York Dispatch. May 5, 2021.
Editorial: Merging Pa. universities a good idea, but more college changes are needed
Our nation’s colleges and universities desperately need to reinvent themselves.
That’s been apparent for years now, but the problem has become especially acute during the financial crunch created during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s become obvious that many of our postsecondary institutions are no longer adequately serving the needs of our young people. They’ve become administratively bloated and obscenely overpriced.
In recent decades, students across the nation have left college with mountains of debt and degrees that do not guarantee them good jobs.
Given that background, it’s not surprising that many colleges find enrollment dropping.
Something needs to change.
Supporting Pennsylvania proposal: That’s why we fully support the recent vote by the board of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education to advance a plan to merge six of its 14 universities into two new institutions.
The vote was made in response to sinking enrollment and stagnant state aid.
The nearly unanimous vote from the board of governors launches a 60-day public comment period. A final vote could be scheduled for July, with implementation in time for the 2022-23 school year.
Under the consolidation plans, Bloomsburg, Mansfield and Lock Haven universities in northern Pennsylvania would merge into one institution and California, Clarion and Edinboro in western Pennsylvania would merge to become another.
According to the Associated Press, the two institutions being formed would be the accredited entity, with a single management team, faculty, academic program array, budget and enrollment management strategy.
It will also get a new name, yet to be determined, but to be selected from options that are market-tested for their appeal. All six campuses would remain open, with its own identity and brand, and the administration’s aim of ensuring that each of the six campuses retain its sports teams.
A goal of the plan is to reduce the cost of a degree for students by 25% through things such as faster degree attainment, high school dual enrollments, cost savings, stronger fundraising and grant funding and more federal work study opportunities.
Change can’t come soon enough: As far as we’re concerned, the change couldn’t come soon enough.
For far too long, the annual position at colleges and universities to any financial squeeze was to simply to raise tuition at a rate that far outpaced inflation, secure in the knowledge that parents and students would hold their noses and pay the exorbitant fees because a college degree was allegedly worth its weight in gold.
That is no longer the case. A college degree is no longer a guarantee of long-term financial success, especially given the massive debt that often comes with that degree.
It’s time that colleges and universities think outside the box and come up with some new plans to better serve their students.
We believe the proposal by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is just such a plan.
Any proposal that aims to reduce the cost of a degree by 25% is one we can fully support.
More change still needed: The change shouldn’t stop there. Postsecondary education needs to focus more on technical and trade degrees that offer better career opportunities at a cheaper price.
Additionally, parents and students should look at community and junior colleges as less expensive options for the initial transition to postsecondary schooling.
Our nation’s colleges and universities have reached a tipping point. The same old methods are no longer working. Some transformative ideas are desperately needed.
Hopefully, the changes being considered in Pennsylvania will play a positive role in that transformation.
Altoona Mirror. May 8, 2021.
Editorial: 'Global’ lacked insight, now deserves fate
Republican lawmakers are correct in urging Gov. Tom Wolf to fire the company whose mishandling of coronavirus-related data impacted at least 72,000 people.
Beyond the called-for firing, state leaders need to take a long, hard look into the “window” that allowed the company to be hired on a no-bid basis in the first place.
Since last summer, the commonwealth has doled out nearly $29 million to Atlanta-based Insight Global to administer the state’s contact tracing program, which is aimed at identifying people who have been exposed to the coronavirus, so they can quarantine.
That is a lot of money paid out to a company that lacked the leadership, expertise and built-in safeguards to ensure that something like what happened did not occur.
Had the state insisted on awarding a contract based only on appropriate, accepted bidding guidelines — like the state expects municipalities, school districts and other government-related entities to do — the troubling situation that evolved might have been avoided.
What originally was a worthy effort with good objectives, now has been tarnished by inept oversight by Insight Global.
Then there is the question of whether the state’s governmental bureaucracy, executive branch and General Assembly should have been paying closer attention to the company’s work so that a red flag could have been raised quickly about something seemingly amiss.
Learning what happened certainly does not represent a proud moment for our state.
However, it does represent a lesson that should be heeded in the future if there is the temptation to pursue the no-bid-contract route over a more transparent bidding process involving closer study regarding what is proposed.
Even more than that, the bidding process offers the opportunity to more closely scrutinize proposals and identify potential concerns — such as requiring and ascertaining that there will be a layer of protection to ensure that nothing goes wrong.
Bidding also offers the opportunity to get more and spend less for services being sought, as bidders compete for the contract under the terms of the work outlined.
