Editorials from around Pennsylvania:
ONLINE GAMBLING IN PENNSYLVANIA?
Coming on the heels of a report noting that total revenue from Pennsylvania slot machines for November was down 1.3 percent from last November, the state Senate last week passed a resolution, calling for a study of gambling in Pennsylvania, including the possibility of legalizing online gambling.
The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee will conduct the study with a report due May 1.
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati called for the study, noting in interviews with Harrisburg reporters that he was concerned about declining revenues at the state's 12 casinos.
Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, said he's particularly worried about revenue from the casinos because they employ 6,000 people and provide nearly $1 billion a year in property tax relief and hundreds of millions more in aid to local governments and economic development programs.
"I'm not an expert on what is cutting edge in the gaming industry, but what I can tell you is we're losing revenue and. we better make sure we step it up," the senator said.
"We can just watch our revenues from (casino) gaming — that we use for property tax abatement — just continue to go down, or we can try to step in and look and see what suggestions can come from other states, can come from gaming operators, can come from consultants on how to maintain or grow those revenues."
New Jersey went live with internet gambling last week, projecting about $150 million in new state revenues.
The question for Pennsylvania lawmakers is whether Internet gaming would take away even more revenues from the casinos or would it bring in a younger audience of people who rarely go to the casinos?
And this all comes on top of Gov. Corbett signing a bill, giving the state's bar and tavern operators the chance to run monthly raffles, daily drawings and other small games of chance in their premises, bringing in a projected $156 million in new state tax revenues.
Scarnati said the state is going to be facing some serious financial problems in the coming year and finding new revenue is going to become very important.
"The bad news is we're facing a one billion dollar structural deficit, and that's not spending one more dollar on public education; that's not spending one more dollar on higher education, or a dollar more for nursing homes and hospitals," Scarnati said. "That's just maintaining the status quo."
Of course, all of this is worrisome, and you can only wonder how long Pennsylvania can tap the state's gamblers for more money.
We've seen the problem firsthand here in Fayette County with news that revenues from the Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin in Wharton Township have been lower than expected since the facility opened last July.
While the casino might not be closing its doors anytime soon, local officials probably won't be seeing the tax revenues the facility was expected to produce.
And it might be a cautionary tale for the state as a whole. If the gambling revenue doesn't add up, what will Pennsylvania lawmakers do?
Certainly, there's nothing wrong with doing a study of gaming in Pennsylvania, and we can only hope that something good will come out of it.
In the end, though, Pennsylvania won't be able to legalize new ways of gambling forever. At some point, Pennsylvanians will have to either start raising taxes or cutting programs.
Given the looming financial challenges ahead, it's probably better that state legislature start dealing with the problem sooner rather than later.
— (Uniontown) Herald-Standard
DOES PENNSYLVANIA DO ENOUGH TO ENSURE ELDERLY DRIVERS ARE SAFE?
When an 84-year-old Southampton Township man with Alzheimers disease drove off to parts unknown Monday, it pointed out the challenge families can face when it's time for a senior citizen to give up driving.
Pennsylvania law offers some help on that score. Doctors are required to report patients who have conditions that compromise their ability to drive safely.
So when mom or dad is suffering from dementia or any other condition that makes driving dangerous, family members should arrange a medical exam.
If mom or dad resists going to the doctor, the family can file a report through the same channels. (The number is 717-787-9662. Providing the driver's license number or birthdate and hometown is helpful.)
Other states have more rigorous requirements.
When PennDOT gets a report, there's no guarantee it will yank the license, but it will do further checking. The agency may cancel the license or impose restrictions, such as no night driving. As Mr. Young's case suggests, anyone with a confirmed case of Alzheimers or dementia should not be driving.
Pennsylvanians might wonder why there isn't mandatory re-testing of older drivers' skills, starting, say at age 75 or 80.
The answer: It's generally considered an unnecessary burden on capable older drivers, as well as being expensive for whatever safety benefit it produces. Oh, and politicians are reluctant to upset senior citizens, because they vote.
Instead, Pennsylvania conducts random checks on a sample of drivers older than 45. Each of the 1,900 drivers flagged each month has to undergo a vision exam and physical exam. Those with risky conditions may have to take a driver's test.
