- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

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STATE PARKS NO PLACE FOR PRIVATE RESORTS, July 6

Renting a couple of bedrooms in the historic Presque Isle Lighthouse to overnight visitors, as the nonprofit agency operating the lighthouse one day hopes to, seems to be no violation of the state constitution’s mandate:

“The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people,” Article 1, Section 27 reads.

The commercialization of state parks contemplated in a bill voted down June 28 by the state House of Representatives is on another scale altogether and worthy of the opposition it stirred.

State Rep. Brian Ellis, R-Butler County, with support of local state Reps. Ryan Bizzarro, Curt Sonney and Brad Roae, said he wants to bring Pennsylvania’s state parks “into the 21st century.”

House Bill 2013 calls for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to launch a program to study public-private partnerships that would enable private interests to develop attractions such as amusement and water parks, golf courses and hotels on public lands.

A bipartisan vote, 123-77, defeated the bill, but in a manner that would permit reconsideration in the future.

We stand with the land and state taxpayers’ right to freely access it, pristine and wild. Private development on public land is a bad idea for taxpayers, who could end up shouldering the burden for failed investments.

Many parks were created to preserve some natural or historical feature. Oil Creek State Park protects the oil-rich valley that “changed the world,” Cook Forest shelters stands of native timber, and Presque Isle, a biologically rich inland seashore. Private business owners who have already invested untold sums in amenities in areas bordering these state park attractions should not have to compete with those suddenly permitted to set up shop on the parks themselves.

Local legislators said such development would not affect Presque Isle State Park or Erie Bluffs State Park. But both waterfront properties could draw developers looking to replicate amenities like those created at the Nature Inn at Bald Eagle near State College, the first and only luxury hotel operated by private interests in a state park. The public is welcome to enjoy a room at the inn. That is, if they can afford nightly rates ranging from $95 to $378, depending on room type and whether or not it is a Penn State football game day.

Pennsylvania’s 2.2 million acres of state forest land and 121 state parks offer nature unspoiled, through camping, hiking, kayaking, fishing, birding, even the sport of disc golf. The Legislature should fund appropriate recreation and the maintenance of this resource, not cheapen it through commercialization.

- Erie Times-News

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PROMINENT REPUBLICANS STEERING CLEAR OF GOP CONVENTION, July 10

Free food. Slapping backs and kissing babies. Open bar. What politician would miss that, on purpose, no less?

That’s what political conventions are, or at least what they have been, in modern history. They tend to generate very little actual news, beyond who is speaking and anything controversial or bizarre that might be said. (Clint Eastwood certainly spiced things up in 2012 when he spoke to an empty chair.) Conventions are an opportunity to see and be seen. Usually.

But, in one week, Republicans will convene in Cleveland for their national convention, and many members of the GOP will avoid the Quicken Loans Arena as if it’s under quarantine for measles.

Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee for president, promises a “celebrity-heavy” convention. Former basketball coach Bob Knight is a “maybe.” OK. Boxing promoter Don King and his hair, both of whom live in Cleveland, plan to attend. It looked for a while like New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady would show, but now it looks like he’s not coming. You can guess what might have happened. Someone in Tom’s inner circle, maybe a wise old uncle, pulled him aside. The uncle put a hand firmly on Tom’s shoulder, looked Tom in the eye, and whispered, “Tommy, my boy, you might want to sit this one out.”

“Why?”

“Do I really need to spell it out?”

“But I like him.”

“Yeah, well, let me put it this way. Letting the air out of a few footballs versus the Hindenburg. Capeesh?”

In addition to Brady, a quick glance at the RSVPs shows that among those who checked “I decline” or “I’m sorting my sock drawer that week” are Ohio’s Republican Gov. John Kasich; Mitt Romney, the GOP’s last nominee for president; former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush; and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, among others.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will, it appears, be at the convention. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has been mentioned as a possible running mate for Trump, will also be there.

