- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Editorials from around Pennsylvania

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WOLF EXTENDS OLIVE BRANCH, Feb. 9

Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed $32.3 billion state budget offers a conciliatory acceptance of political reality.

Wolf abandoned earlier budget proposals to raise income and sales taxes that were dead on arrival before the Republican-dominated General Assembly. He has unveiled a spending plan that should open the way to negotiations and avoid the harmful stalemate of his first budget in 2015 that dragged out for nine months and required the state to borrow millions to continue operations while workers at social service agencies were laid off.



His plan includes modest spending increases and calls for saving $100 million through the consolidations of the prison and parole divisions into one unit and the merging of the health, aging and drug and alcohol agencies into one office. Another $143 million would be saved by reducing the number of state employees and his desire to slash tax credits and lower the corporate tax rate by fully closing the “Delaware loophole” would add revenue without tax increases on individuals.

On the revenue side, Wolf rightly pushed again for approval of an extraction tax on gas production that has been blocked by Republicans for years in favor of a fee that benefits drilling communities. It generates a fraction of the revenue that a severance levy would produce and it does nothing to address the state’s $2 billion structural deficit.

His endorsement of $100 million more in basic education spending helps reduce the shortfall in state funding to local districts, where property tax rates have jumped in recent years partly to make up for the deficiency.

An increase in the state’s minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is long overdue and Wolf’s pitch to boost it to $12 an hour would benefit 1.5 million workers and generate an estimated $95 million in annual income tax revenue.

The governor’s plan provides multiple gestures to accommodate the Legislature’s Republican majority. Their responsibility now is to bargain for a reasonable compromise.

- The (Wilkes Barre) Citizens’ Voice

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U.N. WATCH: WHERE THE BUCKS STOP, Feb. 12

For the first time in recent memory, the United States is taking a hard look at what it pays the United Nations and eyeing a potential cut that surely will stir up Turtle Bay.

Executive orders under review would reduce funding under certain criteria and call for a review of all treaties involving the U.S. Conceivably that would include the wealth-redistributing Paris climate accord - a treaty that the Obama administration said wasn’t a treaty and which President Obama signed last year without Senate ratification.

With regard to U.S. funding, the criteria for U.N. cuts reportedly include any program that takes an end run around Iran or North Korea sanctions, along with funding for any group that’s connected to state-sponsored terrorism.

For too long the U.S. has picked up an inordinate share of the United Nations’ budget: approximately 22 percent of the regular budget and more than 28 percent of the peacekeeping tab, according to The Heritage Foundation. Based on the latest U.N. budget report, the U.S. paid more than $610 million for 2017; the next highest contributor, Japan, came in at $268 million.

Ultimately the Trump administration is examining “at least a 40 percent overall decrease” in U.N. contributions, The New York Times reports.

Clearly the days of going along to get along at the U.N. are coming to an apropos end. Here’s to fair funding and a better understanding of what the U.S. expects for what it pays.

- The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

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EXPAND PROBE OF STATE POLICE, Feb. 11

The disclosure of details related to a cheating scandal at the Pennsylvania State Police Academy warrants a wider investigation.

State Inspector General Bruce Beemer released a recent review that documented how cadets at the academy cheated on tests, how instructors provided answers to trainees and how the academy failed to change exams, sometimes for years.

The scandal came to light initially in December 2015 with the discovery of a “cheat sheet” and it resulted in the resignation or dismissal of more than 40 members of a class that graduated in the spring of 2016.

Beemer’s report discloses that an internal review in 2014 called for improvements at the academy, but it was unclear if any were implemented before the cheating came to light. Regardless, the review proves that dysfunction at the academy went far beyond a single cheating incident. The report hints at a pattern of corruption and reflects negatively on the entire state police corps.

Internal state police investigations found no other evidence to dismiss other instructors, cadets or troopers. That review, therefore, leaves questions as to whether there has been a tacit acceptance of cheating, if not covert approval, within the state police. Law enforcement authorities are well-known for closing ranks during scandals and periods of adversity.

The inspector general’s revelations do immeasurable harm to the image of the state police. Worse, the report undermines the core credibility of the force, which relies on public trust to function.

State Police Commissioner Tyree Blocker’s reaction to the report indicated he believes the scandal reflects a recent phenomenon, a bad exception to the rule. But it seems clear that he does not know how far back the cheating pattern may extend.

The state police are taking steps to create unique tests for cadets, institute term limits for instructors and introduce other reforms. However, the inspector general’s report leaves many issues unresolved, especially regarding the depth of cheating and how long it existed.

Gov. Tom Wolf should call on Attorney General Josh Shapiro to appoint a special prosecutor to press the investigation further. The public deserves answers and the integrity of the state police must be assured.

- The (Hazleton) Standard-Speaker

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DON’T MESS WITH EXTRA-INNINGS RULES, Feb. 11

May 8, 1984, was a Tuesday, and 14,000 fans who went through the turnstiles at Chicago’s Comiskey Park to watch a game between the White Sox and the Milwaukee Brewers had every expectation that it would be a routine early-season matchup between two squads destined to be basement dwellers that year.

It didn’t quite turn out that way.

The fans who were there ended up getting essentially two whole games for the price of one. The score deadlocked at 3-3 at the bottom of the ninth. So, as is customary in baseball, where there are no time limits, the game went to the 10th inning.

And the 11th.

And the 12th.

And the 13th .

By the time it reached the 18th inning, officials suspended the game, and scheduled it to resume the next day. Then, it went seven more innings, with each team scoring three runs and tying up the score again in the 21st. A White Sox home run in the bottom of the 25th finally ended it, after 8 hours of play. It still stands as the longest game in Major League Baseball history.

