- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:



Gov. Tom Wolf completed a veto trifecta Thursday by ditching the Legislature’s pension reform plan, adding to the stack of stalemate that includes a 2015-16 budget and sale of the state’s liquor system.

The governor acted immediately to veto the latter two items, so the weeklong delay before he deep-sixed the pension bill had raised hopes that he might sign it. But no.

The Democratic governor and Republican legislators are now painted into their respective corners, and Pennsylvanians are left to wonder when and how this standoff will end.

In denouncing the pension bill, Mr. Wolf said he understood the need for reform but said the bill had serious flaws. He said it means new workers, who would participate in 401(k)-style contribution plans, would actually be paying down old pension debt. That, he said, would hurt the state’s ability to attract good job candidates.

He also said part of the measure violates federal tax law, and he complained that the bill would not give taxpayers immediate cost savings.

So far, Mr. Wolf has been sticking with his proposal to reduce the amount of money the state spends on investment managers, refinancing $3 billion in unfunded pension debt and making other modifications that stop short of phasing out defined benefits plans.

Whether his objections to the Republicans’ bill give both sides something to discuss is doubtful. When the House first passed its version of the pension bill in May, the governor said he considered it “the beginning of a fruitful conversation.” But a scathing email from Mr. Wolf’s press office Thursday suggests the talking is over - unfortunately.

- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



Voters may have turned Gov. Tom Corbett out of office last November, but his higher education funding legacy remains.

The State System of Higher Education board, which governs Pennsylvania’s 14 state universities, voted last week to boost tuition by 3 percent. Tuition, fees room and board at the schools in the system, which does not include Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh, will increase to about $18,500, up from about $18,000 the last school year.

The board defied Gov. Tom Wolf’s call for a tuition freeze by increasing tuition to help close a projected $58 million deficit in the system’s budget for the fiscal year.

It also ordered schools to find $30 million in cuts to balance the budget. The universities must decide where to make the reductions, which could lead to elimination of jobs and programs. Some of the schools already face financial difficulty and declining enrollment.

The system is expected to receive $412.7 million from the state under the Legislature’s appropriation awaiting Wolf’s action. The amount has been the same since 2011-12 and is $90 million less than 2010-11.

Wolf in March proposed a double-digit increase in state aid for the system in his budget to make up for almost an almost 20 percent reduction under Corbett, but the Republican-dominated Legislature ignored the request.

Current state aid to the system is the same as in 1997-98 and students and their families have had to make up for the funding shortfall through repeated tuition increases.

The Legislature’s aversion to more funding for the system penalizes the schools, state students and their families and undermines the competitive tuition rates that helps keep more Pennsylvania students in the state

- The (Shamokin) News Item



State Attorney General Kathleen Kane took another opportunity last week to demonstrate her incompetence.

Ms. Kane asked the state Supreme Court on Wednesday to invalidate Gov. Tom Wolf’s moratorium on executions. She wants the court to allow the execution of Hubert L. Michael Jr. for the 1993 murder of a York County teenage girl.

Mr. Wolf declared a moratorium on executions in February, voicing concerns about errors, racial prejudice and the impact on families of victims.

Ms. Kane, who had not publicly expressed criticism of Mr. Wolf’s decision before filing the action, argued in a court petition that the governor’s move was unconstitutional. “Never before has a member of the executive branch of government sought to unilaterally negate a criminal penalty across an entire class of cases,” a brief filed by Ms. Kane’s office argues. “Such a roadblock to death-sentence executions is impermissible.”

Mr. Wolf put executions on hold pending results from a task force study of the state’s death penalty. The Legislature approved the review in 2011, prior to Mr. Wolf’s election.

The governor has not abolished the death penalty, although Pennsylvania’s capital punishment record has serious blemishes, including the exoneration of six death row inmates over the last four decades.

What’s the rush?

