Editorials from around Pennsylvania:
NEW PUPPY MILL BILL IS A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION BUT ONLY PART OF THE SOLUTION, Mar. 12
We realize that Pennsylvania lawmakers could and should be grappling with issues that many residents would deem more important than puppy mills — taxes, education, passing a budget on time for a change, to name a few.
But for Pennsylvania, and Lancaster County in particular, this is an issue that needs addressing, and has for far too long.
Lancaster County is notorious for its puppy mills, as LNP's Tom Knapp reported. This bill — introduced by state Sen. Guy Reschenthaler and state Rep. Jason Ortitay, Republicans who represent Allegheny and Washington counties — would require pet stores to partner with shelters and rescues "to promote adoption and decrease the demand for the puppies raised in puppy mills."
Given some horrendous cases of animal abuse that we've seen over the last couple of years in Lancaster County, this is a necessary measure that both Republicans and Democrats should support.
The Hill newspaper reported back in May that according to the Humane Society of the United States, the greatest number of problem breeders in the country are in Ohio, Kansas and Pennsylvania.
"It is well-documented that 'puppy mills,' inhumane commercial dog breeding facilities, frequently supply pet stores with puppies," Ortitay wrote in a memorandum seeking co-sponsors on the state House website.
A dozen breeding facilities on the Humane Society's so-called "Horrible Hundred" list are in Pennsylvania, seven of which are in Lancaster County. We don't want the county to be known as the state's capital of puppy mills.
"We applaud Rep. Ortitay and Sen. Reschenthaler for introducing this important legislation to bring us closer to the day when cruel puppy mills have nowhere left to sell," Kristen Tullo, Pennsylvania state director for the Humane Society, said in an email to LNP.
We applaud them, too.
We urge you to contact your local state lawmaker and tell him or her that you support this legislation. But there's something else you can do.
We will always recommend adopting a dog or cat from a shelter. There are plenty of unwanted and abandoned pets out there just waiting for a home.
But if you, or anyone you know is considering purchasing a specific breed, there are some red flags that indicate a particular breeder might be nothing more than a puppy mill. As Knapp reported in 2016, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says to be aware of the following:
— The breeder lists multiple breeds.
— The breeder advertises dogs on Craigslist or similar websites.
— The breeder won't show you the kennels.
— The breeder shows you handwritten health records.
— The dogs seem antisocial or fearful.
Any reputable breeder should be able to show you a current kennel license. He should also be able to give you a list of references. There are good private breeders out there that aren't puppy mills.
(The new legislation would not affect responsible breeders who don't sell to pet stores.)
One of the problems, according to the ASPCA, is that there are countless unlicensed breeders operating completely under the radar and too many licensed breeders operating without enough oversight. Perhaps if we had better enforcement of the laws and stricter requirements for licensing, we wouldn't be in this situation. While this bill doesn't directly address those issues, it's a step in the right direction.
This bill protects both animals and consumers. Animals should never suffer inhumane conditions. And consumers shouldn't have to pay hundreds of dollars for a sick dog at a pet store, only to have the animal die a few days or weeks later.
"This legislation will spare animals from suffering and consumers from heartbreak," Tullo told LNP.
And each is a worthwhile endeavor, even among other pressing matters.
TIME FOR PHILLY TO STUDY HOW AND WHO IT TAXES, Mar. 14
Credit City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart for wanting to examine the impact of the city's 10-year tax abatement on its finances.
Whether the tax abatement should be scaled back is a worthy debate. But any decision about the program should be done in conjunction with an independent and broad examination of all the city's tax policies.
After all, in addition to looking to curb the abatement program, Mayor Kenney wants to increase property taxes by 6 percent; raise the real estate transfer tax by 8.5 percent; and slow the minuscule cuts to the wage tax from 3.89 percent to 3.84 percent for residents by 2023. If approved, Kenney's general fund spending will have increased by 17 percent, or $600 million, in just two years. State spending has increased 3.3 percent during the same period, while other cities are averaging 2 percent annual increases.
Kenney's proposed tax hikes would come on top of four property tax hikes during former Mayor Michael Nutter's 8-year tenure as well as a host of other increases including to the sales, parking, and hotel taxes.
To be sure, Philadelphia faces constant budget pressure, due in part to cuts in state and federal funding and heightened demand for pension and education funding. But the city's need for new revenue must be balanced with the impact of its overall tax burden.
