Editorials from around Pennsylvania
Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Pennsylvania’s newspapers:
New corporate tax will benefit state coffers
The Altoona Mirror
For years, many states have been collecting corporate income taxes from companies that do not have offices, employees or property in them.
Pennsylvania finally will be doing the same, beginning Jan. 1, thanks to the lifting of constraints imposed by courts of this commonwealth on how the state applies the tax in question.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 opinion in South Dakota v. Wayfair last year removed the Pennsylvania constraints that presumably, over the years, deprived the commonwealth’s coffers of huge sums.
According to an Associated Press report published in the Oct. 21 Mirror, the change that goes into effect at the start of 2020 apparently will apply to services sold, since federal law prohibits state corporate income taxes on “tangible personal property,” such as office equipment, furniture or clothing.
The AP report says the expanded coverage of the Pennsylvania corporate income tax due to last year’s federal high court opinion will apply to non-Pennsylvania companies doing more than $500,000 worth of business in this state.
From the standpoint of the Keystone State treasury, it would have been better if Harrisburg had mimicked Hawaii’s July decision setting a $100,000 threshold for the taxation in question.
Such a decision would have been fairer from the standpoint of Pennsylvania’s businesses, which compete against those companies without an actual physical presence here.
For Pennsylvania, over the years, the corporate income tax was not collected because this state’s courts did not interpret federal high court decisions prior to South Dakota v. Wayfair as limited to sales taxes, as courts in many other states had done. As a result, those other states applied their corporate income tax rates to companies without a physical presence while the Keystone State, unfortunately, gave such companies a bye.
Due to South Dakota v. Wayfair, Pennsylvania’s reluctance toward extending the corporate income tax to non-Pennsylvania companies now has disintegrated. Meanwhile, South Dakota v. Wayfair also opened the way for states to require out-of-state online sellers to collect state sales taxes from customers and forward that money to them.
As of July 1, Act 13 of 2019 began requiring non-Pennsylvania companies with sales above $100,000 in the commonwealth to collect and remit sales tax revenue to Pennsylvania’s coffers.
Jeffrey A. Johnson, communications director for the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue, said during a phone call Tuesday that the Use Tax line on Pennsylvania state income tax form PA-40 would remain for taxpayers who make purchases from non-Pennsylvania companies doing less than $100,000 in annual sales in the commonwealth.
On the 2018 PA-40, that tax form line was Line 25. In 2018, without having access to the new revenue sources for which South Dakota v. Wayfair has cleared the way, Pennsylvania collected $3.4 billion in net corporate income tax and $25 billion in sales and personal income taxes. There reportedly have been no projections regarding how much money to expect from the two new revenue sources.
Suffice to say that, whatever amount ultimately is collected will be of great importance over the short and long terms, since the state’s retirement-age population is expected to continue growing while the working-age population is projected to shrink.
For now, then, what is most important is that the Keystone State is positioned to receive the additional tax revenue, making the always-challenging annual state budget-preparation exercise at least a little less daunting.
United Way targets core woes of Erie
Erie Times News/GoErie
Economic decline feeds on itself. As a region sheds jobs and people, social ills grow, poverty chief among them. At the same time, because of the slide, there are shrinking resources to deliver relief.
Charities and social service agencies become proverbial canaries in the coal mine signaling community ruin that could come. Donations, and services along with them, dwindle as the deep-pocketed corporate donors and their workers move out.
The misery snowballs and puts a turnaround even further from reach.
The United Way of Erie County, so reliant on workplace giving, has felt that impact in the loss of jobs at major employers. Rather than surrender, the agency smartly and nimbly pivoted to identify its most consequential mission - crushing poverty - and drill down on it with disciplined, researched strategies.
Erie County, especially in the city of Erie but also in rural areas, faces some of the highest poverty rates in the state and nation. There will be no bright future for the region if the 14,000 children living in poverty here are not empowered to maximize their potential.
That is the context to remember as United Way’s annual fundraising campaign advances.
A gift to United Way buys books for the Imagination Library that give young learners a crucial life skill - the ability to read by the third grade.
