Editorials from around Pennsylvania

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SAFE BET: CORBETT LETS A BAD DEAL ON THE STATE LOTTERY DIE

Now that the Corbett administration has scrapped the questionable deal it made for a British firm to run the Pennsylvania Lottery, the state has a chance to improve the odds for success without overplaying its hand.

Early this year, the administration made a 20-year private management agreement with Camelot Global Services, hoping that the firm could bring in more than $34 billion in profits, in part by introducing online ticket sales and the game keno. In February, though, state Attorney General Kathleen Kane halted its implementation, saying – correctly in our view – that the deal amounted to an illegal expansion of legalized gambling.

After several extensions, the administration and Camelot on Monday announced that the bid will be allowed to expire. Now Pennsylvania has several options for getting this right.

It can pursue privatization again. We have no objection to the state hiring a for-profit firm to run the lottery but, like Kane, we don’t think it should incorporate a broad expansion of gambling without a public debate and the consent of the Legislature.

The other option is for Pennsylvania to devise ways to bring in more revenue from lottery games to benefit senior citizens, again without online gaming or other intrusive means.

The state already expanded legalized gambling once this year by allowing taverns to offer raffles, daily drawings and other games that had been off limits for them but possible at fraternal and social clubs. When it comes to gambling, it’s easy to make a bad bet.

- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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CUTTING JOBLESS AID WILL BE COSTLY

If some of your neighbors don’t seem too happy about the new year, it could be because Congress decided to go home and party without extending unemployment benefits.

After patting itself on the back for barely passing a budget deal, Congress left 1.3 million long-term-unemployed Americans without any obvious means of support. Lawmakers didn’t include an extension of unemployment benefits in the budget deal, so the program expired on Saturday.

In addition to the current beneficiaries, an extension would have helped another 850,000 people who are expected to have been out of work for more than six months as of March.

The federal aid serves as a backup for people who have exhausted their state benefits, which typically last six months. The program has been extended regularly since 2008, when it was instituted to help victims of the recession and heightened unemployment that followed the financial collapse. The recipients are people who are trying to keep their lives together as they look for work, which they are required to do to continue receiving benefits.

The money shores up families and communities throughout the country. To demonstrate that, the Democratic staff of the House Ways and Means Committee broke down the county-by-county effect of ending extended assistance in Pennsylvania, where 73,000 people lost benefits. They included 11,910 people cut off in Philadelphia. In Montgomery County, 3,650 were out of luck. So were 3,020 in Delaware County, 3,010 in Bucks, and 1,630 in Chester.

New Jersey officials estimate that 79,000 lost benefits in that state. In Camden County, 4,620 lost out; in Burlington County, 3,580; and in Gloucester, 2,280.

Even though national employment looked better last month, it hasn’t improved enough to scrap this program. At a national unemployment rate of 7 percent – with New Jersey at 7.8 percent and Pennsylvania at 7.3 percent – too many Americans still don’t have jobs. Consider that long-term benefits were extended for the first time when unemployment hit just 5.6 percent.

It’s particularly disconcerting that the number of long-term jobless who are still looking for work continues to increase, having reached 2.3 percent of the workforce. Many of these people could fall into poverty. Helping them out of the pit at that point would be far more expensive than extending their unemployment assistance now. In the eight downturns since 1958, long-term unemployment benefits haven’t been cut until that figure dipped below 1.3 percent.

The premature discontinuation of these benefits threatens the economy as well as families. Benefit checks are quickly spent on necessities like rent and food, fueling economic activity. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the loss of this $25 billion program could kill another 310,000 jobs.

The best news for the long-term unemployed may be that the House is up for election in 2014. Voters would be wise to ask the lawmakers trying to hold on to their jobs what they plan to do for those who have lost theirs in this difficult economy. The answer should guide people’s choices in the new year.

- The Philadelphia Inquirer

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A WIN FOR THE LITTLE GUYS: SUPREME COURT RULING ON DRILLING AIDS TOWNS

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck a blow for community rights earlier this month by overruling key provisions of the law regulating natural gas drilling in the state.

