Editorials from around Pennsylvania

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Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

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VOTE DOWN BILL TO KEEP LOTTERY WINNERS SECRET

State Rep. Ted Harhai, D-Westmoreland and Fayette, should find a more productive way to spend his time in Harrisburg than worrying about the privacy of lottery winners.

Harhai has introduced a bill that would allow such winners to remain anonymous.

Even though a handful of states, including Maryland, Ohio and Delaware, allow lottery winners to remain anonymous, except to the governments to which the lucky players must pay taxes on their winnings, Harhai’s measure should be rejected.

Keeping such lottery information part of the public record helps bolster public confidence that the lottery is being operated honestly, especially regarding scratch-off tickets.

There already are players who – rightly or wrongly – believe major-prize instant tickets are being “planted” in certain areas of the commonwealth, such as in and around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh – that the distribution of tickets is not really as random as the Pennsylvania Lottery would want people to believe.

Then there are the players who have questioned how so many people with the same easily recognizable last names – names much less common than Smith and Jones – have, despite the big odds against it, continued to win numerous big instant ticket prizes while they themselves, after thousands of dollars of such ticket purchases, have not been able to buy even one $100 winner.

Mostly, their “wins” have been for the same amount that they paid for their tickets.

There are players who routinely access online the names and places of residence of winners, and some have asked themselves “What’s going on?” after they’ve perused the lists – both in terms of some of the winners’ not-so-common last names turning up repeatedly as well as the parts of the state where the big winners have been concentrated.

Perhaps Harhai never has checked out those lists.

Meanwhile, what motivated him to turn his attention from more important state business to lottery winners’ privacy is a good question.

While a big part of lottery players’ agitation is directed at instant games – players have the opportunity to pick their own numbers in the machine games – there was a night 33 years ago when the Daily Number was rigged.

Although the lottery has implemented tougher safeguards to prevent another fix, the memory of the “Triple Six Fix” remains firmly planted in the minds of lottery players old enough to remember that incident of April 24, 1980, masterminded by then-lottery announcer Nick Perry.

It must be pointed out that there are no current allegations that the Pennsylvania Lottery is being conducted dishonestly. Conincidences happen in many aspects of life.

Nevertheless, it must be presumed that somebody somewhere knows which instant ticket books contain the biggest prizes.

The lottery should routinely issue reminders of the steps taken to ensure that distribution of tickets is indeed random, as well as about what safeguards exist to prevent anyone from divulging the location of winning tickets to anyone.

Harhai should withdraw his proposal and allow the public record to prevail.

That’s the best option for lottery players, lottery winners, the Pennsylvania Lottery itself and the senior citizen services that depend on money derived from the lottery.

When players lose confidence in the lottery and stop playing, everyone loses.

- The Altoona Mirror

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DEAR MISTER OR MADAM FUTURE PRESIDENT

Welcome to Happy Valley! We’re excited to have you here. Admittedly, we’re also a little nervous. But we’re hopeful that you’ll get the hang of things soon. There’s a lot to learn about Penn State and the people that make it great, and we – the students who make up the editorial board at The Daily Collegian – would like to offer a few suggestions, gleaned from our experiences as students at Penn State during a time of change and hope.

First, we need to see you. Be a visible presence on campus. Be approachable, and don’t hesitate to approach students and get to know them. Hold office hours and invite students to talk to you about the reasons they love Penn State, or the reasons they think Penn State needs a change. There is more to the student body than our student leaders, and every student should feel as though their university leader genuinely cares about their best interests.

We want a president who is smart. Educate yourself on important student causes and why students care about those things. Understand that there has been a lack of student and administrator dialogue in the last several years, and we are – as a school – in the process of correcting that. When students demand action, be it on transparency or mental health resources or community building, respond. We need you to be fully on board and dedicate yourself to furthering this very important cause.

Take the time to understand the intricacies of policy and decision-making that have larger ramifications. Employee health care, the commercialization of student resources and who Penn State does business with have much deeper impacts than we might see on the surface. When something seems amiss or students and faculty are up in arms about something happening at the university, listen to and understand us. Go to bat for us at Board of Trustees meetings and stand up for what is right, even if it is against what your bosses might think.

While we would like to see you take genuine interest in our school traditions and community legacy, bring in your outsider’s perspective. Penn State can feel very insular at times, and a dose of real-world reality could do us some good.

Take what you’ve learned in your life experiences and give us ways to change and grow that maybe we haven’t yet thought about. In the same vein, don’t try to build a new university. There are traditions here that are sacred to us, and while some traditions are more valuable than others, be patient as we learn to grow while still staying grounded to our school’s roots.