Other states have more rigorous requirements. Some require elderly drivers to renew in-person, not by mail. Others require vision checks upon renewal, since failing vision is the most common risk factor for elderly drivers. Nevada and Maryland require older drivers to supply medical information for renewing licenses. Illinois and New Hampshire require renewing drivers older than 75 to take a road test.
Here in Pennsylvania, with such a high percentage of senior citizens, a consultant's report in 2010 shied away from recommending any stronger rules for older drivers.
It made a series of minor suggestions, including a pilot program asking some older drivers to complete a medical checklist like that used in Maryland.
There were no reports that the wandering Mr. Young, who was found safe in West Virginia Tuesday, had injured or damaged any bystanders. That certainly was a happy outcome. In 2012, Pennsylvania saw more than 18,000 crashes involving a driver over age 65, including 276 fatalities.
In general, the crash rate for elderly drivers is not disproportionately high when considering population, but their rate is probably higher if considered by miles driven, since older residents tend to drive less.
With such a high proportion of senior citizens in Pennsylvania, the legislature is not very likely to tighten renewal rules for elderly drivers. So it will remain harder for a non-driving senior citizen to get a voter ID than it is for a potentially incompetent older driver to get a license renewed.
That is perplexing, because no elderly voter ever killed anyone by casting a ballot.
SUDDEN SNOWFALL TURNS DRIVERS INTO IDIOTS
Spring in December seemed to have sprung last Saturday when the sun was shining and the mercury rose above 40 degrees. The prediction of freezing rain for Sunday appeared way off the mark.
On Sunday, Delaware County and the greater Philadelphia area were walloped with 6 inches of snow, in the matter of a few hours. Christmas shoppers who left their cars clean and dry in parking lots emerged to find them buried in the white stuff which appeared to have been dumped from the sky.
Even the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation was taken by surprise, despite having sprayed roadways with brine Sunday morning to counteract the expected freezing rain.
"If we had known it was going to be this severe, we would have had our full call-out done before it started," said PennDOT Assistant Press Secretary Gene Blaum.
Four hundred and fifteen trucks were plowing out the roadways in the Delaware Valley by late Sunday afternoon.
But that didn't stop fender-benders, low-speed collisions and even a fatal crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Downingtown, Chester County, that had a domino effect on more than 50 cars, causing some to overturn. Motorists that skidded off the roadways became stuck in the snow at dangerous high-traffic intersections. The combination of the unexpected snowfall with holiday shoppers created massive delays throughout the region.
Weather-related accidents on the Delaware Memorial and the George C. Platt bridges caused both spanners to be closed at one point Sunday. It was just pure luck the Platt was reopened in time to accommodate the additional crush of traffic created by home-going Philadelphia Eagles football fans.
Predictions were more accurate for Tuesday when, after a relatively mild Monday, the snow returned. This time highway crews were prepared for the 3 to 6 inches of wintery precipitation.
Whether motorists are taken by surprise or not, they should always be prepared for risky road conditions in the winter months. Sometimes the least apparent hazards can cause the greatest damage as can happen with very transparent but treacherous "black ice."
There are some basic precautions drivers should take at this time of year such as keeping their gas tanks and windshield washing fluid reservoirs full, their tires properly inflated, their engines tuned and their batteries, belts, hoses and radiators in working order.
They should equip their vehicles with ice scrapers or snow brushes, de-icer sprays, bags of salt or sand, flashlights, battery jumper cables, paper towels, blankets, warning devices such as flares or flags and, if they don't have snow tires, tire chains.
Once behind the wheel in inclement weather they should fasten their seatbelts, reduce their speed, keep their headlights on, maintain at least twice the normal following distance to prevent rear-end collisions and maintain at least six car-lengths behind snow plows that should not be passed because their plow blades are wider than the trucks. They should be extra-cautious on bridges and elevated ramps because they freeze before regular road surfaces.
Better yet, they should car-pool or take public transportation to lessen traffic if they can't just stay home.
