- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Excerpts of recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Pennsylvania’s newspapers:

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PENSION PUZZLE

Philadelphia’s ravenous pension fund will be the next mayor’s greatest financial challenge. It eats an increasing portion of the city budget, leaving less money for police, parks, libraries, and other services.

The troubled pension fund is expected to consume 15.5 percent of the budget this year. The government’s contribution has grown more than 160 percent since 2004, according to the city’s financial plan, even as the share of obligations covered has dropped below 50 percent.

Mayor Nutter offered a partial solution when he proposed selling the Philadelphia Gas Works, which would have yielded a substantial infusion of cash and significantly reduced the burden of contributions. But Council killed the deal, making the next mayor’s job even harder.

The bottom line is that the city and workers have to dedicate more money to the fund. Cutting future benefits and, to a lesser extent, more efficient management could also help.

Former City Councilman Jim Kenney notes the pivotal reality that getting employees to contribute more to the fund or alter benefits must be accomplished through negotiations. Criticized on the campaign trail for being too close to organized labor - and his push to distribute more pension benefits despite the fund’s ill health - Kenney argues that his relationships with unions could help him solve the pension problem. His full answer to an Editorial Board questionnaire, along with those of the other candidates (except for Milton Street, who did not participate), is featured on today’s op-ed page.

- The Philadelphia Inquirer

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EGYPT’S FATE: A CRUEL PRISON SENTENCE FURTHER DIMS DEMOCRACY

Egypt continued its repressive approach to democracy with the sentencing of former President Mohammed Morsi to 20 years in prison.

Mr. Morsi, 63, was elected president in 2012, part of the so-called Arab Spring. In a year he was overthrown in a coup by Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Mr. Sisi subsequently won the presidency in a farcical election which gave him 96 percent of the vote.

The Sisi government has sentenced 1,212 of its opponents to death since January 2014. Previously overthrown President Hosni Mubarak, who headed a military government from 1981 to 2011, had been on trial but was released after Mr. Sisi overthrew Mr. Morsi. It is likely that Mr. Morsi will spend the rest of his life in prison.

The harsh sentence is another affront to President Barack Obama who, three weeks ago, restored Egypt’s $1.3 billion in military aid. Mr. Obama suspended some of the support when Mr. Sisi overthrew Mr. Morsi. Full withdrawal of the aid, required by U.S. law, was avoided by pretending that the siege was not a military coup.

Mr. Obama explained the restoration of aid by stating it was in the interests of U.S. security. Egypt has not been notably successful in maintaining control of the Sinai peninsula. It has also bombed Libya and pledged its support, including ground forces, to the war that Saudi Arabia, supported by the United States, is waging on Houthi Shiite Muslim forces in Yemen.

With respect to Egypt, the U.S. pretense of supporting democracy has sadly gone out the window

- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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IT’S TIME (LONG PAST TIME, ACTUALLY) TO PUT A WOMAN ON THE $20 BILL

An online campaign is underway to supplant the seventh American president, Andrew Jackson, with a woman on the $20 bill.

Voting on the website Womenon20s.org has reached its final round, and the four finalists are: Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation; civil rights icon Rosa Parks; diplomat and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt; and Harriet Tubman, the abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor.

The creators of Womenon20s.org say the best way to mark the 2020 centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment - which gave women the right to vote - would be to put a woman on the $20 bill.

Last week, the virtual campaign to put a woman on the $20 bill got real, when Sen. Jeanne Shaheen introduced the Women on the Twenty Act in the U.S. Senate.

Her legislation would direct the U.S. Treasury secretary to convene a citizen panel to consider which woman should be on the $20.

This may seem like a trivial matter, especially when compared to, say, the prospect of a nuclear Iran. But it says something about how women are valued - or not - that we’ve yet to see a woman on our paper money, save for cameo appearances by Martha Washington on silver certificates in 1886 and 1891.

- LNP newspapers

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EXTENDED BAR HOURS ARE NO SOLUTION FOR PENNSYLVANIA’S ‘BRAIN DRAIN’

State. Rep Jordan Harris of Philadelphia has “brain drain” on his mind. As part of an ongoing modernization of Pennsylvania’s archaic liquor laws, Harris wants to change the rules to allow some bars to serve alcohol until 4 a.m. — two hours later than the current cutoff — to encourage young, college-educated persons to stick around and work in the state.

“This legislation would create a more attractive Pennsylvania and further a goal of appealing to young professionals and millennials who can greatly improve our local economies,” Harris says.

With all due respect — and acknowledging that Harris is looking to boost night-life zones — we think the more important issue is the “brain cell drain” that will occur with two more hours of drinking. And the potential for more drunks on the road. And the possibility that college towns — of which the Lehigh Valley has three — could turn into louder, extended urination and vomiting zones for the neighbors.

We’ll pass.

Besides, people who want to keep drinking after 2 a.m., which includes those who work night shifts, have the option of going to after-hours clubs, which allow two more hours of imbibing.

Harris says he isn’t proposing to extend business hours at the local corner bar, but to target establishments in commercial zones away from residential areas — and to bring Philadelphia’s offerings up to par with New York City and Washington, D.C., which allow some bars to stay open until 4 a.m.

- The (Easton) Express-Times

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EVENTS WITH GLOBAL IMPACT GOING UNNOTICED IN GREECE

While Iran continues to dominate the world news front, a remarkable and potentially devastating story is quietly developing in Greece. A wildly popular new prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has sprung to prominence almost overnight. But he’ll likely be forced to put his nation in default next month when a billion-euro ($1.07 billion) loan payment comes due.

This crisis is likely to erupt soon, with global repercussions that should be anticipated. On Monday, the federal government raided municipal treasuries, ordering mandatory cash transfers to the central bank, just to make government payroll.

Eurozone officials begin talks Wednesday about Greece’s ongoing financial crisis, which dates back to 2009 when high debt and run-away inflation forced Greece to accept loans from the European Union and to impose harsh austerity measures - spending and wage cuts and tax hikes.

Six years later, the austerity measures have sparked a deep depression without much sign of economic recovery. There’s wide skepticism among investors that another bailout deal can be reached between Greece and its creditors.

Focus is already shifting to early May when Greece must repay a billion euros to the International Monetary Fund - and most experts say Athens will default on its debt.

Greece so far has failed to present any plan for reforms that the IMF and its eurozone partners can take seriously. That’s certain to shut off any hope of another bailout.

And the Greek people no longer seem to care. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, in a recent visit to Athens,” says one question preoccupies them: “Don’t you think they want us to fail?”

- Butler Eagle

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