Editorials from around Pennsylvania
By The Associated Press
Jul. 26, 2017
Editorials from around Pennsylvania:
THOSE STUBBORN EARMARKS
Old habits die hard in Washington, and earmarks, typically tacked on to legislation for purely political reasons, are a Capitol Hill compulsion that's especially hard to kick.
Despite a 2010 "moratorium" on earmarks, the price of legislative pork continues to rise, according to the 2017 Congressional Pig Book. As documented by Citizens Against Government Waste, earmarks amounted to $6.8 billion in fiscal year 2017, up more than 33 percent from the previous year. Unfortunately the supposed earmark ban didn't eliminate longtime funding streams for partisan pork.
The primary difference today is that this congressional spending is "patently less transparent," according to the report. "There are no names of legislators, no list or chart of earmarks."
The alleged beneficiaries include interior, state and foreign operations, along with legislation dealing with agriculture, defense and energy, The Washington Free Beacon reports. Among the flagged spending is more than $66 million for the National Endowment for Democracy to supposedly grow economic institutions and $5.9 million for the East-West Center, which was supposed to boost Asian relations and which the State Department reportedly has tried to defund for years.
Never mind that some congressional porkers want to fully restore earmarking. What's needed is a permanent legislative ban that would eliminate billions of dollars in purely partisan spending with little, if any, public purpose.
—The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
STATE WANTS TO DRILL GAS CUSTOMERS, INSTEAD OF FRACKERS
Of all the terrible, unfair and just plain stupid ideas flowing out of Harrisburg these days over how to plug a $2 billion-plus hole in the state budget, this takes the cake.
An idea is being circulated in Republican circles to get revenue from the natural gas boom in Pennsylvania - not by taxing the large companies drilling the gas, but by taxing the consumers who use natural gas.
That is not a misprint. They do not want to tax the mega-companies that sold $3.5 billion worth of Pennsylvania gas in 2016.
Instead, they want to tax gas consumers, who number nearly 2.7 million statewide, including 500,000 in Philadelphia alone.
The details are sketchy because the idea has not yet surfaced in public yet, though it may this weekend when the state House will be in session to debate matters dealing with the budget and taxes.
The state already imposes what is called a gross receipts tax on electricity, hydroelectric and water that raises close to $900 million a year.
Natural gas used to be included on the list, but was dropped in 1999, presumably to spare gas consumers some pain in the face of rising costs.
There is a huge difference between now and 1999. Since then, Pennsylvania has developed its own natural gas industry, mostly by using hydraulic fracking to extract gas from the Marcellus Shale. There are 5,000 so-called "horizontal wells" in the state, most of them clustered in the southwest and far northeast sections.
The $3.5 billion in sales is less than it was a few years ago, due to a slump in natural gas prices. But, analysts predict the market will expand in coming years, with more gas being pumped out of more wells.
Pennsylvania now ranks as the second-largest gas producer in the United States, behind only Texas. It also ranks as the only state that does not have a tax on natural gas. Most states impose a tax on a percentage of natural gas that flows out of the wells - Texas, for instance, has a 7.5 percent tax on the market value of the gas.
For the last five years, advocates — including Gov. Wolf - have proposed that Pennsylvania enact a similar tax. In his most recent budget, Wolf proposed a 6.5 percent tax, which would yield an estimated $400-500 million a year. And that's based on current production; as demand rises, so would that amount.
The industry is dead set against an extraction tax. So are Republican lawmakers, many of whom benefit from the industry's campaign contributions. (Democrats have also received contributions, though far less than Republicans.) The industry does pay impact fees — a levy enacted during the Corbett administration, which sets a fee based on each well drilled, not the volume of gas it produces. Last year, the tax bought in $173 million a year, the lowest amount since the fee was enacted in 2011, and most of it goes to areas where drilling is concentrated.
Wolf's latest proposal would give companies a tax credit for whatever impact fees companies pay.
Under the gross receipts tax idea, the gas companies would not pay an additional dime, but consumers could be on the hook for many millions of dollars.
This is an idea that should die of shame before it gets seriously considered.as should the lawmakers who would consider it.
—The Philadelphia Daily News
GENDER DISPARTY IN POLITICS 'STARK'
Women remain underrepresented in national, state and local governments in 2017.
And in Pennsylvania, that number is "particularly stark," according to a May 2017 report, "Few, but Mighty: Women and Bill Sponsorship in the Pennsylvania General Assembly," by the Pennsylvania Center for Women in Politics at Chatham University's Women's Institute.
The report finds the lack of female representation is detrimental in terms of representation, policy-making, collaboration and legislative success.
Simply put, more women in government can lead to a significantly more effective government. And to that end, at least locally, there's reason to be hopeful that more women will launch political careers.
York Dispatch reporter Jana Benscoter's report "Gender disparity in politics slowly evolving" highlights local women who are running for office or currently representing the people of York. Kristin Phillips-Hill, Carol Hill-Evans, Deborah Kalina, Dawn Keefer and others are familiar faces in local politics.
But as Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, told us: "I can remember being in fourth grade. It was the bicentennial, and the boys in the class wrote reports on a president. And, the girls in the class wrote reports on a first lady. So, you kind of always viewed yourself as the first lady."
Across the United States, women make up more than 50 percent of the population, yet hold less than 20 percent of the available seats in Congress, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In Pennsylvania, according to the Center for Women in Politics report, the 253-member General Assembly, only 40 women legislators currently serve in the House, and eight in the Senate.
