Editorials from around Pennsylvania

September 13, 2017

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:


Sept. 10

The city of Bethlehem has a gambling problem.

With 12 percent of the city’s general fund budget coming from an $8.8 million host fee supplied by Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem, anything that interrupts the revenue stream bogs down the city’s ability to plan for its future and provide services to residents.

The host-fee well has run dry, and it could affect the city’s credit rating. That’s the major worry of Mayor Bob Donchez and other officials, who are looking to refinance city debt.

This dilemma is rooted in a bad law. Last year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared the state’s casino host-fee formula unconstitutional because it established different rates of payment for casinos.

This should have been a quick-and-easy correction, but nothing in Harrisburg ever follows that path.

The state Supreme Court gave the Legislature a four-month grace period to pass a uniform host-fee bill. That deadline was swallowed by an ongoing budget crisis, complicated by the possibility of a major gambling expansion — legalization of online games or a new wave of “satellite” casinos around the state.

As we wait for legislative action to plug a $2.2 billion current-year deficit, the city of Bethlehem is looking at its own gambling-related budget hole. Most casinos around the state agreed to keep writing monthly revenue-sharing checks to their host towns, but the Sands refused, saying it wouldn’t be responsible for a publicly traded corporation to pay a fee unauthorized by law.

As long as the Sands keeps doing business in Bethlehem, it should keep paying a host fee.

True, the casino contributes as a major employer and taxpayer, and has enabled the rise of the SteelStacks campus on former Bethlehem Steel land. But this is a two-way street. The presence of the casino generates problems requiring law enforcement response. District Attorney John Morganelli has made that clear, saying that if Sands doesn’t contribute to policing through a host fee, his office won’t prosecute people who steal money from the casino.

City officials are anxious to get going on planned developments involving casino-owned land, including a municipal parking garage. The Bethlehem Parking Authority is threatening to condemn the land if the Sands owner won’t sell.

Most critically for taxpayers, the host-fee hiatus could alter the city’s credit rating as it prepares for a debt refinancing; that could mean a higher interest rate on borrowing. And eventually the missing host-fee payment will drive a deficit in the city budget.

Sands officials say they’re accruing host-fee money and will pay it when the state acts on a reauthorization, but that doesn’t help Bethlehem now. Lehigh and Northampton counties and some neighboring towns also get smaller slices of gambling revenues.

The ultimate responsibility for this mess resides in Harrisburg, where the House and Senate remain at odds on a plan to plug the $2.2 billion budget gap.

The uncertainty of the revenue stream, the discredited host-fee law and the possibility of new forms of gambling are fueling a credibility gap as much as a bottom-line crisis. Pennsylvania needs a complete budget now, along with a host-fee law that respects the needs of casino towns.

__Easton Express Times

__Online: http://bit.ly/2h37Jjb



Sept. 12

Pittsburgh earned the moniker City of Champions in 1979 after the Pirates won their fifth World Series, the Steelers captured their third Super Bowl, the Pitt Panthers claimed the Fiesta Bowl, Carnegie Mellon University went undefeated in football, the Penguins finished third in their division and the Duquesne University Dukes had a winning season on the gridiron.

A remarkable feat that hasn’t been duplicated.

Since then, the Steelers have won three more Super Bowls (1980, 2006, 2009); the Panthers have fielded some decent teams but have come up short in the trophy department; and Duquesne has won or shared 11 crowns in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, was co-champion of the NCAA Division I FBS Northeast Conference in 2011, 2013 and 2016 and was undisputed champion in 2015.

Carnegie Mellon has not matched its previous successes.

It took the Penguins until 1991 to win their first Stanley Cup, but then they would reel off four more — 1992, 2009, 2016 and 2017.

The Pirates, however, have not brought home a World Series pennant since 1979.

Without a remarkable finish, we can chalk up 2017 as a losing season. For the Bucs, it’s been 38 years since a World Series pennant has been hoisted in their ballpark.

But it hasn’t been all doom and gloom for Pirates’ faithful. There were glimmers of hope when the Bucs captured National League East Division titles in 1990, 1991 and 1992 but didn’t advance in the playoffs. In 2013, the Pirates won a wild card game against Cincinnati but lost the division series to the St. Louis Cardinals. They would play wild card games again in 2014 (San Francisco Giants) and 2015 (Chicago Cubs), but would lose both.

Pirates fans are getting a bit frustrated that the team doesn’t field a contender.

The Penguins and Steelers appear to have competent front-office personnel who are able to find players with talent and chemistry to fill holes when the need arises.

The Pirates, it seems, don’t have that magic touch.

