism. Business leaders said they aren't sure how many businesses might sign up for a new, potentially confusing tax system. And Republicans say Cuomo should focus on lowering state taxes instead of finding ways to circumvent the federal tax code.

"From the conversations we've had it seems that the businesses who would take advantage of this are fairly narrow in scope," said Zack Hutchins, spokesman for the Business Council of New York State, a leading business advocacy group.

The conservative fiscal think-tank Reclaim New York blasted Cuomo's ideas as a "tax avoidance scheme." Republican Senate Leader John Flanagan of Long Island noted that Cuomo's state budget recommendation includes $1 billion in new state taxes and fees.

"We should be cutting taxes, not raising them," Flanagan said.

Cuomo has vowed to sue the federal government over the tax law. His proposed tax changes are included in his budget proposal, now the subject of negotiations with lawmakers. A final budget is expected to be approved by April 1.

Several other budget-related proposals were announced by the governor's office on Monday. They include one regarding sex offenders that would prohibit level two and three offenders whose victims were under 13 from being within 1,000 feet of a pre-K or kindergarten school.

Cuomo also wants to set aside $7 million for counties to offer early voting up to 12 days before Election Day. The measure is part of voting reforms initiatives Cuomo says will improve the state's antiquated voting system. Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia currently allow voters to cast ballots in person before Election Day.