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Editorials from around Pennsylvania

September 25, 2013
Associated Press

RETURNED SCHOLARSHIPS PROMISING SIGN FOR FUTURE

In the wake of the NCAA's harshest sanctions ever levied, the student athletes at Penn State should have suffered the least. In truth, they should have not been punished at all.

Of all of the punitive measures imposed on Penn State following the Sandusky child sex abuse case, the removal of scholarships was the most unjust. Certainly, some of the other draconian measures taken are highly debatable, as well. We are a university of great pride, both in our academics and in our football program.

Late former head football coach Joe Paterno was widely known for his emphasis on the student athlete — his players were students first, athletes second. Current head football coach Bill O'Brien has upheld this standard, but with a deck decidedly stacked against him. With fewer scholarships to offer to students and recruits, the idea of drawing good athletes who will contribute academically to Penn State began to fade.

Yesterday (Sept. 24), NCAA President Mark Emmert and Athletics Integrity Monitor George Mitchell announced that due to Penn State's progress in ensuring athletic integrity, Penn State football scholarships will gradually be restored.

By 2016, the amount of scholarships given to Penn State will total 85 — the amount that was available pre-sanctions. When the NCAA sanctions snatched away valuable scholarships from Penn State's football program, the ones who suffered most were the students and would-be students.

A rundown of the sanctions is still, after all this time, unpleasant. Vacating years worth of wins was rough, but those who were present for the games know the final scores. To have wins taken away from Penn State stings, but is more theoretical than concrete, and our hurt pride will heal. A win is a win, but winning isn't everything.

Fining Penn State millions of dollars and preventing the football program from post-season eligibility was also difficult to stomach. However, knowing that the money lost would be distributed to organizations that work to actively prevent child abuse was a silver lining.

If Penn State is going to be nailed with fines, at least they're headed to a worthy cause — a cause that has become a huge part of Penn State "culture" in the last two years.

But to take away scholarships is to insult the very foundation on which Penn State prides its image — a school where students are offered an excellent education and are able to compete and grow in their own areas of interest. Our football program has been the touchstone of that ideal for decades. Scholarships — by their very definition — are awarded to students intending scholarly pursuit.

The return of these scholarships to Penn State is a long time coming, but a sign that things look bright on the horizon. In his discussion of the removal of some sanctions, Bill O'Brien indicated that he believes those working toward noble ends and seeking to improve themselves are rewarded.

The return of scholarships is not just about future football recruit prospects or the chance that the Nittany Lions will again roar with the nation's best freshman players. This is not, and has never been, solely about football.

The rightful return of scholarships is a reminder to hold steadfastly to the idea of the student athlete, and the idea of student education taking precedence, in general. Penn State is fiercely proud of its football team — especially those who have stood beside this university when the outside world told them all to run.

We are even more proud of our academic athletes, and the scholarly standard on which we pride ourselves. Of all the sanctions levied, the removal of scholarships was the most unjust. And as for the NCAA's suggestion that further sanctions may be mitigated if Penn State were to "stay the course" in its improvements, we are confident that such an incentive is not necessary.

We as a university are committed to moving forward with integrity, regardless of what the NCAA has to say about it. We'll keep improving with or without the prize of a post-season being dangled in our face.

We don't need the NCAA to tell us how to build a better Penn State — but hey, we'll still take back our scholarships.

— The (Penn State) Daily Collegian

CORBETT KEEPING UP FIGHT TO PRIVATIZE LOTTERY MANAGEMENT

Gov. Tom Corbett is not giving up his fight to privatize management of the Pennsylvania Lottery.

Corbett has extended the life of the bid from a private firm to take over Lottery management until Oct. 29.

Camelot Global Services is the bidder seeking to manage the $3.7 billion Pennsylvania Lottery.

Corbett began seeking to privatize the Lottery management early in 2012 and Camelot was the lone bidder, but state Attorney General Kathleen Kane rejected the proposed contract with Camelot in February.

