LATEST NUMBERS MORE VALIDATION FOR STATE STORE PRIVATIZATION
The latest numbers tell you all you need to know about whether liquor privatization for Pennsylvania is viewed as something that should be done.
The survey by the Heart and Mind Strategies, involving more than 1,000 people surveyed in early September, showed that logic is triumphing over the anti-privatization campaign.
The survey shows 66 percent of likely voters want to privatize Pennsylvania's government-run wine and spirits system.
The support was broad-based 70 percent of Republicans and Independents, nearly 60 percent of liberals and 55 percent of union households are for abolishing the state-run liquor monopoly.
Reasons cited for support of privatization are the same ones we've point out here dozens of times lower prices, more jobs for Pennsylvanians, an end to border bleed on liquor sales, the elimination of the conflict of interest in being both a purveyor and regulator of alcohol.
At this point, we feel obligated to point out that we do not want to see the people working in state stores lose their jobs. They are probably the most qualified people to work in privately managed liquor stores.
That said, we wonder what the state's lawmakers are afraid of regarding privatization. Or is this one of those deals where certain elected officials can't bear to break the hug they have with big government, even when the romance is more fantasy than reality.
Gov. Corbett proposes to use funds from sale of liquor stores to private interests for public education?
And the people want it and the windfall is planned for a cause public education that most people agree is a vital state funding responsibility.
What's the holdup about now?
— Williamsport Sun-Gazette
TOBACCO CASH AT RISK OF GOING UP IN SMOKE
Due to an arbitration decision involving the states' national settlement with major tobacco companies, Pennsylvania could lose 60 percent of its share—$180 million a year.
The reduction would start in April but to prepare for it the state immediately would freeze $25.6 million in payments to hospitals for uninsured patients' care, $8.5 million in prevention and cessation programs and an array of discretionary health research grants amounting, so far, to more than $12 million.
An arbitration panel of three retired federal judges ruled against the state government in a claim brought by tobacco companies, which alleged that Pennsylvania had not fully complied with terms of the settlement. The deal provides for participating companies to reduce their payments if they lose market share to companies that did not participate in the agreement.
The companies claimed, and the arbitration panel agreed, that the firms had lost market share to companies that produce roll-your-own tobacco, which Pennsylvania does not tax.
The state attorney general's office has appealed the decision. But as the case proceeds, the Corbett administration and the Legislature should be prepared to recoup at least some of the lost revenue through other means.
Pennsylvania should collect taxes on all tobacco products, including the loose tobacco at the center of the dispute. The commonwealth also is the only state not to impose a tax on cigars, a status that should have ended long ago.
Major tobacco companies also have begun to convert the niche e-cigarette business into a major business. The state should impose the same taxation regime on non-tobacco e-cigarettes, which heat nicotine into a vapor that can be inhaled, as on conventional cigarettes.
Ideally, the state will prevail on appeal and the full $300 million a year in payments will be restored. But since those payments will not go on forever even if the state wins the appeal, the governor and Legislature should maintain an aggressive posture against tobacco and ensure that there is adequate revenue to fight for public health.
— Pottsville Republican and Herald
AN UNCESSARY, EXPENSIVE SOLUTION?
Anyone who understands the law and bothers to crunch the numbers will quickly realize red-light cameras are not the local government money-grabbing venture some claim them to be.
For starters, any money generated from fines that exceeds the cost of the cameras does not stay in the host municipality. By law, that money goes into a statewide competitive grant fund for traffic safety projects.
The bigger issue, however, is whether the cameras can even pay for themselves beyond major urban areas.
Abington Township is about to find out as the first community in Pennsylvania outside Philadelphia to move forward with red-light cameras, which snap a photograph of the rear of a vehicle that has entered an intersection after the light turns red. If a violation is verified, the owner of the vehicle gets a $100 ticket in the mail.
Abington plans to install 10 cameras at three of the township's busiest intersections by the end of the year. The cameras cost $4,200 a month; $504,000 for all 10 cameras for the township's one-year trial program. To break even, 5,040 vehicles will have to be ticketed. AAA Mid-Atlantic found that's over 300 tickets more than the number handed out last year at Philadelphia's notorious Roosevelt Boulevard-Grant Avenue intersection. AAA spokeswoman Jenny Robinson didn't sound too sure Abington's cameras are going to be that busy.
The good news is the township won't get stuck footing the bill if the cameras fail to generate sufficient revenue to pay for themselves. But low revenues would strongly suggest the cameras aren't needed at all, or that they are an expensive solution to a problem that could be addressed in more conventional ways. Officials maintain the purpose of the cameras is to enhance traffic safety. Yet the verdict is still out on how effective red-light cameras are in that regard, even though they are found in over 500 communities around the country.