Donations back 10 local community schools in the Erie, Girard and Iroquois school districts. With the support of corporate partners, community schools target the root causes of poverty. They function as resource hubs for students and their families to give them the tools and services - like mental health care, clothing, safe transport or educational support - they need to overcome barriers to learning and ascend from poverty.
United Way funding flows to another powerful initiative, Erie Free Taxes, which leverages the tax code to ensure low- and moderate-income wage earners obtain the tax refunds they are due. In 12 years, it has generated $88.4 million in taxpayer refunds. It creates an incentive to work and infuses millions into the local economy.
The United Way, meanwhile, continues to meet core emergency needs, including services for those in crisis and shelter for the homeless.
The Erie region, which for long years reclined in the status quo and haphazardly cast about for solutions in a siloed approach, has found a winning recovery formula applauded by national experts. We are tapping local assets, know-how, capital and will and targeting our biggest problems with researched, collaborative strategies.
The United Way’s expert, effective navigation of a difficult fundraising landscape and its ability to deliver transformational results is a prime example of this new Erie spirit. Be a part of it. Give.
Maintain viability of fire, rescue companies
Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice
Volunteer fire and rescue companies are indispensable to public safety statewide. Of nearly 2,500 fire companies statewide, about 90% are volunteer companies, according to state statistics. Without them, the cost of some of the most important public services would increase exponentially.
But changes in demographics, employment, time commitments, training and other obligations imposed on volunteers vastly have reduced the ranks of volunteer first responders. From a peak of about 300,000 volunteers in the 1970s, volunteer companies statewide now have about 37,000 active members.
It makes sense, then, for the state Legislature to create incentives to help retain volunteers and recruit new ones. The Senate should pass, and Gov. Tom Wolf should sign, a series of bills that have been passed by the House to help maintain the viability of volunteer fire and rescue companies — with one crucial exception.
Bills that should pass would:
. Authorize student loan forgiveness of up to $16,000 for current or new volunteers.
. Authorize school districts to offer property tax credits to volunteers.
. Allow use of firefighters’ relief association grants for deferred benefit programs.
. Encourage mergers by eliminating realty transfer taxes on property transfers.
. Increase amounts under a state loan program that helps volunteer companies modernize facilities and purchase equipment.
While proposing those significant increases in public aid to volunteer companies, however, the House also would exempt those companies from most provisions of the state Right-to-Know-Law.
In addition to state fund loan and grant programs for volunteer companies, local governments statewide already contribute millions of dollars to volunteer companies — money for which those companies must be accountable through public disclosure. The measure also would deny public access to crucial information such as response times.
Under the state Right to Know Law, as upheld by the state Supreme Court in a case brought by The Times-Tribune, a Times-Sharmrock newspaper, against the Lackawanna County Stadium Authority, any entity doing work that a government otherwise would do itself, is subject to the same disclosure requirements as the government.
Exempting volunteer companies from disclosure obligations does not provide an incentive for retention or recruiting. It just denies Pennsylvania residents of information to which they are entitled. The Senate should reject, or Gov. Tom Wolf should veto, the exemption from the Right-to-Know Law.
Cherry Hill’s school lunch debacle can serve a purpose
The Philadelphia Inquirer
With presidential candidates, a governor, and even the BBC weighing in on Cherry Hill’s school lunch controversy, a suburban township long known regionally for its mall is on the global map, and not in a good way. But the firestorm the Cherry Hill school board ignited while trying to work within a state requirement to collect overdue lunch money should also spark a larger conversation about the role of school nutrition programs in lessening food insecurity as well as about the tension between public and private responsibilities for the well-being of children.
Cherry Hill has been caricatured if not demonized on social media as a white-privileged enclave cluelessly trying to force poor kids to eat stigmatizing sandwiches. In reality, the township is a mixed-income, multicultural community of 71,000 where nonwhite people, many of them immigrants, make up more than one-quarter of the population and just under half of the school district’s enrollment of 11,000 students — about 20% of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
Meanwhile, three members of the nine-seat school board are people of color, including the president. Overheated accusations against them on Facebook notwithstanding, they do not appear to be motivated by a lust for political power, let alone a desire to “shame” students. And a majority of the 340 students whose accounts collectively were more than $14,000 overdue at the end of the 2018-19 school year were from families who either had not applied, or didn’t qualify, for reduced-price lunches.