Aside from being drenched in statistics, baseball is also scented in nostalgia, and one of the things that can send its fans into swoony reveries are recollections of tense, extra-innings battles that go deep into the night. When a game is still going when it reaches midnight or beyond, it becomes less about the subtle strategizing that can characterize the first nine innings than sheer endurance - which team has the deeper bullpen that can prevent the other team from scoring. And which team, frankly, has better luck.

Extra innings games also separate the men from the boys among the fans. The die-hards stay in their seats for the whole shebang, while the less-committed - or, perhaps, gainfully employed - head for the parking lot (or head to bed if they are home).

Some of the most exciting games of recent memory have been extra-innings barn burners: The seventh game of the World Series last year between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians; the sixth game of the 2011 World Series, in which the St. Louis Cardinals were twice one strike from elimination at the hands of the Texas Rangers and successfully escaped; and the fourth game of the National League Division Series in 2005, in which the Houston Astros overcame the Atlanta Braves after 18 innings and close to six hours.

Now, with pitchers and catchers due to report for spring training on Tuesday, Major League Baseball is talking about tinkering with the rules to trim the duration of extra-innings games and make them a little more speedy. Yahoo Sports reported last week that, as part of an experiment, two rookie leagues this summer will automatically place a runner on second base starting with the 10th inning until the game is over. College softball leagues have followed this rule, as have some international leagues.

Joe Torre, the chief baseball officer for Major League Baseball and the manager for the New York Yankees in the team’s late 1990s/early 2000s salad days, supports the idea, saying it’s “not fun to watch when you go through your whole pitching staff.”

Not fun for whom?

Reaction from fans has been fierce and negative. One even insisted on Twitter he didn’t want to raise his children in a world where such a rule was in place. While that might be a little overwrought, this proposal is a bad idea.

First, games that actually extend much beyond the 10th or 11th innings are exceptionally rare, hence why they are so memorable. And though Major League Baseball, with justification, is concerned about games taking too long, they need to focus their attention on what happens in the first nine innings - the endless at-bats, the conferences on the mound - than how it unfolds in overtime.

Sure, there are plenty of other things in the world to be outraged about. But in turbulent times, we cling to reliable and sturdy traditions. Baseball is one of them.

It shouldn’t be messed with.

- The (Washington) Observer-Reporter

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TAXPAYERS IN MUNICIPALITIES WITH POLICE DEPARTMENTS SHOULDN’T HAVE TO FOOT THE BILL FOR POLICE PROTECTION FOR OTHERS, Feb. 13

“Fair share” is a radioactive term these days. How does one define “fair,” and who is the arbiter of fairness?

In some contexts, the answers and definitions are complex. But not here.

This is really pretty simple.

Taxpayers statewide fund the state police. If you live in Ephrata Borough, for example, your local taxes are supporting your borough police department. But your tax dollars are also paying for state police coverage for municipalities that have no local police department. So a place like Abbott Township, way up in Potter County, which has no local police force, is paying nothing extra for the state police coverage.

You don’t need a panel of actuaries to figure out that simply isn’t fair.

According to the state police, 1,287 of 2,561 municipalities in the state have no local police force and for those municipalities, everyone else is footing the bill.

It’s well beyond time for local communities to help pay for their own police protection.

The governor’s plan to assess a $25 fee makes sense and one that we hope will gain bipartisan support. Wolf can expect resistance, however, from legislators who represent rural districts in particular.

Lancaster Democratic Rep. Mike Sturla has been pushing for legislation that he says would “more fairly fund the Pennsylvania State Police and save money for the Motor License Fund, which fuels transportation projects.” Sturla had proposed a $156 per-capita fee that would be billed to municipalities to pay for full-time police coverage. Opponents balked at the cost.

Sturla met with the LNP Editorial Board last month in the hope of raising public awareness about how state police costs are covered.

“Fifteen years ago when I started talking about this people were like ‘What? Huh? What?’ But we raised gas taxes and said, ‘Oh by the way, we’re taking $800 million of that to pay for the state police to balance our budget,’ ” Sturla told the board.

Wolf says the fee will raise about $63 million to help balance the budget, which calls for the state police to receive $30.7 million more than it did last year.

So far, the governor’s proposed $25 charge is getting mixed reviews throughout the state.

“I think it is very disappointing to hear that the governor cannot balance his budget without asking for money from the hardworking people of … Westmoreland County,” Doug Weimer, a Republican and chairman of that county’s Hempfield Board of Supervisors, told TribLive. “If residents of municipalities without police are going to be charged for state police, then all communities should be expected to pay for state police services.”

“I don’t see this as an astronomical cost,” Lower Milford Township Chairwoman Donna Wright, also a Republican, told The Morning Call. Lower Milford disbanded its local police department last year in favor of state police coverage. “This is nothing that would make us go back to our own police department. Twenty-five dollars a head is still a bargain for policing.”

When Sturla met with the board, he directed us to the Pennsylvania Constitution, which clearly indicates that motorist fees and fuel taxes are to be used “solely for construction, reconstruction, maintenance and repair of and safety on public highways and bridges.” As it stands, that money is funding about two-thirds of the state police budget.

The state’s infrastructure desperately needs attention. A $25 fee isn’t an unreasonable amount to pay for police coverage. In fact, it’s a bargain and much cheaper than funding a local police department. It would also allow the money collected from the taxes and fees to go where it is needed - into the commonwealth’s crumbling roads and bridges.

A Penn State study showed that the state police spent more than $540 million in providing coverage to local municipalities without a police force in 2012.

Recently, the trend has been for small boroughs and townships to do away with their police departments to save money. After all, the state police will do the job for nothing.

But “free” in this case means someone else is paying for it. And by any definition, there is nothing fair about that.

- Lancaster Online

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