At the same time, they've been banned in nine states, and other states that have them have debated whether to get rid of them.
They do get a lot of action in Philadelphia, where fines total about $60 million since the program's inception in 2005.
Abington isn't the city, and besides local township officials, Pittsburgh and 11 other suburbs in Montgomery, Bucks and Delaware counties where red-light cameras are permitted will be watching to see whether Abington's program makes for safer roads and can sustain itself—or whether the cameras prove beneficial only to the companies that sell them.
— The (Doylestown) Intelligencer
UNION DUES: ENOUGH!
In Pennsylvania, where anti-union teachers and like-minded state employees nevertheless must pay their so-called "fair share," union dues are regarded as sacrosanct. So much so that the state facilitates their collection from government employees' paychecks.
Adding further insult to pre-existing injury, rank-and-file members have no say in their unions' political agenda, the funding of which in Pennsylvania is significant.
In 2012 that sum amounted to nearly $5 million spent by the state's primary government unions, writes Bob Dick for the Commonwealth Foundation. The Pennsylvania State Education Association alone doled out more than $3 million from dues for lobbying and political action.
Among some of the big-ticket items was $1 million reportedly spent in advertising against liquor privatization by the United Food and Commercial Workers. And, rest assured, the "message" was received: The Legislature, despite GOP majorities in the House and Senate, has stalled and otherwise diluted bills for full liquor privatization.
This, when survey after survey shows Pennsylvanians want privatization of the state's Prohibition-era liquor monopoly.
No citizen, regardless of union membership, should be forced to subsidize any cause. Nor should the state be an accomplice to this union thuggery by using public resources to collect union dues.
From this unrelenting nightmare, the state Legislature must awake and end unions' stranglehold.
— Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
FOR SHUSTER, HERO OR ZERO
Depending on where you sit or stand, U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, is either a hero or a zero.
Shuster, whose 9th congressional district includes all of Fayette and parts of Washington and Greene counties, voted Wednesday night in favor of the Continuing Appropriations Resolution, ending the 16-day shutdown of the federal government and avoiding, at least temporarily, the possibility that the government wouldn't be able to borrow money.
Under the bill passed, the government's operations will be financed until Jan. 15, and the nation's' debt limit will be good through the middle of February.
In the meantime, lawmakers from both parties will be meeting to try and reach some long-term budget agreements to keep the crises from happening again.
Shuster's vote won't please the tea party activists in the Republican Party who opposed any kind of deal with President Obama and Senate Democrats unless Obamacare was defunded and fundamental changes were made to the budget.
But his actions had to please moderates in the party who saw the shutdown as a fool's errand with the party standing no chance of forcing Obama to reverse his stand on the Affordable Care Act.
Shuster said he basically didn't agree with the tea party activists on their goals but said he differed with them on their strategy.
"All of us in this party share the same philosophy," said Shuster. "We have to get this debt down.
"We disagreed on the tactics. We couldn't keep fighting a fight we couldn't win," he added. "Defaulting on the government's debt would be reckless and was simply not an option."
Shuster, one of 87 Republicans to vote for the bill, didn't mince words in his assessment of the 144 Republicans in the House of Representatives who voted against the bill.
"You have some members of Congress who wouldn't have voted for anything," said Shuster. "But you had some who knew the bill was going to pass and lacked the courage to vote for it. It was a political vote for them."
He also even harsher in describing the financial backers of the tea party movement, specifically criticizing members of the Heritage Foundation and Club for Growth as "billionaires" who are out of touch with the people of his district.
"I wasn't going to be bullied into doing something irresponsible," said Shuster, adding that if the tea party wants to use his vote against him at the polls next spring, then, "have at it."
All of which is interesting considering that Art Halverson has announced plans to challenge Shuster in the 2014 GOP primary election. He's running as a true conservative, claiming that Shuster is a big spender and connected too much to the establishment in Washington, D.C. In other words, Halverson will be running as a Tea Party candidate.
The race could attract national attention as Shuster, who is chairman of the House Transportation Committee, could be one of the top Republican leaders to be targeted by the tea party.
And local Republicans could be a deciding factor in the race as Fayette County is one of the largest counties in the 9th congressional district, which stretches from outside Harrisburg to outside Carmichaels.
No matter what you think of Shuster, though, you have to give him credit for not playing it safe. It probably would have been easier for him to vote against the resolution and deal with the tea party at a later time.
But instead he choose to draw a line in the sand with them. It's a battle that Shuster's intent on waging and, more importantly, winning.
— (Uniontown) Herald-Standard