- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Editorials from around Pennsylvania

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ACT 47 CHANGES NOT ENOUGH

Pennsylvania’s lawmakers have concluded that the commonwealth’s struggling cities are on their own.

They adopted changes to Act 47, the state law covering distressed cities, to establish tighter timetables for city governments to emerge from distress - as if timetables or the “distressed” label is the problem.

Under the change, cities would be able to remain under the distressed-city law for only five years, rather than indefinitely. After that, they would face a three-year mandated recovery plan that would result in solvency, state-controlled receivership, bankruptcy or, in rare cases, dissolution of the government.

Act 47 municipalities in Northeastern Pennsylvania include Scranton, West Hazleton, Nanticoke and Plymouth Township.

Specific timetables might help to overcome local political dysfunction that contributes to cities slipping into distress. Scranton’s government, which has been designated as distressed for 22 years, for example, never has been able to muster the political cohesion necessary to drive the government towards recovery.

Yet it is disingenuous to suggest that lack of local political resolve is the only problem. Pennsylvania’s cities suffer from systemic problems that only the state government can address. The amendments to Act 47 do not even hint at addressing those matters.

The list is long. It includes:

. Mandatory property tax reassessment and property tax reform to account for diminished urban tax bases.

. Creation of countywide institutional districts to spread the costs of hosting vital nonprofit tax-exempt regional institutions, such as hospitals and social service agencies, rather than leaving that burden entirely with cities.

. State help in dealing with failing municipal pension plans, and consolidation of those plans statewide to reduce millions of dollars a year in needless administrative costs.

The amendment does offer some assistance, in that it would allow distressed municipal governments to increase their municipal service taxes on all workers within the city, resident or non-resident, from $52 to $156 a year.

Even that modest increase would last only as long as the city is in distress, however, ensuring that a city that emerges from distress immediately would be on the road back into it.

The bill would give distressed cities priority for some state grants, but the issue relative to distress is operational whereas grants typically are for special, limited purposes.

Amendments are fine as far as they go, but they don’t go very far. Scranton and other distressed cities need state help far more than they need timetables for bankruptcy.

- The (Wilkes-Barre) Citizens’ Voice

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BLOW THE WHISTLE ON RACE-BAITING SOCCER PLAYERS

In recent years, “Say no to racism” signs have flashed electronically on the sidelines of soccer games in England’s Premier League and other European leagues - a reminder to those on the field and in the stands that racist language and intimidation won’t be tolerated, and will get you thrown out.

We didn’t expect to have to repeat those words to high school soccer players, coaches and referees in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, where competition can be rugged but usually stays within the rules. Yet two incidents in recent weeks, at a Nazareth-Northampton game and an Emmaus-Whitehall game, revealed a few players descending into race-baiting. Inexplicably, the taunts went unheard or unheeded by those in a position to step in and issue red cards to those who should have been escorted off the field.

And off their teams.

Both incidents were investigated. According to Emmaus and Northampton school officials, whatever disciplinary action was justified was meted out. An Emmaus player who repeatedly taunted a black Whitehall player with racial epithets was disciplined, but played in a league semifinal and championship a week later.

Really? There might be more to the story than was reported, but according to those involved, the Emmaus senior continued baiting his Whitehall opponent even after he was confronted by his own coach and other Whitehall players.

If that’s accurate, the penalty seems more like a pardon.

In the other incident, two Northampton soccer coaches resigned after some of their players goaded a black Nazareth player from West Africa with references to Ebola and his race. The ploy apparently worked - the Nazareth student took a swing at a Northampton player and was red-carded. The instigators played on.

Credit must be given to school officials who took these events seriously, investigated and took action. In both cases they had to piece together what happened after the fact; they declined to release the identities of the students and the terms of punishment.

Every player, coach and parent should be asking: How can referees not be aware of repeated racial epithets - and heightened tension between black and white players - when other players, coaches and people on the sidelines are picking up on it?

Patrick Gebhart, assistant executive director of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, told The Express-Times that referees have an obligation to eject players heard using racist language, and that coaches should pull players out of a game if they suspect such behavior.

