- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:



This shouldn’t take 120 days. Compared to other problems on the Pennsylvania Legislature’s agenda, fixing the constitutional flaw in a casino revenue-sharing law should be an easy fix.

Still, Harrisburg is where good intentions turn into partisan crap-outs. Let’s hope lawmakers can see the wisdom of keeping a pipeline of gambling proceeds open to host towns that rely on it. The city of Bethlehem has a huge stake in this.

Here’s the problem: Last month the state Supreme Court ruled, in a suit brought by the owners of Mt. Airy Casino Resort, that a three-tiered way of splitting a share of slot-machine revenues with municipalities is unconstitutional. The law says each casino must ante up $10 million a year or 2 percent of its slots proceeds, whichever is greater, and distribute it to towns to help with policing, firefighting, road repairs or other public needs. Casinos in Philadelphia are covered by a separate revenue-sharing provision.

That arrangement violates the state constitution’s requirement on uniform taxation, the high court said.

Why this issue was even litigated is a fair question. All the state’s casinos outside Philadelphia have paid $10 million each year for the last eight years, because they don’t make enough in slots to reach the 2 percent threshold.

The remedy seems simple - choose a flat fee or a percentage.

Host towns such as Bethlehem are facing substantial revenue gaps, just as the planning for the 2017 budget year is getting under way.

The city is anticipating about $9.8 million in revenue sharing from the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem in 2016. Overall, the casino supplies about 12 percent of the city’s budget - the equivalent of 100 police officers.

Business Administrator David Brong said the city is asking Sands officials to consider a stop-gap arrangement to keep quarterly payments flowing. If that’s not acceptable, the city will take out a short-term loan in anticipation of the revenue, Brong said, adding that Sands officials seemed open to negotiations. (A separate revenue stream from table games, which provides Bethlehem with $1.1 million a year, isn’t at risk.)

Casino contributions to host municipalities were an integral part of the bargain to legalize casino gambling in Pennsylvania. The money has paid for increased public costs associated with casinos.

The Superior Court stayed its ruling for 120 days to give lawmakers time to rewrite the law and lessen the impact on host towns. The court said its ruling isn’t retroactive, so there’s no need to renegotiate the last eight years of payments to municipalities.

The Legislature will be in session for two weeks in late October. While it has some big items on the agenda - pension reform and the opioid crisis, notably - the casino funding dilemma could be sewn up in a matter of days.

Since the casinos have been paying $10 million a year, that should be the starting point for discussion.

- The (Easton) Express-Times



When confronted with a deadly force that could threaten your existence, it’s crucial to know as much as you can about the force before you respond. You can’t outrun a bear, for example, but shouting and pepper spray are likely to scare it away. Running from a bear could get you killed.

Maybe the same could be said about heroin and opioids. More knowledge about this scourge might help shape a more effective response to eradicate it.

The opioid epidemic, which contributed to a record 47,500 overdose deaths in the United States in 2014, began as a business decision by a Mexican drug cartel anticipating a huge loss of profits from declining marijuana sales.

That’s the conclusion of best-selling author Don Winslow in a feature article he wrote for the Aug. 9 edition of Esquire.

Winslow, who has followed the Mexican drug trade for nearly 30 years, points to the gradual acceptance of marijuana in the United States.

“We wanted legal weed, and for the most part, we got it,” Winslow writes. “Four states have legalized it outright, others have decriminalized it, and in many jurisdictions police refuse to enforce the laws that are on the books, creating a de facto street legalization.”

Suddenly the Dominant Sinaloa Cartel, headed by Joaquín Guzmán Loera - el Chapo - found itself in competition with American marijuana of superior quality and lower price, and without the logistical challenges of an illegal border crossing.

In other words, there was no longer any way for the Sinaloa Cartel to make money selling pot in America. So Guzmán came up with a brilliant business plan: replacing Mexico’s marijuana fields with opium poppies; hiring Colombian technicians to purify the opium into heroin; flooding the market with it; and dramatically lowering the price - just as Americans were awakening to a growing problem with the addictive painkiller OxyContin.

There were two other key element in Guzmán’s strategy.

The first was eliminating competition. Winslow’s account includes details of ruthless killings and government corruption, both intended to silence opposition.

Guzmán has been captured and thrown in prison twice, but both times he has managed to escape high-security prisons - allowed to escape, Winslow contends, because he is the only one who can keep the peace between rival cartels beneath the Sinaloas. His release implies the power he holds while controlling an estimated 8 percent of Mexico’s total economy.

The second element was fentanyl. The Sinaloa Cartel now routinely manufactures the synthetic opioid, which is 50 to 100 times more powerful than opium, and then adds the fentanyl to its heroin to make a much stronger drug. It’s also more addicting and more deadly.

Do we still want to run away from this bear? Maybe, maybe not.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump recommends building a wall at the border, and letting Mexico pay for it.

“At one point,” Winslow writes, Guzmán “threatened to have Donald Trump whacked. Oddly enough, Trump didn’t respond with a dismissive nickname, maybe because, of all the Mexicans who would scratch a check for the wall, Guzmán would have jumped at the chance, as it would increase his profits.”

- The Butler Eagle



Many of us have fond memories of civics lessons in school. We watched videos of cartoon characters singing about how each branch of government works or how a bill becomes a law.

Admit it: You’re humming the “I’m just a bill” song right now.

