Editorials from around Pennsylvania:
AFTER ANTONIN SCALIA: THE COMING BATTLE, Feb. 14
The sudden passing of Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, the court’s conservative rock for 30 years, indeed sets the stage for a battle royale between President Barack Obama and the Republican Senate.
Mr. Obama promises to nominate a replacement. The Republican Senate promises to reject any nominee; that person should be chosen by the next president, it claims. Perhaps a persnickety Obama will attempt a recess appointment, the legality of which immediately would be challenged.
Obama has a constitutional right to nominate a replacement. But the Senate, in its constitutional duty of advice and consent, has every right to dissent. We find it implausible that this Senate would hand Obama a victory that would endanger the republic with the kind of liberal jurisprudence that is anathema to the Framers’ intent.
For as Mr. Justice Scalia himself warned nearly 20 years ago:
“If the courts are free to write the Constitution anew” — as a “progressive” majority surely would — “they will, by God, write it the way the majority wants; the appointment and confirmation process will see to that. This, of course, is the end of the Bill of Rights, whose meaning will be committed to the very body it was meant to protect against: the majority.
“By trying to make the Constitution do everything that needs doing from age to age, we shall have cause it to do nothing at all.”
— The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
TURNPIKE MUST CLOSE BEFORE MAJOR STORMS, Feb. 11
While officials with Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission believed keeping the highway open during a blizzard Jan. 22-23 was safer than sending people onto other roadways, that was not the right decision.
The turnpike is a limited access highway. When tractor-trailers jackknifed, about 500 vehicles became stuck on the turnpike and motorists had no where to go. If the traffic had been sent onto other roadways, people would have been able to stop in area motels and emergency shelters.
A report released on Feb. 10 stated that there were a series of accidents that blocked the highway, causing backlogs. The snow started earlier, and it was a more severe storm, than was anticipated. Officials had planned a midnight ban on tractor-trailers, and intended to keep the 550-mile highway system open with reduced speed limits. But by the time the ban was to take hold, it was too late.
Pennsylvania Turnpike officials said Wednesday they will start testing removable median barriers that might prevent such bottlenecks in the future. Removable median barriers are one option, but the question is if equipment could easily be moved in to remove the barriers.
The main issue that must be considered is to close the turnpike, or at least order tractor-trailers off, when a major storm is imminent. To force people to sit on the highway for days is unacceptable. People’s comfort and safety is more important than earning money from tolls.
— (Somerset) Daily American
TOOMEY MUST STOP VOTING, Feb. 17
Republican senators have employed a spectacular bit of sophistry to support their assertion that the next president, rather than President Obama, should name a Supreme Court justice to replace the late Antonin Scalia.
A spokesman for Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, for example, told The Tribune-Review of Pittsburgh that “it makes sense to give the American people a more direct say in this critical decision. The next court appointment should be made by the newly elected president.”
That is a curious view for a conservative senator who, like his colleagues, pledges fealty to the Founders’ original thinking about the government. The reason that the Founders assigned the “advice and consent” confirmation power to the Senate is because senators serve much longer terms than representatives, thus insulating them from the passions of the moment — or, in other words, from the passions aroused by the next election. The Founders wanted cool deliberation rather than the panicked political jockeying now on display by Senate Republicans.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has said that the Senate will not consider any Obama nominee, even though the president has 11 months remaining in his term. Yet, as even Mr. Toomey conceded, the president has the authority to nominate a justice this year.
Mr. Toomey is among 24 Republican senators up for re-election this year. He also is among a subset of that group who won close elections in 2010 in states that Mr. Obama won more easily in 2012. All have said the people should have a say on the lifetime appointment to the court.
Well, the American people did have a say. They elected Mr. Obama twice with the expectation that he would appoint someone to the left of the conservative court majority.
But since the senators seem to think they have the power to determine that the most recent presidential election doesn’t count, what of their own most recent elections?
The senators seeking re-election, like Mr. Obama, are in the last year of their terms. But since they were elected in 2010, their last election was even more distant than Mr. Obama’s easy re-election in 2012.
