Editorials from around Pennsylvania
By The Associated Press
Nov. 29, 2017
Editorials from around Pennsylvania:
BREAK THE SILENCE ON THE AMAZON DEAL, Nov. 29
Pittsburgh has made its bid. A decision from Amazon awaits on where the mega-retailer will build its $5 billion, 50,000-job second headquarters.
Yet more than a month after 238 bids for Amazon's "HQ2" were submitted, Pittsburgh and Allegheny County officials remain mum on the details of their offer. An open-records request from the Trib under the state's Right-to-Know Law has been denied.
It's not as if Pittsburgh's deal at this point can be undone. Or can it? Meanwhile at least 30 bids for Amazon's second headquarters reportedly have been made public, including New Jersey's $7 billion offer for a Newark location and Georgia's $1 billion sweetener if Amazon chooses Atlanta.
All we know as to any monetary incentive comes from Philadelphia's Chamber of Commerce, which in October said the state's share of the incentive to attract Amazon could top $1 billion. As for Pittsburgh's end of the bargain, officials initially cited a confidentiality agreement with Amazon when the bid was submitted. Now we're told the details must remain under wraps to protect Pittsburgh's competitive advantage.
Companies like Amazon expect "a candidness in the conversation," according to a joint statement issued by Pittsburgh officials. And taxpayers who'll pay the freight should expect less?
There is a time for negotiation and, in due respect to the public, a time for full disclosure. That time has passed. Silence is not golden when the "gold" at stake is the public's.
—The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
STATE OFFICIALS BEING REWARDED FOR POOR WORK, Nov. 28
It's not just the lackluster or more recently unacceptable performance of too many of our elected officials in Harrisburg. It's not just the serial scandals that have forced some to resign and landed others in jail.
It's also the naked self-interest that are often at the heart of all of the above. It's the shamelessness.
Consider recent events. The Legislature didn't manage to pass a complete state budget until months after its constitutional deadline. That impasse prompted a downgrade to the state's credit rating that will increase costs to the public.
Consider also that the budget is another ugly piece of work, propped up by borrowing and one-time fixes. That could leave Pennsylvania vulnerable to yet another credit downgrade.
It's fair to say that wouldn't make for a positive performance review out here in the workaday world. It might even by cause for firing.
So what will be the upshot for public officials who spent months dawdling while vital business went unattended, and who failed to resolve it responsibly when they did get around to it? They'll be getting a raise.
It's automatic. It doesn't matter what kind of a job they do.
Effective Dec. 1, rank-and-file legislators will get a $702, or 0.81 percent, raise to $87,180. Legislative leaders will see their pay increase as well, to about $136,000 for the highest-ranking. Pay raises for Gov. Tom Wolf and other executive branch officials will kick in on Jan. 1, although Wolf donates his salary to charity.
The automatic, inflation-adjusted increases have been in place since 1995, and have helped lawmakers and executive branch leaders do steadily better at a time when the wages of many of their constituents have stagnated. That adds to the disconnect between public officials and the people they serve.
And it's not like Pennsylvania's lawmakers are playing catch-up. They're the second-highest paid in the country, behind only California's. They also get a buffet of perks that go well beyond those typical in the private sector.
It's true that some officials don't accept the automatic raises, donating them to charity or writing a check to the state treasury. But those raises will still count when the time comes to calculate their pensions. Wolf is not accepting a state pension.
One argument for automatic raises is that they help inoculate Harrisburg against bigger mischief, like the 2005 pay grab that caused such backlash that it was ultimately repealed. But giving automatic payments to remove the temptation to take even more doesn't exactly put the public interest first.
Legislators should ditch the automatic raises. Or they should at least change the law to withhold them if all involved fail to pass a budget, all of it, on time.
—The Erie Times News
FCC SHOULD COOPERATE IN NET NEUTRALITY INVESTIGATION, Nov. 29
Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, announced a plan last week to overturn "net neutrality" rules that ensure equal access to the internet. He would, in effect, turn over a vast public asset to a few private interests for their own profit.
The adoption of any such regulation requires a public comment period. Because of the importance of the internet to the society and the economy, the FCC issue drew millions of comments before it recently concluded.
But New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says he is investigating what he calls a "massive scheme" by unknown parties to corrupt the public comment process by submitting hundreds of thousands of false comments under the names of Americans who did not submit them.
According to Schneiderman, his investigators have detected tens of thousands of such messages originating not only in New York, but in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and other states.
To conduct such an investigation, the receiving party's cooperation is necessary. In this case, that party is the FCC. But, incredibly, the agency has declined to cooperate in the inquiry.
The issue isn't simply regulatory. It's the obligation of public officials to thwart crimes. Pai should ensure that the FCC cooperates or explain its failure to do so.
—The Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice
TROOPERS CAN'T BE ABOVE LAW, Nov. 29
Blair County residents seldom have reason to pay attention to what's happening in Northampton County, which is situated north of Philadelphia, along Pennsylvania's border with New Jersey.
But an issue that has evolved in that county is one that should be of interest not only to people of Blair, but to residents of all other counties across Pennsylvania.
