Editorial Roundup: Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. May 31, 2021.

Editorial: Baseball boondoggle shows why Nutting should sell Pirates

Step right up, one and all, for the chance to see one of the most embarrassing teams in Major League Baseball!

On May 27, the Pittsburgh Pirates took on the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park. At the end of the third inning, the Cubs’ Javier Baez hit a grounder to third, but the throw pulled first baseman Will Craig off the bag. Rather than simply retreating to the base and stepping on it for the third and final out, he chased the batter back toward home plate in a bizarre rundown. Meanwhile, the Cubs runner from second came around and scored while this absurd rundown was taking place.

Adding insult to injury, Baez ran from home to second after a botched throw to first, and he came around to score in what would be a 5-3 Cubs win.

Fans probably felt as though they were watching a T-ball game rather than professional baseball.

Mistakes happen. People forget things in the heat of a moment. Still, a major league player spontaneously forgetting baseball basics and regressing to his Little League days? That’s mortifying for the player, the team and the city.

Already, the gaffe is being hooted at as perhaps the worst play in baseball history.

One play does not define a team or a season, but this one speaks to the lack of talent on the field for the past several years. Fans are paying major league prices for minor league baseball.

Pirates owner Bob Nutting often talks about the long game in interviews. He’s in his 14th season at the helm of the franchise. How long is this game he’s playing?

Mr. Nutting has proven himself unable to provide the city with a truly professional team. There’s no consistency of play, no building on previous seasons’ successes. There’s always a shiny new strategy to rebuild that’ll supposedly pay off in a few years.

“Free beer tomorrow,” the sign promises each day.

Mr. Nutting talks a big game about his commitment to smaller-market teams and his enthusiasm for the Pirates, but talk is cheap. He should sell the team to an owner more capable of building real momentum. Someone more willing to pump dollars into payroll (the Pirates still stand at second to last in terms of payroll) to attract and retain talent. Someone who wants to be a part of Pittsburgh’s momentum.

Shame on Mr. Nutting and Pirates management for pitching such a boondoggle on behalf of the city.

The Post-Gazette backed the new stadium in the 1990s and will continue to fight to keep a major league team in the city, as Pittsburgh deserves a team that mirrors the city’s caliber and promise. On May 27, the Pirates reminded us once more that this team is not it.

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Philadelphia Inquirer. May 26, 2021.

Editorial: Republican assault on abortion raises stakes for Pa.’s 2022 governor race

This week, Pennsylvania House Republicans advanced the most extreme abortion ban proposed in the state. The so-called “heartbeat bill” will prohibit health-care providers from performing an abortion once a heartbeat, which at such early gestational ages amounts to not much more than electrical activity in cells, is detected. Because that activity can be detected at about six weeks, which is when many individuals find out they are pregnant, the bill would be a de facto abortion ban for most pregnancies.

The Republican-led House Health Committee also advanced a ban on abortions due to Down syndrome diagnosis and a bill that adds more cumbersome regulation for fetal remains, which advocates argue could impose trauma on people after a miscarriage or abortion, as part of the anti-choice package of legislation.

Immediately after the committee vote, Gov. Tom Wolf issued a statement saying: “I will veto any anti-choice legislation that lands on my desk.” Wolf has already vetoed a version of the Down syndrome abortion ban in 2019. In 2017, he vetoed a bill that banned abortion at 20 weeks, four weeks earlier than current Pennsylvania law.

Gov. Wolf is one layer of protection against extreme abortion bans like the “heartbeat” bill. The second line of defense is the judiciary. As long as Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, along with five decades of U.S. Supreme Court precedent since it was decided in 1973, federal courts should strike down laws significantly limiting abortion prior to 24 weeks of gestation. As a general rule, laws that ban abortion before viability — 24 weeks — are unconstitutional. Following this precedent, in July 2020, a federal judge struck down Georgia’s “heartbeat” law before it took effect.

The next challenge to a “heartbeat” ban could look very different. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks. The challenge goes to the root of what the Roe court held, and could open the door to earlier bans by removing the relevance of viability.

Even if the U.S. Supreme Court erodes or, at some point, overturns Roe, the abortion landscape in Pennsylvania won’t change overnight. It would remove a federal protection for abortion and leave the issue to the states — letting laws such as “heartbeat” bans stand if passed. And unless there is a shift in power at the legislature that gives Democrats control, that means that the person who succeeds Wolf as governor could single-handedly decide the future of abortion in the commonwealth.

So far, all those who announced a run for governor or who are rumored to do so ahead of 2022 are men. On the Republican side, where there is more action at this early stage, some of the presumed candidates have long records of being anti-choice — including former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta and State Sen. Doug Mastriano.

Abortion is fundamental health care. When access to abortion is limited, abortion doesn’t go away, it just becomes more dangerous. Gov. Wolf is right to veto any bill that would put women at risk — and only a person sharing that commitment should have the opportunity of being his successor.

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York Daily Record. May 30, 2021.

