Editorial Roundup: Pennsylvania

Philadelphia Daily News/Inquirer. April 21, 2022.

Editorial: With recreational marijuana now legal in New Jersey, Pennsylvania should follow

Rather than watch potential jobs and tax revenue migrate across the Delaware bridges, Pennsylvania should start its own regulated and taxed recreational marijuana market.

If bridge traffic between Pennsylvania and New Jersey seemed heavier than usual Thursday, could marijuana be to blame?

After many delays, New Jersey’s recreational marijuana program is finally open, meaning that anyone over 21 — including out-of-state residents — can purchase up to an ounce of dried flower, concentrated oils, tinctures, chewable tablets, and other forms of cannabis.

While medical marijuana has been legal in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania for a while, these programs are limited to people who have been given a prescription by a doctor and certified by the state in order to treat a specific list of illnesses. If the experience of other states can be used as a guide, New Jersey is likely to see modest increases in marijuana usage and a moderate boost in terms of jobs and tax revenue as a result of legalization.

After decades marked by the War on Drugs and concerns about Reefer Madness, marijuana legalization has become a bipartisan cause for lawmakers across the country. Recent polling from CBS News showed two-thirds of Americans in support of legalizing recreational marijuana. In Pennsylvania, polling shows nearly 60% of the state’s residents in favor, with roughly a quarter opposed.

Opponents of legalization, which include most of the Republicans running for Pennsylvania governor and anti-drug Democrats such as Patrick Kennedy, say marijuana has dangerous effects on young brains, that we don’t have enough research to justify the safety claims of legalization activists, and the tax revenue gains from legalization won’t cover the societal costs of increased usage.

But with New Jersey’s recreational marijuana program beginning Thursday, it is no longer possible to prevent Pennsylvanians over the age of 21 from purchasing cannabis, even if we wanted to. Rather than watch potential jobs and tax revenue migrate across the Delaware bridges, Pennsylvania should start its own regulated and taxed recreational marijuana market.

After all, there are societal costs to the status quo. Pennsylvania’s marijuana laws are among the nation’s harshest. Police arrested more than 20,000 people for marijuana possession in 2020, taking up police time and filling detention facilities with nonviolent offenders. These laws are not applied equally across the commonwealth’s residents. Black Pennsylvanians are eight times more likely to be arrested for possession, despite the fact that usage rates are roughly equal across racial categories. This makes getting a job and establishing yourself financially more difficult.

Given marijuana prohibition’s disproportionate impact, it is also important that we legalize it in a way that is not exclusionary. Thankfully, there is already a good, bipartisan bill that does exactly that. State Sens. Dan Laughlin, a Republican from Erie, and Sharif Street, a Philadelphia Democrat, have devised a bill that advocates have called the gold standard of equitable marijuana legalization. Beyond simply setting up recreational dispensaries, Street and Laughlin’s legislation would allow for a small amount of home-growing, fund less-established entrepreneurs interested in the business, release those currently serving time for nonviolent marijuana-related offenses, and expunge convictions for possession.

These steps would allow the state to go beyond simply preventing a neighbor from profiting at our expense. They would provide restorative justice after decades of ruined lives and livelihoods.

Prohibition has long been the wrong policy for Pennsylvania, but with so much of the state now within driving distance of a recreational dispensary, it will be less effective than ever. In the words of reggae legend Peter Tosh, legalize it.

___

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. April 22, 2022.

Editorial: PIAA, just say no to NIL

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association should forbid name, image and likeness deals for its athletes. It’s bad for high school sports, which have already assumed an unhealthy intensity. And it’s bad for high school athletes who, promised freedom and power, get locked into business relationships and public personas that they’re not mature enough to handle.

Enabling athletes to cash in on celebrity might make sense for the NCAA. Colleges are already profiting from lucrative endorsements for the work of their student athletes. In a just world, adults should benefit from their own work.

But NIL schemes are inappropriate for high school kids, for whom the pleasure of playing should be enough. Extending NIL to high school — and eventually, inexorably, to lower grades — exposes children and their families to agents, consultants and other sharks seeking to profit from their talents and dreams. It makes the kids themselves “brands” and commodities in a massive marketing machine that is indifferent to their best interests.

Sports are professionalizing at younger and younger ages. What’s next? Consultants promising the parents of star middle-school quarterbacks to get their boy’s face on children’s products and pizza joint billboards?

Since the introduction of NIL in college sports, officially “independent” agencies, called “collectives,” have appeared around every major school to launder corporate and donor money to college athletes. (The infamous booster clubs have gone legitimate.) With NIL at the high school level, expect private schools and wealthier districts to dangle financial incentives to recruit athletes, aggravating existing inequalities.

As Post-Gazette high school sports reporter Mike White observed, a car dealer could fund a “collective” that pays his local school’s players $1,000 a year for their NIL. Now imagine the same for middle schools.

Everybody knows that informal student-athlete compensation systems have always been in place. The star quarterback and his friends get free pizza (and sometimes drinks) at the local joint. Schools lean on neighborhood institutions to give their athletes and their families sweetheart deals. It’s unsavory but nearly unavoidable.

In today’s sports-celebrity culture, fueled by big bucks, some of this is inevitable. But the adults in the room at the PIAA can and should resist giving it their seal of approval.

Eight state athletic associations already sanction NIL deals, and 17 more are considering it. PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said that “none of us want to be categorized as a stick in the mud.” But, as parents tell the teens whose interests the PIAA ostensibly represents, everyone else doing something doesn’t make it right.

