Editorials from around Pennsylvania
By The Associated Press
Aug. 09, 2017
Editorials from around Pennsylvania:
HONEYBEES BOUNCE BACK
There's some buzz-worthy news from the U.S. Department of Agriculture about America's struggling honeybees: This year, their numbers are up, and fewer honeybee deaths are attributed to Colony Collapse Disorder, which has puzzled scientists for more than a decade.
Bloomberg reports that a USDA survey of beekeepers owning at least five colonies, aka hives, found that as of April 1, commercial colonies' numbers were up 3 percent, to 2.89 million, compared to a year earlier. And the number of hives lost to CCD declined 27 percent, to 84,430, from 2016's first quarter to 2017's first quarter — a trend that continued for the survey's second-quarter numbers.
This doesn't mean that commercial honeybees are out of the woods yet. They're among indispensable pollinators, such as wild bees and monarch butterflies, that have declined 90 percent over the past two decades. More than 40 percent of beekeepers surveyed cited mites — including the varroa mite, a blood-sucking, beehive-only parasite — as harmful to their colonies. Many expressed concerns about pesticides, too.
Scientists continue to study the roles that CCD and pesticides play regarding honeybees. Beekeepers surely will sound alarms about any indication that this survey's hopeful findings are reversing. But it's encouraging that their efforts to bolster their honeybees' numbers and health seem to be working. That's good news for them, for farmers — and for everyone whose food supply depends largely on pollination.
—The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
RELIEF FROM ROBOCALLS CAN'T COME SOON ENOUGH
The Federal Communications Commission has proposed letting phone companies block more spam and "robocalls" and is hoping to deter scammers with big fines, The Associated Press reported. Over the past year, prodded by the government, cellphones have added new tools to counteract robocalls. Federal and state "Do Not Call" lists are supposed to protect people from unwanted calls from telemarketers. Scammers are able to reach people using "autodialers," which generate a large number of calls automatically. It's estimated that Americans receive tens of millions of robocalls every day.
Her name is Heather. All of us in the office here know her. In fact, we know her too well.
Heather calls each of our cellphones on a regular basis.
"Hi, this is Heather. ..."
Who wouldn't want to talk to Heather? She sounds so pleasant and enthusiastic.
She then proceeds to offer some special credit card deal with interest rates set by Lucky Luciano.
Heather is cunning and mercurial. She always calls from a different number. You're never really sure it's her.
"Hmmm. I'm in the middle of something and don't know anyone in Tucson, but I'd better answer anyway. What if it's an emergency? Maybe it's about my prescription? What if it's some uncle I've never heard of offering to write me into his will?"
"Hi, this is Heather."
Yes, we loathe Heather.
Heather isn't real. She's a robocall generated by some unknown entity from who knows where. And we can't stop her.
So, to any effort by the FCC to snuff out Heather and her ilk, we say, "Bravo!"
As the AP reported, cracking down on "spoofed" numbers, such as those used by Heather, would make running a scam more difficult and save U.S. consumers millions of dollars, a group of state attorneys general said in an FCC filing.
It is true that federal and state "Do Not Call" lists have greatly reduced the number of unwanted calls. But clearly, some autodialing outfits have found a way around the barriers. They've also figured out a way to use local numbers so you think it's a co-worker or maybe your child's school calling.
Say what you want about Heather. She might be diabolical, but she's not dumb.
Phone companies are able to screen some calls from bogus numbers, and apps now available can block some unwanted calls.
And the FCC has proposed rules that would give more latitude to phone carriers to block suspicious numbers.
All of these measures help, but more needs to be done. Mainly because not only are calls from Heather and her friends annoying, they can be dangerous to an unsuspecting party on the other end.
A recent U.S. Federal Trade Commission report indicated that scam artists are ramping up their efforts via phone to bilk people out of their hard-earned money. Fraudsters pretend to be from the IRS or some other government entity, or they say they're from a debt collection agency and claim you owe them money. Your computer has been infected with a virus and we can tell you how to protect yourself. The list goes on.
There were, according to the FTC report, nearly 1.3 million fraud-related complaints reported last year, up about 2 percent from 2015. Most people said they were scammed during a phone call.
Some commonsense safeguards for all of us and seniors in particular: Don't answer the phone if you don't recognize the number. If it's important and real, they'll leave a message. If it is a robocall, or just an unwanted call from a real person, hang up. Don't press any buttons or engage. And most important, don't divulge any personal information.
These are things you've heard before, but they are worth repeating.
You can also file a "Do Not Call" complaint with the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office at bit.ly/DoNotCallComplaintForm.
We hope the proposed FCC measures are enacted because they will make a difference.
"Americans have run out of patience with robocalls that ring at all hours of the day," Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst with Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports, said in a statement. "This proposal is a positive step that will help provide relief from the scourge of unwanted calls. But consumers have waited long enough for action."
Yes, we have. And we will wait a little longer.
In the meantime, if Heather calls, we're not here.
VA PROJECT RAISES RED FLAGS
A package of emergency funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs was approved by the U.S. Senate this past week. It includes $2.1 billion for a special program to ensure veterans are not kept waiting for health care treatment at VA facilities.