But, starting a few years from now, students may not be humming as much as groaning at the mention of civics.

Because as if there wasn’t already enough pressure on students today, 46 state representatives have come up with the bright idea to add another high-stakes exam.

We are strongly opposed to this idea.

As Conestoga Valley Superintendent Gerald Huesken pointedly asked in Monday’s LNP, “With all the negative backlash that we are testing too much, why is the answer always to add another test?”

Excellent question.

It may sound like a broken record - it does to us - but we believe that the deluge of standardized tests has severely diluted the educational experience.

“So much creativity, so much time for other subjects, has been squeezed out of public education by seemingly endless standardized tests and their accompanying practice tests,” we wrote in July.

Stuffing a student’s head with facts and handing them a paper with 100 bubbles to fill in is not the way to emphasize the importance of civics, a subject we agree merits more attention.

While we understand that Cutler and company have good intentions - to mold students into well-educated citizens - more memorization, more stress and more anxiety are not the answer.

Eastern Lancaster County School District Superintendent Bob Hollister agrees: “I truly love my country and all that it stands for and all that we try to be, but having students memorize facts about it is not going to make, by force, better citizens.”

Social studies and government classes already teach how government works and what it means to be a productive citizen. Some classes - at Ephrata High School, for example - take the 100-question citizenship test at the start and finish of a high school government class. That decision is up to the teacher, not the legislators, as it should be.

(We confess that we are curious as to how lawmakers supporting this initiative would score on the civics test they are so enthusiastically pushing for students.)

There are opportunities after school to experience civics firsthand. The Boy Scouts of America, for example, requires Scouts pursuing an Eagle rank to conduct “a service project helpful to any religious institution, any school, or your community.” Organizations such as marching bands, sports teams and school clubs often incorporate a service component.

These opportunities go a long way toward preparing our children to be engaged citizens. And they’re already yielding results.

Last year’s Millennial Impact Report, by the research group Achieve and sponsored by the Case Foundation, showed that 84 percent of millennials made a charitable donation in 2014. The study also found that 70 percent of millennials spent at least an hour volunteering, with more than one-third volunteering 11 hours or more.

There’s no doubt that millennials want to make our country a better place. This November, they have a great opportunity to do just that. To help them become an informed electorate, our educational system needs to be top-notch.

That does not, however, require more testing.

We’re glad that some Lancaster lawmakers, such as Democratic state Rep. Mike Sturla and Republican state Sen. Lloyd Smucker, agree.

We’re tired of other legislators nibbling at the edges of education reform by slapping more exams on students’ desks.

Maybe this time they’ll get the hint.

- LNP (Lancaster Online)



It is inconceivable that those in President Barack Obama’s administration are as ignorant of basic principles of economics as a new scheme seems to suggest.

Several major companies have pulled out of the Obamacare health insurance system. They simply cannot continue losing money by the hundreds of millions of dollars each year, the firms’ executives explain.

That leaves millions of Americans adrift, with choices for replacement health insurance either very limited or non-existant. If they drop out of the program entirely, it becomes even less sustainable.

So the Obama administration has launched a campaign to convince those whose companies have stopped offering Obamacare policies to switch to the few firms still in the business.

If successful, that would result in a domino-effect problem for companies still struggling to stay in Obamacare. Here’s why: Insurance companies drop out of the program because their customers are costing them more than they pay in government-controlled premiums. Some insurance executives point out that many in the young, healthy crowd - who in the past have paid more in premiums than they collected in benefits - avoid signing up for Obamacare at all, until they become sick and need coverage. That leaves firms with older, sicker customers who are a money-losing proposition.

Transferring that mix of people to new companies may make it impossible for them to remain in Obamacare. That could collapse the entire system - leaving the way open for liberals to demand the even worse “single-payer” system, under which government would be the sole provider of health insurance. That would be a catastrophe for Americans.

So, is it possible the White House simply doesn’t understand all that?

Get real.

- The Lewistown Sentinel



Upstream efforts to restore Chesapeake Bay are complicated and expensive - and working.

The massive Chesapeake watershed covers 64,000 square miles. It includes 150 significant rivers and streams including the Lackawanna and Susquehanna rivers. The watershed is home to 17 million people from Cooperstown, New York, through the Washington, D.C., metropolis, and all of the attendant infrastructure that affects water quality.

Upstream residents in the watershed have spent billions of dollars on sewer system upgrades to reduce pollutants that have been choking the bay and its wildlife for decades. And watershed states have stepped up their efforts to reduce agricultural pollution and other non-sewer drainage that accumulates in the bay.

The Chesapeake Bay Program, the federal/state partnership responsible for restoring the bay, has reported that 2015 was the fourth best year since 1985 for overall bay water quality.

Part of that improvement was because 2015 was a rather dry year. Reduced water flows into the bay carried reduced amounts of agricultural runoff and other pollutants. But improvements exceeded those of comparably dry years, demonstrating that sewer improvements and non-sewer pollution controls are effective.

The program reported that 37 percent of the bay and its tidal tributaries had adequate oxygen levels in 2015, meeting the restoration goal for the 2013-2015 period. That, in turn, produced generally clearer water that fostered a 30-year high in healthy underwater grass beds and increases in oyster and blue crab populations.

Knowing that the costly projects upstream have a positive impact on the bay and throughout the watershed should inspire the program, the states and related interests to maintain the momentum toward restoration.

- The (Hazleton) Standard-Speaker


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