What referees heard or didn’t hear in these two games is open to speculation. It’s possible they didn’t hear everything, but any experienced official knows when things are getting out of control. In the Emmaus-Whitehall game, Whitehall players reported the behavior to their coach, who had a halftime talk with the Emmaus coach, but that apparently didn’t end the offensive language.

This is more than a learning moment; it’s a take-action moment. The PIAA, coaches, players and school officials should be laying down the law, which in this case is read to the coaches and co-captains before each game. A more pointed message about racism is in order.

It’s naive to think this kind of racist talk doesn’t happen more often, and in other sports as well, but it can’t be written off as youthful indiscretion or competition run amok. It’s a stain on the principles of fairness and controlled interaction that scholastic sports are supposed to nurture, and on basic human decency as well.

When it happens, someone has to blow the whistle.

- The (Easton) Express-Times

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A CRISIS OF CRISES

Pennsylvania is a state dealing with multiple crises. It faces a crisis in education, to be sure. And a new report by the Keystone Research Center suggests a serious jobs crisis: The state has slipped to last place among 50 states in job growth. According to data by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Pennsylvania lost 9,600 jobs in September alone.

Between 2011 and 2014, the state experienced a paltry 2 percent growth in jobs. Compare that with the 22 percent growth in North Dakota, or the 11 percent growth in Texas.

Texas gained more than a million jobs in that time period. Pennsylvania gained 112,000.

Another Pennsylvania crisis rarely discussed might be a linchpin to the rest of our troubles. A new bill that is likely to be signed by Gov. Corbett best illustrates what we can only call an identity crisis.

The bill, just passed by the House, would allow the National Rifle Association and other groups to sue municipalities that tried to enact gun laws that are stricter than state firearms laws. The bill allows membership organizations to not only sue but collect legal fees and other costs if they win. In the past, groups like the NRA didn’t have legal standing for such suits.

This is a big blow to cities like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown and others that battle uphill over high levels of gun crime and violence, and are made to feel that they are out of step in a primarily rural state with more hunters per square mile than practically anywhere. Where else do schools, the Legislature and businesses close on the first day of hunting season?

But the facts suggest someplace completely different. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the great majority - seven-eighths of the population, or more than 9 million residents - live in urban areas.

So, Pennsylvania’s “ruralness” seems to be a myth, but remains entrenched as the basis for gun laws.

It goes without saying that urban areas are those that pay the largest price for guns - including floods of illegal, untraceable guns.

So, why doesn’t the strength of our urban cores seemingly provide no match against the NRA - or lawmakers’ indifference?

And why aren’t those officials who are elected to represent citizens more reflective of the actual makeup of this state? Pennsylvania may think of itself as a rural state, but the reality is it is heavily urbanized.

Imagine if an organization financed and supported by the tobacco industry had been allowed to sue cities or municipalities that were imposing smoking bans. Or groups shilling for cellphone companies were able to sue cities that banned dangerous habits, like texting or phoning while driving?

The irony is, gun laws typically enacted by cities like Philadelphia have nothing to do with banning guns outright. They usually target specific problems, like straw purchases of guns, by requiring gun owners to report lost or stolen guns, or limiting guns in parks, or other reasonable controls.

The fact that the General Assembly, and presumably the governor, ally themselves with the gun lobby means that they are also allying themselves with an outdated view of just what this state represents. According to them, no one needs a job or an education because they are too busy out in the woods hunting.

The leaders of the cities of Pennsylvania should consider flexing their considerable muscle more aggressively in making their case for controlling the violence that plagues us all.

- Philadelphia Daily News

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DESECRATION CASE BRINGS PASSION, LESSONS LEARNED

The 14-year-old Everett youth who triggered a firestorm of public opinion in reaction to his simulation of a sex act with a statue of Jesus has learned an important lesson that other young people - indeed, people of all ages - should heed.

It is that a stupid, immature, disrespectful, shortsighted action can have much broader consequences than the perpetrator could have imagined.

The case in question also has been instructive to officials who responded to the incident.