One cowboy in a maroon sports utility vehicle headed into Delaware from Delaware County Sunday around 2 p.m. decided he didn't want to wait in line behind other vehicles inching along Philadelphia Pike and sped pass them on the right through an unplowed lane, only to be halted by another sports utility vehicle that had spun-out and landed in an Evraz steel mill fence. He and the motorists around him were lucky he didn't cause another deadly chain reaction.
If he had continued his reckless driving a block further he may have run over children who were sledding down the hill in front of the steel mill headquarters. It is not unusual for runaway sleds or snowball fights to end up on slippery streets.
Mother Nature may sometimes play tricks on human beings to keep us humble. We shouldn't use the occasion to also prove that we are idiots by driving irresponsibly.
— The Delaware County Daily Times
GRANTS PROTECT OUR CULTURAL HERITAGE
More than three decades have passed since environmental officials first expressed a wish to buy a choice 110 acres in the Tannersville Cranberry Bog. Now, all these years later, the tract will be protected as an integral part of a unique portion of Monroe County's glacial terrain.
State and county open space grants totaling $600,000 will enable The Nature Conservancy to buy and permanently protect the bog acreage that has belonged to the Weiss family. The tract is important because it lies in the center of the preserve, in Pocono Township, and connects two separate sides.
Every year about 4,000 visitors tour the bog on a floating boardwalk. The bog's wetlands, spruce, tamarack and other boreal tree and plant species are typical of Canadian or northern New England forests. This local bog is the southernmost, low-altitude boreal bog in the nation.
But the bog's value goes far beyond its attraction to tourists and scientists. Another of the bog's unique features is its sphagnum moss, which floats like a giant absorbent mattress, soaking up rain, snow melt and runoff from the surrounding area. Consider the speed and extent of commercial and residential growth in the Tannersville-Bartonsville area and you'll realize the importance of this huge, natural sponge, which mitigates flooding.
Bud Cook, the conservancy's northeastern Pennsylvania director, has worked since 1980 with two generations of the Weiss family on adding the acreage to the permanently protected bog. The Weiss' undeveloped land contains extensive wetlands that will complement the 860 acres the conservancy or Pocono Township already own and protect.
The Tannersville bog boasts four plant species considered rare in Pennsylvania, and it's classified as a national natural landmark. The Monroe County Conservation District guides tours throughout the year.
Conservancy officials deserve a tip of the hat for their diligence and perseverance in obtaining this biologically special and ecologically important land. Next time you drive up the busy Route 611 commercial corridor, think about how behind the big-box stores, immediate medical care centers and strip malls lies a remnant of Monroe County's glacial history, permanently protected.
— Pocono Record
SOBERING NEWS ON PENSIONS, BANKRUPTCIES
Today's Right to Know Project theme was pensions for Williamsport policemen.
There were the sobering numbers - the city's minimum obligation to keep the pension fund somewhat solvent has more than doubled from $616,341 in 2008 to $1.4 million this year. There also is the emotional reality - these pensions were earned by people living and working under the terms of their hiring, terms that sometimes include risking their lives to protect the city.
There was an era when police officers nearing retirement could work extra overtime and pad pensions. Between that and the fact that people are living longer, and those officers theoretically will draw their pensions for more years than their predecessors, the inflation would seem out of control. The latest contract slows the runaway pension train by capping pensions for new hires at what a starting officer makes.Hats off to the city and the union for that measure. Police are entitled to the pensions and the city is obligated to meet them. That doesn't change the fact the city's budget is not well-equipped to handle a huge and growing outlay for pensions without sacrificing services to taxpayers.
While the Sun-Gazette's investigation into the pension inflation began months ago, this past week brought sobering news as it relates to retired policemen in Detroit. Detroit is bankrupt and a judge ruled the city can use bankruptcy to cut employee pensions. He ruled the Michigan Constitution does not offer bulletproof protection for employee benefits. We're certain no one managing the City of Williamsport wants that scenario to play out locally. We're just as certain that the city is in a tough budget situation these days.
Pension reform has been talked about in Harrisburg. It's time to make it happen. We hope local lawmakers and others are paying attention to Detroit, Williamsport and other Pennsylvania municipalities and make this issue a top priority in 2014. Beyond that, the lesson has to penny-pinching to avoid bankruptcy brushing against pension obligations to employees.
— Williamsport Sun-Gazette