Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice. September 13, 2022.
Editorial: State creates, ignores addiction
Gambling enables state legislators to bring in revenue indirectly. By taxing gambling operations, politicians remove themselves a step from the people who truly pay the tax — gamblers who lose their money.
Lawmakers originally approved a limited number of casinos for two purported reasons — to capture some of the gambling money that Pennsylvanians spent in Atlantic City, and to rescue the state’s horse-racing industry.
But, for nearly 20 years, lawmakers eagerly have approved vast expansions to more full-service and “satellite casinos, online, to noncasino venues, and on sports — in addition to the state lottery. Nonlottery gambling generated more than $2 billion for the state government in the 2021-2022 fiscal year, which ended June 30. The latest debate is on the question of whether the government allows enough gambling at gas stations.
Amid the frenzy, Capitol croupiers should pause to consider Joseph J. McDonald, 37, of Carbondale. The former city councilman was charged Tuesday with stealing more than $163,000 worth of state lottery tickets from the store where he worked. McDonald told investigators that he stole to cover his gambling debts.
When legalized gambling began, advocates claimed that their goal was not to create new customers but to capture customers already gambling in New Jersey. That was a bogus business plan, of course, but the real one now enables Pennsylvanians to gamble at casinos, online, convenience stores, airports and ... stay tuned.
Throughout that evolution the state government has paid scant attention to the social dysfunction and gambling addiction that come with the territory.
Gambling addiction is worse, in a way, than substance abuse. People addicted to alcohol or other drugs don’t see the problem as its own answer, whereas people addicted to gambling often believe that they can resolve their problems with just one big score.
In Northeast Pennsylvania alone, scores of people have been charged with stealing from their families, employers, and civic organizations to cover gambling debts. Statewide, the toll is in thousands.
The next state legislative hearing on gambling should be on addiction rather than expansion. Lawmakers should resolve to commit far greater resources to preventing and treating it, and helping those who need to quit to save their families, jobs, reputations and, often, their lives.
Uniontown Herald-Standard. September 11, 2022.
Editorial: Pardoning those convicted of marijuana offenses the right thing to do
The United States reached a milestone at the end of August that may have escaped many people’s attention.
According to a Gallup poll, more Americans admitted to smoking marijuana than puffing on cigarettes. Gallup reported that 16% of Americans say they currently use marijuana, while just 11% say they smoke cigarettes. This is quite a sea change for anyone who remembers when offices, restaurants and shopping centers would routinely have a fog of cigarette smoke hanging over them, while, at the same time, marijuana was demonized as a drug favored by glassy-eyed stoners and outlaw rock musicians.
Some of this shift can be credited to baby boomers reaching the heights of political and economic power over the last couple of decades, and generations even more tolerant of marijuana following them. It also undoubtedly is a result of a better understanding of just how addictive and harmful tobacco is, while marijuana has been shown to ease pain and nausea and is less addictive. Marijuana also does not seem to have the same destructive impact on the lungs and heart that cigarettes do.
Medical marijuana is now legal in most of the country, and marijuana is legal for recreational use in 19 states and the District of Columbia. The day when marijuana is regulated, taxed and available pretty much anywhere within the United States is probably not too far over the horizon. That being the case, it makes little or no sense to arrest people for possessing small amounts of marijuana and even less for individuals to be hobbled by non-violent, minor marijuana convictions that impede their ability to be hired, purchase a home or even volunteer at a school.
So it’s both sensible and sound public policy that Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman are embarking on a large-scale project to pardon thousands of commonwealth residents with minor marijuana offenses lingering on their record. Wolf said it will “open the door to thousands of Pennsylvanians – the college grad looking to start their career, the grandparent who’s been wanting to chaperone a field trip, or any Pennsylvanian who’s been told ‘no’ for much needed assistance. Now’s your chance.”
Applications are being accepted by the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons through the end of the month at pa.gov/mjpardon. If a pardon is granted, individuals will still need to petition the court to have their record expunged. Individuals who have additional criminal convictions on their record are not eligible to apply for a pardon through this program.
