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Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

PAYOUT FOR HOUSE REP. DISGUSTING, Dec. 26

It’s bad enough that $248,000 in Pennsylvania taxpayers’ money funded a sexual-harassment settlement involving a longtime member of the state House of Representatives.

What many state residents might consider worse is that it has taken two years for the payment to see “the light of day.”

Transparency should have ruled regarding the settlement from the day it was paid, not secrecy.

Beyond that, there apparently have been other settlements, for reasons not fully disclosed, for which taxpayers also have doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars since 2007.

Taxpayers have a right to know the details of those “transactions.”

The $248,000 that was paid out in 2015 was on behalf of Democratic Rep. Tom Caltagirone, who has represented the Reading area for four decades. Claims of sexual harassment targeting Caltagirone were filed by an unidentified woman who was described as a legislative assistant in the lawmaker’s district office.

Of the total amount paid in the Caltagirone case, $165,500 went to the woman and $82,500 to her lawyer.

The Philadelphia Inquirer and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette were the first to report on a document tied to the settlement. That document, prepared by the state’s Bureau of Risk and Insurance Management, said House Democrats in 2015 had authorized the payments.

On Dec.19, the Associated Press obtained what was described as a “sovereign immunity-tort claims settlement memorandum and invoice” connected to Caltagirone, bearing the signatures of House Democratic chief counsel Nora Winkelman and the state’s risk and insurance management director.

The form indicated that the woman initially had sought $1.5 million under “a complaint of discrimination, among other things,” under a federal law banning discrimination based on sex, race, color, national origin and religion.

On the basis of what was sought compared with what was paid, the taxpayers got a bargain.

However, the fact that any taxpayers’ money was used for the settlement was an affront to the people of this state.

Then surfaced more cause for taxpayer anger when, late on Dec. 19, House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, revealed that the House Democratic Caucus had agreed to pay out $514,000 since 2007 to settle claims filed by employees.

According to Dermody, two claims alleged sexual harassment by two House members and five involved other types of employment issues.

In an email since the Caltagirone case surfaced, Winkelman acknowledged that she had “submitted (and signed) several requests over the years on behalf of the caucus” for payment from the state Department of General Services under the commonwealth’s self-insured liability insurance plan in which the House participates.

Considering the many sexual harassment allegations that have surfaced on the federal government level and in the entertainment industry — and the public disgust that those incidents has spawned — Gov. Tom Wolf had little recourse but to call for Caltagirone’s resignation.

Indeed, Caltagirone should resign for the blot he has inflicted, not only on himself but on the House — and on state government in general.

An apology isn’t enough.

Hopefully, there won’t have to be any more payments. But if there ever are, they should be reported to the public immediately, along with the name of the person or persons whose alleged wrongdoing made those payments necessary.

No more two-year information “blackouts.”

__ The Altoona Mirror

__ Online: http://bit.ly/2pIWZu7

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PARTISON HARPING OVER CHIP PROGRAM IS SHAMEFUL, Dec. 24

Of all the bargaining chips called into play by congressional Republicans and Democrats over budget differences, the worst and most inexcusable is health coverage for kids. The all-but-depleted Children’s Health Insurance Program was brought back from insolvency Thursday, when the House and Senate passed a short-term budget resolution to keep the government operating, and keep CHIP going for two or three more months.

Why the stop-gap fix? Why not a five-year reauthorization?

CHIP is the rare federal health program that enjoys bipartisan support in Congress. It provides assistance — doctor’s appointments, immunizations, care for life-threatening illnesses — for children whose parents make too much to qualify for Medicaid, yet can’t afford private insurance. Working families trying to survive.

In Pennsylvania, a family of four earning up to $51,000 can get free CHIP coverage for kids. A four-member family making up to $77,244 is eligible for partially subsidized insurance.

The program covers almost 9 million children — about 180,000 in Pennsylvania — as well as prenatal care for 370,000 women nationally. Pennsylvania is one of a handful of states on CHIP life-support, plugging on only because Congress has allowed them to tap unused funds earmarked for other states.

Authorization for CHIP funding ran out Sept. 30. Congress’ continuing budget solution, approved last week in time for members to get home for the holidays, frees up $2.85 billion for three more months. Even with the extension, some states could see their CHIP funding run dry before then.

The goal is a five-year authorization, with a reliable funding source. The callousness of congressional Republicans and President Trump slashing tax rates for corporations and the wealthy, while tossing a few scraps to the poor and middle class, is doubly disrespectful to families uncertain of continued CHIP coverage.

Democrats and Republicans have differences over funding for CHIP, even as they agree on the need for it. The GOP isn’t about to approve a stable financing source unless it can extract more blood from Affordable Care Act programs. Democrats won’t go along with that.

The Republican-controlled House did pass a five-year reauthorization in November, along with two years of funding for community health centers. The bill contained bitter medicine for Democrats, wiping out an Affordable Care Act disease prevention fund that provides $1 billion a year to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bill is unlikely to gain traction in the Senate, where Republicans have to muster 60 votes for passage.

Democrats and Republicans will always disagree on budgets, but the rationalizations must cease when it comes to health care for working-class kids and their siblings-to-be in the womb.

If millionaires are deserving of huge tax cuts, people on the other end deserve some help to keep their kids healthy. Majority Republicans will live with this shame and the consequences if they can’t find common ground for a long-term CHIP fix, as the calendar flips to 2018.

__ Easton Express Times

__ Online: http://bit.ly/2Dn1Bbj

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PULL BATTERED U.N. PEACEKEEPERS FROM THE CONGO, Dec. 26

The killing in the Democratic Republic of Congo earlier this month of 15 Tanzanian United Nations peacekeepers by members of a rebel militia should serve as one more indicator that it is time for the world to give up trying to create order in that country.