Locally, most big names from Lancaster County are not planning to attend. U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts won’t be going nor will U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan or any of the county’s Republican state lawmakers, with the possible exception of state Rep. Keith Greiner. However, none of those opting out said they’re staying away because of Trump. Still, you wonder, especially in an election year, why all the no-shows?

There’s no doubt this is unusual but political scientists seem to think it’s because no one wants to be spotted at the scene if the convention turns into a disaster.

Following your nominee around, with broom and dustpan in hand, trying to clean up mess after mess, gets old. First you clean up, then you sidestep the mess, then you avoid the area altogether.

It should also be noted that only one of three local delegates has committed to voting for Trump at the convention.

When you have people like Matt Borges, the Ohio Republican Party chairman, saying things about his nominee and the convention such as, “He’s going to have to bring all his skills to bear to make this work,” as he told The Associated Press, there’s a disconnect somewhere. That’s not the kind of the thing party leaders typically say about their own candidate at a convention. Clearly, many Republicans are trying to distance themselves from Trump.

The mind does boggle at what Trump can or will do to make this convention work for him and the GOP without it turning into the total protest-filled freak show that some have predicted. Delegates are split. Demonstrations are planned. Corporate sponsors have bailed.

There’s one person and one person only who has the opportunity to turn potential chaos into something productive, and that is the nominee himself. If Trump has one last chance to galvanize the party and, at the same time, look like the president of the United States, this is it.

Trump has been urged by GOP leaders to transition, which is political-speak for “start acting presidential, or we’ll lose big.” But, in Trump’s mind, he must be thinking, “I’ve gotten this far being myself. I’ve won the nomination for president for crying out loud. Why should I change now?”

Perhaps, when the presumptive nominee stands on the stage in Cleveland and sees who’s not in the audience, he’ll have his answer.

- (Lancaster) LNP newspapers

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AMID ALL OF THE VIOLENCE, WE NEED TO EXAMINE ‘WE, THE PEOPLE’, July 11

It’s only been a few days, but we will be in perpetual shock over the killing of five police officers in Dallas, the shooting of seven other officers, plus two civilians, and further violence against police since.

That horror, and so many other acts of revenge and hate before it, beg the question: Who are we as a nation of free people?

No, the few sick and demented people among us are surely not a reflection of the majority of us who are compassionate, benevolent and respectful of others.

But now it seems there are too many people in our society who are evil, ready to lash out with horrific violence rather than work for change through tolerance.

Have we become so divisive as to create a culture of death amongst enough of us to make mass killings a frequent occurrence?

Let’s examine some of “our” behaviors.

Whether you want to admit it or not, discrimination based on race is deeply rooted in America, rearing its ugly face moreso - seemingly - while an African American resides in the White House.

Our “pop culture” is now more defined by social media … we see and hear more about the extremely sad and morbid side of life.

Television programming for the masses is filled with crime shows, violence, and the ridiculing of others.

Many of the top-rated TV shows are about crime. There are multiple programs produced from inside prisons, for God’s sake.

Our national broadcast media have “breaking news” 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with an extreme focus on the bad angels of our nature. And they’ve decided to forget their democratic duty to provide objective news and information.

We now have major networks spewing their own political agendas, constantly twisting what should be productive civil discourse by using terms that make you believe you’re watching a dirty ultimate fighting match with no rules.

Our national political leaders - those responsible for working to help make our lives better - have become so divisive as to fuel the rise of hate groups.

Where our collective national discussion should bring hope, it’s bringing anger.

The juvenile rhetoric in the current campaign for president is inflaming fear and anxiety among children, igniting racial and ethnic tensions.

Do we not care about the long-lasting impact this will have on our future generations?

The man who killed and shot so many police officers in Dallas - and who sadly once wore a uniform of the United States military - clearly was sick in his mind, as was the man who killed so many at a nightclub in Orlando, and so on.

Thank you, Helen Prien, for your letter to the editor on this page.

You hit the nail on the head.

Every person and every community in this great country needs to ask: Do we want to build ourselves up through goodwill, forbearance and unselfishness, or continue this path of indifference, scorn and hostility?

Just who are “We, the People?”