From day one, commit yourself to upholding the utmost transparency and taking serious responsibility. Accepting the presidency means that the ball is in your court to set the example for the rest of the university. The Board of Trustees may have selected you, but you don’t have to take their lead when it comes to being open with the Penn State community. Set a new standard that transcends what we’re used to. We expect that.

This job is not a resume-builder. Ideally, the person that takes the reins of Penn State is committed for the long haul and will stick around to see that the changes we’ve already started to make in these last two years progress further. We as a school are desperately in need of strong leadership, and we’ll need you to step up to the plate. Take note of what our current president and administrators have done well, and learn from their mistakes.

And probably most importantly, give a damn about Penn State and those who are invested in this community. Genuinely believe that this school is capable of great things. Take the time to understand why we love this school so much, and grow to love it, too. This a community that appreciates authenticity, and if you come into your new role with a true promise to make this school the best is can be, we’ll know if you mean it. Just believe in us. Believe in what the future holds for Penn State. And not just believe, but show us.

While you’ll have to work hard to be the best you can be, we promise that it will be worth it – after all, you’re being given the chance to lead some of the brightest minds and greatest spirits that this world has to offer.

Welcome to Penn State, Mister or Madam President.

We’re happy to have you.

- The (Penn State) Daily Collegian

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SHARE THE ROAD, SHARE THE EXPENSE

Beaten roads and bridges in Luzerne County, and across the state, require upgrades – on that point most everyone can agree.

How to pay for those repairs, however, became a major sticking point in Pennsylvania until the Legislature recently passed a $2.4 billion transportation bill with changes to gas tax collection rates, gradual increases for certain vehicle fees and steeper fines. Gov. Tom Corbett views passage of the bill as a success, suggesting lawmakers deserve kudos for their yes votes rather than the ire of motorists already calculating future fuel bills.

“This is a public safety issue,” he told The Times Leader’s opinion board Friday (Dec. 6).

The governor rightly points out the hypocrisy of expecting smooth rides without paying a price, and there’s plenty for travelers to be encouraged about in the state’s new transit package. But we’ll defer on praise for a General Assembly whose reliability in recent years has more resembled a “beater” than a high-performance Bentley.

A more progressive bunch might have prevented the Keystone State’s vital transportation network from falling into such disrepair in the first place; as it stands, nearly 4,500 out of 25,000 state-owned bridges are deemed to be structurally deficient – more than any other state, according to an Associated Press report. The state’s new transportation blueprint doesn’t call for monumental capital projects – for example, bullet trains from the New York border to Ohio that would elicit wows.

Rather, this spending package tackles lots of deferred maintenance so people like you can get where you’re going more comfortably and securely. Corbett signed the bill last month, saying, “There is barely a spot in Pennsylvania . that will not see an improvement because of this legislation.”

Look down the road for these positive developments:

- In Luzerne County, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation will be able to green light projects such as a bridge replacement on South Main Road in Hanover Township ($17.8 million), resurfacing part of the South Cross-Valley Expressway ($3.4 million) and a 1-mile extension of a road between Interstate 81 and Humboldt Industrial Park in Hazle Township ($20 million). In total, the bill puts PennDOT on track to tackle nearly 50 bridge projects and 70 resurfacing jobs in this county.

- Luzerne County townships, like others statewide, will be able to tend to more miles of dirt and gravel roads, said Corbett, due to a change in an outdated prevailing wage limit.

- The state expects to speed its bridge replacement program by, in some cases, adopting a standard design for small spans; expect to see “batches” of bridges go up quickly, Corbett said. The bill also will put in motion plans for biking and walking routes.

- The state’s infusion of highway cash might enable governments to leverage even more money for road improvements through public-private partnerships, said Corbett, who envisions a decade of construction activity. That work translates into more pleasant commutes and, possibly, more incentives for transportation-reliant business and industry to locate in the commonwealth.

On the flip side, watch for these costs coming down the pike.

- An increased Oil Company Franchise Tax, assessed on wholesalers, will likely be passed on to consumers. If so, an average motorist – traveling 12,000 miles annually in a vehicle that gets 24 mph – can expect to pay another $47.50 at the pump in 2014, according to some estimates.

- Among other changes, the one-time charge for a vanity license plate will nearly quadruple as of April 1, rising to $76. As of the new year, the fine for failing to obey a traffic control device will shoot from $25 to $150. Surcharges for some moving violations, including exceeding the speed limit, will go up by 50 percent. And someone guilty of, say, tampering with a license plate to try to slip past a turnpike booth without paying the toll could face a $3,000 fine.

