Our views: Explore ‘mitigation bank’; Restore extended unemployment benefits

January 3, 2014 

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Last month, the York County Council discussed the idea of creating a “mitigation bank” as a way to facilitate construction projects while off-setting environmental damage. It’s a conversation worth continuing with the goal of having a system in place sometime in 2014.

A mitigation bank is a somewhat complicated concept similar to the so-called “cap and trade” proposal in recent years aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In this scenario, officials are talking about a mechanism to mitigate damage to environmentally sensitive areas such as streams and other wetlands close to new developments.

When builders buy the credits – offered only when on-site restoration isn’t an option, would be too costly or would take longer than buying credits – the money is used to make environmental improvements elsewhere within a specified radius from the county. Once improvements elsewhere are complete, the developer who purchased the credits can sell them to another who needs them, and so on.

The county council has allowed this type of arrangement before, most recently when it approved almost $90,000 in credits from Taylor’s Creek for work on the Tega Cay Connector Road. County engineer Phil Leazer and others favor the process.

We do, too.

Creating a mitigation bank is a creative solution to some of the problems associated with sustained growth and if current trends are any indication, our area will continue to see a pace of building that could surpass pre-recession levels. Generally, you only get one chance to save the environment. Having this option in place makes it easier. It also helps projects move along from the planning stage to shovels in the grounds much faster, a benefit that should appeal to council members who chafe at the idea of government regulation.

It seems like a win-win and a timely New Year’s resolution the council should have no problem keeping.

Restore extended unemployment benefits

On Dec. 28, extended unemployment benefits ran out for workers who were laid off from the jobs more than a year ago. Due to the nation’s high unemployment rate, Congress agreed several times in recent years to extend the emergency payments past the average 26-week maximum most state administer.

Democrats initially asked for another extension as part of the budget compromise reached in December, but didn’t hold out for them when Republicans negotiating the deal balked. There was hope by those laid off workers sustained by the benefits that Congress would reach a separate deal before going on Christmas break, but one never materialized.

Now, there appears to be some effort in the Senate to revive a measure for an extension. Sen. Jake Reed (D-RI) and Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) are co-sponsoring a bill that could be introduced this week. That it’s a bi-partisan effort is a good sign – for passage in the Senate, which is controlled by a majority of Democrats. It could be a different story altogether in the Republican-controlled House, where the tea party faction vehemently opposes unemployment payments as a disincentive to look for work.

However, House Speaker John Bohner said when the budget agreement was reached that he wouldn’t oppose funding for an extension of unemployment payments as long as they are offset with a reduction of spending elsewhere in the budget. Considering the federal government’s need to keep shrinking its spending deficit – the gap closed to around $840 billion in fiscal 2013, the first time it was less than $1 trillion in years – that seems reasonable. We would want to see some of those cuts come in the form of eliminating wasteful spending like the millions siphoned off by Medicaid fraud and the billions in foreign “aid” that is funneled to dictators and generals rather than going to feed or educate their people.

Contrary to what some people believe, unemployment benefits help people who are out of work. More often than not they were laid of as part of a downsizing put in place to boost the bottom line at companies even when they are making a profit. With fewer jobs available to a larger pool of applicants, there just are not enough positions to go around. Couple that fact with the documented bias employers have toward applicants out of work for a year or more and what you have is an extraordinary dilemma.

Typically half a worker’s pay, unemployment checks are no one’s long-term solution. At best, they keep laid off workers housed, fed and with reliable transportation to they can keep looking for a new job. If there’s a better alternative to keeping these unfortunate workers afloat while they look for work, we’d like to hear it.

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