Meanwhile, people’s differing reactions as to whether what occurred was desecration or merely an example of free speech or free expression reaffirmed sensitivities and attentiveness to rights embraced as citizens of this nation.

Bedford County officials should be commended for bringing quick closure to the case, but expressions of viewpoints about what occurred are destined to linger.

It’s refreshing that so many people took notice and have been willing to speak out - in public forums or even in individual or group conversations - regardless of on which side of the debate they anchored themselves.

Now that a court hearing apparently has brought to a close what most people recognize as an unflattering footnote of Bedford County history, it’s a good time to make some observations.

First, the youth received fair treatment by Bedford County President Judge Thomas S. Ling, who allowed the teen to avoid a criminal record that could have affected the rest of his life negatively.

Instead of ordering time in a juvenile detention center for violating a state law - albeit one that rarely is invoked, dealing with mistreatment of venerated symbols - Ling ordered the youth to perform 350 hours of community service with the national charity group that owns the Jesus statue. In addition, the youth was ordered to avoid Facebook and other social media until his community service is completed.

This youth’s immature mind never envisioned the implications of his decision to upload a photograph of his simulated sex act with the statue, intending to amuse his friends.

Like Ling, Bedford County District Attorney Bill Higgins deserves respect for his handling of the case, although his criticism of the attention by media after the incident first became public removed some of the luster from his otherwise professional, fair response.

Higgins suggested that the media had blown the case out of proportion.

The responses from others proved otherwise.

The reactions of groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Truth Wins Out revealed the significance of the case in terms of basic American rights.

The Sept. 27 gathering of individuals - free-speech advocates and members of secular and atheist groups - holding strong opinions on both sides of the case further demonstrated how strongly they cling to their beliefs.

Totally unacceptable were the threats and violent statements posted online against the youth, as well as the verbal attacks aimed at Higgins and his family.

The DA upheld the responsibilities of his office; to do anything less would have been irresponsible.

The youth in fact overstepped the bounds of public decency, and the weeks of turmoil in the aftermath of his private-turned-public act hopefully will cause him to be more respectful of others, going forward, regardless of what view of Christianity he chooses to ascribe.

- The (Altoona) Mirror

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UGLY POLL: OUTSIDERS TRASH TALK ON PITTSBURGH’S ACCENT

In case any native speaker is overly defensive n’at, the claim by Gawker.com that “Pittsburgh officially has the ugliest accent in America” is not official, coming as it does from just another attention-seeking website. Its finding is about as scientific as a KQV news poll.

But let us take exception just to irritate these snobbish poll takers. In the final round of voting, after other pretenders to accent ugliness fell by the wayside, Pittsburgh beat out Scranton by 1,656 votes. This means the likes of Boston (“Pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd”), Philadelphia (“Ah’ll have a beggle and wooder”) and a dozen other places where residents regularly commit offenses against vowels didn’t make the final cut. Git aht!

Pittsburgh not only has an accent but also great words to go with it - and that is beautiful. Here you can find neb noses and gum bands and people eating chipped ham. When guys walk around with Kennywood open they get a kind warning.

Scranton was no competition. It doesn’t have major league sports teams, like the Stillers, that fans in other cities would vote against. Who are the sports die-hards in Baltimore or Cleveland going to condemn - the Scranton Rail Riders? Those fans have no grudge against a minor-league baseball team, but Pittsburgh’s black ‘n’ gold has earned the enmity of others by beating their teams. That’s beautiful, too.

Pittsburgh embraces its working-class heritage, but polls on accents are all about feelings of class superiority. It’s no coincidence that two Pennsylvania working-class cities provide the so-called ugly talkers in this poll. Somehow it’s never the white-bread crowd who are thought to speak in off-putting tones, but the people who have to redd up their own haus without benefit of a maid.

This poll won’t force a visiting Henry Higgins to give a Dahntahn Eliza Doolittle an elocution lesson, only for her to say: “The rain, it is plain, falls mainly on E’Sliberty.” Pittsburghese has a choice word for mischief makers like these, and it begins with a “j.”

-Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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