-The (Lock Haven) Express

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EDUCATION REFORM IS KEY TO REDUCING PRISON SPENDING, July 8

Each government budget is the most definitive of policy statements. What politicians say does not define their priorities as well as what they fund.

As Pennsylvania lawmakers fumble another state budget, the U.S. Department of Education points out that in the commonwealth, as in every other state, public spending on corrections has risen at a far faster rate than spending for basic and higher education.

From the 1980 through 2013 fiscal years, public basic education spending rose by 107 percent nationwide - from $258 billion to $534 billion - while state and local corrections expenditures nationwide rose by 324 percent, from $17 billion to $74 billion. Nationally, per-student spending rose by 73 percent over the period while per-inmate spending rose by 185 percent.

Over the same period, the adult population of the United States rose 49 percent but the incarceration rate rose 345 percent. The number of school-aged children increased 13 percent and public school enrollment increased 20 percent. In Pennsylvania over the period, the rate of increase for corrections spending was 247 percent higher than for education spending.

The DOE measured a different period for higher-education funding. From the 1990 through 2013 fiscal years, total state and local spending for higher education increased by about 5 percent, from $67 billion to $71 billion, while corrections expenditures soared by 89 percent - from $37 billion to $71 billion.

As the state politicians’ inability to pass a budget on time demonstrates bad politics and governance, the DOE analysis illustrates the disconnect between short-term budgeting and long-term effective policy.

Effective broad-based education long has been recognized as a leading deterrent to crime and, therefore, to incarceration. Yet among state prison inmates, according to the DOE analysis, two-thirds have not completed high school - a staggering and costly failure of the government and the broader society.

Pennsylvania and many other states have begun to reduce their prison populations because of the costs, data that are not yet reflected in the DOE’s ongoing analysis. But that effort is based primarily on reforms to the criminal justice and prison systems themselves.

The DOE study demonstrates the commonwealth must add broad-based education reforms to the arsenal.

- The (Wilkes-Barre) Citizens’ Voice

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RIDE SHARING CAN DELIVER REAL BENEFITS, July 7

Officials from the state Department of Transportation have been quietly meeting with representatives of ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft to determine if those services can help senior citizens with their transportation needs.

The state spends about $73 million a year for regional and county-run transit programs for seniors who cannot drive, or who live without a car or regularly scheduled bus service.

An expansion of a more flexible transportation model would not only benefit seniors, it might also help alleviate multiple issues for people of all ages caused by the lack of public transportation across the Central Susquehanna Valley.

Uber and Lyft employ citizen drivers who use their own cars to give people rides and then are paid through the online ride sharing service.

Every year, 3.6 million people, especially senior citizens, miss medical appointments because they don’t have access to reliable transportation and several rural hospitals and health systems have flagged transit as a significant problem.

Leslie Richards, secretary of the state Department of Transportation, noted that Uber and Lyft can provide more flexible services which have solved transit issues in many areas.

“I am cautiously optimistic we will come up with options that have never been tried before and are less expensive than what we are doing now,” she said. The program would be statewide, which would be attractive to the companies, Richards said.

It would also be attractive to Valley residents who need transportation services. Neither ride sharing company currently operates here. Uber operates in the Wilkes-Barre, Harrisburg, Lancaster, State College, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh regions. Lyft offers services in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia areas.

It appears that state officials will need to smooth over a few rough patches before the ride services expand. In April, the state’s Public Utility Commission issued Uber a record-setting $11.4 million fine for operating in Pennsylvania for six months in 2014 without required approvals. Lyft received a $250,000 fine for similar violations.

Gov. Tom Wolf has urged the commission to greatly reduce the Uber fine, saying that it could discourage innovative companies from investing in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, the state assembly is considering legislation to grant ride-hailing companies permanent permission to operate throughout Pennsylvania.

Innovation - thinking outside the bus - is needed to solve the complex transportation issues we face locally. We encourage state officials to keep talking to Uber, Lyft and others that provide similar services. They just might have what is needed to put the state’s transportation issues on a much better route.

- The (Sunbury) Daily Item

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