- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:



As a new report makes clear, the pension proposal from Rep. Mike Tobash (R-Schuylkill/Berks) would be a promising step toward much-needed long-term reform. The Public Employees Retirement Commission, an independent advisory group to state pension funds, found Tobash’s plan would save roughly $11 billion over the next 30 years.

However, his plan is only part of the wider changes needed to protect both taxpayers and public workers from the drastic underfunding of state pension systems.

Tobash suggests a new hybrid that combines a smaller guaranteed traditional pension with the more flexible, but less secure 401k-style retirement savings plans.

Because his plan applies only to new hires, most of the benefit comes in the latter years covered by the analysis. There’s no immediate relief for school districts and state agencies that face painful, steady increases in pension contributions.

A $40-billion-plus problem that took more than a decade to build up won’t be fixed in a single stroke.

The hybrid plan would also do little to immediately improve today’s shaky condition of the state’s two big pension funds. They are more than $40 billion short of what’s needed today to ensure that all future benefits promised to current workers are covered.

But going forward, Tobash’s plan does offer something for both taxpayers and workers. The hybrid he proposes combines the advantages of both traditional pensions and 401k plans.

A baseline retirement benefit would be guaranteed via a traditional pension. (But it’s a modest guarantee, based on the first $50,000 of an employee’s salary, with that cap going up by 1 percent each year for inflation.)

That smaller guaranteed retirement benefit would be supplemented by a 401k-type plan. For this portion, taxpayers need only contribute a fixed amount of money - period, end of story. They would not have to guarantee a certain total retirement benefit and make up huge funding shortfalls. A worker’s eventual retirement benefits would depend on how well the investments in the 401k perform.

Workers keep their 401k retirement money even if they move to a new job. That’s a big advantage in a world where it’s more and more common to switch jobs multiple times during a career.

The bigger challenge for legislators and Gov. Corbett is dealing with the state’s obligations to current workers and retirees, not new hires. Somehow, the two big, underfunded retirement systems have to be shored up at a price that’s realistic for school districts, state budgets and taxpayers.

That’s tough to do, because the state is barred by law from unilaterally cutting pension benefits that current employees or retirees were promised.

It’s important to remember that state employees and school workers have always made the pension payments they were required to make. The monumental shortfall comes from the many years when the state skimped on its pension fund contributions, combined with the financial damage wrought by the economic crash of 2008 and by underperforming pension investments.

Pension reforms passed in 2010 are helping keep the problem from getting worse, but it’s not enough. Legislators need to look at paring back discretionary retirement benefits that were added in better times. Pension obligation bonds may be a way to get relatively cheap extra funds to help fill the pension funding gap. The two big retirement funds also need to take a hard look at the more exotic investments they’ve made, and the heavy fees they carry, despite lackluster performance.

A $40-billion-plus problem that took more than a decade to build up won’t be fixed in a single stroke. Legislators and Gov. Corbett are still plugging away on creative solutions that aim to do right by both workers and taxpayers - and that’s an encouraging sign.

- PennLive



Every American, from the homeless veteran to President Barack Obama, should be outraged at charges that as many as 40 veterans died unnecessarily while awaiting treatment at the Phoenix VA hospital.

Allegations include claims that hospital staff there kept a double set of records, one of them designed to make it appear that the patients were receiving timely care, while in reality close to 1,600 veterans were waiting months to see a doctor.

VA hospitals have always been underfunded and understaffed. They serve both retirees and war veterans, many of whom in the latter category have returned from combat with more serious injuries than, just a few years ago, would have been deemed survivable. Many cannot afford treatment at a private hospital and thus depend entirely on VA hospitals for their care. Waits for care are inevitable in such a crowded system. But there’s a big difference between a retiree waiting for a routine checkup and a veteran with a chronic or debilitating injury who needs vital treatment.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, himself a disabled veteran, has come under attack in the scandal, and on Friday resigned. Though the revelations surfaced on his watch, he may not be to blame. But he had an obligation to root out those who are responsible and to make sure they are held accountable.

