Editorials from around Pennsylvania

Published 01-30-2019

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Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

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BUDGET ADDRESS SHOULD BRING SOME ANSWERS, Jan. 28

Many Pennsylvania residents will be interested in hearing what Gov. Tom Wolf has to say when he delivers his 2019-20 state budget address on Feb. 5.

No state taxpayer should embrace a lackadaisical attitude about the details of that fiscal message, even though taxpayers won't have to fear a state income tax increase.

The state's money picture is continuing to improve, with incoming revenue in recent months exceeding estimates significantly.

What's important for all taxpayers to understand is that, in one way or numerous ways, the state's budget impacts every state resident directly or indirectly. Therefore, state residents should be seriously interested in the course of coming budget negotiations.

What's important for all taxpayers to understand is that, in one way or numerous ways, the state's budget impacts every state resident directly or indirectly. Therefore, state residents should be seriously interested in the course of coming budget negotiations.

Those negotiations are likely to continue until nearly the end of the current fiscal year on June 30, or possibly beyond that date if controversial issues stymie budget progress. By following progress on the new budget, state residents will be able to put aside any misconceptions about what budget-making in Harrisburg entails.

Yes, there are Pennsylvania residents who harbor the mistaken belief that it's the governor alone who prepares the budget.

Each year, Pennsylvania's governor does assemble a budget proposal based on perceptions regarding the commonwealth's needs and what the chief executive believes priorities ought to be. However, that budget address is just a proposal; it's the Legislature that actually assembles the spending package for the 12 months beyond July 1.

This year there is something new that has the potential to help simplify budget preparation, by elimi

Yes, there are Pennsylvania residents who harbor the mistaken belief that it's the governor alone who prepares the budget.

Each year, Pennsylvania's governor does assemble a budget proposal based on perceptions regarding the commonwealth's needs and what the chief executive believes priorities ought to be. However, that budget address is just a proposal; it's the Legislature that actually assembles the spending package for the 12 months beyond July 1.

This year there is something new that has the potential to help simplify budget preparation, by eliminating some of the guessing that often is a source of controversy.

If successful this year, it could be a valuable tool beyond 2019-20.

On Tuesday, state policymakers held what was described as the first-ever performance-based budget hearing in the state's history.

A panel called the Performance-Based Budget Board began a review of reports prepared by the state Independent Fiscal Office. Those reports provide a basis for weighing the relationships between program funding levels and expected program results.

Criminal justice-related agencies were the center of attention.

Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, majority chairman of the Senate Appropriation Committee and chairman of the PBB board, was quoted by the news and information service Capitolwire as saying "performance-based budgeting provides transparency in government spending, helps eliminate wasteful government spending, prevents excessive budget growth for outdated programs and outlines measurable objectives for state agencies."

According to Browne, the new performance-based review process not only is aimed at providing a more detailed look at agency spending; it will look beyond the line-item expense for activities and services provided.

The process is geared toward determining the outcomes of expenditures - determinations that will enable improved prioritization of expenditures and delivery of services.

What that means is that the Legislature and governor will have better information for establishing budget allocations for services and departments.

That could help save many millions of dollars.

The ultimate goal of the governor and Legislature is to prepare the best, most-responsible spending package possible with the financial resources available - without raising taxes.

Tuesday's hearing showed significant promise. Additional sessions and discussions will be forthcoming. Pay attention to what Wolf says when he delivers his budget address, and be hopeful that he and the Legislature use PBB to the best advantage.

Indeed, taxpayers have the right to demand it.

-Altoona Mirror

-Online: https://bit.ly/2CQwNkC

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MUSK'S FOLLY: WORKING EMPLOYEES TO THE BONE COULD RUIN TESLA, Jan. 29

Last June, Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk announced that his electric car company would be laying off 4,100 employees - approximately 9 percent of its workforce. At the time, Mr. Musk claimed that Tesla was making "this hard decision now so that we never have to do this again."

Then, this past Friday, a little more than six months after the initial round of layoffs, Mr. Musk sent out an internal email at 1:20 a.m. to inform the company that another 7 percent of workers were being let go. In his note, Mr. Musk issued high-minded proclamations about the importance of Tesla's mission and of the need to keep the company viable so that it can continue to support the "mission of accelerating the advent of sustainable transport and energy, which is important for all life on Earth."