Is there a more fair, efficient, and fiscally sound way?
Center City District President Paul Levy and Brandywine Realty Trust President Gerard Sweeney have long advocated increasing property taxes on commercial real estate, while lowering the job-killing business and wage taxes.
Likewise, as a mayoral candidate, Kenney often talked about his plan to do zero-based budgeting to find savings. (That would mean ignoring what was spent the previous year and starting from scratch to identify the cost and resources needed to perform various functions, such as trash pickup.)
Both of those ideas deserve serious consideration.
Rhynhart, a former Kenney administration official, plans to release a report next month that analyzes the impact of adjusting or ending the tax abatement program, which waives city taxes on increased real-estate values generated through new construction or renovations. She said the study would consider options such as limiting the tax break to improvements valued at $500,000 or lower, or continuing it only in neighborhoods most in need of investment.
Scaling back or ending the abatement program may add to the city's coffers. But any decisions about it should not be made in vacuum, or with an eye just on increasing revenues.
By most accounts, the tax abatement program helped spark the development boom that has transformed Philadelphia. A report by Drexel University's Kevin Gillen said the abatement program increased home building in the city by 376 percent. The program has supported untold construction jobs, as well as generated wage and sales taxes.
Studying one element, like the abatement, provides useful information. But it's been more than a decade since the city thoroughly examined its overall tax policies. A respected and independent firm — preferably from outside Philadelphia — should conduct a rigorous analysis before making recommendations to bolster the city's taxing policies.
GET MORE DOCS CERTIFIED FOR PRESCRIBING MEDICAL MARIJUANA, Mar. 13
UPMC's announcement of new medical marijuana guidelines for doctors interested in certifying patients for treatment could well be a game changer in advancing this alternative to traditional pain relief.
Under Pennsylvania's 2016 law, patients with 17 qualifying medical conditions must be doctor-certified to apply for a state-issued medical marijuana card. But statewide, only about 433 docs are certified to do so.
UPMC didn't preclude its doctors from participating in the state medical marijuana program, which requires a four-hour training course. But by providing guidelines to hundreds of UPMC doctors, the region's health care giant swings open the door to more certifications.
It shouldn't be long before Allegheny Health Network, which says it's developing its own medical marijuana policy, and Excela Health follow suit.
Here's hoping that growing acceptance will advance medical marijuana as a viable pain-treatment alternative. Regrettably that benefit has been considerably diminished because marijuana remains listed by the federal government as a Schedule I controlled substance, which egregiously equates it with heroin. Stigmatized by its federal designation, medical marijuana isn't covered by Medicare or Medicaid. Typically patients have to pay cash for it.
UPMC's guidelines should open more eyes to medical marijuana's benefits. And maybe one day that vision will extend beyond Pennsylvania to the fiefdoms of federal policymakers.
IMPROV IS NO WAY TO RUN THE U.S., Mar. 13
Smart-alecky critics have oft referred to the current administration as some variation of "Presidential Apprentice" — a mashup of President Donald Trump's former television show and his current occupation. Unfortunately, the program that increasingly best defines the president's performance is "Evening at the Improv."
Because, especially this past week, Trump seems to be policy-making on the fly.
According to a New York Times report, even the White House was caught off guard when on Tuesday the president tweeted about the ouster of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The Times reported that a White House spokesperson had on Monday "berated a reporter for suggesting there was any kind of split between Tillerson and the White House."
You'd think they'd know better by now. One of the first, hardest lessons — or, at least, it would have been had they learned anything from it — was the president's abruptly announced travel ban.
Trump's January 2017 executive order — sprung not only on the nation but many of his own advisers — created widespread confusion among security officials, concern among overseas travelers and congestion at airports both at home and abroad. It was shot down by the courts and has been replaced by subsequent revisions, which have also been legally challenged. The Supreme Court is to hear arguments on the ban next month.
But the initial confusion, the immediate protests, the subsequent legal challenges — none of these made any evident impression on the man in the White House.
Trump has continued to act as his own best counsel — to not only the nation's but his own detriment. From firing FBI Director James Comey to announcing — on Twitter, no less — that transgender troops would be banned from serving in the military, Trump has fired off policy decisions of major import with seemingly minor forethought.
In addition to the Tillerson bombshell on Tuesday, Trump was practicing policy making on the fly last week, as well, on not one but two occasions.
