Editorials from around Pennsylvania

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Reefer smartness: A public good

Legalizing, regulating and taxing recreational marijuana would help strained government budgets significantly, a Cato Institute study finds.

Such legalization would bring public policy in line with reality – marijuana causes demonstrably less societal harm than legal alcohol. Ending the criminalization of otherwise law-abiding Americans, it would save state and federal governments $8.7 billion annually in law-enforcement, judicial and incarceration costs while generating another $8.7 billion in tax revenue, according to the study.

State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery County, sponsor of legalization legislation, says Pennsylvania could see benefits of more than $800 million annually – up to $350 million in criminal-justice savings, plus $200 million to $500 million in tax revenue – if it follows the lead of Washington state and Colorado voters and heeds the 58 percent of Americans who now favor legalization.

The Cato study estimates Pennsylvania spends about $190 million annually on arresting, trying and imprisoning marijuana offenders. The ACLU says that cost is $100 million. Even if it doesn’t approach Mr. Leach’s $350 million, the figure represents significant – and needless – spending.

With these powerful savings and revenue incentives among so many other reasons why legalization is the right thing to do, it’s increasingly clear that Gov. Tom Corbett and other opponents are on the wrong side of this issue. It’s time to end counterproductive, failed marijuana prohibition in Pennsylvania and nationwide.

- The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

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State should boost wage to keep pace

The new year brought somewhat better prospects for hundreds of thousands of minimum-wage workers. State legislatures in 13 states, including three of the six bordering Pennsylvania, had authorized minimum-wage increases that kicked in Jan. 1. And another 11 states and the District of Columbia had minimum-wage bills awaiting the return of lawmakers from the holiday recess.

It’s more of the same for 197,000 minimum-wage workers in Pennsylvania, who will continue to be paid the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour, or less for certain jobs, as the minimum rises to $7.95 in Ohio, $8 in New York and $8.25 in New Jersey. Elsewhere in the East, the minimum has risen to $8.70 in Connecticut and $8.73 in Vermont.

Lawmakers in those states and others across the country managed to overcome unconvincing arguments that modest increases in minimum wages, which do little but cover lost ground since the federal minimum wage last was raised in 2009, will diminish employment among the poor, hamstring multibillion-dollar companies and generally adversely affect the economy.

All of the states that have raised the minimum wages have unemployment rates comparable to Pennsylvania’s. The commonwealth has a statistic that distinguishes it in the wrong way from other states, and points to the need to raise the minimum wage.

Nationwide, about 4.7 percent of the workforce is paid the minimum wage, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Pennsylvania, that figure is 5.7 percent, an appalling 21 percent difference that demonstrates how the minimum wage has become prevalent. It no longer is a matter of paying high school kids working part-time in supermarkets or fast-food outlets.

Pennsylvania lawmakers should join the trend to raising the minimum wage, first as a matter of simple economic justice for workers, but also to boost economic activity, demand and overall employment.

- The (Scranton) Times-Tribune

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Schoolchildren are the victims

Last year, a group of parents and educators meeting with the Inquirer Editorial Board voiced concerns about the funding crisis facing the city’s schools, but they had warm words for local elected officials who they said were fighting for schoolchildren.

The group seemed perplexed when their confidence in the politicians was questioned, but perhaps they feel the same skepticism now. Months later, public officials have yet to take the steps necessary to fix the system’s structural deficit – and schoolchildren are suffering as a result.

Inquirer education writer Kristen A. Graham has been detailing the suffering. In articles this week, she reported that the college plans of some of the School District’s best students have been unduly delayed by a lack of high school guidance counselors to help them meet application requirements.

Central High School, by many measures one of the city’s best, has many students planning to attend top-tier colleges. The school once had eight guidance counselors, but now it has only two for its 2,400 students. It takes weeks for students to get an appointment with a counselor for help with an application or letter of recommendation.