But while Tesla's mission may be noble, what Mr. Musk followed with was less so:

"There are many companies that can offer a better work-life balance, because they are larger and more mature or in industries that are not so voraciously competitive. Attempting to build affordable clean energy products at scale necessarily requires extreme effort and relentless creativity, but succeeding in our mission is essential to ensure that the future is good, so we must do everything we can to advance the cause."

In other words, Mr. Musk, who has been responsible for a number of self-inflicted wounds that have severely hurt Tesla's ability to compete in the current marketplace, expects a smaller staff to do more work, no matter the cost.

What Mr. Musk seems not to understand is that he cannot achieve his laudable goal of saving the world without employees entitled to basic dignity and respect from their employer. This would include, among other things, providing for a suitable work-life balance.

Not recommended would be early morning emails firing 7 percent of your workers while demanding that the rest work themselves to the bone.

Mr. Musk has true vision and his work in pushing the world toward sustainability is commendable. But his companies are destined to fail so long as he demands too much from a emotionally drained staff, all the while stirring up controversy wherever he goes.

Hopefully someone with a bit more managerial acumen and sense can either take over Tesla or take up the mantle of saving the world, one electric car at a time.

-Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

-Online: https://bit.ly/2BaNc3j

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GUN LAW WOULD DETER SOME SUICIDES, Jan. 29

Every day in the United States three people between 10 and 19 take their own lives using guns, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for that age group, behind accidents.

Last week, the American Journal of Preventive Medicine published a study adding to a body of evidence that proximity to firearms increases the likelihood that someone, especially young people, will commit suicide.

Youth suicide rates consistently are higher in states with high rates of household gun ownership, the study found. Wyoming, where 65 percent of households include guns, had the nation's highest rate of youth suicide over the 10-year study period, 11.9 per 100,000. New Jersey, with the nation's second lowest household gun ownership rate of 11.4 percent, had the lowest youth suicide rate, 2.6 per 100,000. Pennsylvania, with a household gun ownership rate of 35.1 percent, tied with New Hampshire for the 10th lowest youth suicide rate, 4.2 per 100,000.

Nationally, the study found that every 10 percentage point increase in household gun ownership at the state level increased the youth suicide rate by 29.6 percent.

No one suggests that guns are the cause of a young person deciding to take his own life. But they overwhelmingly the instrument of choice.

Doreen Marshall of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention put it this way: "Any time you have the means for suicide readily accessible to a person at risk, that increases the risk. If we can just put some time and distance between the person and their chosen method, they may not end up trying to take their lives."

To create that time and distance, state law should require firearms to be locked away and unloaded when not in use. That would not preclude anyone from owning a firearm, but it would deter at least some suicides.

-Wilkes Barre Citizens' Voice

-Online: https://bit.ly/2sV4sF3

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BOSCOLA ON THE RIGHT TRACK WITH CHRISTINE'S LAW, Jan. 25

For years Pennsylvania has been lagging behind other northeastern states in one important part of winter highway safety - getting truckers and other motorists to clear snow and ice off their vehicles, to reduce the chance of chunks coming loose and endangering others on the road.

It's been 13 years since a Palmer Township woman, Christine Lambert, was killed when a 10-inch chunk of ice flew off a garbage truck and struck the vehicle she was driving. That was Christmas Day 2005. Many other drivers and passengers have experienced the dangers and white-knuckle fear of ice blocks launched from vehicles.

On Tuesday, Robert Kent, 65, was injured when the car in which he was riding on Interstate 80 in Monroe County was hit with ice from a passing tractor trailer, crashing through the windshield. The driver wasn't injured, and managed to drive to a nearby gas station. Kent was taken to Pocono Medical Center for treatment. State police said they were to not able to track down the tractor trailer or the driver involved in the incident.

Last week state Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton/Lehigh, said she intends to reintroduce legislation to require drivers to remove snow and ice from their vehicles in a timely fashion. Drivers would have up to 24 hours after a snowstorm ends to clear off their vehicles. After that, those on the road with caked-on layers of ice or snow could be pulled over by police and cited, with fines of up to $75.