There are estimated to be some 16,000 U.N. peacekeeping forces in the DRC. The killing of 15 of them and five Congolese soldiers stationed in the eastern part of the country, just trying to keep the lid on, prompted a horrified reaction from the rest of the world. Congolese and foreign militias in the DRC, formerly Zaire, have been killing people who were there to try to enforce peace and security since independence in 1960.

The political context within which the killing of the peacekeepers occurred this time is a reflection of the usual melee prevailing in that country. President Joseph Kabila completed two constitutional terms in 2016. He is now seeking to delay required presidential elections.

He came to power when his father, Laurent Kabila, who with Rwandan help overthrew 32-year dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997, was assassinated. Joseph Kabila succeeded his father, without elections, in 2001.

He won what appears to have been reasonably fair elections in 2006 and 2011. Now he is dragging his feet. His first argument was that the DRC should have a census before a vote was held. Now he is relying on a claim that preparations for a proper election will take until at least mid-2019. There are those who would argue that due to the fact that the country is a total shambles in terms of government and infrastructure, it will never be possible to hold real elections, or, at least, without a colossal expenditure of foreign money and logistical assistance.

The United States already has effected a reduction in the size of the peacekeeping force by cutting off some of the estimated $1.14 billion a year the mission has required there. The killing of the Tanzanians in Semuliki in North Kivu Dec. 7 should be seen as a reason to pull out the rest. At that point, the DRC may fragment, or the Congolese themselves, numbering some 80 million, may finally realize that they have a reason to organize themselves, establish order and pull the country together, by elections or other means.

All the peacekeeping forces are doing now is ensuring enough stability for foreign interests to continue to extract the country’s mineral wealth, such as copper, cobalt, coltan, diamonds, gold, oil and timber, with the Congo’s elite, led by Mr. Kabila and his family, continuing to take its big cut. That is not at all the purpose of U.N. peacekeeping forces around the world, nor America’s purpose in financing their activities in places like the DRC. As of now, they are wasting time, money and lives, to no useful end.

__ The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

__ Online: http://bit.ly/2pMYlnR

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NET NEUTRALITY BILL FALLS SHORT, Dec. 26

The Federal Communications Commission’s decision to let big internet service providers treat the internet as if they own it created a responsibility for Congress to intervene in the interest of consumers.

Unfortunately, the first effort to do so falls well short.

Recently, the FCC repealed regulations that had established “net neutrality,” which holds that the internet should be easily and equally accessible to all consumers and anyone who wants to post content. Under the FCC’s abandonment of responsibility, access to the internet by creators and access to web content by consumers could be manipulated many ways by the big ISPs to increase their own profit — especially because most of those companies also own or have close relationships with content production companies.

Dec. 19, Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee introduced the Open Internet Preservation Act, which would not achieve the title’s goal even though the bill includes some sound provisions.

The bill would bar ISPs from blocking or slowing internet traffic, which is a needed provision. But other parts of the bill would bar the FCC and state governments from acting to prevent ISPs from manipulating traffic in other ways. And, it would preclude the FCC from treating the ISPs as utilities, which permanently would spare them from most public regulation. And it provides a giant loophole, allowing the ISPs to do what they deem necessary for “reasonable network management,” without defining it.

Congress’ objective should be true net neutrality. It should keep the best provisions of Blackburn’s bill in that regard, but close its loopholes and mandate FCC regulation.

__ The Times-Tribune

__ Online: http://bit.ly/2pN0Iaf

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TIME TO REFORM STATE TAX CODE, Dec. 26

Now that congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump have reduced the federal corporate income tax rate by 40 percent, state lawmakers should take it as a cue to reform the state government’s obsolete tax code.

The tax rate reduction from 35 percent to 21 percent will save corporations about $1 trillion over 10 years.

Meanwhile, Republican majorities in the state Legislature steadfastly refuse to enact two major corporate tax reforms that not only would help the state government resolve its systemic deficit — estimated to be about $1 billion by the close of the current fiscal year June 30 — but more fairly distribute the tax burden.

Pennsylvania has a 9.9 percent corporate tax rate, which companies and politicians alike lament as being burdensome, even though relatively few companies, especially big ones, actually pay that rate.

Lawmakers continue to maintain a tax evasion scheme known as the Delaware loophole. Many large corporations evade tax liability in Pennsylvania, using the loophole to report their income through corporate shells in low-tax or no-tax states such as Delaware.

Lawmakers repeatedly have refused to act on proposals to close that loophole. But now that corporations will be awash in cash due to the 40 percent reduction in federal tax liability, it’s time for legislators to close the state’s door to corporate tax evasion.

The Legislature should reduce the state corporate tax rate by about a third, which would make the state more competitive and provide a break to mostly smaller companies that actually pay the tax. And, it should require what’s called combined reporting by companies that now operate under the Delaware loophole, to ensure that they pay taxes on revenue generated here.

The massive federal tax cut also applies, of course, to companies in the natural gas industry. Barclays, the big investment bank, estimated Thursday that the tax reduction alone will increase by 5 percent the share prices of major gas and oil companies, equivalent to a $1-per-barrel increase in oil prices.

And the bill includes another massive break, allowing drillers to expense 100 percent of their capital costs over five years.

Lawmakers’ excuses for coddling the gas industry always have been bogus. The industry is well-established and profitable. Its markets are growing, with substantial government help.

The federal tax breaks mean there is even less reason for the Legislature not to impose a fair tax on gas extraction. Imposing one finally would end Pennsylvania’s foolish, politically based status as the only gas-drilling state not to have a severance tax.

__ The Citizens’ Voice

__ Online: http://bit.ly/2l5UGws