Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. December 28, 2022.
Editorial: Did Tom Wolf understand politics?
Gov. Tom Wolf is about to close out his two-term tenure. It’s been quite a ride.
Over the years, we have not been shy about laying criticism at the governor’s door. We have castigated him for budget issues. We have harangued him for administrative hiccups and staff pay raises. We took him to task over poorly executed coronavirus pandemic policies.
Perhaps all of those examples contain the same thread. On some level, as a businessman who decided to take on the state’s top job, Wolf just doesn’t understand politics.
One could argue that’s good or bad. Most of Harrisburg’s problems are about an overabundance of politics, not a shortfall. On the other hand, an understanding of the reality of how things are going to work is important.
In a recent interview with Harrisburg ABC affiliate WHTM, Wolf spoke about what he had hoped to be one of his final actions. The governor pushed repeatedly in 2022 to have the state send $2,000 stimulus checks to qualifying residents, just like the federal government did in 2020 and 2021.
The plan would have used American Rescue Plan funds and was meant to address sky-high gas prices as well as rising inflation in areas such as housing and food.
“(The money) would have been a really nice help. I don’t know why I couldn’t get that done,” he said.
If he really doesn’t know, Wolf understands almost nothing about how Harrisburg works. Perhaps the repeated budget standoffs with the Legislature make more sense with that in mind.
For years, the governor’s office and the lawmakers fought bitterly over the idea of that annual spending plan. Democrat Wolf wanted to prioritize education and its hand-in-hand relationship with economic development. The Republican-led Legislature — particularly under Jake Corman’s term as senate majority leader — saw addressing the state’s pension crisis as the most critical task.
It isn’t that Republicans want kids to be uneducated. It isn’t that Wolf didn’t see the pension problems that grew over the last 20 years as important. They just both had their own priorities that weren’t tied to their political positions. They were welded there, joined by the heat of their arguments and cooled by the need to not give an inch.
That is politics — in Pennsylvania and in Washington.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro, another Democrat, will be taking the gubernatorial reins shortly. The Legislature itself is becoming a GOP-Democrat tug-of-war between the Republican Senate and the House of Representatives, which is having its own identity crisis pending special elections to replace three Allegheny County seats in February.
The partisan push and pull is unlikely to change, but perhaps everyone will have a better understanding of why a project that has so much baked-in politics is unlikely to pass.
Scranton Times-Tribune. January 2, 2022.
Editorial: Update state recount law to stem abuse
Just as President Donald Trump misused an old law in an attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, many of his acolytes in Pennsylvania used an outdated state law to flood county courts with bogus litigation following the Nov. 8 midterm election.
Trump adviser John Eastman concocted the scheme to misapply the Electoral Count Act of 1887, prompting Trump to call on Vice President Mike Pence to reject the certified Electoral College results from Pennsylvania and several other states. Pence had no authority to do so, and to his credit, he refused to comply with the scheme.
Congress recently updated the Electoral Count Act to preclude its future use in the cause of insurrection.
The Pennsylvania law in question dates to 1927. It covers appropriate causes and procedures for election recounts. Following the election, which included very few close races, activists filed at least 150 lawsuits challenging results. Most did not allege any specific wrongdoing or mistakes, and courts dismissed almost all of them. But the need to process the frivolous lawsuits delayed the state’s election certification by several weeks.
The news organizations Votebeat and Spotlight PA reported recently that the 1927 recount law never has been updated.
When passed, the $50 mandatory filing fee to seek a recount was meant as a deterrent to frivolous suits, in that $50 was serious money then. Today, applying inflation since 1927, the fee would be about $860.
The Legislature should increase the mandatory fee to ensure that petitioners are, at least, serious.
And the law needs an update for other reasons. It was adopted after a Philadelphia judicial candidate received zero votes out of more than 20,000 cast in several precincts. But since then, other election laws have been changed to ensure that any election fraud is vanishingly rare.
The law allows petitions for recounts if any three voters state simply that it is their “belief” that fraud occurred. It does not require any specific allegation of wrongdoing or evidence to support the petition.
Lawmakers should update the law to require such specificity. Voters must have recourse in the courts to challenge fraud, but they are not entitled to disrupt the system for their own partisan advantage.
Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice. December 30, 2022.
Editorial: Fix state heart-lung law to curb abuse
Republican state lawmakers have found a boogeyman in Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, blaming him for violent crime in the city and attempting to remove him from office while refusing to do anything about it themselves.
The supposedly anti-crime lawmakers have refused to enact sensible gun-safety laws. And in their zeal to “back the blue” while exposing police to the dangers of gun proliferation, they have ignored the abuse of a state disability law that results in fewer officers being available for patrol.
Under the state Heart and Lung Act, police, firefighters and other public safety personnel, who temporarily can’t work after being injured on the job, may receive their full salaries without having to pay state or federal taxes. In effect, the benefit is a 20% pay increase. Private sector workers who are injured on the job receive 66% of their pay.
Across the state, the generous benefit often has been abused.
Philadelphia has suffered more than 500 murders this year. As The Philadelphia Inquirer reported, 652 officers, 11% of the city’s police force, were off duty this year under the heart/lung program. In contrast, the Inquirer reported, about 1% of Phoenix officers and 3.3% of Chicago officers were off on disability claims. After the Inquirer reported the story, and that many of the officers who could not report for work also worked elsewhere while collecting benefits, the number of disability claims plummeted by 31%.
If, as lawmakers often claim, a major part of the solution to crime is to put more police on the street, then the Legislature should see to it by reforming the disability law.
The Legislature should eliminate the incentive for abuse by eliminating the tax exemption on benefits or conforming the benefit to those in the private sector. And it should mandate an independent means to select physicians involved in the process, as opposed to allowing police and firefighter unions to select the doctors.
Public safety personnel who are injured on the job deserve fair compensation. But the state must make the program far more accountable.
Uniontown Herald-Standard. January 1, 2023.
Editorial: Vaccine hesitancy shows how easily we can move backwards
Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were all nervous about Y2K?
You remember that – some folks were hoarding food and water in the midst of overheated predictions that the transition from Dec. 31, 1999, to Jan. 1, 2000, would lead to computer meltdowns, planes falling from the sky and all manner of anarchy. Well, the world made the transition from the 20th to the 21st century, from one millennium to another, without too much difficulty. And, as we embark on 2023, it’s startling to realize that we are now almost one-quarter of the way through the 21st century.
Optimistically, human progress will carry on in the new year and the years ahead. We’ll find ways to eradicate disease, extend our lives and make our world more habitable. The rapid creation of a COVID-19 vaccine two years ago, the dazzling images captured by the Webb Telescope and the recent breakthrough in nuclear fusion demonstrate just what humanity is capable of.
But, flawed as we are, we are capable of moving backwards. There is perhaps no better illustration of this idea than parents who are heedlessly brushing aside long-settled knowledge about the efficacy and safety of vaccines and not signing their kids up for shots.
And we’re not talking about just the COVID-19 vaccines and boosters. We’re talking about vaccines that would help stop polio, measles and a range of other afflictions that have largely evaporated because of, yes, vaccination.
The consequences of vaccine refusal have been on vivid display in Columbus, Ohio, in recent weeks as more than 80 children have come down with the measles. Some of the children required hospitalization, and almost none of them had received even a single dose of the measles vaccine.
Some children cannot be vaccinated due to health reasons, but many parents claim they are opposed to vaccines on religious or philosophical grounds. A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 28% of all adults believe children should not receive vaccines for diseases like rubella, mumps and the measles if their parents don’t want them to. The number has increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Misinformation fuels some of the reluctance by parents to get their children vaccinated. They end up falling for dubious information they see online, like the canard that vaccines cause autism. Then, there are the parents who stubbornly believe it’s their “right” to refuse vaccines for themselves and their children, even if it means putting the health of others in jeopardy. One Detroit-area man recently told The Washington Post that he wasn’t getting his kids vaccinated because of his “rights,” and, besides, he wasn’t worried about them coming down with the measles or polio.
Of course, the reason he doesn’t have to sweat that possibility is because generations of children have been vaccinated.
We are, to put it simply, better off than most of our ancestors. Overall, we are better educated, live longer, and are not as plagued by ill-health. These blessings of our modern world shouldn’t be recklessly cast aside.