Editorials

Second Thoughts On Term Limits

With the Mayoral election over and a mad race underway for Speaker of the City Council, word comes that many Council members would like to see a change made in the city’s term-limits law. That change would extend Council members’ terms from two to three.

The proposal has inspired lots of righteous indignation from commentators, good-government groups and the leader of the term-limits campaign, Ronald Lauder.

In one sense, these critics have a point. New York’s voters approved the term-limits law not once, but twice—in 1993 and 1996. The law states that Council members, like the Mayor, Comptroller and Public Advocate, are limited to two four-year terms.

But many leading Council members, including most of the candidates for Council Speaker, believe that it’s time to revisit the term-limits law again. It would be easy to dismiss this as the work of scheming mediocrities who are attempting to get themselves a nice sinecure and a fat pension. Indeed, that has been the general reaction in the press.

But what if the Council members have a point? What if they could make an argument that the current term-limits law dismisses Council members far too quickly? Could the public interest be served better if Council members had an extra four years to make an impact before they start looking for another job?

These are questions we ought to be asking, rather than simply dismissing the idea out of hand. The problem with the Council’s approach thus far is that members say they will simply pass legislation changing the term-limits law, rather than submit their proposal to the very voters who approved the legislation.

This is a foolish and self-defeating approach. It looks like the Council is, in fact, trying to foil the will of the voters.

If Council members feel strongly that they would be more effective if they didn’t have to start looking for a new job midway through their second term, they should make that case to the voters. If they believe they’re right, they should have nothing to fear from their constituents.

The current Speaker of the City Council, Gifford Miller, ran for Mayor this year at the age of 35 because, thanks to term limits, he will be out of work in December. Had he been able to serve another four years in the Council, he might have been a far more impressive candidate for Mayor.

The Council has a point about the rigidity of term limits. But members must make their case to the voters, rather than act on their own accord.

Travesty at Indian Point

Why is Indian Point still in business?

We’ve asked that very question several times on this page, and we ask it again. Why is Indian Point, a nuclear danger to millions of residents in one of the most crowded regions of the country, still in business?

There are no answers, only rhetoric and assertions.

Here is the latest evidence in favor of closing Indian Point: Small quantities of radioactive water are leaking from a pool that stores spent fuel rods. Nobody can quite figure out the source of the leak. That in itself is a scary thought.

Word of the leak comes after the plant’s sirens, which are supposed to signal an emergency, failed several tests. With good reason, federal officials are investigating security at this dangerous and unnecessary power plant.

Indian Point’s owners, the Entergy Corp., say they’re doing everything they can to find the source of the radioactive leak. Residents have been told that there is nothing to fear, that the leak amounts to only about a quart or two a day.

But, of course, the problems at Indian Point go beyond this leak—which is hardly a minor issue anyway. Indian Point is a national-security threat to the city of New York and its surrounding communities. A terrorist strike there would be a global catastrophe, so horrible that, as Nikita Khrushchev said in another era of nuclear-powered fears, the living would envy the dead.

It is infuriating to realize that Governor George Pataki could shut down Indian Point single-handedly. But once again, the lame-duck Governor is demonstrating his stupidity on an issue that means so much to so many New Yorkers. He will be remembered as a passive man who did nothing—after the horror of 9/11—to prevent this disaster in the making.

Why is Indian Point still in business? Because the Governor of New York is afraid to act. That’s why.

Auto Makers vs. Clean Air in New York

There’s good news for New Yorkers who care about the quality of the air we breathe and who see the folly of ignoring the dangers of global warming. This month, the State Environmental Board put New York on track to adopt California’s strict regulations curtailing automotive emissions of carbon dioxide and similar greenhouse gases. The plan would make the air cleaner—reducing carbon-dioxide emissions by 30 percent by 2016—and lower our dependence on foreign oil, by requiring a 40 percent improvement in fuel economy for cars sold in the state. New York plans to implement the new rules in 2009, along with 10 other states, including our neighbors New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

Naturally, the auto industry has rushed to court to stop this eminently sane, healthy and economically sound plan. The Detroit “Big Three,” as well as carmakers from Japan and elsewhere, claim that the new standards will add $3,000 to the cost of a new car, and that they won’t be able to make as many S.U.V. and large cars. The state, however, estimates that car prices will increase by only about $1,000, and says, rightly, that drivers will more than make this up in money saved on gasoline, since the new cars will get significantly better gas mileage. Meanwhile, New York State will be doing its part to reduce global warming, since the new restrictions will force car manufacturers to make more cars using gas-and-electric hybrid technology and corn-based ethanol.

The Big Three—General Motors, Ford and Chrysler—are being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. They have lawsuits against the California emission regulations pending in federal courts and California state courts, and are starting to flood the courts here, too. They can whine all they like, but they have nothing to blame but their own complacency and arrogance over the years. Last spring, G.M. posted a loss of almost $1 billion for a six-month period—a portent of disaster. The company’s recent announcement of 30,000 layoffs isn’t likely to reverse G.M.’s downward spiral. Forty years ago, G.M.’s share of the U.S. market was over 50 percent; today, they have just 25 percent. Ford and Chrysler are likewise on the skids. In 1999, Ford’s stock reached a high of about $60; since then, $57 billion of the company’s value has evaporated. Now, rather than be good corporate citizens and accept the inevitability of the need for cleaner cars, they’re doing all they can to avoid responsibility.

New York residents shouldn’t have to pay the price—at the pump and in the air we breathe—for the financial mismanagement of the automakers. Fortunately, State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is prepared for the seedy legal onslaught. The new regulations are a smart investment toward improving the health of our population.