Meanwhile the Obama administration and Congress are looking into ways to let veterans receive their health care outside VA hospitals, which would ease the problem somewhat.

But beyond the scandal, Congress should reassess how the federal budget funds VA hospitals. Shinseki warned when he was Army Chief of Staff that the Iraq War would require many more troops than the Bush administration predicted. Thousands of veterans, many of them badly injured in Iraq or Afghanistan, now lie in VA hospital beds or receive treatment there. These veterans include multiple amputees, vets with traumatic brain injury, and individuals with PTSD, substance abuse issues and a host of other problems.

These American patriots deserve prompt and effective treatment, not delays and apologies. And certainly not premature death-while-waiting.

- Pocono Record



In March 2012, Maya Angelou, an internationally acclaimed poet, civil rights activist, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress and filmmaker, defied her doctor’s orders and appeared at Cheyney University in Thornbury. She was there to help raise funds for the university’s Keystone Honors Academy program that annually provides full college scholarships to 150 gifted students.

Angelou emphasized to the more than 500 audience members that filled Cheyney’s Marian Anderson Music Center auditorium to capacity the importance of people standing up for what they believe.

“Without courage, you can’t develop all the other virtues,” Angelou advised the audience that included many students from Cheyney which, at 177 years, is the oldest historically black university in the nation.

As a child she herself had to rely on courage to survive, including recovering at the age of 7 from rape by her mother’s boyfriend, who was apparently kicked to death days later. Because Angelou had told her 9-year-old brother about the rape, she said she thought her voice had killed the rapist so she stayed silent for six years. When others dismissed her as being mentally impaired, Angelou’s grandmother assured her that she would speak again when she was ready and one day become a world educator. Her grandmother gave her hope, or was what Angelou described as her “rainbow amid the clouds.”

Angelou went on to write 30 best-selling publications,became fluent in six languages and worked in many countries. She became a lifetime Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., was awarded 71 honorary doctorates and was the recipient of the 2000 Presidential Medal of Arts, the 2008 Lincoln Medal and the 2011 Presidential Medal of Freedom.

During her presentation, Angelou related some lighter moments from her life, including the time she dared to pull out a pack of cigarettes at a health food store and was sternly reprimanded by the waitress. She finally quit smoking more than 20 years ago.

“I advise you please, young folks, laugh as much as possible. Laugh at yourself, even in your privacy,” said Angelou. “You have to admit, you’re the funniest person you know.”

Born in St. Louis, Mo., Angelou eventually moved to Stamps, Ark., where she experienced brutal racial discrimination. After dropping out of high school at age 14, Angelou became the first African-American female cable car conductor in San Francisco.

Angelou eventually finished high school and then, a few weeks after graduation, gave birth to her son, Guy. She supported him by working as a waitress and a cook before making a career of the arts.

Angelou toured Europe with a production of George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess” in 1954 and 1955, studied modern dance with Martha Graham, danced with Alvin Ailey on TV and in 1957 recorded her first album, “Calypso Lady.” She lived in New York City, Cairo, Egypt, where she was editor of the Arab Observer, and Ghana, where she taught at the University of Ghana’s School of Music and Drama and worked for the African Review and the Ghanaian Times. She was fluent in French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and the West African language Fanti.

Angelou composed the score and wrote the screenplay for the 1972 film “Georgia, Georgia,” for which she earned a Pulitzer Prize nomination. She was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her poetry collection, “Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Diiie” and was nominated for a National Book Award for “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

Angelou died May 28 at the age of 86. She had been planning to appear at the Major League Baseball Beacon Awards last week, but cancelled due to illness. However, two years ago, she did not let illness hold her back from her visit to Cheyney.

Then, the foremost thought on Angelou’s mind was entreating audience members to be sources of hope for others.

“I’m so grateful to be able to be here to revitalize you and remind you you how great you are,” said Angelou. “You are rainbows in the clouds.”

How fortunate the students at Cheyney, the residents of Delaware County and the world in general, were to experience the rainbow that was Maya Angelou.

- Delaware County Daily Times

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