- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

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STOP CYF FUNDING SHELL GAME, July 26

Step right up, folks, and try your luck at the shell game.

Under this shell, we have an added $197 million for county child welfare offices in the 2016-17 state budget. And under this shell we have a bill for $172.7 million due to the offices for the fourth quarter of 2015-16.



Keep your eye on the table as the state Legislature shuffles the shells, a few quick moves and presto! The bill disappears! Isn’t that amazing!

There’s only $24 million left under the other shell, you say? Quick, look over there, is that an elephant in the middle of the Capitol?

The state budget passed earlier this month supposedly includes an additional $197 million for offices like York County Children, Youth and Families across the state.

The offices, especially York County’s, have come under fire since a report from Auditor General Eugene Pasquale showed 42,000 calls to ChildLine reporting suspected child abuse were unanswered last year. That means 22 percent of people calling to try to get help for children either gave up when the phone kept ringing and no one picked up or were automatically disconnected when there were so many calls the system was full.

York County CYF is operating on its fourth provisional license and has seen referrals skyrocket after a change in mandatory reporting laws. The local office fielded 2,051 referrals in the first five months of this year, compared to 1,851 for that time frame in 2015 and 1,138 for the first five months of 2014.

Meanwhile, the state Legislature put off paying those offices $172.7 million for their fourth-quarter expenses, after waiting nearly nine months before enacting last year’s budget at all. That money was paid in this year’s budget. Apparently the same thing happened last year: Bills for the fourth quarter of 2014-15 were paid in the 2015-16 budget.

So, nothing new to see here, please move along.

But …

Just because it’s happened before, that doesn’t mean it should keep happening.

This year’s budget includes funding for the CYF offices through June 30, 2017, with an actual 2.5 percent increase over the funding received last year, not the 20.7 percent the budget documents show.

It’s up to the state to make sure that money goes to protect our youngest residents in a timely fashion. There’s no reason to continue to dupe the citizens of Pennsylvania into thinking there’s a huge increase in funding for county CYF offices when in fact there isn’t.

So legislators, stop the fancy tricks. Even a child could see through this one.

- The York Dispatch

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REFORM PENSION SYSTEM, July 27

The state Legislature not only has failed, but has refused to reform state pension systems that have become a festering rip-off of Pennsylvania taxpayers.

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale announced Monday that his office will conduct a performance audit of the plans covering public school and state employees, largely to determine if the plans - and, therefore, taxpayers - are getting value from the hundreds of millions of dollars paid each year to the plans’ contracted investment managers.

According to their annual reports, the plans have a combined unfunded liability of $56.8 billion - total assets are that much short of their total obligations.

Legislators created this fiasco. In 2001 they authorized massive benefit increases, declaring that the plans’ investment earnings would cover them, which quickly proved farcical. They compounded the problem by not making required employer contributions to mask the cost of the giveaway and advised school districts to do likewise. Thus, they created the unfunded liability. Worse, they have refused to roll back the benefit increases to the 2001 levels for benefits not yet earned, passing on the costs to taxpayers. The state government will make $2.8 billion in pension payments this fiscal year, about 9 percent of the entire state budget. And the costs are behind local property tax increases projected by 400 of the state’s 500 school districts.

The Public School Employees Retirement System paid $455 million in fees to investment managers in the 2014-2015 fiscal year and posted an investment gain of just 3 percent. The State Employees Retirement System paid $159 million in management fees while earning 0.4 percent.

That performance warrants the examination planned by DePasquale.

Meanwhile, former state Treasurer Rob McCord pleaded guilty in February 2015 for threatening to penalize contractors seeking investment management business if they did not contribute to his gubernatorial campaign. And just last week, former Treasurer Barbara Hafer federally was indicted for allegedly lying to federal investigators about her consulting firm’s receipt of $675,000 from an investment manager, beginning weeks after she left office.

DePasquale said his audit is not in response to the Hafer indictment.

Even more disturbing is that all of this is not new territory. In 2003, Auditor General Robert P. Casey Jr. launched the first performance audit of the pension systems to examine the $250 million a year then being spent on investment management fees. The pension plans and Hafer, then the state treasurer, stonewalled. It took a three-year court battle to establish that the auditor general had the authority to conduct performance audits of the pension plans.

Now, a decade later, the plans are in worse shape and the investment performances have not improved as fees have increased, even counting net decreases over the last two years.

With or without an audit it’s obvious the Legislature finally must reform the pension systems to mitigate the damage they have inflicted.

- The (Wilkes-Barre) Citizens’ Voice

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HOLD PEOPLE RESPONSIBLE FOR CORPORATE WRONGDOING, July 23

Three states are joining the pursuit of Volkswagen over the company’s diesel emissions cheating. New York, Massachusetts and Maryland lawsuits claim that the auto-making giant and its affiliates Audi and Porsche defrauded buyers and violated state air quality laws by selling diesel engines whose emissions cleaning mechanisms were designed to fool tests.

Adding state lawsuits to VW’s woes is fine, but as this newspaper has stated before, people commit crimes, corporations don’t. It’s those people who must be held accountable.

The emissions scam was not a secret known only to higher-ups, though they obviously had to approve the plan. Engine designers, software writers, factory installers - all were involved in this plot as early as 2008, when VW line workers first installed the cheating software in more than 12 U.S. models. The software altered the emissions system during government testing to make sure nitrogen oxide emissions were within allowable limits. Of the roughly 600,000 VWs, Porsches and Audis sold across the country, about 25,000 were sold in New York, 15,000 in Massachusetts and 13,000 in Maryland.