Meanwhile, news reports out of the state capital did not mention whether adequate bonding was in place to deal with any problems that might have evolved, as well as dealing with the financial implications of errors or otherwise improper conduct or procedures.
The public deserves to be apprised of such information related to the contract in question and what potentially lies ahead, whether or not Insight Global is fired. As an article in the Mirror’s May 4 edition reported, the state plans to drop Insight Global once its contract expires at the end of July. However, the company doesn’t deserve to collect any additional Pennsylvania money, if any is in fact due, because of what occurred.
The crux of what occurred was this: Insight Global employees used unauthorized Google accounts to store names, telephone numbers, email addresses, coronavirus exposure status, sexual orientations and other information about residents reached for contact tracing.
The company was bound by the requirement that it protect people’s data, but it failed miserably regarding that obligation.
The company’s apology for having mishandled the information rings hollow for the 72,000 victims, but it also should ring hollow for every right-thinking state resident who respects the expectation of people to have their important information safeguarded.
Whether or not Insight Global is fired, it deserves that outcome.
Erie Times-News. May 9, 2021.
Editorial: Don’t tie the governor’s hands when disaster strikes
The May 18 primary ballot asks voters two far-reaching questions that could change the way state government responds to future emergencies.
In essence: Should the Pennsylvania Constitution should be rewritten to restrict the governor’s power when disaster strikes?
The proposed constitutional amendments advanced by Republican state lawmakers did not arise in a vacuum or out of years of bipartisan analysis. Frustration with Gov. Tom Wolf’s sweeping executive actions amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the state’s broken politics landed them on the ballot.
Neither emotion nor the bitter politics accompanying this unprecedented pandemic, in our view, are reason to alter the framework of our democracy, tie the hands of the state’s elected chief executive and potentially hamstring future emergency response efforts.
The law empowers the governor to declare disaster emergencies for up to 90 days and renew them as needed.
The first ballot question asks whether the Legislature should have the power to end a governor’s disaster emergency declaration at any point with a simple majority vote. The second amendment would limit emergency declarations to 21 days and require the governor to obtain the Legislature’s approval to extend them.
Advocates cast the questions as a referendum on Wolf’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically the executive actions he took to stop the spread of COVID-19 and coordinate the state’s resources and emergency response. Recall that Wolf’s COVID-19 disaster declaration did more than close schools and restaurants. It enabled licensing changes that permitted retired and out-of-state health care workers to join the front lines of the COVID fight here and the lifting of burdensome regulations on businesses hard hit by the pandemic. It allowed him to activate the National Guard to aid stricken nursing care facilities and deploy vaccine, among other things.
Those pressing to change the constitution say the disaster declaration, which Wolf has renewed four times, exposed a flaw in our system of checks and balances and that the governor must not have power in future crises to act unilaterally to close businesses indefinitely, for example, without consulting the Legislature.
In truth, the Legislature does not need a constitutional amendment to check the governor’s emergency power. It just needs enough votes to pass a resolution to end a declaration with a veto-proof majority. Republicans did not have the votes to do that and now seek to change the rules.
However imperfect the Wolf administration’s response to the unprecedented pandemic, Republican lawmakers have not inspired confidence that they are more fit to manage such a crisis. The Wolf administration can be faulted on a host of fronts, especially in the lack of transparency regarding some data and how businesses were deemed essential.
But at a time when leaders should have united to rally Pennsylvanians to adhere to safety guidelines recommended by public health experts, too many in the Republican Party mocked and resisted basic measures such as face masks as an attack on personal liberty, rather than a sacrifice needed to protect fellow Pennsylvanians.
They castigated Wolf for harming small businesses but opted to use $1.3 billion in federal coronavirus relief funding not for direct aid but to fill COVID-19-related state budget gaps. They still don’t have a plan to spend Pennsylvania’s $7 billion share of American Rescue Plan funding, as USA Today Pennsylvania Network reporter Candy Woodall detailed.
When weighing these proposed amendments, consider not the politics but the practical effect the amendments could have during future disasters much more likely to strike than a once-in-a-century pandemic. It is events like catastrophic snowfall in the Poconos or Lake Erie snowbelt. It is sudden flooding that can hollow out a region’s infrastructure in a single deluge or periods of drought that trigger water shortages. It is chemical spills, industrial calamities and extended public health emergencies such as the opioid epidemic. Wolf’s opioid disaster declaration, renewed 13 times, synthesized the state’s response and allowed experts to confront the problem at scale.
Disaster declarations give the governor the power to waive laws and regulations to enable swift, nimble response and recovery. The declarations are a prerequisite to release the flow of state and federal aid.
