- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:



The mountebanks of fantasy economics continue to ply their deceptive trade with the latest attempt to “ease the burden” imposed by the spiraling cost of student loans.

With much fanfare and even more gibberish, the Obama administration announced the expansion of a program, beginning in December 2015, that allows borrowers to cap their repayments at 10 percent of monthly income (no matter how much they borrowed) and even forgive those loans after 20 years (10 years if they work for a nonprofit or for the government).

So, who picks up the slack? Taxpayers, of course, to the tune of $7 billion in the first year alone. Companion legislation before the Senate that would make taxpayers the primary refinancing bank for higher-interest student loans would soak the public for an additional $58 billion over 10 years.

“(W)e think this is something that would be fantastic for the economy,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

All of this is the definition of madness. Government intervention - subsidizing higher education - directly fueled the explosion in tuition costs by repeatedly giving colleges and universities cover for jacking up those rates far in excess of inflation. Now, to cover the lies of past interventions, government intervenes again, decrying the very results that its perpetuation of the vicious cycle guarantees.

This is what passes for government policy these days. In the real world, it’s better known by its more common name - fraud.

-Pittsburgh Tribune-Review



Environmental concerns and a Supreme Court mandate prompted the Environmental Protection Agency last week to issue a rule requiring a 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. But economics have Pennsylvania ahead of the game.

The rule is partly the result of a long legal battle which culminated with a Supreme Court ruling in 2007 that greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, are pollutants and that EPA must regulate them under the Clean Air Act. In effect, the new rule means that operators of older coal-fired power plants will have to vastly diminish their emissions. It follows a rule issued last year that applies to new power plants, and which likely will contribute to few new coal-fired plants being built.

But coal-fueled power generation already is in decline, especially in Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the region, for economic reasons. Several generators have announced the impending closure of up to seven coal-fired plants not because of an inability to comply with environmental regulations, but because of the rise of natural gas.

That ascendancy was not envisioned by the power industry even 20 years ago, until the development of deep horizontal drilling technology provided access to vast stores of natural gas in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations that had been unreachable. Sudden availability of large amounts of relatively inexpensive natural gas has driven the exodus from coal generation. The economic advantages are compounded because gas, which also is a fossil fuel, produces from a quarter to a half of the greenhouse gas emissions produced by coal for a comparable amount of power generation.

Pennsylvania also has abundant other resources to help it continue the progression away from coal. It has abundant wind along its Appalachian ridges and, until the Corbett administration scrapped a state solar subsidy program, the state’s solar industry had experienced several years of steady growth. Now, with the federal emissions mandate and the cost of solar energy steadily declining, the state government should get the state back in that game. The coal industry is a significant political constituent for state politicians in Harrisburg and Washington, and coal will be part of the energy mix for a long time. But global warming is real and the new standards simply emphasize that coal is not the fuel of the future.

Pennsylvania should embrace the standards and use them to help make the state a leader in energy innovation and efficiency.

-The (Wilkes-Barre) Citizens’ Voice.



Proceeds from Pennsylvania casinos help to ease the property tax burden for homeowners. The Pennsylvania Lottery funds senior citizen programs, including prescription drug coverage and reduced-fare and free bus service. And taverns can now pay a hefty license fee to offer small games of chance.

Do Pennsylvania residents really need more ways to gamble legally, for the stated purpose of producing more money for state government, which officials promise to use for our benefit?

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati suggests that Pennsylvania should consider balancing its budget and aiding existing casinos by legalizing Internet gambling. …

This proposal would create new problems and add to challenges that Pennsylvania casinos already face. In April, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board said that slot-machine revenue had declined at 10 casinos, including Presque Isle Downs & Casino, compared with April 2013. Revenue at the Downs dropped 10 percent in April, but only 6.8 percent in May. “I think there’s lots of competition from surrounding states that are having an effect,” Richard McGarvey, a gaming board spokesman, said about the drop in April revenue. …

Yet some casino operators support online gambling in Pennsylvania — if they can control the operations and get their cut. A report by Econsult Solutions for the General Assembly’s joint Legislative Budget and Finance Committee claims that Internet gambling wouldn’t be a substitute for traditional gambling at casinos. “The fact that iGaming caters to a market of new gamers presents casinos with an opportunity to attract new customers,” the report states.