Those numbers represent just a fraction of the hundreds of thousands more diesel-engine vehicles the companies sold across Europe and elsewhere. These vehicles sold partly on their reputation as clean and green. In reality, in some cases the engines were putting out many times the allowable limit of nitrogen oxide.

More recently, the Wall Street Journal reported, Daimler’s Mercedes vehicles came under fire in the U.S. earlier this year for the company’s BlueTEC diesel technology. The technology shuts down pollution controls when temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, producing nitrogen oxide emissions more than 65 times higher than EPA permit.

Lawsuits aim to hurt the bottom line of a company with an end goal of preventing further offenses. But fines and penalties, though they may hit shareholders’ dividends, don’t always work as intended. Four years after the 2008 start of the Great Recession, JP Morgan Chase in 2012 reported losing more than $2 billion on risky trades. Banks’ risky trades precipitated the world-wide downturn. Yet the behavior continued, in no small part because banks have lots of money and can pay fines. Make some of those individuals personally liable, and they might be more cautious.

Likewise, auto makers’ employees from the head honchos on down should be held personally liable for their role in polluting the world’s air and contributing to harmful climate warming.

Car buyers in New York, Massachusetts, Maryland and beyond deserve better. Everyone around the world deserves better. Earth’s atmosphere cannot afford more such, literally, dirty tricks.

- The (Stroudsburg) Pocono Record

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HACKING OF DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE EMAILS SHOULD WORRY EVERYONE, July 27

There is something truly terrifying in the Democrats’ latest chapter of “Email for Dummies.”

It isn’t that on the eve of the Democratic National Convention, the party’s chairwoman quit after a dumpster full of leaked emails showed, at least in some of the communications, that party officials tried to stack the deck in favor of presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, sparking angry protests from Sanders supporters.

It isn’t Clinton’s escape of federal indictment for her “extremely careless” handling of her State Department emails - again with the emails - or her only brief flirtation with the truth as she tried to explain her way out of the mess. Also disturbing.

And it isn’t even that the Democrats might need to get off the grid for a while until they can figure out how to use email without stepping in it with both feet.

All of this is head-scratching, disillusioning, infuriating and perhaps even scary.

But what is really terrifying is this:

The FBI is now investigating the possibility that Russian intelligence agencies hacked the DNC server and were responsible for the security breach, though it is unknown if Russian President Vladimir Putin himself ordered the theft.

Cybersecurity experts also believe the crew that hacked the DNC server is behind recent security breaches at the White House, State Department and Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Democrats were quick to try to divert attention from the content of the DNC emails by claiming they were leaked by the Russians “for the purpose of helping Donald Trump,” according to Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager. Trump later tweeted, “Hillary was involved in the e-mail scandal because she is the only one with judgement so bad that such a thing could have happened!” Trump also called assertions that the Russians are trying to help him win “a joke.”

Most troubling here, and certainly no joke if true, would be the attempt by the Russians to influence the outcome of any U.S. election by releasing massive amounts of stolen information, regardless of which candidate or party the meddling might favor. Such a data dump would be unprecedented.

The prospect of any foreign country interfering in a U.S. presidential election should be abhorrent to Republicans, Democrats, Independents and any other American who wants to trust the integrity of our electoral system.

After learning of the DNC leak, David Frum, a conservative and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, tweeted, “Even the biggest news inside the DNC emails is about one/one zillionth as big as Russian interference in US elections.”

Hyperbole aside, Frum is right.

As we’ve already written, the emails and their impact on what is supposed to be an impartial process within a party structure are cringeworthy. The DNC is rightfully being taken to task.

But the bigger story is what the DNC hack represents: an escalation in efforts by the Russians - assuming this is traced back to them - to influence American politics.

Based on their history of meddling in the political machinations of other countries, including ours, the Russians aren’t likely to lose interest any time soon.

“They use hacking for political effect and to shape opinion,” cybersecurity expert James Lewis told the Wall Street Journal. “So let’s just say it fits their (modus operandi).”

Put your politics aside for a moment and consider what has already happened here, how the leak of this information has already tinted the discussion. Republicans and Democrats are falling over themselves trying to spin this their way.

Political effect? Yes. Shaping opinion? Absolutely. What’s next?

The possibilities are, indeed, terrifying.

-LNP newspapers

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KAINE’S HISTORY OF ACCEPTING GIFTS MAKES HIM PERFECT MATCH FOR CLINTON, July 27

Pennsylvanians would be exceedingly upset if we learned our governor had accepted more than $200,000 in gifts from deep-pocket donors. But while Tim Kaine was lieutenant governor, then governor of Virginia, it was no problem - under state law, at least.

Kaine, who moved on to become a U.S. senator, has been chosen as Hillary Clinton’s running mate in the November election. The two are being feted at this week’s Democrat convention in Philadelphia, where Clinton’s nomination to the presidency will be formalized.

It never was a secret that Kaine had accepted big gifts ranging from $5,500 worth of clothes to an $18,000 stay at a donor’s vacation home in the Caribbean. All Kaine had to do to stay within Virginia law at that time was disclose he had received the gifts.

But legal and ethical often are two different things. Many Pennsylvania voters would not be at all happy to learn our governor had benefited from such lavish treatment.

To his credit, Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat like Kaine, has taken the step of banning gifts and favors to executive branch employees to avoid finding himself or anyone within his administration in the same situation.

We wish we could say the same for Kaine.

If anything, Clinton may wonder why her running mate didn’t reap more of the benefits of office.

Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, raked in millions of dollars for their foundation while she was secretary of state, often from donors deeply interested in how the government would treat them. For Clinton, Kaine’s behavior probably falls into the “no problem” category. Voters may not agree, however.

- The (Lewistown) Sentinel

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