- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:



Pennsylvania has gone 63 days without a budget for state operations. Schools, human service agencies and other organizations that rely on public dollars have been forced to borrow so they can pay their bills. For state employees, though, it’s business as usual.

Why have the elected officials, salaried administrators and hourly workers been immune from fallout from this summer’s budget stalemate? Because state spending for staff goes on undeterred.

This is nothing new for the 253 members of the Legislature and their employees. The Legislature maintains a huge nest egg, a multimillion-dollar account that gives them a cushion that keeps their failure to achieve a new budget from hitting close to home. The majority Republicans, who control the General Assembly’s agenda, will be financially immune to repercussions of a stalemate until the reserve runs out, and even though Gov. Tom Wolf’s fellow Democrats in the House are starting to feel a pinch, their situation has been tempered by the reserve.

The ostensible purpose of the fund is to provide independence for the legislative branch, but in reality that independence equals business as usual, no matter how unusual the budget business becomes. This reprehensible situation has existed no matter which party has been in power in Harrisburg, and it’s an affront to the taxpayers who pay for it. A recent Franklin & Marshall College poll found that 66 percent - Democrats and Republicans - said lawmakers should not get a paycheck when the budget is overdue.

This year, the rest of state government’s workforce has been similarly unaffected, even though Mr. Wolf vetoed a budget passed by Republicans. A 2009 court ruling said Pennsylvania could not use a budgetary trick employed in the past labeled “payless paydays,” in which workers worked and their paychecks were deferred until a new budget eventually was enacted.

That’s not an option now, although the ruling did not preclude layoffs and government shutdowns. Naturally, no one wants the chaos those developments would bring, but the Legislature has not adopted any sort of interim spending plan either.

Both parties are to blame for the impasse, but, given the lack of direct impact on the leaders involved and the employees who report to them, is that surprising? Lawmakers and other state officials must have their own skin in the game.

If decision-makers knew going into the process every year that failure to enact a budget would have real consequences, they’d be sure to craft a deal by July 1. It’s time to change the rules so that the lack of a spending plan hurts state officials, too.

- The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



A decade after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, 30 bodies remain unidentified.

USA Today reports that more extensive DNA testing is needed. The Federal Emergency Management Agency allocated $2.2 million to the Louisiana Department of Health & Hospitals for DNA testing. The state spent more than $3 million in an effort to reunite families with the remains of their loved ones.

About 1,833 people died in the storm in Louisiana and Mississippi. Autopsy reports show that many of the people were found with little or no personal belongings or distinguishing marks. Medical records were lost in the flood waters.

Dr. Louis Cataldie ran the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team. The medical examiners have done a remarkable job in identifying so many people. Cataldie said that they would take DNA from family members to try to match the family tree. That is complicated because many families have moved away.

If funding is the issue, then the federal government should make money available to finish this process.

The families of the 30 people left unidentified should have the right to bury their loved ones, instead of the bodies being placed in potter’s field.

- The (Somerset) Daily American



Cheers to Gov. Tom Wolf for - so far, at least - exercising restraint in his use of the state plane.

A recent Pennsylvania Independent report noted that the new governor has used the aircraft less than his predecessors.

That’s a good thing, because it costs a lot to operate the Beechcraft twin-engine King Air - about $1,000 an hour.

According to the report, Mr. Wolf’s flights have cost about $25,000 so far.

In 2014, Gov. Tom Corbett made 48 flights that cost more than $108,000.

Gov. Ed Rendell also made extensive use of the plane.

Critics have argued that Wolf is wasting tax dollars because some of his plane trips were part of his campaign to drum up public support for his state budget. Fair enough, but that is arguably a legitimate part of the governor’s job.

Still, he should try to drive to events as much as possible.

If nothing else, that will give him a real sense of how bad our state’s roads are - and how congested they are in many areas (including York County).

And while it’s a pretty big state, you can still drive to most places within four or five hours.

In the end, it’s hard to tag the governor with the spendthrift tag.

He drives his own Jeep around much of the time.

He’s living at home in Mount Wolf mostly - and using the governor’s mansion mainly for special events.

He doesn’t take a salary, etc.

One good thing you can say about most York County politicians is that they’re frugal.

- Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s travel expenses are minuscule for a statewide office holder. He sleeps on his mom’s couch when he visits Pittsburgh. And he posts all those expenses online.

(By the way, there’s a handy online log of the governor’s flights at PennDOT’s website - look under aviation.)

- Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, doesn’t take a pension and pays for his own flights - including the infamous chopper flyover of local high school campuses.

- Our legislative delegation in general holds travel, auto and office expenses down - and most are not entitled to per diems.

It’s great to see elected officials from our community leading by example.

- York Daily Record



The recent rescue of four bears from a roadside zoo in Wayne County, which went out of business two decades ago, demonstrates yet again that the state government needs to do more to keep wild animals in the wild.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals arranged for the transfer of the four bears - named Marsha, Bruno, Pocahontas and Fifi - from the former Big Bear Farm in Dyberry Twp. to a sanctuary in Colorado.

When the zoo was in business, the bears performed tricks such as riding bicycles, which in itself is dubious treatment of wild animals. But, at least, the zoo was subject to regular inspections by the United States Department of Agriculture - which ended when the zoo went out of business and closed in 1995. After that, the bears’ living conditions deteriorated until they were rescued by PETA.

The bears’ plight demonstrates the folly of allowing private ownership of wild animals, whether for commercial exploitation or personal amusement. It’s the latest in a long series of incidents in which “owners” of wild animals did not adequately care for them, endangering the animals and, in many cases, people who came into contact with them.

State law should preclude ownership of any wild animal by any entity other than an accredited zoo, which themselves often are controversial. But, at least they are regulated for the purposes of animal and human health and safety.

At the very least, state law should require any commercial entity that exploits wild animals to guarantee, through bonding or some other means, the safe relocation of animals if the enterprise fails or no longer needs a particular animal.

The law should not allow animals to be treated as though they are disposable. It should weigh heavily against removing animals from the wild and place a heavy regulatory burden on those who do so.

- The (Scranton) Times-Tribune



Only New Jersey, California, Rhode Island, and a handful of U.S. cities have caught up with other parts of the modern world by requiring some form of paid leave for employees who need to care for sick or disabled family members or a new child. It’s time for that to change.

U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez noted in a recent interview with the Inquirer Editorial Board, “We are the only civilized nation on the planet which doesn’t have it.” Britain, Brazil, Austria, and other nations with sophisticated economies long ago recognized that once women entered the workforce in large numbers, adjustments would be needed to help families care for children and elderly parents.

Meanwhile American women, who are the primary or joint breadwinners in two-thirds of U.S. families with children, too often can’t get a day off with pay when they need it. When that happens, a mother or father must take unpaid time off or make some other costly or worrisome arrangement. Workers with elderly parents frequently face the same dilemma.

As a result, American women once led other advanced nations with a high workforce participation rate, but that number has declined since 1990 as other countries passed employee family leave laws while the United States stood still, according to a study by Cornell University professors.

It is unlikely that Congress, in its partisan paralysis, will provide relief anytime soon, but states can fix the problem. In New Jersey, workers can take up to 10 weeks off for family reasons and get paid up to two-thirds of their salaries. Workers pay for the benefit by having $1 withheld from every $1,000 of compensation for the purpose.

Despite horrific predictions from business groups, paid leave hasn’t pushed New Jersey into an economic tailspin. But the law could be improved. Companies aren’t required to guarantee workers sick time, which deprives workers of the ability to take advantage of paid leave. A bill guaranteeing five days of sick leave deserves passage by the Legislature and should be signed by Gov. Christie.

Philadelphia is the only Pennsylvania city that guarantees paid sick leave, but Pittsburgh is considering legislation. Philadelphia workers accrue one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked, with an annual cap of 40 hours of leave.

Without a state leave law, unenlightened employers can shirk their responsibility by moving their businesses outside the city. But Pennsylvania’s legislature can fix that by guaranteeing sick leave for all workers and coming up with a formula to pay for it. It makes good business sense. Reasonable leave policies reduce turnover, which saves employers the cost of seeking and training new workers.

No workers should have to choose between putting food on the table and caring for loved ones. Paid family leave is compassionate, practical, and long overdue.

- The Philadelphia Inquirer

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