In any case, the board and the administration should have done a far better job making clear why the district sought to pursue tougher measures to resolve overdue student lunch accounts; why an unappealing substitute lunch for nonpayers was proposed; and why Cherry Hill turned down a philanthropist’s offer to clear the debt (the board wanted a more lasting solution). That move and others may well have made sense inside the boardroom but seemed bewildering, even inexplicable, to many inside and outside Cherry Hill.
As The Inquirer’s Melanie Burney reported, the board recently adopted a fair-minded approach: Every student in a lunch line in a Cherry Hill public school will get a standard meal, regardless of account status. The policy establishes extensive notification, counseling, and other services for families in special circumstances or in arrears. But the policy also includes a provision to bar students whose accounts are seriously delinquent from participating in proms or other activities.
“That would only be a last resort,” superintendent Joseph Meloche explained. “Nobody wants to revoke privileges.” Those nuances were lost on news aggregators like boingboing.net, where a cartoonish photo illustration of someone being guillotined outside Cherry Hill High School East accompanied a recent story about the purported persecution of hungry children.
Needless to say there’s nothing amusing about kids without enough to eat; public schools have a responsibility to them. But so do parents. If families need help paying for their children’s lunches, Cherry Hill should make that help available. But parents who can pay should do so. If they don’t, there still ought to be no shame falling on their kids.
Put brakes on fetal heartbeat bills
At six weeks gestation, a human embryo is half an inch long.
At six weeks gestation, a woman might not realize she is pregnant.
At six week gestation, an embryo will have a cluster of cells that will eventually become a heart that will produce a “fetal heartbeat,” but no circulatory system.
And yet several Republicans in the state Legislature, including at least four covering parts of York County, want to follow states such as Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Ohio that have passed laws banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected.
State Sen. Doug Mastriano, whose district includes part of western York County as well as Adams and Franklin counties, is sponsoring SB 912, which would compel a doctor to listen for a fetal heartbeat and outlaw an abortion if that sound is detected.
He introduced his bill on Monday, Oct. 21, and Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, R-Centre, introduced a companion bill in the House at the same time. Republican Reps. Seth Grove, Dover Township; Mike Jones, York Township; and Dawn Keefer, Dillsburg, have joined 41 others in sponsoring House Bill 1977.
Mastriano and Borowicz framed their bills in terms heard around the country as states continue to debate similar legislation.
“If a person is pronounced dead when their heart stops, why are they not considered alive when their heartbeat begins?” Borowicz said.
But that’s not the issue here. The issue is that these laws take away the right of a woman to control her own body, including having an abortion, a right that was codified in the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.
And the laws do it in ways that do not even make sense scientifically. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the largest professional organization for women’s health in the U.S., officially opposes such abortion measures as they “do not reflect medical accuracy or clinical understanding,” according to Newsweek.
Gov. Tom Wolf has promised to veto the legislation if it make it through the Legislature.
“These policies run counter to the notion of individual freedom and lack a sound scientific basis. Further, as we have seen in other states, these policies are detrimental to efforts to attract and retain businesses, entrepreneurs and workers,” Wolf said.
But the Legislature needs to just stop the bills right now, before more time and money is wasted taking them through the process.
Similar laws have been passed in five other states, and court orders have stopped them from going into effect, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which studies and supports reproductive health and rights. The goal is obviously to take one of these bans to the Supreme Court to force a decision to repeal or reaffirm Roe now that the court has a right-wing bent, with the hope that the decision will set back reproductive rights by 50 years.
As it stands, women in Pennsylvania have a right to an abortion through the 24th week of their pregnancy. This allows the women and their doctors time to determine an appropriate response to a problem pregnancy or a nonviable fetus. It allows women who have been raped or are victims of incest a chance to end a nightmare.
But at six weeks gestation, a woman has only missed one period. She might be feeling some morning sickness and fatigue, but she certainly won’t be showing.
Legislators have no business telling that woman that she must spend the next seven months pregnant. That’s a conversation she should have with her doctor, and no one else.