The difference between college and high school NIL schemes may not be clean or obvious, but a line has to be drawn somewhere. The PIAA should stand up to the NIL speculators and to other state athletics associations and draw the line here.

___

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. April 25, 2022.

Editorial: Debates are chance to minimize money’s role in elections

Pennsylvania is one of the most important states in national politics — even in a year when only state races are on the top of the ticket.

With less than a month until the primary election, the contests for governor and U.S. senator are heating up, both in rhetoric and money.

A Spotlight PA investigation found more than $13 million raised between the nine Republican candidates for governor. On the Democratic side, Attorney General Josh Shapiro is the only candidate but, between the $13.4 million he brought into the campaign in January and the $4.5 million he has raised so far in 2022, he is far ahead of whoever his opponent will be.

This is far less than the $36.6 million Gov. Tom Wolf spent on his first primary, but more in keeping with the combined $30 million spent by Ed Rendell and now U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. in their 2002 fight for the Democratic nomination.

Then there’s the battle over the seat being left by retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. The crowded field on both sides has a lot of money in play, with more than $60 million between 24 candidates.

On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the former mayor of Braddock, has brought in more than anyone else running, with just under $15 million raised and more than $10.7 million spent as of March 31. U.S. Rep Conor Lamb comes in a distant second in the party with $5.6 million raised and $4.2 million spent.

Among Republicans, celebrity doctor and talk show host Mehmet Oz has spent more than anyone else, with $10.8 million in expenses, but he has collected more than anyone else in the GOP, with $13.4 million. Dave McCormick is close behind with $11 million raised and $9.5 million spent.

Does money matter? It shouldn’t, but it usually does because it buys the opportunity to put a candidate’s message in front of the people as often and as loudly as possible.

The counter to that are the opportunities when candidates stand together, answering the same questions and defending their records and decisions in real time. Debates give that chance. The Tribune-Review co-sponsored the recent debate between five Republican gubernatorial candidates. That was followed up by Senate and lieutenant governor debates.

If you didn’t see them live, they are still available online.

People often are skeptical of the political process. They look at the money raised for it, piling up in the millions, and can dismiss the whole affair as a financial transaction.

The antidote to that is participation — not just at the ballot box but during the days leading up to the election. The key to minimizing the effect of money in politics is an electorate who has heard the candidates’ messages from their own mouths rather than in ad campaigns and commercials.

___

Scranton Times-Tribune. April 24, 2022.

Editorial: State clears air with RGGI

With a final regulation published Saturday, Pennsylvania has become a leader in the fight to diminish dangerous atmospheric warming. It is now the largest power-producing state within the 12-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

The RGGI is environmental policy rooted in fundamental economics. Historically, the United States has not attached a direct cost to pollution, so power generators have produced massive amounts of it. For the first time, RGGI will apply a direct cost to carbon air pollution. It also creates a market mechanism for generators to mitigate those costs while accelerating the transition from fossil fuels to carbon-free renewable fuels for power production, including nuclear, solar, wind and hydropower.

The state will assign a carbon budget to fossil-fueled power generators. Beginning in September, they will have to buy credits through an auction mechanism within RGGI for every ton of pollution over the budgeted amount. Producers will seek to mitigate their costs by using the cleanest generation fuel possible, and the state government will use that money to help fund clean power research and deployment.

Other states in the compact — Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia — have reduced their carbon dioxide emissions by 47% since 2010 using the method, according to a report by the Climate Connections project of Yale University.

Pennsylvania’s participation in the RGGI substantially advances the fight against harmful climate change and is a major achievement for the Wolf administration.

___

Scranton Citizens Voice. April 26, 2022.

Editorial: Make bridge inspection reports public

When a heavily traveled Pittsburgh bridge collapsed Jan. 28 into a ravine, taking several cars and a mass-transit bus along for the ride, it put an exclamation point on well-known nationwide bridge problems.

But how bad are individual bridges? Don’t ask, at least in Pennsylvania.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently established a searchable database on 22,000 bridges, based on notes from PennDOT inspectors that the newspaper had discovered online. When it asked for detailed inspection reports for bridges, PennDOT rejected the request and later removed the inspection notes that the Post-Gazette had found.

PennDOT has made progress in repairing and replacing old bridges, including through some innovative administrative changes to accelerate the process. The agency also provides broad data, including defined ratings for each bridge under its jurisdiction, but not the actual inspection reports.

Secrecy should not be part of the state’s bridge strategy. People have a right to know the details about the bridges that they not only own but drive across every day.

A PennDOT official offered the Post-Gazette two shop-worn excuses for shrouding inspection reports in secrecy: The reports are engineering documents that residents and the media might misunderstand; and terrorists (who apparently can understand the reports better than most Pennsylvanians and journalists) could use the reports to attack bridges.

The terrorism dodge dates to the 2007 collapse of the Interstate 35-West bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, which killed 13 people and injured more than 100 others. Even though the collapse resulted from structural problems that had been documented in inspections, the Department of Homeland Security sent letters to all 50 state transportation departments advising them not to disclose inspection reports so as not to give an edge to terrorists.

Residents of West Virginia, Ohio, New York and Maryland must be smarter than their Pennsylvania neighbors and less concerned about terrorism, because they can obtain inspection reports of individual bridges, which are considered public documents.

Inspection reports should be public documents in Pennsylvania, too. PennDOT’s duty is not to hide them, but to explain them. The Legislature should mandate that transparency.

END