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3 posts from July 2012

07/23/2012

Don't forget military deaths

By Ron Titus of Phillipsburg, NJ

For the last two days all news media has been non-stop 24/7, reporting on the tragic incident at the Aurora Mall Movie Theater in Aurora, Colo., where 12 people had been killed with 58 injured. Big black newsprint appeared in headlines with size comparable to when the bombing of Pearl Harbor occurred. Now don't get me wrong, I am not without feelings of sadness for the senseless killing. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the families of those impacted by this event. But my thoughts and prayers are also with others the mass media chose not to report.....

On Saturday, 7/15/2012, it was reported that Sgt. Michael E. Ristau, 25, of Rockford, Ill., died July 13th in Qalat, Zabul province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when his vehicle was attacked with an enemy improvised explosive device.

He was assigned to the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

On Tuesday 7/17/2012 it was reported that Staff Sgt. Carl E. Hammar, 24, of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., died July 14, in Khost province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered from enemy small arms fire. Hammar was assigned to 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.

Sgt. Erik N. May, 26, of Independence, Kan., died July 14, in Ghazni province, Afghanistan. May was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan.

Two soldiers who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom died July 16, in Wali Kot District, Afghanistan, from injuries suffered when their vehicle was struck by enemy rocket propelled grenades. The soldiers were assigned to the 81st Troop Command, Indiana National Guard, Indianapolis, Ind. Killed were Spc. Sergio E. Perez Jr., 21, of Crown Point, Ind., and Spc. Nicholas A. Taylor, 20, of Berne, Ind.

On Thursday 7/19/2012 it was reported that two soldiers died July 18, in Ghazni City, Afghanistan, when their vehicle was struck by an enemy improvised explosive device. The soldiers were assigned to the 548th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 10th Sustainment Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y. Killed were Sgt. Daniel A. Rodriguez, 28, of Baltimore, Md., and Sgt. Jose J. Reyes, 24, San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico.

On Friday 7/20/2012 it was reported that two sailors died in a helicopter crash July 19 in Oman. They were Senior Chief Aviation Warfare Systems Operator Sean P. Sullivan, 40, of St. Louis, Mo., and Naval Air crewman (Helicopter) Second Class Joseph P. Fitzmorris, 31, of West Monroe, La., were declared deceased following an extensive search of the wreckage and the surrounding areas of the crash.

There you have a week's worth of death in our military and no big black print. Not even little print, just no print. By the way one sailor was injured and one, known to have been at the theatre that evening, is currently unaccounted for. Two airmen were also injured at the Aurora Mall Movie Theater in Aurora, Colo. And no print.

07/18/2012

Easton's Proposed Commuter Tax Not The Answer To Solving A Decades-Old Problem

Jeff_WarrenBy Jeff Warren, Member of Easton City Council

When it comes to government finances, we hear the catchphrase all the time -- we need to do more with less. These words are uttered from public officials in the federal government to our local school board members. This is also painfully true in millions of households across America as we continue to see costs rise and wages plateau. Settling for the same ol', same ol' just isn't working anymore when darker financial pictures are on the horizon, especially when it comes to local government's public pensions.

Earlier this year, my City Council colleagues and I were presented with a proposal that would raise the commuter tax on all non-residents that work in the city from 1 to 1.75 percent. City Council has been advised that the tax is needed to cover $1.35 million of a projected $1.85 million shortfall in the city's pension obligations. Raising the commuter tax would soften that blow.

First, there is genuine concern within our business community that this tax will be a deterrent for commuters and patrons to support our city and for employers to want to stay and keep operating their businesses. Will small business owners living outside our borders want to pick up and relocate their businesses to Easton? Will we witness merchants taking their business elsewhere? What will happen to our local economy?

Second, there is a concern that we will hurt and deter regional cooperation by targeting other's paychecks and wallets. Will our neighboring local governments be discouraged to embark on inter-municipal agreements down the road? Will we begin an alienation process that lasts for decades as we strive to enhance cooperation? Do we balloon and manifest the "city vs. suburb" mentality that is already prevalent here in the Lehigh Valley?

These are all valid questions that have no easy answers, but they contribute greatly to the debate. The overall question as we move forward is: why is this happening and why is the commuter tax even an option?

Laws mandating defined benefit plans for municipal workers' pensions are the issue. Investment losses affect contribution requirements instead of the benefits. Further, state law currently prevents municipalities from making the changes they might want to make to their pension system.

Accordingly, our state government then graciously allows local governments to institute a commuter tax to specifically help fund pensions. If one looks at the overall picture, this is a mechanism for the state to continue passing the buck onto our local municipal governments.

Harrisburg needs to step up to the plate for every taxpayer, worker and local government in the Commonwealth and address the pension issues that truly affect us all. While the General Assembly worked on the public pension issue in November 2010, the end result did not go far enough. In essence, the state legislature continues to push costs down to local governments and ultimately, the taxpayer. They need to come to the aid of local governments and they need to do it now without hurting Pennsylvania's workforce in the process.

City Council, in the meantime, still needs to find a solution to the gap in our pension obligation. I, along with other City Council colleagues, have been a proponent of instituting a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) on properties within Easton that are tax exempt. If one were to look at the dozens and dozens of properties in the city that have received tax exempt status over the years, one would be shocked. The PILOT option would generate significant revenue for the city, since over 40% of the property in Easton is tax exempt.

Finding solutions and mechanisms to cut costs within local government budgets is increasingly difficult. It is the main reason the concept of regionalism must remain at the forefront of the Lehigh Valley's public agenda for the long-term. Municipal governments like Easton must have the opportunity to enhance our ability to enter into inter-municipal cooperative agreements with our neighboring municipalities in order to cut costs.

From my seat on City Council, a commuter tax doesn't seem to be the best solution to a decades-old problem. In the end, it's just not good government, which is perpetrated by the Commonwealth. While it is never a good time to place an added tax on individuals, at this point in our economic recovery it's certainly not ideal. It penalizes middle-class working families who are lucky enough to be employed, isolates our neighbors, and may very well hurt Easton's local economy for many years to come.

07/12/2012

Act on Jobs, Not on Political Gamesmanship

Matt_CartwrightBy Matt Cartwright, Democratic Candidate for Congress, PA-17

Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court upheld the Constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In response to the court's ruling, Republicans in the House of Representatives decided to hold a vote to repeal the health care law completely. The timing of this could not be worse; neither could the flagrant political posturing.

It is important to realize what a full repeal of this bill would mean. The Medicare prescription "doughnut hole," would remain open, once again placing the burden of full payment on our seniors. People with pre-existing medical conditions, including cancer patients, could once again be denied the possibility obtaining affordable care. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the federal deficit would increase by $210 billion. 3.8 million Pennsylvanians have already used a free preventative service provided by the Affordable Care Act- this would cease. These popular benefits and many other reforms the ACA brings must not be repealed.

Beyond being bad policy, this push to repeal the Affordable Care Act is a meaningless political game. During their time in the minority, these Republicans remarked that health care was the wrong priority, and that Congress should be focusing on other job creation measures. Yet during their time in the majority, Republicans have voted thirty-two times to repeal measures contained in this health care law, and they have already voted once for a full repeal. We know that the Senate will not vote to overturn this law. Now is not the time to engage in these types of useless political games- now is the time for bold action.

Last week, we saw the best of Congress. Working across the aisle, Democrats and Republicans passed a Transportation Bill that promises to create or retain 2.9 million jobs in the construction industry, a sector that has been battered in this recession. The American people are looking to Congress for more of this job-creating legislation. Let's hope that they will deliver.