Imagine amid a crisis having to seek the consent of the Legislature every three weeks, a Legislature that is not often in session and not prone to comity. If consensus could not be reached, what would happen to Pennsylvanians confronting disaster?
Decision-making by committee during an emergency is a reckless proposition and simply not practical or necessary since a mechanism to rein in overreach already exists.
Common sense should prevail. Disaster management is the purview of the executive branch for a reason. It should stay that way.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. May 9, 2021.
Editorial: Approving funding to cap abandoned oil and gas wells would aid the environment and protect jobs
As the human race takes a beat to consider its relationship with Mother Earth, the next great environmental cleanup in Pennsylvania may be at hand.
Bills percolating in the U.S. House and Senate would, if passed, direct billions of dollars to capping abandoned oil and gas wells around the country. Some of these “orphan” wells, abandoned when drilling companies stop operating, are leaking methane. They are a top environmental concern.
In addition to the House and Senate bills, President Joe Biden has included $16 billion in funding in his $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan for reclaiming orphan wells around the country and cementing them shut.
Capping these wells is a win-win proposition, a rare point of agreement between the oil and gas industry and environmental activists and between Democrats and Republicans. Legislators should move swiftly to infuse efforts to close them with the necessary capital to push the process forward.
Estimates vary on how many uncapped wells exist in the state. Some place the number at about 200,000. To cap them all could cost in excess of $6 billion. Efforts to cap these wells have been woefully underfunded, which has led to a system of prioritization: The worst wells are capped first while many are left open. Indefinitely.
The appeal to oil and gas companies is apparent. As drilling declines, these companies have been vocal about their willingness to contribute the manpower and know-how to capping abandoned wells. Providing them the funding to do so could preserve their jobs as the nation continues its move away from fossil fuels toward other sources of energy. Legislators should move swiftly to disburse funding that will allow this industry to begin bidding projects and putting Pennsylvanians to work cleaning up their state. This is a green initiative that delivers on promises to preserve jobs.
Environmental activists are in favor obvious reasons, too. Many of these orphan wells leak the greenhouse gas methane.
A group of University of Pittsburgh researchers has a paper currently moving through the peer review process that shows an impact of orphan wells on the broader economy of an area. The paper points out that failing to close open wells could be contributing to reduced real estate investment and depressed property values in the vicinity of the open wells. Capping them could kick-start land development.
The abandoned wells represent an opportunity for lawmakers, activists and businesses to come together to fix a problem that needs fixing and has needed it for years. The House and Senate bills don’t stop at merely providing funding for capping, but they strengthen regulations to prevent additional wells from being abandoned, treating the problem at its source. The well-capping industry is poised for a cash infusion. All that remains is for lawmakers to uncap the spigot.
Scranton Times-Tribune. May 7, 2021.
Editorial: Stormwater management worth cost
Nature offered a reminder Tuesday that water is its most destructive force, demonstrating in the process the cost of multiple governments in Lackawanna County failing to deal effectively with it.
Many local counties do not have comprehensive and connected stormwater management plans. Instead, local governments have an uncoordinated patchwork of different systems, or none, even though water is a common problem because it does not respect political boundaries.
Regardless of one town’s preparedness, a failure upstream in a different town can be catastrophic.
Tuesday, a powerful storm unleashed about 4 inches of rain on the area in less than 24 hours. Hillside roads became rivers. Streams and drainage systems overflowed, flooding basements and tearing up streets.
Locally, stormwater management became controversial five years ago when Scranton’s government sold the sanitary sewer system to Pennsylvania American Water. Even though it did not have a formal policy or specific contract to do so, the Scranton Sewer Authority used to maintain major components of the city’s stormwater collection system. The company did not assume that responsibility when it bought the sanitary sewer system, leaving the city government with a still-unresolved question of how to do the job.
But that just involves maintenance of an existing system that often is inadequate to the task. The true resolution is in development of a countywide or even regionwide system that not only maintains existing stormwater infrastructure, but studies stormwater regionwide and deploys modern methods to diminish the amount of stormwater that must be controlled.
Developing containment areas, porous vehicle parking areas that absorb rainwater rather than funnel it into a torrent, public and private water gardens, and other methods to better handle water and other low-cost but innovative projects collectively could make a huge difference.
Lackawanna County should form a stormwater management authority. Opponents of such operations lament that, yes, they impose fees to cover improvements. But so does nature, in the costs of recovering from catastrophe, after catastrophe, after catastrophe.