It’s probably best, of course, if people avoid marijuana if they can, along with tobacco and alcohol. But when you consider how marijuana use has now been accepted by the American mainstream, having someone drag the ball and chain of a minor marijuana conviction throughout their life seems particularly pointless.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. September 8, 2022.
Editorial: Redistricting legal bills are cost of putting party before people
Redistricting is not just something that happens every 10 years.
It is more than just the way that we shuffle the decks of legislators and change the game board that says who goes where. It’s a complicated, necessary process that should be an accurate reflection of not how we wish the state looked according to the decennial census but how it actually is.
But instead it is ugly. It is contentious. It is a brutal political fistfight that lasts far longer than it should.
And it is something else that cannot be overlooked: expensive.
Nothing that happens in Harrisburg is ever cheap, but the state’s lawmakers are uniquely talented at taking what ought to be a routine task and turning it into a circus with an exponentially growing cast of characters.
Today, the process seems to default to a final sudden death round that happens in front of judges instead of the boring committee work originally conceived. The congressional redistricting map was picked by the state Supreme Court because of a lawsuit. The state House and Senate districts triggered five lawsuits; one is still in court.
It should surprise no one that going to court means that what could have been done by the people already being paid to do the redistricting becomes a ballooned expense. Nothing involving lawyers is ever cheap.
A Spotlight PA investigation asked the Democratic and Republican caucuses of the House and Senate for their legal bills spent on redistricting from January 2021 to June 2022.
The tally was eight law firms and $3 million. Experts made as much as $350 an hour — possibly more based on the $90,000 bill from a GOP-hired political science professor whose hourly rate in New York was $500. A similar Democratic expert made $65,000.
What this doesn’t take into account is the other costs of a fight like this becoming a regular court battle instead of a negotiated peace. It ties up the courts in something that judges should never be called upon to settle. It isn’t their job.
The intention in the state and national constitutions is for lawmakers to act like civilized colleagues who can do their jobs fairly and efficiently. Clearly, that was an area where the Founding Fathers had more faith in future leaders than was merited.
Perhaps the $1.4 million spent by Democrats and $1.6 million spent by the GOP barely even feels like money anymore to legislators who regularly deal in billions. But it is money — a lot of money — and Pennsylvanians deserve more than having their voting districts reduced to a battle of big legal budgets and expensive experts.
And it wouldn’t be necessary if both sides in both chambers — and the governor — would focus on actually representing the people instead of their parties.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. September 10, 2022.
Editorial: An agenda all can agree on
A new poll sponsored by the non-partisan Pittsburgh Works Together shows Pennsylvania voters strongly favor Democrats Josh Shapiro for governor and John Fetterman for U.S. Senate, over their Republican opponents, Doug Mastriano and Mehmet Oz. But ranking the political horse race for the Nov. 8 elections was the least significant result of the August survey by the non-profit advocacy group for a diverse economy and manufacturing.
Despite the heated and hyper-partisan rhetoric of the campaigns for governor and U.S. Senate, the poll of 600 registered Pennsylvania voters, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, showed Republicans, Democrats and Independents overwhelmingly favor a non-partisan agenda to, among other things, create manufacturing jobs, expand vocational training, and maintain affordable and reliable energy through natural gas, wind, solar and nuclear.
“The public is not as divided as politicians — or the rest of us — tend to think,” Jeff Nobers, executive director of Pittsburgh Works Together, said Friday. “The voters in Pennsylvania are willing to do what’s necessary to turn the state around and make it the powerhouse it should be. But the politicians have to listen.”
Candidates for office, take note: While divisive cultural battles rage on, Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh area continue to lose population and good-paying manufacturing jobs that anchor the economy. Together, In the five years before the COVID pandemic, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana added more than 66,000 manufacturing jobs. Meantime, Pennsylvania lost 300. With aging populations, two-thirds of Pennsylvania counties are shrinking. Since 2010, 42,000 more people died in the 10-county Pittsburgh region than were born.