Editorial: There should be no such thing as the ‘working poor,’ raise Pa. minimum wage now

Scan the want ads and it might seem as though the free market has already settled Pennsylvania’s minimum wage debate.

Many employers, urban and rural, offer entry-level pay that exceeds the state’s paltry minimum wage — stuck at $7.25 since 2009. On a recent day, Sheetz was seeking team members at $14.50 an hour, Amazon, packer-sorters for $19.05.

But as the USA Today Network-Pennsylvania’s recent series Bare Minimum makes clear, such listings — however welcome and overdue — should not serve to paper over the pain of the more than 90,000 people in the state who still labor for minimum wage, the approximately 700,000 workers who make between $7.26 and $12 an hour, and still others who make less than $15 an hour.

Reporters reached beyond tired talking points and took readers into the anxious, precarious lives of low-wage earners most affected by Pennsylvania lawmakers’ failure to mandate a living wage.

Rhetoric often casts the minimum wage worker as young and temporary — a teenager working part-time scooping ice cream. In fact, as the series detailed, only 27% of workers earning minimum wage are 16 to 19 years old. Most low-wage earners are older than 20 and 30% are older than 25. And they are disproportionately female and individuals of color.

Black, Hispanic and other non-white residents make up only 22% of the state population but account for 32% of low-wage workers. And the vast majority — more than 77% — of those earning less than $12 an hour in Pennsylvania are women.

They are people like Melanie Kifer. A mother of three, she worked full-time for $7.65 an hour — $306 a week — at a Johnstown McDonalds, but had to turn to public assistance and a soup kitchen to feed her family.

Rodney Gregory, in kidney failure, cleans airplanes in Philadelphia for a $13.60 an hour and delivers pizza on weekends to earn about $2,000 a month as his family’s sole breadwinner. He fears that if a long-awaited opportunity for a kidney transplant does arrive, he won’t be able to afford the time off for surgery.

Tina Moore navigated a teenage pregnancy, stayed in school and raised her child. She now works as a security guard for $14.65 an hour with no benefits or paid time off. Netting about $1,600 a month, she can’t afford a car or living room furniture or a home outside her tough Philadelphia neighborhood, which features, among other things, an open-air drug market. Rent alone is $700 a month.

Those who oppose raising Pennsylvania’s minimum wage say increasing it now would harm small businesses, especially restaurants hit hard by the pandemic, and potentially cost low-wage workers their jobs.

They point to a Congressional Budget Office study that found increasing the federal minimum wage — also set at $7.25 an hour — to $15 an hour would cost 1.4 million jobs.

But that same study also found raising the wage would increase income for 17 million people and lift 900,000 people from poverty. A raise here, Gov. Tom Wolf has said, would increase income for 1.1 million Pennsylvanians.

A recent poll showed nearly 70% of Pennsylvanians support increasing the minimum wage. We stand with them and our working poor neighbors profiled in the Bare Minimum series. There is, in our view, no sound argument, either practical or moral, for maintaining the scandalous wage structure that mires too many Pennsylvanians in poverty even though they work long hours at one or more jobs.

Businesses might have to spend more on payroll, but affected workers will also have more income to spend and, as Wolf has said, “grow the economy for everyone.”

Higher wages can aid employers by stabilizing the workforce. One study showed hiking wages of San Francisco Airport workers from $6.45 to $10 an hour slashed annual turnover from 95% to 19%.

States surrounding Pennsylvania already increased their minimum wages without the predicted job losses and harm. New Jersey, Maryland and New York are on paths to $15 an hour. That puts our state, amid a historic labor crunch, at an increasing competitive disadvantage, especially in areas already battling brain drain due to lack of opportunity.

Also not to be glossed over is the burden low wages place on taxpayers, as underpaid workers often must turn to public assistance to close the gaps on the costs of their lives. Why should taxpayers subsidize companies that refuse to pay a living wage?

As columnist Mike Argento detailed, there has been a push to cast poverty as the product of individual moral failing. The grit and resourcefulness of those profiled in Bare Minimum belie that pernicious myth, which also ignores the powerful political and economic forces that hamper opportunity. The list includes globalization and the weakening bargaining power of unions, not to mention the vagaries of life that can crush prospects with a surprise diagnosis or accident.

Those who apply their minds, bodies and precious hours on this earth to create value for others deserve a wage that enables a stable existence, not one strafed with uncertainty and worry.

Wolf wants to hike the rate to $12 an hour immediately and then incrementally until it reaches $15 an hour in 2027. Erie Republican state Sen. Dan Laughlin on May 11 introduced Senate Bill 672 to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour and index future raises to the cost of living.

We urge Republicans to join Laughlin and meet Wolf halfway.

Start at $11 an hour, with incremental increases to $15. From there, mandate future raises indexed to the cost of living so that we never find ourselves in this situation again. If the minimum wage had been indexed when it was created in 1938, we wouldn’t be trapped this never-ending debate. We’d think of it just as Social Security recipients do their annual consumer price index increase.

