Editorials from around Pennsylvania
Editorials from around Pennsylvania
TRANSPARENCY, THE BEDROCK OF GOOD GOVERNMENT, Jan. 2
Rarely do we agree with state Sen. Scott Wagner, the York County Republican who acknowledges he’s more concerned his name is spelled correctly than how his often-off-the-wall comments are received.
Once described by the state GOP vice chairwoman as “our Donald Trump,” the brash businessman is seeking his party’s nomination for governor this year, and he’s widely considered the favorite in a four-candidate race.
Frankly, the thought of a Gov. Wagner is daunting, but in this particular case, we are in complete agreement with him:
Gov. Tom Wolf should release the results of a publicly funded state inspector general investigation into Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, a fellow Democrat who faced heavy criticism last year following reports he and his wife mistreated state troopers assigned to protect them.
And if Wolf continues to keep the report under wraps, the Legislature should step in and take the matter out of his hands.
We’re disappointed it has come to this, considering governmental transparency was a key plank of Wolf’s 2014 campaign for governor.
The report he’s withholding came after the Inspector General’s Office investigated Stack over claims he and his wife verbally abused state police troopers assigned to protect them and the people who work in the lieutenant governor’s official residence.
Those allegations prompted Wolf to remove the Stacks’ security details in April, shocking Capitol observers. Lieutenant governors have had state police protection for decades in Pennsylvania.
According to the governor, nothing will be served by releasing the inspector general’s report.
“My concern back in the summer was to make sure the employees — the police officers and the staff out at the residence — were safe and were not in a bad job situation,” Wolf has said. “And I took care of that. I don’t think anything will be served by piling on top of that.”
Noting the Inspector General’s Office never released a report or summary of any investigations before Wolf took office, his press secretary, J.J. Abbott, said “the insinuation that Gov. Wolf is using OIG different than it ever has been is just wrong.”
Yet, the governor last year did release an inspector general’s report that found evidence of cheating among cadets at the Pennsylvania State Police Academy.
And last summer, Wolf signed Senate Bill 527, which established the Inspector General’s Office as a permanent Cabinet-level post independent from the governor’s purview.
Wagner thanks John Oliver for free advertising
He thanked lawmakers for passing the bill so the office could serve “taxpayers with efficiency and accountability.”
Now, however, Wolf appears to be backtracking, and Wagner is right to pounce.
“The bottom line is this: If taxpayer resources are used to conduct an investigation, then taxpayers have a right to see the findings,” the senator said. “If you don’t want something to go public, then do not use taxpayer resources to pay for an investigation.”
The one-term state senator said he will be writing a bill to make all of the inspector general’s investigative findings open to the public.
Wagner’s bill, if passed, also would require the publication of all reports issued by the inspector general during 2017, which would include the Stack investigation.
We hope he follows through with his legislation and his fellow lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats alike — support it.
Transparency is the bedrock of good government.
Good, bad or ugly — the public deserves to know what elected officials are doing on our behalf and with our tax dollars.
By resisting calls to release the Stack report, Wolf has accomplished a rarity.
He’s made Scott Wagner sound like the voice of reason.
MUNICIPALITIES DO THE RIGHT THING IN OPTING OUT OF CONSIDERATION FOR CASINOS, Jan. 2
We’re often critical of government — federal, state and local — for not listening to the voices of people. The criticism is justified.
People are frustrated, discouraged, and they don’t believe — with good reason in many cases — that their elected representatives have their best interests at heart.
But this is different. The people spoke — to LNP, to state lawmakers, to their local officials.
“Decades of financial mismanagement is not made right by the legalization of an activity that is designed explicitly to lull them (the gamblers) into a trancelike state that the industry refers to as ‘continuous gaming productivity,’ ” wrote Edgar Stoesz, of Akron, in an April letter to the editor.
“I have to believe that there are other means of funding our state programs without relying on the ‘pie-in-the-sky’ promises of one of the most destructive and addictive behaviors of modern society,” Elizabethtown resident David Bowie wrote last year.
We’ve written about this topic several times within the past year, not because we’re anti-gambling but because we’ve never believed the people of Lancaster County wanted casinos, nor do we believe gambling should be pervasive in Pennsylvania.
For those of you who spoke via your letters to LNP, who wrote and called your elected officials, we want you to know that someone was listening. It’s not a coincidence that all 60 county municipalities have opted out of the casino expansion. They got the message — your message.