First, the president announced hefty new tariffs on steel and aluminum. The decision, according to The Associated Press, "caught some top White House officials off guard and left several aides scrambling for details" — aides like chief of staff John Kelly, for instance.
More: Trump to impose tariffs on steel, aluminum imports
Among those criticizing the move, which came following a meeting between Trump and aluminum and steel interests, were many in his own party, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, who raised the possibility of a trade war and warned of unintended consequences.
The debate was quickly eclipsed, as are so many in Trump World, by an even more surprising announcement. The president had accepted an invitation to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to discuss nuclear disarmament on the Korean Peninsula.
This was no long-deliberated policy decision, hashed out among the president, foreign-policy experts and advisers. This was Off-the-Cuff Trump, tossing aside decades of U.S. policy, disregarding what his aides might counsel and, well, winging it.
U.S. presidents for decades have declined to meet with North Korea's leadership so as not to lend their dictators the prestige of a presidential audience. Granted, that prestige may be tarnished given the current office holder, but it exists nonetheless, and Kim craves it. (And he may get it in spades: the White House hasn't ruled out hosting him!)
Further, it would be imprudent at best to agree to talks without the promise of North Korean concessions — something the White House understands even its chief occupant does not.
Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee said conditions would have to be met before the meeting took places, something that was not suggested by — and, for all we know, may even be news to — the president.
"The president will not have the meeting without seeing concrete steps and concrete actions take place by North Korea," she said at Friday's press conference. "So the president would actually be getting something."
Granted, it's better to have the two sides talking concessions than tweeting threats. But there would be greater optimism were this meeting of the, ahem, minds the result of ongoing diplomatic discussion between the two nations, rather than a presidential whim.
House Speaker Ryan's concern about "unintended consequences" is not limited to the pending tariffs — as Trump's travel ban, impulsive firing of Comey and too many other decisions have demonstrated.
Whatever the result of the North Korean meeting, if it even comes to pass, the decision to pursue it should have been the result of sober, in-depth study, not presidential dice-rolling.
Improvisation is no way to run a country.
CRANES SIGNAL HOPE FOR THE FUTURE OF ERIE, Mar. 14
We're with Andy Zimmerman, the city of Erie's manager of code enforcement. We love seeing the cranes at work high above Erie Insurance's construction site downtown.
Taking shape on the site is a $135 million, seven-story office building that will accommodate Erie Insurance's growth. That project, complete with the stirring sight of those cranes, represents both a physical and psychological turning point.
It offers tangible evidence of the momentum building downtown and the can-do spirit— in the private and nonprofit sectors, and now at City Hall — that's helping to fuel it. It signals hope for a new Erie.
As Erie Times-News reporter Ed Palattella detailed on Tuesday, when finished the Erie Insurance building will be Erie County's biggest office edifice in terms of square footage, at 346,000. The Renaissance Center on State Street will still be taller, with 14 floors.
And as Palattella pointed out, the construction statistics aren't the most impressive numbers related to the project. Erie Insurance expects the building to house 1,200 new jobs.
There have been other cranes and large-scale building projects in recent years, including on Erie Insurance's campus. It was also bracing to watch the expansion and re-creation of Erie Insurance Arena, boosted by the sale of the naming rights to the Fortune 500 company down the street.
But those felt more like stand-alone jobs, as welcome as they were. But the building now rising between East Sixth and East Seventh streets is the leading edge of a wave of development planned downtown and on the bayfront.
That includes a $111 million, seven-story patient tower to be built by UPMC Hamot on East Second Street and scheduled to be completed by the end of 2020. And Scott Enterprises this year is expected to begin work on a new east bayfront hotel as part of its planned Harbor Place project.
More development is expected to follow when the Erie Downtown Development Corp. — with former mayoral candidate John Persinger newly installed as chief executive — begins putting tens of millions of dollars in private capital to work in the core of Erie. The level of overall investment in unprecedented and likely to grow.
The scale and pace of change certainly have the attention of other community stakeholders, including the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. In a recent meeting with the Erie Times-News Editorial Board, Bill Petit, PennDOT's district executive, said the agency is mindful of the need to keep up with the development. That includes a $30 million state commitment to transforming the Bayfront Parkway corridor and better connecting the bayfront to downtown Erie.
All of the above will mean more cranes at work in the months and years ahead. Bring them on.