Meanwhile, the agency continues to spend in some ways like a drunken sailor — with some of its officials lying to Congress about that.
But the bureaucracy takes care of its own. Officials at the Justice Department have declined to prosecute two VA officials for misleading Congress about the cost of a new veterans' hospital being built in Aurora, Colo.
Repeatedly during the much-delayed project, lawmakers asked VA officials about cost overruns. No problem, they were told.
Yet the project — still unfinished — now has a price tag of nearly $1.7 billion. That is three times earlier estimates.
Several investigations of the project have uncovered massive mismanagement, including approval of more costly than necessary designs. The VA's own inspector general reported last year that one official knew big cost overruns were coming — but did not tell Congress when asked in 2013 and 2014.
Some lawmakers think two VA officials committed perjury in their testimony.
But the Justice Department says no. So both VA officials (one has retired) will escape punishment for their misdeeds.
President Donald Trump has vowed to clean up "the swamp" in Washington. Clearly, some of the creatures within it don't plan to cooperate.
—The Altoona Mirror
LAWMAKERS SHOULD APPROVE MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE
Pennsylvania has been a laggard in modestly increasing the minimum wage, so low-wage workers in the commonwealth have fallen well behind those in 29 other states, especially in the Northeast.
Every state on Pennsylvania's borders has enacted a minimum wage increase over the last two years, while the rate in Pennsylvania remains mired at the eight-year-old federal rate of $7.25 an hour. None of those Northeast states with higher minimum wages have experienced the dire results predicted by minimum wage opponents.
Unemployment has declined in all of those states in accordance with the national trend.
The national unemployment rate fell last week to 4.3 percent. And, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are about
5.7 million job openings. The 209,000 new hires nationally in July marked a milestone, in that the economy finally has recovered all of the jobs that were lost to the Great Recession.
Traditionally, those conditions would produce upward pressure on wages but wage growth remains slow.
In Pennsylvania, the Legislature continues to ignore the need for a minimum wage hike even though a reasonable one would help it figure out how to fund the state budget. A minimum wage increase would help in two ways — it would produce more personal income tax revenue and, since studies show that low-income workers spend pay increases, it also would increase sales tax revenue.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 144,000 Pennsylvanians who are paid the federal minimum wage or less are about 4.1 percent of the work force. The national average is 2.7 percent.
The 29 states that have increased the minimum wage beyond the federal rate are doing as well or better than Pennsylvania. A phased-in increase comparable to those in surrounding states would be good for the workers, good for the economy and good for the state government. Lawmakers should approve one.
—The Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice
UBER, LYFT MAY PROVIDE AVENUE FOR CITY TO REPLACE PARKING AUTHORITY
Mayor Kenney and City Council need to jump into conversations about letting another state agency take over the role of the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which seems to be drowning without a lifeline.
Competition from ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft has hit the city's taxi industry hard. Fewer fares mean less money for the cab companies and, consequently, less revenue to operate the PPA, which taxes the people-hauling businesses.
Staff writer Jason Laughlin reported that PPA's Taxicab and Limousine Division collected only about $780,000 of the $3 million it projected from assessments on taxi cabs in the past fiscal year. As a result, the division's $8.6 million budget for fiscal 2017 was cut to $4.7 million for the new fiscal year.
The taxes collected on Uber and Lyft vehicles don't make up for the revenue lost from cabs. That loss was deepened by a reduced assessment on taxis mandated in the legislation that authorized the ride-hailing services to operate in Philadelphia.
Because of the lost revenue, the PPA division that is responsible for regulating cabs, limos, and ride-share vehicles has not filled a dozen positions made vacant through attrition and has laid off seven other employees.
The PPA is required to inspect 60 ride-hail vehicles a month and 25 percent of all taxis and limos each year. But with only eight inspectors — when it used to have 12 — the addition of Uber and Lyft's 22,000 vehicles has overwhelmed the agency.
The approximately 1,500 cabs operating in the city is about 100 fewer than a year ago, but there has been an increase in complaints to the PPA about cab drivers refusing to take credit cards and trying to overcharge riders by not turning on their meters.
Noting the PPA's dwindling revenue and increased responsibility, State Rep. John Taylor (R-Phila.) has suggested returning the PPA's duties to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which oversees cabs and ride-sharing everywhere else in the state.
But the PUC, which did oversee transportation services in Philadelphia until 2005, says it would prefer not to go down that road again.
Rep. Maria Donatucci (D-Phila.) says the answer may be to either hike the assessments the PPA charges cab and ride-hailing companies or give the authority the flexibility to move money from parking enforcement or one of its other divisions to where it's needed more.
Given the PPA's history of misspending and mismanagement, perhaps the state agency should be replaced with one run by the city. Kenney and Council should take up that topic.
The state has allowed the city's Republican Party to use the PPA to build a patronage system that provides jobs for cronies. The deal included a promise to help fund city schools, but the PPA has shortchanged them.
Returning the PPA's responsibilities to the city makes sense, but only with safeguards to make sure the new agency keeps its commitment to Philadelphia schools and doesn't become just another version of the PPA run by Democrats.
—The Philadelphia Inquirer