For Pennsylvania motorists, here’s the take-away message on transportation: If you expect good roads – much like good government – you’ll need to remain attentive to what’s happening and be prepared to take some responsibility. Otherwise, things could turn to shambles.

- Times Leader

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STRANGE MEDICINE: UPMC GOES POLITICAL ON A MEMBER OF THE HOUSE

The latest proof that Pittsburgh’s health care landscape is changing is UPMC’s bare-knuckled treatment of a state representative who co-authored legislation the hospital network doesn’t like.

Rep. Jim Christiana, a Republican from Beaver, has joined with Democratic Rep. Dan Frankel of Squirrel Hill to offer two bills that, among other things, would require integrated health care networks – such as UPMC and Highmark, which offer medical treatment and health insurance – to accept the health plan of any carrier.

This runs counter to UPMC’s corporate strategy, which is to deny in-network access for most Highmark insurance customers at most UPMC facilities. That will happen after 2014, when the UPMC-Highmark contract expires and the region’s largest health care system no longer welcomes (with some exceptions) clients of the region’s largest health insurer.

UPMC has been open about its chosen course since Highmark became a hospital competitor with the newly formed Allegheny Health System. Both health industry giants have informed state officials, purchased newspaper ads and aired television commercials explaining their opposing positions. That’s fair game.

The attack on Mr. Christiana is different. UPMC, a nonprofit “public charity” under state law that solicits donations and enjoys tax exemptions, launched an aggressive, political-style assault on the lawmaker by sending a mailer to thousands of his constituents. UPMC executives claim they are not trying to unseat Mr. Christiana, but the piece has the style and tone of a campaign flier, focusing more on the legislator than on the legislation.

Over a photo of the lawmaker, the mailer says, “If you don’t like what’s going on in Washington, wait until you hear what some state politicians, like Representative Jim Christiana, want to do with your health care.” Actually, what Mr. Christiana and Mr. Frankel “want to do” is keep UPMC care accessible to the same Highmark customers who have it now.

The mailer also asks, why does Mr. Christiana want “to impose a government dictate on Western Pennsylvania’s health care” and “Do we want more government in health care?” Yet UPMC’s professed concern about more government rings hollow, since it did not oppose the Affordable Care Act, a government mandate that will create thousands of new UPMC patients.

Although UPMC executives said they are not playing politics, UPMC did make a choice, a political one in our view, to target the conservative co-sponsor Mr. Christiana, and not the liberal Mr. Frankel. Why? Because, as a UPMC representative said, it wanted to show Mr. Christiana’s constituents that, in UPMC’s view, he had abandoned his conservative principles.

UPMC said its forceful response to Mr. Christiana, whom it accused of working on behalf of Highmark and the Service Employees International Union, is only as tough as their ads against UPMC.

We disagree. It’s one thing for UPMC to speak out in opposing legislation. It’s another thing altogether for the tax-exempt institution to engage in a campaign-style attack.

- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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SOLVE THE SCHOOLS’ SCIENCE PROBLEM

Students in the Midstate – and United States – struggle with science.

We know that. What do we do to fix the problem?

According to the latest academic performance scores released by the state Department of Education (last) week, many Midstate schools fell under the benchmark score when it came to showing proficient or advanced ability in science. Some schools struggled mightily to reach that benchmark, including Big Spring (39.77), Carlisle (37.53) and especially Shippensburg (11.11). Camp Hill Senior High School was the only school in Cumberland and Perry counties to surpass the 70-point benchmark with a score of 77.68 for science.

These results fit right in with the state and national scores.

The 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress showed only about a third of Pennsylvania’s eighth-graders are proficient in science. That same report showed that seven out of 10 students nationwide are not considered proficient in science. Only 2 percent have skills advanced enough to lead to careers in the field.

Our students here and abroad don’t perform well in science, and we must demand better performance from schools and students. The answer lies in the foundation of science, which teaches critical thinking to solve problems. That’s a trait valuable across all professions, not just in labs or scientific domains.

There are challenges. This year’s academic performance scores included science as a new category not previously included in the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA), which was replaced by the Keystone Exam. So schools have every opportunity to be better prepared for the next set of academic performance tests and produce better scores.

But with scores this low, it’s not just about being prepared. The fear here is that the children who truly show an interest or aptitude for science might be overlooked.

It takes more, and we need our area school districts to start solving this problem now.

- The (Carlisle) Sentinel

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