New people will come to this state and region only if they see opportunity. Confidence, however, in Pennsylvania’s future is waning. The Pittsburgh Works Together poll shows three out of four Pennsylvanians rate the economy fair or poor, and even more believe it will get worse or stagnate over the next year.
The good news is that Republicans, Democrats and Independents generally agree on what it will take to reverse population and job losses.
Roughly 95% of voters support greater access to technical, vocational and trade training as an alternative to a four-year college. Nearly 90% favor granting similar assistance to students enrolled in community colleges and vocational training as those in four-year colleges, such as scholarships for training in skilled trades. Most new good-paying jobs require more than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year degree.
Other economic development measures with strong bipartisan support include streamlining permit processes, bolstering Pennsylvania’s business reputation, and using government grants and loans to prepare potential factory construction sites, thus offsetting the higher costs of building industrial sites on Pennsylvania’s old brownfields and rolling hills. That would help Pennsylvania compete for investment with flatter states that have lower building costs.
Pittsburgh Works Together believes, rightly, the next governor ought to become the state’s top salesperson, promoting Pennsylvania’s many assets to investors. Becoming the state’s biggest promoter and cheerleader has nothing to do with partisan politics. Former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell was an outstanding salesman for Pennsylvania. Current Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is not.
People in Pennsylvania, like those in the rest of the country, are divided on many issues, including the criminal justice system, race and foreign policy. But a bipartisan agenda on economic development has broad support. Politicians interested in public service, instead of self-service, should unite the people around a bold and proactive agenda to reverse the economic and population losses that plague this state and region.
Lancaster Online/LNP. September 11, 2022.
Editorial: We have questions we’d like to ask the debate-shy US Rep. Lloyd Smucker
In an interview published today, former U.S. Rep. Bob Walker, a Republican, told LNP/LancasterOnline Executive Editor Tom Murse that everyone “running for election should test their opinions against the opposition” in a public debate.
We strongly agree with Walker (and we believe this also applies to Democrat John Fetterman, who’s vying against Republican Mehmet Oz for a U.S. Senate seat).
Said Walker: “You can say everything you want in press releases and before friendly audiences, but I think the voters should be able to hear you be countered on those opinions and hear you counter what the other side is saying about where they would take the country.”
A spokesperson for Smucker’s campaign said in an email to LNP ' LancasterOnline that “a televised debate has been scheduled with ABC27,” but her use of the term “debate” is a stretch — it will not be broadcast live or include an in-studio audience of voters.
Following are the questions we’d like to see asked of Smucker in the public setting of a traditional debate.
— The last time you met in-person with constituents in a public setting was 2014, when you were a member of the Pennsylvania Senate. Why do you rarely meet with constituents in open, public settings such as debates or town halls like your predecessors U.S. Reps. Walker and Joe Pitts did? How important is it to engage with your constituents in an unfiltered manner?
— When you joined the Problem Solvers Caucus in the U.S. House, you said you looked forward to “rolling up my sleeves and working with this bipartisan group of lawmakers to focus on navigating — not obstructing — our path forward.” Why did you leave the caucus last year?
Recent voting record
— Nearly 1 in 10 Lancaster County residents ages 20 and older have been diagnosed with diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And yet you voted against the Affordable Insulin Now Act, which seeks to cap insulin prices at either $35 a month or 25% of a health insurance plan’s negotiated price, whichever is lower. Why?
— As a Manheim Township resident pointed out in a letter to the editor, you also opposed the 2021 Family Violence Prevention and Services Improvement Act; the 2022 Active Shooter Alert Act; the Respect for Marriage Act; and the Right to Contraception Act.
That last act seeks to protect Americans’ right to buy and use contraception, a right affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1965 case, Griswold v. Connecticut, a ruling that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas believes should be reconsidered. Do you believe your adult constituents should have unfettered access to contraception?
— The Family Violence Prevention and Services Improvement Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski and Pennsylvania Democrat Bob Casey. According to those senators, the act seeks to expand domestic violence prevention efforts, strengthen the National Domestic Violence Hotline and create a “new program that provides resources for underserved populations.” Why did you vote against it in the House?