The current law is toothless. Drivers can be fined if snow or ice breaks free and poses a traffic hazard, but only if it causes death or serious injury. That after-the-fact liability provides little deterrence.

Other northeastern states have empowered police to act to prevent these types of accidents. Since 2010 police in New Jersey have been handing out tickets ranging from $25 to $75 for failing to clean vehicles - $200 to $1,000 if flying snow or ice causes an injury or property damage.

In her support for "Christine's Law," Boscola has been joined by State Sen. Daniel Laughlin, R-Erie, a co-sponsor. Laughlin said he has encountered enough near-misses with flying snow and ice on his commutes to Harrisburg to know the law must be tougher.

Last year the state Senate passed Boscola's bill and sent it to the House, where it died in the Transportation Committee.

The primary target of the legislation is large vehicles - tractor trailers, especially, which pose the most danger with accumulated snow and ice. Boscola said she has been working with the trucking industry to try to reach a sensible approach. Over the last 13 years some companies have succeeded in making it easier to remove ice and snow from 13-foot-high trailers, which itself can pose dangers to truck drivers in hazardous weather and traffic conditions.

"This isn't about hassling truckers," Boscola said. "It's about raising awareness and preventing tragedies."

Pennsylvania drivers face enough highway hazards in good weather. It's time for the trucking industry, the Senate and the House to come to the table and put Christine's Law on the books.

-Easton Express-Times

-Online: https://bit.ly/2Sbxoam

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PENNSYLVANIA'S FAILURE TO OVERSEE CYBER CHARTER SCHOOLS HAS WIDE CONSEQUENCES, Jan. 27

The majority of cyber charter schools in the state are operating with expired charters. This is the latest black mark in a history of "reform" in the state designed to expand educational choices but, despite some bright spots, has been marked by large-scale indifference and neglect from the state.

Five years after lawmakers passed a law authorizing charter schools; the law was amended to allow cyber charters - schools providing online education without brick and mortar buildings. According to an Inquirer report this month, 10 of the state's 15 cyber charter schools are operating with expired charters.

Unlike brick-and-mortar charters which are authorized and overseen by school districts, cyber charters are authorized by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Department officials have offered no good reason why they have failed to properly renew or remove the state's cyber charters, which include three in Philadelphia that enroll 591 students. That would be bad in any circumstance - especially following a year where the head of one large cyber charter was sentenced to jail for siphoning $8 million from a cyber school - but research consistently finds that cyber schools are less effective than traditional district schools. This costly entry into the educational landscape cost over $463 million in 2016-17 alone; $68 million was spent on Philadelphia cybers. The charter law grants cybers as much money per pupil as brick and mortar schools, a point that Auditor General Eugene Depasquale blasted in a scathing audit of the charter law in 2014.

Charter schools were created to be "laboratories" for innovative educational practices that could be adopted by traditional public schools. While some charters excel, research suggests for the most part charters are not significantly better in academic performance, and are sometimes worse, than traditional district schools.

Where the charter law has truly succeeded is in creating opposing sides in the education debate: those who support charters and those who believe they unfairly undermine traditional public education by stripping them of resources.

One thing both sides agree on is that improvements could and should be made to the original law. Aside from the addition of cybers, the law hasn't changed since it was created in 1997.

And while charter operators, teachers and administrators toil to educate students; what does it tell them that every member of the state Charter Appeal Board which decides on appeals of charter applications, are operating with expired terms? They are all appointees of the Corbett administration; Governor Wolf hasn't appointed new ones.

The governor should bring pressure on state lawmakers to start seriously reforming the original charter law, so this "experiment" has a chance of working for all students. To be fair, no governor has succeeded in breaking the stupor that settled over the general assembly once they finished creating the original charter law.

Nearly a billion dollars goes to charters in Philadelphia alone. While both sides bicker over which form of education is better, there's a simpler way to gauge charters' impact: Twenty-two years later, do we have a population of better educated, more successful students? Has the city's poverty rate declined because we now have a generation or two of better educated children?

-Philadelphia Inquirer

-Online: https://bit.ly/2sRPiR9

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