Additionally, Pennsylvania has been ranked 46th in overall gender parity, according to the report.
"Given both the paucity of women in Pennsylvania government and the crucial role women appear to play in addressing women's issues, it should be no surprise that Pennsylvania is often criticized for failing to meet the needs of its female citizens. 'The State of Women in America,' a study funded by the independent Center for American Progress (2013), gave the state a grade of C-," the report finds.
The report goes on to indicate that partisan gridlock may be a function of having fewer women in the Legislature.
Case in point: The eight-month budget stalemate that began in 2015. The report found that women in the state Legislature had done much to work across the aisle during that time, scheduling coffee meetings and generally connecting to see if there was a way they could collaboratively help break the partisan ice.
More women may have meant more compromise and more effective negotiating, which, in turn, may have led to a shorter — or non-existent — stalemate. An on-time budget, in turn, would have taken much undue stress off of schools, agencies, municipalities and taxpayers.
The research finds that when women are elected to office, they are more likely to advocate for women's issues and move legislation through process efficiently by being more collaborative.
At the end of the day, isn't that what taxpayers are seeking — a more effective and efficient government?
If that's what you're looking for, encourage women to run for office locally — and vote for them to represent you when they do.
THERE'S NO REASON TO KEEP USING GUANTANAMO
An alleged al-Qaida-linked terrorist appeared in federal court Friday in Philadelphia. In terms of policy, the venue was even more important than the proceeding.
Algerian Ali Charaf Damache, 52, was accused in a 2011 indictment of aiding terrorism, including participation in a plot, with two Americans, to murder Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, who had depicted Mohammad as a dog.
Beyond the case itself, Damache's appearance was significant because it was in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia rather than at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions had vowed to use military tribunals at Guantanamo for suspects like Damache.
There is no reason to continue using Guantanamo. Only 41 prisoners remain there, only 26 of whom have been charged with a crime and five of whom have been cleared for release. It costs $7 million a year to house a single prisoner at Guantanamo, compared with about $70,000 at a federal maximum security prison.
And security is not the issue. At least 620 terrorism suspects have been convicted in federal district courts since 2001 and incarcerated in federal prisons. There have been no reported security breaches or related terrorism incidents in the communities where the trials occurred.
Likewise, there have been no cases of leaked classified information from those proceedings because the federal courts have vast experience in protecting such information — to the point that the military tribunal rules are modeled after the federal court rules.
Damache's arrest might be a step forward in the fight against anti-American terrorism. But the handling of the case definitely should signal the beginning of the end for the unnecessary prison camp at Guantanamo.
—Wilkes-Barre Citizen's Voice
NO BUDGET? NO PAY — SERIOUSLY
Welcome to Week Four of Budget Stalemate 2017.
If week four seems like week three, or week two or week one, and you're not feeling any pain from the failure of our elected leaders to execute (competently or otherwise) one of the main things, by law, they're charged with doing, there's a good reason for that.
As a story Tuesday by PennLive Capitol Bureau Chief Jan Murphy makes painfully clear: It will be a relatively long time before this year's fiscal staring contest causes the wheels to come off state government.
Here's the fine print:
Right now, lawmakers have approved, and Gov. Tom Wolf has allowed to lapse into law without his signature, a $32 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that started on July 1.
What the two sides don't have is an agreement on how to pay for it. In the meantime, tax money is still rolling in. The state Senate will take another crack at resolving the revenue question Wednesday.
Still, in many of the key ways that matter — from schools and colleges opening on time to grants for college kids — the current impasse will have no impact whatsoever (at least in the near-term) for most Pennsylvanians.
That's a marked difference from the Great Budget Debacle of 2015, when Pennsylvania went nine months with neither an approved spending plan nor a revenue package in place.
As a consequence, only programs deemed essential to the health, safety and welfare of the state (like state police and prisons, among others) were funded. Meanwhile, grants for college students, some human service programs, and others, were left hanging until a final agreement was in place.
State lawmakers continued to collect paychecks (though many put their pay on hold until the situation was resolved).
A 2009 state court decision ensured that state employees continued to be paid — removing another incentive for a speedy resolution. Some of the legislative caucuses, including the state Senate, borrowed money to pay their employees for the duration of the impasse.
In any crisis, it takes some kind of pinch point, some kind of discomfort — emotional, physical or financial — to reach a resolution. But in Pennsylvania's upside-down budget kabuki, there isn't one.
At least right now.
But there's a place to start: In 2015, former state Sen. Rob Teplitz, a Dauphin County Democrat, pushed legislation docking the pay of lawmakers and the executive branch in the event of a budget stalemate.
That bill went nowhere and died with the close of last year's legislative session.
This year, state Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-Chester, has taken up the baton. He's sponsoring legislation requiring the General Assembly to stay in continuous session, every day, without pay or travel and meal reimbursements, until a budget is approved. The proposal would also extend to governor, senior staff and cabinet members.
Two House Democrats, Reps. Kevin J. Boyle, of Philadelphia, and Daniel T. McNeil of Lehigh County, county, are also floating similar measures.
It would take both political and moral courage for lawmakers to vote against their own self-interest and send such a bill to Gov. Tom Wolf for his signature. Right now, you could fit the political courage under the Capitol dome into a coffee cup from the East Wing cafeteria.
For now, the next time a state lawmaker tells you they feel your pain — don't listen to them.