- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:



This is a political year on the state level, so it’s best to just stick to the numbers when considering Pennsylvania’s unemployment figures.

According to the state Department of Labor and Industry, Pennsylvania’s jobless rate in March was 6 percent.

That’s below the national jobless rate of 6.7 percent.

The data also marks a drop in the number of unemployed state residents for the eighth consecutive month, falling 8,000 to 390,000 in March.

Pennsylvania’s labor force - the number of people working or searching for work - rose by 12,000 in March.

You will be bombarded by advertisements and political stump speeches in the coming months highlighting how horrible the state’s economic situation is.

While the state’s economy clearly needs to be better, it is not the quagmire it is often made out to be.

The numbers don’t support the cries of economic disaster area.

And the jobs situation is clearly better than it was five years ago.

Eight consecutive months of lower unemployment represents more than a statistical or seasonal quirk.

It is short of a long-term trend but certainly an indicator of a state that is yielding some economic opportunity.

-Williamsport Sun-Gazette



You might have missed it amid the Benghazi thundering on Fox and the airplane searching on CNN. But a Commonwealth Court judge has denied a request that he reconsider his earlier ruling that struck down Pennsylvania’s 2012 voter ID law.

Judge Bernard L. McGinley initially torpedoed the law in January. On Monday, he issued another decision shrugging off Gov. Tom Corbett’s insistence that he revisit the case. McGinley said the law did not “provide liberal access to compliant photo ID” and deprived “numerous electors of their fundamental right to vote, so vital to our democracy.”

Well, of course it does. That’s the point. State party officials and lawmakers have openly admitted that the main reason the law was passed by the Republican-dominated Legislature was to make it easier for Republicans to win elections.

Let’s think about how.

In the first place, as observers noted immediately after Corbett signed the law, having to produce an ID to vote fundamentally changes the nature of voting. What was once a welcoming, participatory process suddenly becomes an adversarial, exclusionary transaction fraught with suspicion. Right or wrong, that alone might be enough to keep people away from polling places.

Far more likely is that those who really want to show up will do so, and produce their ID to a poll worker they’ve known for decades. Except, you know, those who don’t have approved IDs. Those people would be given a provisional ballot that wouldn’t count unless they made an extra effort after the election at a different location to prove their identity. Many might jump those extra hurdles, and many might not.

We shouldn’t be in the business of erecting barriers to voting in front of anyone. But it also happens that the people who would most likely be affected by voter ID laws are African-American, Hispanic, elders who no longer drive, college students, and more generally people of lower academic attainment of all ethnicities and backgrounds. As voting blocs most of those groups lean toward Democrats.

The overall effect is that voter ID laws reduce turnout, and consensus of those who have studied the matter is that turnout suppression hovers about 2 to 3 percent. Which seems small, until you realize that statewide elections involve millions of registered voters. The legitimacy of an election as an expression of the will of the people hinges most on voter turnout, and we shouldn’t be doing anything to actively reduce it.

So McGinley should be applauded for taking a stand. He’s not the only one, either. A federal judge on Tuesday struck down a similar law in Wisconsin, noting the twin troubles that also played roles in McGinley’s decision: The disenfranchisement of voters and the sheer impossibility of proving that voter impersonation is a problem. Because it isn’t. It’s the unicorn of voter fraud, due to its absurdly small risk-to-reward ratio. It’s also the only form of voting fraud that voter ID laws can prevent.

At this point, Corbett’s only option is to appeal to the state Supreme Court. He really shouldn’t. The law has been suspended (once again) for this year’s elections, but the state has wasted millions of dollars on this boondoggle and it’s time to give it up.

-(Chambersburg) Public Opinion



The wheels of justice have nothing on property tax reform and education funding in this state.

Both grind away at a snail’s pace.

In the meantime, senior citizens and others on fixed incomes struggle to meet the bane of the Pennsylvania homeowner, the yolk of paying for public education on the backs of those who deign to own property.

With the state preparing for a battle royal of an election in which a bevy of Democrats are running to unseat Gov. Tom Corbett, it’s not surprising that education funding is zooming to the top of the list of hot issues in the race. Corbett is taking heat for the austere budgets in his first three years in office, ones that squeezed local education funding. The governor insists he’s gotten a bad rap, saying that the real culprit in recent education funding crises are local school boards who ignored warnings not to use federal stimulus funds for recurring projects. When the federal money dried up, the local boards hit up taxpayers to make up the difference.

Everybody agrees education funding is a critical issue. That’s the easy part. Where to get it is a little harder. There is a growing push to tap into the state’s burgeoning Marcellus Shale regions for new revenue. Corbett remains steadfast against any such move, fearful that it will drive the drillers - and the economic boom - out of the state.

This week the heat on property tax reform will be cranked up even more, with the possibility that the state Senate will vote on Senate Bill 76, which would eliminate property taxes. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill County, believes he has the votes to pass the measure, which would make up the revenue from property taxes by hiking both the personal income tax and sales tax. The income tax would go to 4.34 percent, from the current 3.07, while the sales tax would inch up to 7 percent from the current 6 percent levy.

As you might expect, not everyone is a fan. State business groups have lined up against the plan, wary of the hit small businesses would take in terms of the sales tax. Not terribly surprisingly, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association blasted the bill in advance of the expected vote.

The state did not get in this mess overnight, seeing the state’s portion of education spending fall from 50 percent in the mid-1970s to where it stands today, a miserly less than 34 percent. That leaves Pennsylvania in a lowly 47th position nationwide in education funding. Getting out of this hole will not be easy, or without pain. In addition, the focus on revenue does nothing to address the many underlying causes of soaring education tabs, things like state mandates, pension costs, special education and charter school issues.

Not helping in the least was news this week that the state’s finances were less than rosy. In fact, despite the governor’s constant trumpeting of an economic turnaround, the state is in the red, staring at a $1 billion deficit. Corbett’s budget proposal calls for 3.7 percent more spending, with much of that money earmarked for a new grant program for public schools, and feeding the public pension crisis. That pension saga, which Corbett has referred to as a “tapeworm” in the budget process, threatens to derail the entire budget process, leaving public school administrators with skyrocketing costs, which could end up in the lap of taxpayers.

All of which leaves us a bit mystified as to why Corbett and state officials abandoned an important shift in how education funds were allocated a couple of years ago. The result of a costing-out study, did something not always popular in Harrisburg, directing money where it was needed most. In other words, to ailing districts like so many here in Southeastern Pennsylvania and Delaware County hit hard by increasing poverty levels, with a large population of English as Second Language learners, and struggling to keep pace with special education and charter school costs.

Act 61, which stemmed from the costing-out study, included a formula to more equitably allocate funding. Unfortunately, fearful of the cost, the formula was only in place for a few years when Corbett pulled the plug.

The governor this year has gone on record as saying he believes the state is in dire need of “a true, fair funding system” for education the state’s children.

We couldn’t agree more, and we’ve been saying so for months.

Might we make this one small suggestion: Why not use as a starting point returning to the funding formula already put in place by the costing-out study and Act 61. It proved effective in getting more money into the hands of those districts that needed it most.

The property tax reform questions are not going away any time soon. This would be a good place to start.

-The (Pottstown) Mercury

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