Editorials from around Pennsylvania:
IT’S UP TO TRUMP TO UNITE REPUBLICANS, May 5
With both Ted Cruz and John Kasich ending their campaigns for the presidency, it now appears certain that Donald Trump will become the Republican Party’s nominee. What seemed far-fetched when the “braggadocious” real estate tycoon announced his candidacy last year has become a reality that threatens to tear apart the GOP.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus is trying to keep that from happening. “You know what, I think something different and something new is probably good for our party,” he said May 4 in an interview with CNN.
But other Republicans have vowed never to support Trump, who outlasted 16 other competitors for the nomination. Conservative blogger Erick Erickson compared Trump’s candidacy to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke’s 1990 campaign for the U.S. Senate. “The Republican Party of Louisiana and nationally drew a line and decided the Republican Party could not support David Duke,” Erickson wrote. “But what about Trump? … Why can we not draw a line here? Why can’t the GOP say this is unacceptable?”
The simple answer is that Trump followed the rules in accumulating enough primary and caucus victories to leave expected contenders like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Chris Christie eating his dust. The Republican Party can’t cavalierly ignore the fact that voters made Trump the sole survivor. Denying him the nomination would invite his supporters to vote for someone else. That could cripple the party forever.
Trump can help prevent that. He can make himself a more attractive candidate by actually doing the hard work it takes to provide more than superficial answers when he is asked about the important issues facing this country. Trump’s insults and sound bites may satisfy some voters desperately seeking an alternative to Washington’s current politics. But they shouldn’t be enough to get him elected president.
Take the “major foreign policy speech” Trump made last week. It was so filled with generalities and misrepresentations that it was scary to think that Trump is this close to becoming America’s commander in chief. For example, he said, “ISIS is making millions and millions of dollars a week selling Libya oil.” Not true, pointed out FactCheck.org. Rather, ISIS has been disrupting oil operations in Libya to deprive the country of revenue.
Both Trump and Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders contend that the North American Free Trade Agreement “has been a total disaster for the United States,” as Trump put it. But the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service reported last year that NAFTA has caused neither great job losses nor large economic gains because trade with Mexico and Canada accounts for a small share of U.S. gross domestic product.
If Trump wants his anticipated coronation as the Republican nominee to go unchallenged, he needs to use the time he has before the party convenes in Cleveland in July to show he’s ready to be president. Calling his opponents liars and crooks may have gotten him to this point. But a president must offer more than criticism. He or she has to offer ideas, based on actual evidence, that have a realistic chance of making life better for more Americans.
_ The Philadelphia Inquirer
GOP CAN’T BLAME IRS FOR TAX PROBLEMS, May 8
Everybody hates the tax man. Well, you’ve got to hate tax cheats even more. And tax evasion is reaching billions a year now, thanks in large part to Republican members of Congress who have gutted the Internal Revenue Service.
Since 2010, the GOP-dominated Congress has slashed the IRS’s funding, costing the agency a whopping 15,000 _ 15,000 _ employees since then. The IRS is currently advertising to hire 700 new workers. But they’ll only slow the ongoing shrinkage, agency Commissioner John Koskinen said.
You might think it’s great to have fewer “tax men” breathing down your neck. But the dearth of workers means longer waiting times for responsible taxpayers who call in with questions, and far less enforcement of the nation’s increasingly complex tax code. The result? Billions in lost revenue owed to Uncle Sam to pay for things like Social Security, roads and bridges. That’s “$4 billion to $5 billion a year in collections we’re not making because we don’t have enough people,” Koskinen said.
Lost corporate taxes are even higher. Senate Finance Committee member Ron Wyden of Oregon estimates the U.S. has lost more than $400 billion over the past 10 years from corporate tax dodgers.
