Editorials from Around Pennsylvania



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Editorials from around Pennsylvania

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PA. LEADERS' RAISE NOT A MERIT INCREASE

The Issue: Pennsylvania officials will be getting raises aimed at keeping up with the cost of living — boosts in pay that range from $1,300 effective Dec. 1 for rank-and-file lawmakers to $3,000 effective Jan. 1 for Gov. Tom Corbett.

The populist question comes quickly: Why are state officials in Harrisburg getting any kind of raise, given the job they're doing?

Our lawmakers and the Corbett administration have failed to address major issues such as the $50 billion gap between the assets and liabilities in the state's two pension systems, privatizing or at least improving state liquor stores, and finding a way to adequately fund public schools without continuing to shift the burden to local property tax payers.

Yet, thanks to a 1995 law aimed at protecting lawmakers from having to vote for pay raises to keep up with inflation, all state lawmakers, row officers and Cabinet secretaries will be getting 1.6 percent raises.

At $85,356 per year for rank-and-file lawmakers, Pennsylvania's General Assembly pays second best in the nation. California pays $90,526 per lawmaker, but it has a lot fewer of them — a total of 120, compared to 253 in Pennsylvania.

It is somewhat galling that the top leaders in the House and Senate will see their pay jump the most — to $133,247 per year, a raise of $2,100.

This is a particular outrage considering the pension mess. Lawmakers in 2001 passed a 50 percent increase in their own pensions and a 25 percent increase in the pensions of public school teachers and state workers.

They said at the time that historical gains in the stock market — paired with increased contributions by participants in the pension plans — indicated these boosts should not cost taxpayers anything.

When the stock market did not deliver, lawmakers passed bills stretching out the payments for those shortfalls rather than paying the state's share to keep the systems sound.

Act 38 of 2002 capped the state contribution at 1.15 percent and Act 40 of 2003 manipulated the actuarial assumptions to underfund the state's two pension funds by nearly $6 billion.

In 2010, the General Assembly passed a bill that took some reasonable steps toward reform. Among other things, the law: reduced pension benefits for new employees by more than 20 percent; increased the vesting period to 10 years, up from five; and set the stage for increased contributions by the state and local school districts.

Partially because of that final sensible but painful reform, local school districts are feeling the squeeze.

Elanco, for example, saw its pension contribution jump to $3.1 million this year, compared to $350,000 in 2004.

And Hempfield's rose to $10.7 million in 2014, up from $1.5 million a decade earlier.

These costs are directly tied to both the General Assembly's decision to increase pensions and its refusal to pay the bill when its bet on the stock market failed to pay off.

And yet they are being protected against inflation.

Doesn't seem fair somehow, does it?

—LNP

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OUR OPINION: HUNT FOR TROOPER'S ALLEGED KILLER RAISES PRICKLY QUESTIONS ABOUT THE COSTS OF JUSTICE FOR ALL

Now that Eric Frein has been caught and the costs of the manhunt tabulated, it's time to reflect on the resources that went into his capture.

The seven-week pursuit of the alleged state trooper killer cost more than $11 million, according to a financial breakdown released by state police earlier this month. Local, state and federal law-enforcement officers combed the Poconos night and day. Their ranks numbered 1,000 at a time. They deployed snipers, infrared devices and even camera-equipped balloons to find the man suspected of ambushing employees at a police barracks, fatally shooting Cpl. Bryon K. Dickson II and seriously wounding a second state trooper.

Nearly 700 people are murdered in Pennsylvania each year. In some cases, the culprits are apprehended quickly. But other cases linger for months or longer. It's probably safe to assume the resources that went into tracking down and ultimately capturing Frein, without any further violence, wouldn't be used in those cases.

Is that fair?

Is the life of a trooper - who puts on a uniform each workday, potentially risking his or her life to uphold public safety - worth more than a teacher's, a trucker's or anyone else's life? How much would have been appropriate to spend if the suspect remained at large for even longer?

Only weeks ago, a man who worked for the state Department of Transportation was robbed and fatally stabbed in Harrisburg. When local media outlets reported the murder, public comments were quick:

"Hope they spend 1.5 million a week to find them," one man wrote on abc27 News' Facebook page. That comment got dozens of likes.

Another man wrote on PennLive.com's Facebook page: "Why aren't they searching for the killer or killers like we did for Eric Frein? Oh, that's right. He's not a cop, so I guess not as important."

Those commenters' sarcasm taps into a growing number of voices who wonder if the resources pumped into the hunt for Frein were justified. To put it another way, why wouldn't we expend those same resources to find every killer in our state?

What if your loved one was senselessly killed and the murderer remained at large? But because your loved one wasn't a police officer killed in the line of duty, investigators were given only a minimal amount of resources to find that criminal. Is that right? Is that fair?

Perhaps it is.

Or perhaps it isn't, and perhaps this is an example of law-enforcement officers putting a premium on their counterparts' lives. If that's the case, should we as a society willingly accept that?

Even while the hunt for the troopers' assailant unfolded, state Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, proposed a joint Senate committee hearing to be held in the impacted community to consider a range of concerns, from barracks safety assessments, to public notification efforts, to costs incurred by state and local governments. There are lessons to be learned from the Pike County tragedy.

The conversations might make some people uncomfortable, but this high-profile episode in Pennsylvania's history demands a full accounting.

— (Wilkes-Barre) Times Leader.

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END OBAMACARE CHARADE AND FIND BETTER WAYS TO IMPROVE HEALTH CARE

Saving most Americans money on health insurance by repealing the most objectionable sections of the Obamacare law ought to be a priority when the new Congress convenes early next year.

That's right: For most people, it appears repealing Obamacare would lead to lower health insurance costs.

President Barak Obama and his minions have been touting what they claim will be minor increases expected in the cost of insurance through Obamacare next year. Why, they note, it is expected Obamacare policy premiums will go up by "only" 4-6 percent. But according to the White House itself, health care costs increased by only 3.6 percent last year. Some other sources put the percentage even lower. Either way, Obamacare insurance costs will be going up by substantially more than the cost of health care itself.

On Election Day, Obama held a press conference to claim credit for lowering health care cost inflation. He insisted costs for medical treatment have gone down as a result of his law.

It just isn't true. Health care inflation has been dropping steadily since 2003, when it stood at about 7 percent a year. As a matter of fact - again, according to the White House's own numbers - health care inflation has risen since 2011, when it was only about 1 percent annually.

Until Obamacare was enacted, the private sector was well on its way to getting health care costs under control. Now, in part because of Obamacare, the trend has reversed.

Obama said it himself: The election was a referendum on his policies. Most Americans have rejected them - and Congress should do so, too.

The rejection of the health care law becomes even more of an imperative considering the recent surfacing of remarks by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Jonathan Gruber, who was paid $400,000 to formulate much of the law.

He admits that the administration could not detail the real facts of the law and get it passed and was relying on the "stupidity" of the American people to get the legislation through.

Both President Obama and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who famously said "we have to pass the bill to see what's in it," attempted to downplay the professor's involvement, despite his 19 recorded visits to the White House and tapes of them touting him.

Let's end the Obamacare charade and find responsible ways to improve American health care. That starts with repealing the government takeover of the system.

__Williamsport Sun-Gazette.

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