The attorney general said state law did not allow the governor to privatize lottery management or sanction the expansion of gambling the contract would permit.

Since then, the Corbett administration has been trying to rewrite its agreement with Camelot over Kane's objections rather than seeking to change the law through the state Legislature, where the privatization proposal has met resistance.

We are continually amazed at how much resistance these moves to privatize management of gambling and liquor attract when such things never should have been part of government operations in the first place.

By the way, the agreement with Camelot is for 20 years, with a guarantee of at least $34 billion in profit to the state.

Anybody can see how bad that would be for the state, right?

— Williamsport Sun-Gazette

STATE'S WILDLIFE A SPECIAL INTEREST, TOO

Some state lawmakers dutifully have introduced a bill to gut the state's Endangered Species Act to better suit the natural gas industry and other narrow interests.

The state law is distinct from the more widely known federal Endangered Species Act. It protects wildlife that is endangered regionally rather than nationally, such as the black-crowned heron, and provides for state management of some endangered species covered by the federal law. There are 88 species on the current state list.

Two state agencies, the Fish & Boat Commission and Game Commission, administer the state law based on science. They are the only state agencies that employ wildlife biologists.

Development interests have lobbied lawmakers for a way around the state law, which industry-friendly lawmakers plan to provide by submitting ESA findings to the Regulatory Review Commission. Rather than scientists and wildlife experts, political appointees would make the call.

The initiative has been couched in terms of simply creating more transparency, but the law includes a back-handed measure to gut the list. It requires a complete review of every listed species within two years. John Arway, executive director of the Fish and Boat Commission, told lawmakers last month that the time frame would be impossible to meet and would guarantee that at least some species would go unprotected.

The law works in the public interest. Lawmakers should abandon the effort to tailor it to narrow interests.

— Standard-Speaker

TIME TO OVERHAUL SENTENCING GUIDELINES

It appears a bit strange to be in complete agreement with Rand Paul, but the conservative senator from Kentucky is right to call for a sweeping overhaul of federal sentencing guidelines, saying they disproportionately affect minorities.

"There is no justice here," said the libertarian and potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate. "It is wrong and needs to change."

Paul pushed for sentencing overhaul at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

Paul told his Senate colleagues of several cases he learned about where mandatory minimums had resulted in a miscarriage of justice.

He said one man, Edward Clay, was arrested with less than two ounces of cocaine yet even as a first-time offender, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison because of mandatory sentencing guidelines.

"Each case should be judged on its own merits," Paul said. "Mandatory minimums prevent this from happening."

Paul is echoing many of the views of Michelle Alexander, law professor at Ohio State University and author of the bestselling book, "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness" and others when he described the effects of mandatory minimum sentences, "you might think I was talking about Jim Crow laws. The war on drugs is disproportionately affecting Black males."

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are more than 218,000 federal prisoners, a number that grown from about 25,000 federal prisoners in the 1980s, when many mandatory penalties were put in place.

Fortunately there is growing support for sentencing overhaul

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is expanding the Justice Department's new policy to not pursue mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses and other nonviolent crimes.

Holder said: "By reserving the most severe prison terms for serious, high-level, or violent drug traffickers or kingpins, we can better enhance public safety. We can increase our focus on proven strategies for deterrence and rehabilitation. And we can do so while making our expenditures smarter and more productive."

Holder has called for expanding the use of "compassionate release" of those incarcerated who "pose no threat to the public," and said the Justice Department is taking steps to identify practices for enhancing the use of drug treatment and community service programs as alternatives to jail.

Increasingly prominent Republican lawmakers are seeking a change in policy because it could save money by reducing the prison population, and it fits into conservative efforts to curb the federal government's size and budget.

There are other signs of bipartisan support for sentencing reform.

Paul has drafted legislation with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, Democratic senator from Vermont, to give judges wider latitude to craft their own sentences as one way to relieve overcrowding and bring the exploding costs of running prisons. The committee is looking at bills and another that focuses on waiving mandatory minimum prison terms in some drug cases.

