Editorial: Albany makes its deals

The State Capitol Building of sthe state of The State Capitol Building of sthe state of New York is pictured in Albany, USA, 17 April 2013. The parliamentary building was built between 1867 and 1899. Photo Credit: AP / Arno Burgi

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The legislative session in Albany has ended. Here's our take on the flurry of last-minute deal-making on high-profile issues.

Gradual rollout of medical marijuana makes sense

New York will become the 23rd state to allow limited sale of medical marijuana, thanks to a deal between lawmakers and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in the waning hours of this year's legislative session.

The pilot program, in place for seven years, will be about as restrictive a start as is possible. It only passed because Republican senators, eager to keep their power-sharing arrangement with some Democrats, thought it a lesser evil than voting for publicly financed campaigns.

The marijuana will be available only in edible, oil, vaporized and pill forms. The state Department of Health will oversee the program, which keeps control in the hands of Cuomo, and the law gives a governor the ability to end the program at any time if it gets out of control. Only 10 illnesses will qualify at the outset, including AIDS, epilepsy, cancer and multiple sclerosis, although new ones can be added. The health department can take 18 months to establish regulations and the drug will be distributed at 20 locations. Patients will need a state-issued ID card, and physicians will need training to prescribe it.

It's a restrictive approach, on the theory that it's easier to expand such a program than shrink it. Marijuana is so readily available illegally that it would be unfair to prohibit access to anyone who has a medical need but refuses to break the law. Cuomo's goal is to create as many benefits from legalization, with as few problems, as possible. Going slow allows for both the collection of data and the tweaking of regulations, and that makes sense.

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Change in teacher evaluations allows time to cement Common Core

Over this past year the state Board of Regents, the Education Department and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo have conceded that the rollout of new curricula based on Common Core standards was botched. Any consequences of poor test results for students were postponed, and once that happened it seemed likely something similar would be done for teachers.

For the next two years, teachers will not face firing or censure if they receive poor evaluations because their students do badly on standardized tests that are based on the new curricula. Instead, such teachers will be given two ratings, one including the test results and the other without. Both scores will be available to parents. It’s a compromise brought about by intense opposition from teachers unions. The 2-year delay should be used to get curricula, teaching and public support for Common Core in order, and not to weaken or eliminate evaluations based on measurable standards of student achievement.

Getting buy-in from educators, students and parents for tougher standards, more rigorous academics and heightened achievement is crucial. So far, for many, it hasn’t happened. This reprieve represents another opportunity.

Bills on Nassau tax refunds and Freeport Armory aren’t slam dunks

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo needs to take a very hard look at two approved bills that focus on the needs of Nassau County.

Nassau’s “county guarantee” says it must refund property tax overpayments even though the money is in the coffers of school districts and other municipalities. That’s a terrible drain on the county. Refunding such overpayments on commercial property now costs $80 million to $100 million per year, and that expense is responsible for much of Nassau’s current deficits and its long-term debt of about $3.5 billion.

It needs to be fixed. County Executive Edward Mangano proposed a creative idea: Require that 10 percent of the tax payments of commercial property owners who grieve assessments go into escrow to pay for refunds. But the idea is also very complex, will cause school districts to raise taxes and might have tax cap implications. It shouldn’t become law without a very thorough vetting by all stakeholders.

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And it particularly shouldn’t become law as part of a political quid pro quo that gives the Freeport Armory to a nonprofit organization at the behest of Deputy Assembly Speaker Earlene Hooper, especially when the village needs it for its Department of Public Works. Cuomo was wise to veto that deal last year. He needs to do so again.

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