In its 4-2 decision, the court determined that Act 13 unconstitutionally stripped local governments of the right to regulate where drilling could take place within the municipality’s boundaries.

The sweeping act, which passed the Legislature in 2012 with Gov. Tom Corbett’s approval, was pushed by the natural gas industry which had complained that the myriad of zoning laws hampered production. Under Act 13, wells and pipelines were permitted in every zoning district, including residential areas.

Local municipalities argued, however, that they should have jurisdiction as to where natural gas drilling could take place in their communities.

Indeed, Robinson Township supervisors, who initiated the lawsuit, contended their ordinances were designed not to discourage drilling, but to protect the public.

The court agreed, noting that Act 13 reduced local municipal rights to a “pro forma accommodation” for drillers. Such a law, “regarding land use, zoning and enjoyment of property is unprecedented,” wrote the majority.

It is important to note that, because of litigation, Act 13 had not yet taken effect.

But it is clear from the court’s decision that Act 13 conflicted with the 1971 Environmental Rights Amendment that gave Pennsylvanians the right to “clean air, pure water and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.”

The 1971 environmental rights amendment was designed to prevent further degradation of the natural resources of the commonwealth that had been plundered by coal and lumber interests and for which Pennsylvanians are still paying via land and stream reclamation.

Furthermore, the court removed a section of Act 13 that denied physicians the right to advise patients about the health effects of nearby drilling.

That the Legislature would even consider such a gag order is absurd.

The ruling does not end drilling in Pennsylvania. In fact, the rules by which the industry currently abides remain in place.

But it does give local municipalities the right to determine where wells and pipelines are permitted based on local zoning.

The Marcellus shale gas offers great benefits for the people of Pennsylvania. But drillers have an obligation to follow the rules, not rewrite them.

- Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era

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BALANCING SECURITY AND ACCESS: KEEPING THE CAPITOL SAFE, BUT OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

When they were put in place in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks a decade ago, the array of security measures intended to protect the state Capitol from a terrorist attack were intrusive and jarring.

Passing through a metal detector to enter the People’s House? Unthinkable. No longer being allowed to drive up to the building’s front door on snowy days? Heresy.

It’s testament to how much our psychic landscape has changed in the 12 years since the Twin Towers fell that these security measures are second nature, the price we pay for living in a world infected by terrorism.

Starting next fall, the state Department of General Services will begin the first upgrade to these systems.

The project’s eye-watering $10 million price tag will pay for, among other things, replacing the technology underlying the key card-access system allowing those with Capitol photo ID badges to gain entry into state office buildings at non-public entrances.

Also on tap are plans to step up security measures in state office buildings by adding visitor sign-in stations and relocating offices that draw a lot of visitors to sites outside of secure office buildings.

There is no doubt that, in a world changed by militant extremism, state officials have a compelling interest in ensuring that the governor and lieutenant governor, legislators, and legions of state employees are safe in their workplaces.

They also have a legitimate interest in protecting the hundreds of tourists, many of them schoolchildren, who pass through the building every day to learn how their government functions.

The security measures still sometimes seem excessive. There is no good reason, for instance, that the House and Senate both have their own security forces while well-trained and well-paid Capitol police officers also patrol the building.

And there is no small irony that, even as Capitol-dwellers fortify themselves, an epidemic of gun violence is unfolding barely a half-mile from the building’s front door. If they are capable of finding millions of dollars to protect themselves, then lawmakers should be capable of prying loose money to help Harrisburg clean up its streets.

As the state undertakes these upgrades, officials should keep foremost in mind that, while a workplace, the Capitol and its complex of buildings belongs to the taxpayers and citizens of Pennsylvania.

And, as budget season approaches again, lawmakers and the Corbett administration should look to the city beyond the Capitol walls and find the money to help Harrisburg secure its streets.

- PennLive.com

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