Another problem, of course, is the overly complicated tax code. Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah has called for a thorough revision, but that’s gotten nowhere in our polarized, stalemated Congress. Then there’s the fact that U.S. law doesn’t require disclosure of beneficial ownership of new corporations. Even so-called tax havens like the Cayman Islands require that nowadays. Michigan Sen. Carl Levin says this omission makes it easier to set up an anonymous corporation in the U.S. than it is in traditional tax havens.
But you can’t blame the tax code on the IRS, either. Congress writes the code, complete with loopholes that run for hundreds of pages. And it will take Congress to fix it, by overhauling the complex and unfair tax code and properly funding the agency that collects taxes.
When the tax burden shifts, you, U.S. Taxpayer, foot the bill. It’s hardly fair that dutiful taxpayers carry the freight for unknown numbers of individuals and businesses that aren’t paying.
So next time a Republican elected official gripes that the IRS is not doing its job, just say “You broke it. You fix it.”
_ Pocono Record
A NEW SEVERANCE TAX: DRILLED BY GOV. WOLF, May 6
Among the many casualties of Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed 2016-17 budget would be the state’s struggling natural gas industry, which would get smacked with the highest severance tax rate in the nation.
Based on an analysis by Pennsylvania’s Independent Fiscal Office, the effective rate would be 8.5 percent over the life of a typical Marcellus shale well. That’s “54 percent higher than top gas-producing states _ Texas and Louisiana,” says Marcellus Shale Coalition President David Spigelmyer. And this, when the industry has cut investment and jobs.
A spokesman for Mr. Wolf says the fiscal office presents “an inaccurate picture” of the burden on natural gas producers, which aren’t the only ones getting fracked. Among other IFO findings detailed by the Commonwealth Foundation:
_ For a family earning $50,000, Wolf’s 11 percent personal income tax hike would be a bigger bite than for the same family in high-taxing New Jersey and five neighboring states.
_ For minimum-wage workers, the proposed hourly increase from $7.25 to $10.10 will eliminate an estimated 30,000 job opportunities statewide, directly harming the people it’s intended to help.
Just like Wolf’s previous budget, his latest fiscal blueprint pumps considerably more cash into Harrisburg while stifling private-sector innovators. Instead of a legitimate leg up for the commonwealth, it’s a perilous foot on a banana peel.
_ Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
PENN STATE PRESIDENT’S STANCE A SLAP TO ABUSE VICTIMS, May 11
The fight to preserve whatever remains of Joe Paterno’s reputation has put Penn State and its president in conflict with those who say they were abused by Paterno’s former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky _ and who claim that Paterno knew about allegations as far back as the early 1970s.
A court order made public last week says that an insurance company claimed that “in 1976, a child allegedly reported to PSU’s Head Coach Joseph Paterno that he (the child) was sexually molested by Sandusky.”
That order also says that in 1987 and ’88, other assistant coaches witnessed “inappropriate contact between Sandusky and unidentified children,” and lists “a 1988 case that was supposedly referred to Penn State’s athletic director at the time,” PennLive.com reported.
Penn State is fighting to recoup some of the more than $60 million it has spent settling abuse claims involving Sandusky, who was convicted on 45 counts of child sexual abuse in 2012.
The news out of a Philadelphia court hit even as CNN was reporting that it had interviewed a 60-year-old man who says he was molested by Sandusky in 1971, then reported that incident to Paterno and Penn State, and also came forward in 2011 when widespread allegations against Sandusky broke.
On Sunday, Penn State President Eric Barron used the oft-repeated phrase “rush to judgment” in responding to the latest insinuations that Paterno helped cover up child abuse by Sandusky, his linebackers coach and defensive coordinator.
“I am appalled by the rumor, innuendo and rush to judgment that have accompanied the media stories surrounding these allegations,” Barron said in a letter to the Penn State community. “All too often in our society, people are convicted in the court of public opinion, only to find a different outcome when all the facts are presented.”
Barron added: “The two allegations related to knowledge by Coach Paterno are unsubstantiated and unsupported by any evidence other than a claim by an alleged victim. They date from the 1970s. Coach Paterno is not alive to refute them. His family has denied them.”
