Pittsburgh Post Gazette. June 7, 2022.
Editorial: Pennsylvania should adopt federal broadband definition
According to the state of Pennsylvania, an internet connection of 1.5 megabits per second qualifies as “broadband.” That 30-year-old standard is barely fast enough to perform essential tasks, like making Google searches and reading this newspaper’s editorials. Streaming video or making a video call over 1.5 mbps internet would be like trying to suck a milkshake through a coffee stirrer.
The federal broadband standard is 25 mbps, or 17 times the state standard. With that you can catch the latest offerings from Netflix and Hulu and, more importantly for economic development, participate in video meetings and run corporate software. It’s the kind of internet that opens up jobs for rural and small-town America.
The state’s archaic definition of broadband matters because by statute, private telecom companies have to provide broadband to every home in the state. They may get a captive market without producing an adequate product. Counting 1.5 mbps as broadband is like setting the minimum wage at 42 cents.
As we discussed in April, the Southwest Pennsylvania Commission recently reported about 36,000 homes and 15,000 businesses in the 10-county region around Pittsburgh don’t have access to federal-standard 25 mbps internet. Whole swaths of the region can’t fully participate in the 21st-century economy.
The solution is simple: Pennsylvania should adopt the Federal Communication Commission’s 25 mbps broadband standard. This will ensure that the purpose of the state’s 1993 internet law will again be fulfilled.
Back then, 1.5 mbps was lightning quick, and telecom companies protested being saddled with the obligation to provide it across the state. So the state enticed them with loosened regulations. But 30 years later, the deal no longer looks so good for the state: The old broadband standard is as slow as the sloth at the National Aviary, and the companies still reap the rewards of scaled-back regulation. It’s time for them to hold up their end of the bargain once again, for the good of the people of the commonwealth.
Broadband access — real broadband access — is a matter of economic justice for people already living in rural and small-town Pennsylvania. But it also makes it possible for those who enjoy working remotely to consider moving to those places.
Raising the broadband standard, then, is a chance for both parties to do what they claim to desire: to help the forgotten parts of Pennsylvania not just to survive, but to thrive once again.
Pittsburgh Tribune Review. June 5, 2022.
Editorial: Nelson’s college voucher bill leaves many questions
Pennsylvania needs to find a solution to funding its state and state-related universities and addressing the crippling student loan debt Keystone State students receive with their diplomas.
It has been a growing problem for years as tuition costs climb. Many people blame the universities themselves and a top-heavy increase in administrators that increases the cost of operation, but the schools counter that many of those administrative positions are needed to stay in compliance with government mandates.
While this isn’t a Pennsylvania-specific problem, the state has some of the highest public school costs in the country. US News and World Report ranks Temple, Pitt and Penn State as the second-, sixth- and ninth-most expensive in-state tuitions, respectively, while ranking 103rd, 59th and 63rd in quality.
Students are paying steakhouse money for a dinner education.
So a proposal like that from state Rep. Eric Nelson, R-Hempfield, has some appeal.
Nelson introduced a bill Wednesday that would take away the money from the three universities — the largest in the state. Penn State is one of the largest in the country.
Instead, it would place it in the hands of the students to use at whatever post-secondary schools they choose. That includes career and technical programs and community colleges, where the costs are much lower and where the up to $8,000 per year will stretch further than at a university with $20,000 tuition.
But will it actually work?
The problem with voucher programs as proposed for K-12 public schools has often been one of access. At the post-secondary level, this could be even more evident.
Pitt, Penn State and Temple are not going to curl up and die overnight. A guarantee of $8,000 in funding to go to those schools could be a major selling point for applicants. But without the regular, reliable stream of funding from state appropriations, will the state-related universities be able to guarantee they will have the opening?
Will any schools be able to do that? Would it make the state-related school even less tethered to the state and more in line with private universities such as the University of Pennsylvania or Carnegie Mellon? Would it actually drive up tuition at the big three to make up for the uncertainty?
And then there is the impact on the communities that depend on those schools.
Nelson’s voucher program is an idea worth talking about, worth brainstorming and worth considering in a pilot program of some kind. But as a bill ready to go to the House Education Committee for a vote, it seems premature.
Philadelphia Daily News/Inquirer. June 7, 2022.
Editorial: ‘Gas tax refund’ giveaway presents big hit to state budget
A rebate proposal by the Democratic candidate for governor leaves too many families behind.