This week's hearing should be the first step toward sentencing overhaul legislation.

— The Philadelphia Tribune

KOZs — AND THEIR EXTENSIONS — WRE RIGHT TO BE VOTED DOWN

Keystone Opportunity Zones, or KOZs, provide tax-free land for businesses to build or relocate. They are typically located in industrial areas and use the promise of tax-free status to lure jobs to an area. The program, modeled after a similar effort in Michigan, came to Pa. in 1998.

The tax-free status is typically set for a finite number of years, with an option to extend that status, provided the taxing bodies all approve the extension.

Milton Area School District's board voted down an extension of KOZ land on Tuesday.

Kudos to the board.

KOZs sound good, but dig a little deeper and questions abound.

Why "reward" a new business, or an existing business that may just relocate from a neighboring region when you have tax-paying businesses in an area that have never benefited from any sort of tax-free promise?

Why is it fair to "reward" a business that could very well just be playing the system while other business and industries may have been anchored in communities for decades, even more than a century?

Sure there are legitimate businesses that relocate for good reason. There are also businesses that have been in existence for generations that have provided quality jobs, good salaries and much-needed income to local taxing bodies. It is taxes that pave your streets, educate your students and provide police protection, court services and jails for your imprisoned.

Why we want to "reward" a business by providing tax-free status is beyond me.

Dig even deeper into the KOZ Program and you find that the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, a joint committee of the Pa. General Assembly, performed an extensive evaluation — at the request of the House — of the program in June 2009.

Among the findings — there were plenty in the nearly 200-page report — "job creation and retention figures attributed to the KOZ Program are not adequately documented and appear to be substantially overstated."

Overstated is a word that appears rather often in this report as we see with another point made: "The amounts of capital investment reportedly generated by the KOZ Program are also not supportable and appear to be overstated."

Want more?

"Other data deficiencies contribute to a general lack of accountability and transparency in the KOZ Program."

Accountability and transparency is something we expect from government, right? Why not the KOZ Program? Someone has to pick up the tax tab, right? That's you and me folks.

How about this? "While individual 'success stories' clearly exist in the KOZ Program, much of the program's available acreage has not been developed and many program participants are not creating jobs or generating capital investment.

"After about 10 years of program operation, most (about 70 percent) approved KOZ acreage statewide has not yet been developed."

Wow. Let me say that again. Wow!

Perhaps that's the reason the school board saw fit to vote against the extension. If the board saw benefit of the program, it would enthusiastically embrace it. Besides, which taxing body would so convincingly (the vote was 6-2) vote against bringing jobs to an area? Perhaps one that hasn't seen jobs come to the area.

Glancing at the map of the KOZ acreage outlined in the report showed that the central region, of which Milton was part of, 81.5 percent went undeveloped as of the June 2009 report. Only the northcentral portion ranked higher at 86.2 percent.

Still, there's more from the KOZ report.

"Many KOZ participants and their associated KOZ projects provide little, if any, job creation or capital investment in return for the KOZ tax exemptions/abatement benefits they receive."

Striking is the report's bluntness in addressing issues with the KOZ Program as a whole. See, there are tax benefits for businesses and industries already: Tax credits, incentives, grants and breaks. The KOZ, however, leaves too many doors open.

"Unlike certain other types of economic development assistance that are dependent upon the merits of a specific project or proposal or which require a grant agreement, all a business or individual needs to do qualify for KOZ benefits is to own or lease property in a zone and be in compliance with state and local tax provisions. A qualified business is not required to address any of the economic-distress criteria that were a reason for the geographic region being made eligible for KOZ status."

The kicker for me was the following little nugget, "In short, a qualified business or property owner may receive full tax credits and exemptions while not creating a single job or making any capital investment in the zone."

The KOZ Program sounds like corporate welfare to me.

— Milton Standard-Journal

 
 

 

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