The issue is whether a shooting incident involving on-duty Pennsylvania State Police troopers should be the subject of an independent probe rather than the "in-house" investigatory process currently used to decide whether or not troopers acted correctly in their handling of the incident.
A Keystone State resident need not be harboring negative or vindictive attitudes regarding the state police to acknowledge that the right answer to that question is "yes."
Municipal police departments routinely ask the state police to conduct an independent investigation when someone has suffered serious injuries, been wounded or has died at the hands of their officers. It's not unreasonable for such an expectation to apply also to the state police.
The state police should welcome such scrutiny by outside law enforcement as a means for maintaining public confidence. However, in Northampton County, that's not the way the issue has been playing out.
Rather than welcoming an independent investigation after state police shot to death a man last May 20 who ignored their commands and attempted to light the fuse of a firework mortar around his neck, the state police resisted an independent investigation.
The state police also opposed the idea of a grand jury impaneled to investigate crime in Northampton County evaluating the independent-probe issue and submitting a report.
The state police expressed the position that such a grand jury review would overstep the original purpose for which the jury was impaneled.
But Northampton Judge Stephen Baratta nevertheless rejected a state police request that the grand jury be disbanded, now that its original work has been completed, ruling instead that the panel be allowed to make recommendations regarding the current state police in-house policy.
It's important to note that, prior to the judge's decision, the grand jury did rule in September that the shooting in question was justified.
Beyond his ruling about evaluating state police policy, Baratta criticized the state police for what he characterized as being afraid of public scrutiny.
"You're saying no one's allowed to tell the state police what to do," Baratta told a state police lawyer at a hearing on Nov. 17. "You're afraid they're (members of the grand jury) going to make recommendations that you're not going to like."
Agencies operating wholly or in part with public funds shouldn't be exempted from scrutiny, and the state police are not an exception.
And longtime policy, which the state police cited as grounds for opposing independent investigations into incidents involving shooting, wasn't a good argument.
It's counterproductive from a public-respect perspective for the state police to reject transparency. It's neither in the agency's best interests nor the public's.
The honesty, integrity and professionalism of the state police generally are outstanding. However, the state police aren't immune to mistakes or errors in judgment.
Independent investigations can go a long way toward ensuring that those high standards remain intact.
SUPREME COURT RULING COULD HAVE BIG IMPACT ON CASES LIKE MENENDEZ TRIAL, Nov. 27
The jury in the corruption trial of Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) was unable to reach a verdict despite lengthy testimony about private jet rides, lavish vacations, and more than $750,000 in campaign donations the senator received from a Florida eye doctor he claimed was only a friend.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year may not have caused Menendez's hung jury, but it has made it more difficult to get convictions in public corruption cases. That may be good news for dirty politicians, but it is bad news for prosecutors trying to deter corruption, which means it is bad news for the public.
Most Americans already lack faith in their elected representatives. A recent Rasmussen poll found 56 percent of likely U.S. voters think most members of Congress are willing to sell their vote for cash or campaign contributions. The Supreme Court ruling won't change that perception.
Gov. Bob McDonnell (R., Va.) was convicted in 2014 of receiving $175,000 in loans, gifts, and other benefits from a businessman who hoped the state would promote a nutritional supplement made by his company. But the Supreme Court overturned the case in 2016, saying prosecutors failed to prove that McDonnell engaged in "official acts" in exchange for the cash and gifts.
That ridiculous ruling has led to the reversal of convictions of two powerful state lawmakers in New York and the dismissal of most of the charges against a Louisiana congressman who had $90,000 stashed in a freezer. In August, former Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.) appealed his 10-year prison sentence in part by citing the McDonnell case.
In the Menendez case, jurors were unable to reach a verdict despite strong evidence. Federal prosecutors accused Menendez of using his office multiple times to help Salomon Melgen. The senator was charged with bribery, making false statements, conspiracy, and violating the Travel Act.
Prosecutors said that over a seven-year period, Melgen plied Menendez with free trips on private jets to weekend getaways at resorts in Florida, the Dominican Republic, and Paris. Melgen gave a $300,000 check to a PAC helping Menendez's reelection campaign in the same month that the senator intervened on his behalf with a federal agency that said Melgen had overbilled Medicare.
In another instance, Menendez urged top State Department officials to pressure the Dominican Republic government to enforce a long-dormant port security contract with a company in which Melgen held an investment interest. Around the same time, Melgan promised Menendez $60,000 in campaign donations.
The senator said the junkets were gifts stemming from a longtime friendship and were not in exchange for political favors. (We should all have such friends.) After federal prosecutors began investigating the senator's travels, he wrote a $58,000 check to cover the cost of two of the private jet rides to Melgen's Dominican villa, claiming it was an oversight.
Corruption cases were difficult to prove before the Supreme Court raised the bar. Now that it has, prosecutors may be reluctant to bring charges in future cases. That will only embolden corrupt officials to see what they can get away with. Meanwhile, public trust in elected officials will continue to dwindle as government becomes more disconnected from angry voters.
—The Philadelphia Inquirer