NEWSPAPERS LIVE IN THE PAST. Something happened. We reported it. We stray sometimes into the present tense as a way to make a news story sound livelier. But it’s still information reassembled after the fact, with names, dates and sources. Beware the “news” that assures you of what lies ahead. That’s what you get from faith, luck, good judgment and con artists. It’s not news.
So with that disclaimer in mind, step right this way for a few thoughts about stories we expect to follow in 2020.
• The chatter from Albany is that the state faces a deficit of roughly $6 billion in the budget due April 1. That’s a lot of money even in New York State and it’s likely that education funding will be targeted for cuts. The state’s 2% cap on tax levies will make it hard for school districts to do anything but cut staff and programs. But this is an election year for the entire state legislature, and here in Columbia County each state lawmaker represents multiple school districts.
This is a familiar drama that ends with one of two variations: either the deficit is real and the legislature will have no choice but to reduce funding for schools like ours, where enrollment is decreasing; or the State Budget Tooth Fairy finds revenue previously unknown to accountants and the problem is pushed off onto the back of future generations. Either way, it’s a rite of spring.
• On the topic of lawmakers, one race already well underway is for the seat in Congress from the 19th District currently held by first-term Democrat Antonio Delgado. Ads are running on TV from both parties even though Republicans do not yet have high-profile contenders for their nominee. The race will get national attention, perhaps more than it did in 2018.
Two years ago outside money funded anti-Delgado ads on TV and through direct mail that were overtly racist. The ads backfired. We can hope racism won’t reappear this season, but don’t expect decency to replace the hatred behind those ads.
• The census is a local as well as a national story. This once-every-decade effort to gather population data matters more than usual. This county lost 5% of its population between 2010 and 2019. We’re now down to 59,916 people, based on the 2019 estimate.
Most of the head counting will be done online this year. Government funding and business investment are just two factors that depend on U.S.Census figures. But lots of people here either aren’t connected to the digital grid or have such rotten internet service that they might as well be disconnected. How much effort will be made to count everyone as the Constitution requires? How successful will it be? We’ll have to live with these numbers until 2030.
• It’s harder to predict good news but we love pleasant surprises. In addition to individual achievements there are group efforts and public works. Progress on the Harlem Valley Rail Trail and the Albany-Hudson Electric Trail come to mind, along with the dizzying number of community events and charity benefits, all part of the fabric of life in this county.
• On the not-so-good side we expect to continue our coverage of Sal Cascino and his latest attempts to bamboozle state regulators into believing that the Copake valley fields he buried under illegally dumped construction and demolition debris is nothing but a harmless farm.
• Plenty of other topics come to mind—the opioid epidemic, the need for more volunteer firefighters, and all the efforts of towns and villages to govern ourselves as the county population ages are just a few that will generate headlines in 2020. And then there are the unexpected journalistic opportunities. (Did fleas really cause broken voting machines?)
• But one topic stands out because we all wish it would go away and know it won’t unless we change how we live and work and play and eat and travel and breathe and dispose of all the waste we create and cause to be created in support of our lifestyle. We know that this small and beautiful place already exhibits early signs of changing under the grip of winds, floods, droughts and heat that will only become stronger over time. The window of choice to live one way or another is closing fast. It’s not clear that options remain. Knowing little and doing nothing are no longer moral choices. They are headlines I hope I never have to write.