The Bucs were dealt several blows this year, but the misfortunes happened early enough in the season that the front office could have gone searching for pieces to the puzzle. Outfielder Starling Marte was benched for 80 games after testing positive for nandrolone, a performance-enhancing drug. And third baseman Jung Ho Kang missed the entire season after his third DUI arrest in his native South Korea and the country’s refusal to grant him a visa.

Also, promising pitcher Jameson Taillon was absent for several weeks because he was being treated for testicular cancer.

This past Tuesday, team Chairman Bob Nutting rewarded manager Clint Hurdle and general manager and executive vice president Neal Huntington with four-year contract extensions.

Perhaps Nutting has a plan to right his listing franchise. If so, he might want to let the Pirates fans know about it, sooner rather than later, because they are beginning to flee the Jolly Roger.

Attendance has been dropping at PNC Park, from a high of 30,847 in 2015 to 24,307 in 2017. Nutting has to do something to keep the seats filled.

One move that would be sure to bring fans to the ballpark would be to sign Miami Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton.

The slugger has belted 54 home runs so far this year.

Seeing Stanton in a black-and-gold uniform would generate lots of excitement in Pittsburgh, and help to bring fans through the turnstiles.

Perhaps Nutting is hoping that a rising star will come from one of the Pirates’ farm teams — AAA Indianapolis Indians and AA Altoona Curve — which have advanced to their respective playoffs this season.

The odds of that gamble paying off are long.

Nutting has been roundly criticized by Pirates fans for trying to build a team through the farm system instead of spending money to get legitimate talent or making beneficial trades.

We encourage Nutting to rethink his philosophy, whatever it is, and field a championship-caliber team in Pittsburgh before the fan base hemorrhages too severely that the bleeding can’t be stopped.

__The Tribune-Democrat

__Online: http://bit.ly/2xyjOnB



Sept. 12

The quarrel between Qatar and some of the other Sunni states continues; the American effort to resolve it, led by President Donald Trump, hit a roadblock on Saturday.

Some of the other Sunni Muslim states of the Middle East, led by Saudi Arabia and including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, have been pursuing a dispute with the gas-rich emirate of Qatar, also Sunni-led, since the visit of Mr. Trump to the region in May.

The United States should favor Qatar in the dispute, for several reasons. First of all, Qatar has sought to pursue a policy that bridged some of the gaps in the region, enabling it potentially to serve as an intermediary. It, for example, maintains good relations with Iran, Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Second of all, a media organization that Qatar hosts and supports, Al Jazeera, produces as close to honest reporting on developments as one can get in that region.

Those two aspects of its policy attract criticism from Saudi Arabia, its cohorts and Israel. They do not like some of Al-Jazeera’s reporting and believe that Qatar should not pursue reasonable relations with Hamas and, especially, Iran, Saudi Arabia’s principal rival in the region. Israel is seeking to court the Saudis and other Sunnis to counter Iran and to seek their approval of its expanded role in the Palestinian territories in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Thus, with Mr. Trump having given the Saudis a green light, they went after Qatar, imposing a trade boycott and sharpening their criticism of Qatar. Oman, and then Kuwait, tried to make peace between the two sides, unsuccessfully. Mr. Trump believed that a telephone call between the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and the Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamin Hamad al-Thani, would do the trick. The two talked on Friday night but came away from the conversation hissing publicly at each other. (Qatar said it “welcomed a proposal” from the Saudi prince to appoint peace envoys to mediate the situation. The Saudis, perceiving that the statement suggested they had blinked first, retorted that mediators were not their idea. Sensitivities are running high).

The United States, unfortunately, has two dogs in the fight, one on each side. Apart from the question of principles as a reason for support, Qatar hosts the largest American air base in the region. It includes the U.S. command center of the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Saudi Arabia hosts important U.S. bases. The headquarters of the U.S. Fifth Fleet is in Bahrain, and all of the countries involved in the spat buy large quantities of expensive U.S. arms.

Mr. Trump, in not telling the Saudis to leave Qatar alone, either forgot the U.S. assets in Qatar, was unaware of them, or thought wrongly that the Qataris would knuckle under easily to Saudi pressure.

Whatever it was, the problem continues and apparently will need more than a phone call to fix, given its deepening roots.

__The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

__Online: http://bit.ly/2fhiPx1



Sept. 12

Justice, rather than expediency, should be the objective of handling sexual assault complaints on college campuses. But the Obama administration clearly settled for the latter in 2011 when it issued “guidance” advising college administrators that they risked the loss of federal funds if they did not confront the problem.

The focus was correct. Numerous cases from numerous campuses revealed a pattern in which administrations dealt with the problem by ignoring it and waiting for graduation day.

But the guidance created systems on campuses that mock the very notion of due process, swinging the process 180 degrees rather than to a system that honors rights of the accuser and the accused. Many courts in many places have awarded compensation to accused students who were expelled after administrative proceedings that, in the context of the actual justice system, can only be described as kangaroo courts.