Pennsylvania casino operators may be thirsting for young gamblers to bet and play games on their smartphones, but we suspect this would hurt casino employment, including jobs at Presque Isle Downs & Casino, which has about 900 workers. It’s a given that businesses want to expand their markets to attract youthful consumers, but why should state government make it more convenient for young gamblers (and their “mature” counterparts) to get hooked by getting online?

Gov. Tom Corbett has said he is taking a wait-and-see attitude about online gambling, but when he pushed a plan to privatize the Pennsylvania Lottery (a plan that eventually failed), the company bidding for the contract promised to grow revenues by offering online games.

Every time Pennsylvania expands gambling, we hear rosy projections about fees and taxes that will help hold the line on our own taxes. Don’t bet on it. The state budget has a projected deficit of $600 million for this year. Pennsylvania lawmakers should not blow holes in more household budgets by approving online gambling.

-Erie Times-News.



There’s no doubt that the biggest challenge Pennsylvania’s state and county inmates face upon their release is avoiding the troubles and traps that landed them behind bars in the first place.

But a new report by The Justice Center at the Council of State Governments suggests that, after a boom in prison construction and years of bulging budgets, Pennsylvania is making progress, cutting its recidivism rate by 7.1 percent between 2007 and 2010.

Pennsylvania was one of eight states singled out in the report by the Washington D.C.-based group.

Put another way, 571 fewer inmates returned to prison during the study period, which is “halfway to building a new prison,” the center’s director, Michael Thompson, said last week.

Despite the savings and efficiencies reaped from this approach, falling tax revenues mean that the Corrections Department, like the rest of state government, is up against the wall financially. Last month, the agency instituted a hiring freeze. And the union that represents corrections officers has warned of danger both within and outside prison walls.

Still, the improvements in Pennsylvania are the direct result of a shift in policy, away from the unquestioning, get-tough extremes of the 1990s which saw prison spending become one of the state’s largest expenditures, and toward treatment and education.

At an appearance on Capitol Hill last week, Gov. Tom Corbett highlighted what he said was efforts to shift prison costs to the “front end” of the criminal justice system through drug and mental health courts.

U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah of Philadelphia also discussed the efforts to target so-called “high-risk” offenders, while lower risk offenders were diverted to treatment programs.

Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary John Wetzel, who serves on the justice center’s board, also discussed the state’s efforts to strengthen bonds between prisoners and their families, which reduces the risk of recidivism upon release.

The state’s 51,000 inmates have 81,000 children, Wetzel said at the briefing, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

The data suggests the change in focus is working. In 2008, nearly 44 percent of released prisoners returned to prison.

By 2010, that number had dropped to slightly less than 41 percent. Pennsylvania also reported a 7 percent decline in one-year re-arrest rates and a 2 percent decline in two-year re-arrest rates from 2007-2011 release cohorts, the study indicated.

Since 2009, the state has also been the beneficiary of federal grant programs that have helped reduce recidivism rates. The same can be said of the state’s new “Justice Reinvestment” initiative, which relies on data and research to shape policy.

The result of that approach, the center says, was a “(reduction) in inefficiencies in the current corrections and parole systems” that established “more cost-effective approaches to reduce recidivism among parolees.”

These innovations have a ripple effect across society. For inmates and their families, it means building a pathway to a successful and productive life.

And the taxpayers, who must shoulder the burden of paying for the upkeep of prisons and the care and feeding of prisoners, see fewer crimes and are asked to contribute less.

- PennLive.com.



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