The day after Memorial Day – when many drivers have just spent a portion of their paychecks on gas for holiday weekend getaways – might be an inopportune time to weigh in against an idea that would take some of the sting out of paying at the pump. But when a policy proposal is this concerning, it must be done.
Josh Shapiro, the Democratic candidate for governor, has put forth a plan to offer what he calls “a gas tax refund” of $250 per car (up to a max of four cars) to each family in the commonwealth.
The spirit behind Shapiro’s proposal – showing solidarity with Pennsylvanians who are struggling to cope with higher prices – is laudable. But his plan misses too many needy families, while also sending a disproportionate amount of money to the state’s top income earners.
According to census data, more than half a million Pennsylvania households are without cars. While gas prices might not be taking the same bite out of their budgets, those households still face rising costs in rent, energy, and food, just like the state’s motorists. Car-free households also typically have fewer financial resources to begin with: The average income of car-free households in Pennsylvania is just over $20,000 a year, less than a third of the state’s median income.
Unlike the half a million families who will get nothing from Shapiro’s plan, the 300,000 families who report having four or more vehicles will get $1,000. While car-free households hover near the poverty line, the median income of households with at least four cars is $120,000.
Beyond the unequal distribution of money, it represents a significant expense for the state. There are more than eight million registered vehicles in Pennsylvania, which translates into a top cost of $2 billion. That total could represent more than 5% of the total budget expenditure for Shapiro’s first year in office, if he is elected in November. While the state does have a budget surplus, it also has significant needs. Philadelphia has toxic schools and record gun violence. Rural Pennsylvania schools also have significant financial difficulties. Every dollar spent on this political gimmick would be a dollar not spent on other important priorities.
Shapiro’s plan is better than Republican proposals to cut or suspend the gas tax, a move that detractors fear would simply transfer money from state coffers to the bank accounts of oil companies. But many of the same criticisms that have been leveled against a gas tax suspension also apply to Shapiro’s rebate plan. For example, Shapiro has yet to identify a source to make up for the lost revenue.
It is unlikely that Shapiro will change his mind on a proposal that he’s made such a major part of his campaign, but it is essential that he at least consider ways to temper the damage. Limiting the proposal to two cars, for example, could save hundreds of millions of dollars.
Also needed is a fairer benefit for zero-car households. In other states, relief proposals have included benefits to transit riders. In California, for example, Gov. Gavin Newsom is providing those who use public transportation with $750 million in subsidized fares.
According to the Philadelphia Transit Riders Union, providing subsidized transit to low-income riders statewide would cost just $90 million.
Given the stakes of this election, it is not surprising that Shapiro would reach for any advantage to ensure a win in November. Still, taking the opportunity to make this proposal fairer and include more Pennsylvanians is the right thing to do.
Scranton Times Tribune. June 7, 2022.
Editorial: No governor owns voting, elections
Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano longs for what he apparently believes were the good old days, when people in power could manipulate voter registration to their own advantage.
For decades, one of the primary means to keep racial minorities and immigrants from voting was to require voter re-registration for every federal election.
Even though that plainly is illegal now under federal and state law, Mastriano declared this spring that he would require every voter to re-register for the 2024 election.
Mastriano is a state senator and conspiracy theorist who falsely has promoted the lie that President Joe Biden did not actually win the 2020 presidential election in Pennsylvania, and has advocated overturning the certified results.
“We’re going to start all over again,” he declared during the spring campaign, characterizing illegal re-registration as necessary to cleanse the voter registration rolls of dead or “ghost” voters who no longer reside at the address on the registration roll .
The question is not who is registered, but who votes. There always will be registered dead people and people who have moved, because people die and move without regard for election schedules. That is why federal laws already provide for regularly updating the rolls, but in ways that do not disenfranchise anyone.
The National Voter Registration Act allows for states regularly to purge rolls of deceased voters or those who have moved, but precludes states from doing so without a legally valid process.
In Pennsylvania, county election offices may delist a voter who has not cast a ballot for five years, but not without a notice by mail and a grace period of two federal election cycles. It also holds that no person may be unregistered unilaterally by the state while residing at the same address under which he registered.
“No, a state couldn’t just unilaterally require everyone to re-register for federal elections,” Edward Foley, director of Ohio State University’s election law program, told The Keystone news site.
Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College, noted that re-registration, in a single stroke, would wipe out years of hard work getting people to register — most often minority or low-income residents.
Mastriano’s plan to diminish voting says more about him than it does about Pennsylvania’s election system, which in 2020 proved to be accurate and fair under the heaviest possible scrutiny.