“Truly, there is no other place in Pennsylvania or the United States that has the heritage, character and culture that we are blessed with, and we all have been entrusted with preserving those important qualities and our way of life,” Aument and Martin wrote in their letter to local governments. “However, the time has come and you must make a choice about what is best and we hope you will carefully consider the social and other impacts that gambling has on our people, communities and economy and make an appropriate decision.”
Apparently, those impacts were, indeed, seriously considered.
We laud Sens. Martin and Aument for leading this effort and appealing directly to local governments. And we are proud of our municipalities for not capitulating to the lure of casino revenue. As we wrote last month, tourism-focused East Lampeter and Strasburg townships, as well as Strasburg Borough, were among the early opt-outs.
We have several concerns about gambling.
Relying on gaming revenues to plug budget holes is no way to do business. And revenue projections are notoriously unreliable and generally unrealistically high.
Gambling can be addictive. Approximately 3 million to 4 million Americans have a gambling disorder, according to the National Center for Responsible Gaming (an industry group).
In a January 2017 editorial, we cited a Baylor University study that found that gambling addiction carries hefty social costs, including loss of worker productivity, unemployment costs, bankruptcy and the costs of treating illnesses related to pathological gambling (anxiety, depression, cardiovascular disorders).
We remain concerned about the impact that expanded gambling will have on the Pennsylvania Lottery, which raises revenue for senior programs. History shows that state lotteries tend to suffer when the gambling options are spread around. In other words, if more people are playing slot machines, fewer will be buying lottery tickers.
Finally, and most important, we have never believed, as we’ve written repeatedly, that gambling comports with the values of Lancaster County.
Are there those who disagree with us? Of course. But the actions of all 60 county municipalities would seem to confirm our belief.
This is a win for the people of Lancaster County. We realize that it seems such victories are few and far between.
But as the new year gets underway, it should do us all some good to know that victory is still possible as long as we’re still willing to speak.
KOREAN CONVERSATION: A NORTH-SOUTH CHAT ABOUT OLYMPICS IS A FINE STEP, Jan. 3
It is probably the case, thinking long-term, that North and South Korean reconciliation and possibly eventual reunification are the most reasonable resolution of the difficulties between the prosperous South and poor but heavily armed North of the peninsula. Dialogue between the two, prompted by a need for coordination on how to deal with the upcoming Winter Olympics, is therefore a useful step forward.
The meeting, the first since 2015, proposed Monday by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in his annual New Year’s Day address and consistent with the approach to North Korea of relatively new South Korean President Moon Jae-in, is scheduled for Jan. 9. It will be held in Panmunjom, a village in the demilitarized zone between the two countries.
The topics on the agenda are likely to be, first, the modalities of North Korean participation in the Winter Olympics, to begin Feb. 9 at Pyeongchang in South Korea. The topic of meetings of families divided by the border, a recurrent subject, is also bound to arise.
A serious problem standing in the way of greater cooperation and even eventual reunification between the two is the attitude toward that possibility of China, North Korea’s largest protector and trading partner, and the United States, South Korea’s longtime ally and protector. China doesn’t want a unified Korea, dominated by an economically much stronger south, backed by the United States, extending off its shore. The United States doesn’t want to give up its many bases, 28,500 troops, and frequent joint military exercises in the region, either to be ended or reduced. For the Pentagon, its military command in South Korea is headed by a four-star general, a coveted slot.
It is also the case that North Korea has a border, albeit a short one, with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which would become a reconfigured, unified Korean border with that country.
All of that is further down the road than is necessary to look at now. In the short run, talks between the leadership of the two Koreas at lower levels over immediate, introductory subjects, the Olympics and divided family meetings, taking attention off North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs and ambitions, potentially reducing tensions, can be seen as useful. Call them exploratory, or a South Korean fishing expedition, or an effort to assure security at the Winter Games. Whatever way, these parties talking to each other is better than the North firing off ballistic missiles and the South and the United States flying bombers and sailing expensive naval vessels around the divided peninsula.
What China and the United States should want to see in Korea is peace and quiet. How the two Koreas and the world get there is the hard question. These initial talks on neutral subjects could help.
RED KETTLE TOTAL DROPS AGAIN, Jan. 3
A charity effort in Liverpool, England, inspired the Salvation Army’s first red kettle drive in 1891. In Liverpool, passers-by plunked coins in a large iron pot to help the poor. Salvation Army Capt. Joseph McFee set up a similar one at a ferry landing in San Francisco and collected enough donations to meet his goal of feeding the hungry.