Opponents of a minimum wage hike say it would be better to let low wages stand and help people find better jobs.

Better for lawmakers to listen to those featured in Bare Minimum, like Tina Moore, who know the hurdles they face and the path over them.

“People don’t understand how hard it is to pull yourself out of poverty,” Moore said. “It’s not a question of being smart or thoughtful or planning for the future. It’s that you’re forced to make a series of bad decisions and sacrifices when life doesn’t work and it can’t work with wages this low.”

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Altoona Mirror. May 29, 2021.

Editorial: Resilience needs to be schools’ focus

A Pennsylvania House of Representatives joint committee hearing last Monday was an excellent venue for delving into the issue of increased mental health resources being in place for students when schools across the state reopen fully.

Judging from the progress on the coronavirus front, it is anticipated that reopening will be this fall, in much the same way that schools returned from summer vacations, pre-pandemic.

To be sure, a longer readjustment time might be necessary at the start of the coming school year before students and educators are settled in fully to classroom learning as it was before the virus turned lives and facilities of most kinds virtually upside down.

Since March 2020, schools either have been physically closed and providing remote learning, or offering hybrid-education, mixing at-home days with in-school instruction days.

However, it is not out of the question that a pleasant surprise could be awaiting the commonwealth’s public education scene, above and beyond the good intentions of those who gathered in the state capital for the past week’s joint committee session.

That is because young people are more resilient and adaptive to change, generally, than parents and other adults who have been “locked” in their lives’ situations for long stretches of years, even decades.

Once students return to full, in-person, pre-pandemic interaction with fellow students and teachers, it is reasonable to anticipate the fears and uncertainties that dogged them as the pandemic wore on will continue to become less of a presence in their lives.

Classroom work, homework, extracurricular activities and other positive “distractions” will relegate what happened over the past 18 months or so to the “universe” of things of little continuing consequence.

Nevertheless, students whose families experienced tragedy or other hardships at the hands of COVID-19 might face a longer period of readjustment and re-settling into the learning experience than most of their classmates.

Especially for those latter students, but for the other students as well, having adequate mental health resources in place to respond to needs, including on short notice, cannot be overemphasized.

And, even without the coronavirus, the daily pressures of life today can inflict degrees of pressure on young people that neither their grandparents nor parents had to experience or endure as young people.

That was the message from Dr. Sherri Smith, a Pennsylvania Department of Education official, who said “we know from our schools and families that more students are being reported as chronically absent, and more students report feeling disconnected from school staff.”

State Department of Human Services consulting psychologist Dr. Perri Rosen provided other cause for concern in referring to the stress, burnout and compassion fatigue “that have become a reality for teachers, support staff, board members, administrators, school mental health professionals and their family members.”

Provisions for their well-being need to be available as well. The proverbial shifting-of-gears in Pennsylvania’s educational community that likely will take place in just about three months must be watched closely. The joint House committee hearing helped pour the foundation for that vigilance to occur.

It is reasonable to conclude even now that resilience will help in the school year to come. The unknown is whether the resilience forthcoming will produce the kind of positive results that are being sought.

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Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice. May 30, 2021.

Editorial: The house always wins

Casinos that eagerly embraced Pennsylvania’s massive gambling expansion in 2017 forgot their own rule — the house always wins.

The expansion authorized online gambling, and 10 casinos anted up $10 million each for state licenses to put games online. But after paying the government, and before they were able to put the games online in 2019, the casinos faced online competition from … the government.

The Pennsylvania Lottery put its own games online.

In a lawsuit that seven casinos filed against the lottery, they showed that at least nine of the lottery’s games have the same titles or themes as casino slot machines or online sites.

The casino operators especially were vexed because their payouts for online games, according to evidence in their lawsuit, ranges from 81.6% to 89.1% of the amounts wagered. That is akin to the 85% payout from physical slot machines required by state law. Lottery instant online games pay out between 61% and 77%, according to the testimony.

Wednesday, Commonwealth Court Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer dismissed the casinos’ lawsuit, in effect making suckers of casino operators who assumed that the state would protect their interests after accepting big fees and heavily taxing the casinos’ take.

The Legislature never stated, the judge found, that its intention was “to preclude either one of these newly authorized online games … from taking advantage of technological advances, changing in gaming and entertainment, or features that are found in existing popular entertainment.”

Fortunately for casinos and the lottery, though, gamblers aren’t picky about whether private or public croupiers take their money.

The lottery has reported $170 million in profit on the online games since May 2018. Total sales from July through December, the first six months of the current fiscal year, were $433.7 million, up from $290.2 million for the same period of the prior year.

The 10 casinos’ online revenue for the entire 2019 fiscal year was $240.9 million. For the first 10 months of the current fiscal year, July through April, their revenue was $707.1 million.

Whereas the casinos might appeal their legal loss, gamblers who lose to the casinos and the state don’t have that option.

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