The city’s largest high school, Northeast, had 11 counselors for its 3,000 students five years ago, as well as an innovative tracking and outreach program to help students, in particular ninth graders, adjust to an environment that can be overwhelming. Now the school has only two part-time and two full-time counselors, one of whom is responsible for 1,000 students.

The counselor shortage has gotten the attention of State Rep. Brendan Boyle (D., Phila.), who says he is hearing a lot of complaints about it from constituents. His proposed solution is legislation to require all the state’s school districts to maintain a student-counselor ratio of 375-to-1 in elementary schools and 325-to-1 in high schools. Boyle hopes Gov. Corbett’s poor poll numbers in an election year will move him to support the measure, which would require additional state funding to pay for more counselors.

The state should indeed boost its support for public education. Only eight states contribute less to schools, according to the Education Law Center.

But Philadelphia must do more to take care of its own. Mayor Nutter and Council President Darrell Clarke sparred for months over tax changes proposed to provide more money for schools. Their debate suggested they didn’t fully appreciate the gravity of the situation. Upgrading the public schools will mean more in the long run than any other effort to make Philadelphia more attractive to potential residents and businesses.

If local elected officials acknowledged that, they wouldn’t place their hopes in a governor who didn’t show much interest in city schools prior to election season. And they wouldn’t just tinker with taxes. They would take a top-to-bottom look at the city budget, decide which programs and services are not as important as investing in Philadelphia’s schoolchildren, and redirect money accordingly.

- The Philadelphia Inquirer

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Legislature should change animal cruelty law

The Pennsylvania Legislature should change the law that allows people to leave their dogs chained to a stake with only a crude box for shelter during the winter.

Other states have a zero-tolerance policy. Dogs and cats are confiscated if they are found outside and the owners are cited.

In Pennsylvania a person commits cruelty if the animal does not have “access to clean and sanitary shelter which will protect the animal against inclement weather and preserve the animal’s body heat and keep it dry.” The problem with the language is how broad and subjective it is. Only commercial kennels are subject to temperature requirements in Pennsylvania.

Pets have a tough time being outdoors in extreme temperatures. At least one dog has already died from being chained outside in the cold.

If people don’t have the common sense to bring pets inside when it is cold, the Legislature should act to make it illegal.

- The (Somerset) Daily American

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Mayor Peduto / The city’s new leader embraces the future

It’s a good thing Bill Peduto spent months preparing to hit the ground running as mayor of Pittsburgh. He had to start marshaling city forces even before taking the oath Monday as his first big challenge arrived in the form of dangerously cold weather.

After calling on the police bureau to help move homeless people into a Downtown shelter and the Bureau of Animal Care and Control to assist in rescuing strays, Mr. Peduto, 49, made his way to Heinz Hall for his inauguration. It was typical of the hands-on style displayed by the longtime council member from Point Breeze, an approach to government that Pittsburghers deserve after the missing-in-action tenure of his predecessor.

Prior to Monday’s celebratory events, in an exercise both practical and symbolic, Mr. Peduto and his chief aides spent part of Saturday mopping the floors of their offices on the fifth floor of the City-County Building, preparing to move in and amplifying the message of the Peduto campaign – to sweep clean the practices that have damaged the reputation of city government.

Given his promise to focus on rebuilding neighborhoods and bring fundamental changes to all operations, it was appropriate that the inauguration ceremony began with the Pittsburgh CAPA High School Choir singing Fred Rogers’ anthem, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” After swearing to execute his duties as Pittsburgh’s 60th mayor, Mr. Peduto referenced the city’s founding and eras of progress, then turned to a future he said would be achieved through “good faith, square dealing and hard work.”

He reiterated his pledge of accountability through openness; responsibility to face facts, particularly the city’s financial realities; and sustainability, to create a city that will thrive for generations – all qualities that Pittsburgh will need not only to face the 21st century but to thrive in it.

“I can’t wait to get started,” he told the crowd of supporters. All of Pittsburgh can’t wait to see what this promising new mayor, with his optimistic and idealized vision, can deliver.

- The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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