The movement spread. Six years later, enough donations were collected nationwide to feed 150,000 people Christmas dinner. Now, according to the Salvation Army website, the Salvation Army assists more than 4.5 million people during the holiday season. Locally, the 2016 red kettle campaign in Erie raised enough funds to provide food and Christmas gifts for a few hundred families. Between 1,200 and 1,300 children received gifts, thanks to the donations.
For many years, the kettles have been stationed at retail outlets, grocery stores and other organizations, many of them manned by dedicated volunteers who stand sometimes for hours in bitter cold, snow or rain, ringing a bell to encourage giving.
But habits are changing and those changes are taking a toll on the campaign. The six-week red kettle campaign total dropped for the fourth year in a row. As reporter Ron Leonardi detailed, the unofficial 2017 total is $153,000, far short of the stated goal of $185,000. In 2016, the Salvation Army Worship and Service Center of Erie set a goal of $200,000, but collected just $158,000.
There is still hope that mail-in donations will boost the 2017 campaign. But the worrisome decline points to a need for more of us to give and for the Salvation Army to continue to improvise and adapt.
Bernie Myers, Erie Salvation Army business administrator, points to several factors affecting the drive: the weather, a shortage of volunteers and donors’ changing habits, namely fewer people who carry cash.
The Salvation Army has adapted and created mechanisms to enable giving by text and on Facebook. Those smart strategies should be promoted, especially with the growth of online shopping. Fewer people might be dropping money in the kettles during the holiday season because fewer people are passing by them.
The rest of us could do our part by following the lead of the Employee Community Service Fund at GE Transportation. Even with layoffs at the company, the generous service fund delivered a $15,000 windfall to the red kettle drive. That fund boosted the 2016 total with a $10,000 check.
As Rob Celeski, chairman of the GE fund, said in November, the Salvation Army “does great things.” It also does not ask a lot from us — a dollar or some spare change — to share joy and sustenance with the less fortunate. Don’t let this good-hearted tradition diminish.
__Erie Times News
PHILADELPHIA MUST HOLD LARRY KRASNER AND REBECCA RHYNHART TO THE CHANGE THEY PROMISED, Jan. 2
The swearing in of Rebecca Rhynhart as City Controller and Larry Krasner as District Attorney Tuesday was a mere formality. The more sweeping change happened when voters elected them in a firm rejection of stale and dirty politics. Voters clearly showed their growing desire to make government work for all of us as well as their disgust with supporting Philadelphia’s transactional political culture.
As District Attorney, Krasner promises to end mass incarceration and to treat opioid addicts as victims of a disorder instead of just locking them up. He wants to target the small number of criminals who commit a vast number of crimes. But his first job will be to inspire a staff that unfairly suffered under the reign of his predecessor, Seth Williams, now in federal prison for selling his office out for cash, furniture and lush vacations.
We will watch Krasner very closely to see if he ends the office’s counter-productive practice of plea bargaining away gun charges — because this city is awash in illegal guns and beset with gun violence. Last year saw 315 homicides, the largest number since 2012. Guns were used in more than 80 percent of those killings. Krasner should regularly report on the number of gun charges pressed and adjudicated.
His fellow Democrat, Rhynhart has a different task. She promises to peek into those dark corners of City Hall where some in the city spend money like nobody’s looking. A historical figure because she is the city’s first female to take over the office, she promises to use the controller’s enormous power not just to audit city agencies and save money but to force the government to be effective and efficient.
The first test of her abilities will be keeping a promise to audit the city’s $1 billion in annual mental health and drug treatment funds, disbursed by Community Behavioral Health. That money is spent by a quasi-government agency, not subject to the usual transparency of operating departments. As the opioid crisis keeps its death grip on the region, there has to be extreme transparency to ensure the highest degree of effectiveness in treating it. As detailed in the New York Times’s investigation appropriately titled “Addiction Inc.” there are few national standards of opioid treatment, of treatment results or even how the money can be spent.
Rhynhart promises to also take on other secretive agencies like the Philadelphia Parking Authority, a patronage mill run by a board so arrogant, it let a sexual predator off with a slap on the wrist and ignored the agency’s failure to send promised funds to the city’s struggling schools.
Her goal to weigh in on policy issues is welcome, especially her plan to examine whether to end property tax abatements in neighborhoods where the tax incentives have already attracted new development. In some cases, the incentives have become a subsidy for the affluent at the expense of the city and public schools.
The era of Rhynhart and Krasner begins now . and so does the responsibility all of us have to hold them to their promises.