Proponents of the system cringed when Education Secretary Betsy DeVos indicated that she would review the DOE’s directive, fearing a rollback and a return to the bad old days.

Thursday, however, DeVos announced a sensible approach that should produce a better system. She credited the previous administration with forcing colleges to deal with the problem and said that the DOE would continue to press colleges to confront it.

But the DOE, she said, will conduct a review and receive public input on how to improve the system, which is a sound way to proceed. It is supported by the American College of Trial Lawyers, the American Association of College Professors, an array of legal scholars at prominent law schools and many college administrators who are uncomfortable in their forced roles as judges and juries.

The current system too often swaps one injustice for another, replacing neglect of victims with an assumed guilt of the accused. DeVos is correct to seek a better course.

__The Times-Tribune

__Online: http://bit.ly/2x0eUwv



Sept. 13

Given Congress’ politically paralyzed lack of performance over the last decade, many members might view a 22 percent postage rate increase as a means to hold down the flow of angry letters.

They should, however, recognize that boosting the cost of a stamp from 49 cents to 60 cents negatively would affect the economy and the government itself in many ways. Despite decreased mail volume, many Americans still heavily use conventional mail. And governments still use it as the primary means of official correspondence. Three states use it exclusively to conduct elections.

All of that should prompt legislators to attack the U.S. Postal Service’s deep financial problems from the other side of the ledger.

A 60-cent stamp is possible because the USPS has asked the Postal Regulatory Commission for permission to set its own rates for the first time, and to set rates higher than the rate of inflation — the current regulatory cap.

The postal service business, of course, has been deeply wounded by communications technology eroding its first-class mail monopoly. Bill-paying, banking and personal correspondence all have migrated heavily to the digital realm, drying up vast amounts of revenue. Mail volume has declined 36 percent since 2007 and, last year, the service lost $5.6 billion.

In response, the system has shrunk and the service has attempted to reshape its business. But it also has faced an intractable problem that only Congress can address.

Under a 2006 law, Congress required the USPS to fund employee retiree health care benefits 75 years in advance. According to the service, converting to the same pay-as-you-go system used by every other federal agency would free $5.5 billion a year for the bottom line.

The law expired in 2016 and is under review for renewal. Congress should eliminate the pre-funding mandate as a major step toward the service’s short-term viability and long-term health.

__The Citizens’ Voice

__Online: http://bit.ly/2h3uAay



Sept. 12

Odds are pretty high — even stratospheric — that if you ask local college students why they picked the school they are enrolled in, they would not cite the school’s spot on the annual U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges rankings.

To be fair, they are equally unlikely to credit their higher education choices to rankings by Forbes, the Economist or any of a myriad of other sources that have jumped on the college-ranking bandwagon in the last few years.

No, they are much more likely to give you three reasons for the place they enrolled:

— It felt right. This is usually the most likely. Maybe those at the mega-colleges like Harvard and Yale spend a lifetime gunning for admission to their dream schools. But most students at local institutions make their choice after a visit to the campus, chats with students and faculty, and tours of facilities. It makes sense. They want a place that suits them as well as their ambitions.

— It had the right major with the right focus and right opportunity. This can be a close second around here, and can sometimes even top the first reason. Students who know where they want to go career-wise are particularly likely to point to such qualities. King’s has an engineering program that let’s some finish their schooling at the University of Notre Dame; Wilkes has a business school named after a prominent New York banker; Misericordia works to arrange ample clinical opportunities in the health care field. The list goes on.

— Cost. This is more likely to be cited by those attending public institutions, but can apply to private ones as well. Many Luzerne County Community College students are there because of affordability, and the fact that a growing number of local four-year schools will accept LCCC credits in certain fields makes it that much more alluring. Penn State campuses in Hazleton and Lehman Township have long offered the chance to save for the first few years, then head to University Park.

So, sure, check out the latest rankings from U.S. News & World Report, released Tuesday, though be warned it is not as simple as 1, 2, 3. The “Best Colleges” website itself notes “U.S. News provides nearly 50 different types of numerical rankings and lists to help students narrow their college search,” showing no irony in claiming 50 different rankings actually simplify things.

Check out the rankings by Money magazine, Forbes, Princeton Review, or any of the other lists out there.

But do it with a grain — and maybe a whole block — of salt. As officials from area schools note almost every time such rankings come out, they are invariably incomplete because of data used, importance given to different factors, and factors omitted.

More importantly, such ratings are made without a crucial piece of information:

How you feel when you visit the campus, talk to faculty and students, and get a look at the program offerings in your chosen major.

It’s your education, your money and — in the end — entirely your choice.

__The Times Leader

__Online: http://bit.ly/2eVGeDK

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