Ms. Kane’s challenge is perplexing beyond the fact that she and Mr. Wolf are both Democrats. Only three people in Pennsylvania have been put to death since 1978 and there is no obvious, urgent reason to execute Mr. Michael or anybody else.

Although she seems intent on opening the door to the state’s first execution since 1999, a functional hurdle awaits. The state postponed Mr. Michael’s execution last fall because it does not have the specific lethal injection drugs required under Pennsylvania’s constitution.

Ms. Kane’s move serves no practical purpose and calls into question her motivation as well as the reliability of her judgment.

The Times-Tribune in April cited incompetence in calling for Ms. Kane’s resignation after a grand jury recommended that she be charged with perjury, obstruction and other offenses related to leaks from another grand jury investigation. Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Ferman will determine whether to file charges.

The latest episode reinforces our position.

- The (Scranton) Times-Tribune



The seven-nation agreement aimed at halting Iran’s progress toward a nuclear arsenal has been criticized as merely delaying the inevitable, but that ignores the value of delay. Delay can buy valuable time to shape relationships and make better deals that might prevent the apparently inevitable from ever happening.

Ultimately, the success of the pact won’t be decided by those who negotiated it or the leaders of the countries they represented. It will be decided by the people of Iran, who have endured years of economic sanctions imposed on their repressive regime to reach this point.

It will be up to the Iranian people to let the ayatollahs who rule their country know in no uncertain terms that they don’t want an atomic bomb if it means going back to the shortages and deprivations the sanctions caused.

Some compare this moment with President Richard Nixon’s gamble to establish diplomatic relations with communist China in 1972. The comparison is not exact, but the potential for peace is as great. China today is more of an economic rival, albeit a ruthless one, than the military threat it was 40 years ago.

The Iran agreement now goes to Congress, which has 60 days to vote it up or down, but some lawmakers have already dismissed the pact out of hand. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R., N.J.) said Iran needs to take back its vow to destroy Israel; Rep. Bill Flores (R., Texas) said sanctions should remain so long as Iran sponsors terrorist organizations.

President Obama addressed such concerns Tuesday, noting that independent U.S. sanctions related to Iran’s support for terrorism, its ballistic missile program, and its human rights abuses aren’t ending. “We will continue our unprecedented efforts to strengthen Israel’s security,” he said, adding that the U.S. partnership with Arab Gulf states to counter threats from Iran and Islamic State terrorists would also continue.

Obama isn’t being naive about the Iranians. Echoing President Ronald Reagan’s “trust, but verify” mantra, he said, “This deal is not built on trust. It is built on verification.” The agreement will give inspectors “24/7 access” to Iran’s declared nuclear facilities, nuclear supply chain, uranium mines and mills, and conversion and centrifuge manufacturing facilities.

The Union of Concerned Scientists noted some weaknesses in the agreement but said that if fully implemented, it “will significantly restrict Iran’s ability to produce fissile materials suitable for nuclear weapons for the next decade.” The only way to find out if that can happen is to put the agreement into action. Congress should give the document a full vetting but shouldn’t unduly stand in the way of a historic step toward peace.

- The Philadelphia Inquirer



In the past several years, state money for services for people with disabilities has been kept relatively level, even as the demand for services has grown.

State budget negotiations are still playing out in Harrisburg, but advocates for people with disabilities are worried that they are being forgotten.

Pennsylvania used to be a leader in disability services. The state has fallen behind.

Maureen Cronin, director of The Arc of Pennsylvania, which advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, has said that her top priority is wiping out the waiting list for services. Advocates say that more than 14,000 people are on the waiting list.

The push to deal with the waiting list has been going on for more than 15 years. A proposal in the House would ask state officials to come up with a five-year plan to eliminate the wait. That bill has stalled for three straight legislative sessions.

State legislators and senators need to walk in the shoes of families dealing with intellectual disabilities and experience some of the daily obstacles. The funding for services must be increased and the waiting list must be reduced.

- The (Somerset) Daily American


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