So if their logic holds, the Republican incumbents seeking re-election will not cast any votes at all for the remainder of their terms to ensure that the people will have a more direct voice in those votes by virtue of the upcoming election.
There is no grand principle behind the Republican senators’ defiance of the public will. It is naked obstruction. Mr. Toomey should desist.
— The (Scranton) Times-Tribune
IT’S ‘GROUNDHOG DAY’ IN HARRISBURG, Feb. 13
Bill Murray’s got nothing on our own Tom Wolf.
Yes, that was the governor in Harrisburg this week starring in his own version of “Groundhog Day.” Forget Punxsutawney Phil. Tom Wolf emerged from his governor’s mansion burrow, saw his shadow, and immediately predicted six more weeks of budget gridlock — at least.
Actually, what the governor did was present his second budget plan.
The first-term Democrat apparently managed to do this with a straight face, seeing as how he has yet to get Republicans in the state House and Senate to agree on his first spending plan for the state. You might remember that in Pennsylvania, state law mandates that the budget be in place July 1. Hey, it’s only seven months late. Remember, this is Harrisburg we’re talking about.
Wolf believes Pennsylvania is facing severe fiscal problems, and he’s not exactly shy about where he places the blame, squarely at the foot of former Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. He used that hammer to sweep into the governor’s mansion as a “different kind of governor.”
Actually, the budget plan he rolled out Tuesday can best be described as more of the same.
If you don’t like tax hikes and more spending, you’re not exactly going to love what the governor has in mind. Consider GOP leaders in both the House and Senate in that camp.
Wolf actually repeated an old Corbett phrase to describe the state’s precarious fiscal challenge, referring to it as a “ticking time bomb.” He wants a lot more revenue to fix the problems. To do that, of course, he will need to raise taxes.
Republicans, coming off four years of on-time, no-tax-hike budgets crafted by Corbett, have turned up their noses at Wolf’s spendthrift ways.
Not surprisingly, they were less than thrilled with Round Two of the Harrisburg budget follies.
The governor again is calling for a hike in the state personal income tax. His plan would dip into the paycheck of every Pennsylvanian, hike the levy from the current 3.07 percent to 3.4 percent, an 11 percent boost. Wolf says the move would raise $1.4 billion.
Wolf again is calling for a new tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas production in the state. This time he’s suggest slapping a 6.5 percent levy, which will no doubt thrill an industry that is having growing pains of its own and is already seeing depressed prices for its products.
While he is not looking for an increase in the 6 percent sales tax, the governor does want to tack it on to a lot more services. He’d eliminate the exemptions for cable TV and movie theater tickets.
Smokers would get burned under the Wolf proposal. They’d pay a whopping dollar a pack more in taxes, from the current $1.60 to $2.60. And he would extend a 40 percent wholesale tax to sale of cigars, loose tobacco, smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes.
Just those proposals would be enough to have smoke curling out of Republicans’ ears, who of course immediately painted themselves as being in the corner of Joe Citizen, fending off Wolf’s attempts to get his spend-happy fingers on their wallets.
But what really stood out Tuesday is the tone the governor took. This was not a smiling, victorious first-term Tom. This bag bad Wolf had his fangs out.
The governor chided Republicans for failing to do their job, and suggested if they were not willing to work with him on a spending plan, they should seek employment elsewhere.
“If you won’t take seriously your responsibility to the people of Pennsylvania . then find yourself another job,” Wolf quipped. So much for détente.
As you might guess, Republicans were less than enamored with his approach. One accused him of using scare tactics. Another went so far as to say the governor’s harsh rhetoric managed to put the talks into reverse, back to where they were last summer.
What should not be lost in all this budget blathering is that a lot of people have been hurt in this standoff. And that remains the case.
School districts are putting together their own spending plans in the dark, unsure of just what revenue they will be getting from the state.
A stopgap measure Wolf reluctantly signed off on managed to free some emergency funds, easing the burden on municipalities and some non-profits who had been left holding the ball. But it’s just that — stopgap. And it will expire, leaving them right back behind the eight ball.