Paterno’s family has renounced his involvement in this scandal from the beginning, despite grand jury reports that the longtime coach knew of a Sandusky abuse accusation in the 1990s, and that Paterno had heard of an incident in a locker room from assistant coach Mike McQueary in 2001.
Barron has been more focused on rebuilding Paterno’s legacy than was his predecessor, Rodney Erickson, who had the challenging responsibility of helping the school navigate the effects of the Louis Freeh investigation and harsh NCAA sanctions after Sandusky’s conviction.
Understandably, Barron is determined to see Penn State reclaim the luster it once held in many areas beyond football _ namely educational value and global research.
Standing up for Paterno has put Barron and the university at odds with victims’ rights groups _ and has had the effect of portraying the school and its leader as insensitive to the plight of those who have been abused, choosing a former coach over individuals who experienced the crime of child sexual abuse.
David Clohessy, director of St. Louis-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, released a statement urging Penn State supporters to “show some sensitivity and common sense by ending their loud, reflexive and hurtful backing of a once-popular and powerful coach who, like all of us, was just a man with flaws.”
Clohessy noted that while Barron called the latest news involving Paterno a “character assassination by accusation,” the reports that named Paterno involved sworn testimony in one case and a victim with whom Penn State has already made financial settlement in another.
Indeed, the battle is ultimately about money _ the income at risk for Paterno’s friends and family members, the insurance debate for Penn State and the millions the university brings in because of the popularity of its football program.
We would urge university officials to show greater sympathy for the victims of abuse _ above their concern for Paterno’s name and Penn State’s bottom line.
Penn State does itself no favors by alienating those who are the real victims in this saga.
_ The (Johnstown) Tribune Democrat
CASE EXPOSES CAPITOL FLAWS, May 11
Regardless of whether an FBI sting against state lobbyists and legislators results in more criminal charges, it casts light on the miserable business of government as practiced at the Capitol.
John H. Estey, 53, a longtime practitioner of inside baseball in state government and a one-time chief of staff for former Gov. Ed Rendell, pleaded guilty Tuesday to wire fraud in U.S. District Court, Harrisburg. Mr. Estey had agreed to distribute campaign donations to key lawmakers for legislation furthering the interests of a fictitious company that had been established by the FBI. But Mr. Estey kept $13,000 of the $20,000 intended for the contributions.
Beyond Mr. Estey’s crime, the case is illustrative. The straw company, Textbook Bio Solutions LLC, was promoted by the agents running the sting as being socially conscious. It would recycle textbooks by sending them to developing countries or converting them into fuel pellets.
As first reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer, the agents hired a lobbying firm, Long Nyquist & Associates, which is run by two former aides to Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati. Mr. Scarnati received a $5,000 campaign donation directly from an agent posing as a company executive and another $17,500 from the lobbying firm’s political action committee.
Thus spins the revolving door. Mr. Estey and the Long Nyquist lobbyists left their influential positions in state government and then represented private interests seeking public favor.
The fictitious company wanted a law requiring any textbook recycler to be certified by the state. That would limit competition in favor of the people making the campaign contributions.
As politicians collected those campaign contributions in 2009 and 2010, no one questioned why state certification was necessary for a mundane enterprise. There is no technical magic inherent in collecting and recycling textbooks. Any recycling company could do it.
But obligingly, former state Sen. Raphael Musto of Luzerne County, who died two years ago while awaiting trial on an unrelated corruption charge, introduced a bill requiring state certification for textbook recyclers. Mr. Scarnati co-sponsored the bill, which passed 49-0.
The agents then turned to the House, distributing donations to several representatives.
Clearly, the case shows that the Capitol’s doors are wide open to well-heeled special pleaders. It’s also clear that money-grubbing legislative practice should be shredded like old textbooks.
_ The (Scranton) Times-Tribune