— In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a 50-year-old ruling that granted women the constitutional right to abortion. You said in a statement that in Congress, you would “continue to support pro-life policies which protect the unborn.” What about policies to protect the already born?
For instance, as noted by the previously mentioned Manheim Township letter writer, you voted against the bipartisan Active Shooter Alert Act, which seeks to create an Amber Alert-like warning system for active-shooter incidents. Creating such a system is favored by law enforcement and could help to ease the minds of parents who recently sent their children back to school. Why did you vote against this measure?
— You also voted earlier this year against the Infant Formula Supplemental Appropriations Act, which sought to provide emergency funding to address a nationwide shortage of infant formula. Why?
— You frequently refer to “Bidenflation.” But the unemployment rate is low; gas prices are falling; and consumer confidence is higher than expected. Do you credit the Biden administration for any of these positive developments?
— You wrote a column published in LNP ' LancasterOnline in April 2020 in which you highlighted the Paycheck Protection Program for owners of businesses affected by the pandemic. Yet you’ve denounced the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness program.
Recipients of the Paycheck Protection Program, including some members of Congress or their family members, were forgiven thousands, even millions, of dollars in loans. The Smucker Co., which you owned and operated for 25 years, had its $2.8 million loan forgiven, according to ProPublica. You sold your interest in that company in 2006 to your brother. Does your brother still own that company? Do other family members have ties to that company?
By contrast, recipients of the student loan forgiveness program will only have up to $20,000 in debt canceled. You called the student loan forgiveness program a “massive government giveaway” on “the backs of the American taxpayer.” How is that different from the Paycheck Protection Program?
— What initiative would you propose to help constituents get out from the crushing burden of student loan debt, which has been particularly difficult for Black and Latino Americans?
— You voted for the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The Congressional Budget Office calculated prior to enactment of that legislation that it would balloon the federal deficit by approximately $1.7 trillion. And, indeed, following the enactment of that legislation, the federal deficit ballooned to record levels. You voted against the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, which the Congressional Budget Office calculated would reduce deficits by $238 billion over a decade while combating climate change. Please explain how voting for the 2017 tax law and voting against the Inflation Reduction Act were fiscally responsible.
— Hours after the brutal Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol, you voted against accepting Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Had you prevailed, the legally cast votes of 115,847 Lancaster County residents would have been nullified. You said you objected to accepting Pennsylvania’s electoral votes because “unconstitutional measures taken by bureaucrats and partisan justices in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania” “unlawfully changed how this election was carried out” and “potentially changed the outcome.” Yet you believed that your own reelection, via the same ballots, collected and counted using the same procedures, was valid. Why?
— In Pennsylvania and across the U.S., Republican lawmakers and elections officials are seeking to reduce convenient access to the ballot box. Do you believe that we as a nation should do everything possible to encourage and enable eligible people to register to vote and to cast their ballots?
— Following the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, former President Trump’s Florida home, some of your colleagues suggested defunding the FBI. Do you believe the FBI should be defunded? Do you believe former President Trump was wrong to take classified documents from the White House and store them at Mar-a-Lago, as the Department of Justice and the National Archives say he did? Are you concerned that the former president’s actions may have national security implications? Has this matter changed your view of his fitness to serve in the White House?
— President Joe Biden recently delivered a speech on democracy at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall in which he assailed former President Trump and extremist “MAGA Republicans.” In a statement, you asserted that Biden has “no intention of unifying this country” and his speech “only served to further divide the nation.” Do you believe former President Trump unified Americans? Would you agree with President Biden that the “Republican Party today is dominated, driven, and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans”? Do you consider yourself a MAGA Republican?
— Those Republicans also have been lambasted by U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, vice chair of the congressional committee investigating the events of Jan. 6, 2021. Cheney recently lost her GOP primary election in Wyoming. Do you believe Cheney is a patriot? Given your vote to reject Pennsylvania’s 2020 electoral votes, do you think she would describe you as a patriot? Do you think of yourself as one? To what lengths would you go to defend democracy?