State-related universities like Temple, Lincoln and Penn State have yet to receive their state funding.
The Philadelphia Zoo has been getting by without its state grant.
What’s most troubling about this budget debacle is that no one in Harrisburg seems in any great hurry to sit down and settle this thing. Instead, not terribly surprising given the state of political discourse in the country these days, they have hunkered down and fired potshots across the bow of their foes.
Wolf is right, the state has serious fiscal issues. But he needs to grasp political reality. Voters elected him governor, but actually expanded the Republican majorities in the House and Senate. It’s time to deal.
Actually, we would have rather the governor approached the microphones Tuesday and announced he was not going to go through the charade of presenting a new budget when there is no accord on the old one.
We’re not optimistic things in Harrisburg are going to change soon. Don’t hold your breath waiting for a budget accord – either for Year 1 or Year 2 – anytime soon.
Welcome to Groundhog Day, the Harrisburg edition.
— The Delaware County Daily Times
KANE’S DEPARTURE SHOULD BE SOONER RATHER THAN LATER, Feb. 17
State Attorney General Kathleen Kane has made her share of head-scratching decisions during a tumultuous first term. Finally, this week, came one that had heads nodding – in agreement.
Kane said she will not seek reelection — a welcome, if overdue, announcement that, while not parting the clouds of uncertainty that continue to hang over the Office of Attorney General, are at least a promise of clearer skies ahead.
Certainly, the weather has been anything but sunny for Kane since she was charged in August with perjury and obstruction for allegedly leaking grand jury information to embarrass rivals. The subsequent suspension of her law license threw into question the legitimacy of her office’s operations. An ethics investigation was launched in December. The Senate and House both explored separate avenues for removing her from office.
In short, the state’s top prosecutor seemed to metamorphose into a full-time defender — of her own job.
Meantime, members of her own party, including Gov. Tom Wolf, and newspapers across the state, including this one, called for her resignation.
But Kane, whether through toughness, stubbornness or misplaced optimism, dug in, contending she was the victim of an entrenched “old boys network” symbolized by the widely distributed and patently offensive emails that she uncovered shortly after taking office.
Indeed, in announcing her re-election decision at a Tuesday press conference in Scranton, the first-term Democrat urged others to carry out her fight to dismantle that network.
“When we have accomplished all of that, I will rest peacefully and easily knowing that we have marched into hell for a heavenly cause,” she said. “And we won.”
Kane isn’t entirely tilting at windmills here. Her disclosure of the unseemly email communications among the state’s judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers shined a much-needed light on the crass, racist and misogynistic tone of banter in Harrisburg’s legal circles. Even without the raunchy content, the chumminess evident among judges and prosecutors raises ethical concerns.
But what was initially a productive disclosure, seemed to become, for Kane, a raison d’etre. Her mission became defending herself and exposing “porngate” emails, and the two were often entwined.
That she chose to reference lyrics from the song “The Impossible Dream” in announcing her decision to forego a re-election bid is appropriate.
While a recent poll showed Kane leading her Democratic primary challengers, she remains without a law license, faces possible impeachment proceedings in the state House, has been abandoned by members of her own party and would face a bruising general election even were she to somehow capture the primary.
Re-election may not have been an impossible dream, but they don’t get much more improbable.
Kane’s announcement comes in the wake of one of the few positive developments in the past year for the embattled attorney general. (Such has been the past year that readers would be excused for thinking “embattled” had been formally added to the job title.)
Pennsylvania senators last week came up short in an effort to invoke an obscure clause in the state Constitution that could have quickly removed Kane from office, had Wolf signed off.
Kane greeted the failed vote with a statement calling it a “good day” for justice — and, predictably, vowing to continue to battle the old-boys network.
More appropriate would have been a statement announcing her long-overdue resignation.
That the Office of Attorney General will be under new management by this time next year is welcome news.
But now that she has prevailed in the Senate standoff, Kane should let the attorney general’s office and the state as a whole move on absent the distractions and legal clouds that have been the hallmarks of her tenure as attorney general.