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5 posts from Business

07/02/2014

Hobby Lobby, An Example of What Does Not Matter

Dr-Arthur-H-GarrisonBy Dr. Arthur Garrison, Assistant Professor, Criminal Justice at Kutztown University

In the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., Hobby Lobby asserted that from its religious perspective, anything that prevented the fertilized egg from growing into a baby -- by definition -- was in the same category as abortion. Under the Affordable Care Act, employers are required to provide a base level of care within the health care insurance that they provide to their employees. Birth control is included in that base level coverage. Under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules, there are twenty different types of contraception methods. Hobby Lobby sued the Department of Health and Human Services (DHH) regulations that included four methods of contraceptives. The first two methods are "day after" or emergency contraceptives -- Plan B (levonorgestrel-LNG) and Ella (ulipristal acetate-UPA). The second two methods are intrauterine devices (IUDs) -- levonorgestrel releasing intrauterine system (LNG-IUS) and the copper Intrauterine Device (Cu-IUD). Hobby Lobby in its arguments to the Court asserted that it opposed the specific funding of these four methods of contraceptives because they are "abortifacients" and that "they have no objection to the other 16 FDA-approved methods of birth control."

Fair enough. What was completely missed by the Court and the reaction to the decision is that Hobby Lobby was factually wrong. These four methods are not "abortifacients." A brief submitted to the Court by a group of medical scientists explained that Plan B, "levonorgestrel (LNG), [is] a synthetic version of the naturally-occurring hormone progesterone [that] works by preventing or disrupting ovulation, but is not effective after ovulation has already occurred." The reason being, "LNG does not cause changes to the endometrium (uterine lining) that would hamper implantation." Ella "acts on human progesterone receptors."  It "works later in the pre-ovulatory cycle, when [Plan B] is no longer effective."

Here is the point. The "claim that Plan B and Ella prevent implantation is not supported by current scientific data or by evidence in the record below. To the contrary, scientific research shows that Plan B and Ella both function by inhibiting or postponing ovulation; they do not prevent fertilization or implantation." As for the two types of IUDs, the "LNG-IUS works primarily by thickening the cervical mucus, thereby preventing sperm from reaching the egg." "The Cu-IUD affects the motility and viability of sperm and impairs their fertilizing capability." The brief goes on to explain that none of the methods can dislodge a fertilized egg, the scientific definition of abortifacients. A Google search confirms the assertions made in the brief.

The Court and both sides of the litigation bypassed the brief altogether. Rather than focusing on the science of these methods and the legal/factual issue of whether the four methods were in fact violative of religious convictions, the Court ruled that for-profit corporations were "persons" under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) and that that the RFRA protects for-profit organizations that "wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in the man┬Čner required by their religious beliefs." The Court could have ruled that since the four methods did not violate Hobby Lobby's religious values because they were not abortifacients, Hobby Lobby was legally obligated to offer these four methods along with the other sixteen. This limited approach would have avoided the current result in which the Court provided a legal determination that left open more questions than it answered.

10/28/2013

Delaware River Flood Resolution

I would like to thank Ed Smith and all the Warren County NJ Freeholders for the flood prevention resolution you passed on Oct. 23, 2013 that called for the Governors of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware to petition the US. Supreme Court to order New York City to keep the water levels in its NYC Delaware Reservoirs at or below 90 percent throughout the year. The resolution, in part, states that the management of those reservoirs is a "significant factor" in flooding in Warren County, creating "an unnecessary and dangerous threat" of life and property to people living downstream.
 
People along the Delaware had not experienced a major flood in 49 years and then we experienced three major floods in 23 months! Sept. 2004, April 2005 and June 2006. due to heavy rains when the reservoirs were 100%+ full before the rain event.

In the June 06 flood, 195 billion gals. poured out of the reservoirs into the Delaware, the equivalent of Niagara Falls running into the Delaware for 37 hours!

The 100% full reservoirs were not able to release water quickly, due to small release values at the bottom. It can take weeks to create a void to accommodate a heavy rainfall. This is the reason that there must be a minimum of 10% year around safety void to prevent future flooding.

In Oct. 2005 we experienced the second heaviest rainfall since 1941, we did not flood, and the reservoirs were below 60%
 
The results of the Flood Analysis Model released in 2009 and paid for by the states of PA, NJ, DE, NY as well as the federal government proved that if prestorm voids exist, flood crests will be lower.

Thank you for your resolution that requires New York to do what they should have done to prevent higher flood crests after receiving the scientific proof from the Flood Analysis Model of 2009!
 
Government officials supporting the dire needs of their constituents is greatly appreciated. We who live outside of Warren County hope that our elected officials follow your example for the good of us all. Thank you!
 
Gail Pedrick
New Hope

President
Delaware Riverside Conservancy
Box 1 Stewartsville NJ 08886

02/15/2013

Allentown's Fiscal Cliff

Gary_Strathearn_smBy City of Allentown Finance Director Garret Strathearn

There's been much said recently about the recommendation to use a concession lease of the City's water and sewer utilities to address Allentown's pressing unfunded pension liability.  There has not been much said about the consequences of not doing it. As the City's Director of Finance, it is my responsibility to inform all of our residents, taxpayers and business owners of the very serious nature of these consequences.

Allentown's unfunded liability represents a $200 million and growing legally binding full faith and credit general obligation debt of the City.  If no action is taken, the City's finances will be precarious for decades to come.  Our state-mandated annual payments on this debt, our Minimal Municipal Obligation (MMO), have risen enormously.  Those payments will soon consume close to $30 million of our $90 million General Fund budget.  In short, Allentown is facing a financial tsunami of seismic proportions. 

The amount of our MMO is directly driven by the size of our unfunded liability.  We must either eliminate - or at the very least - significantly reduce it.  Without this relief, the city's ability to provide the breadth and quality of services Allentown residents have come to expect and deserve will be drastically reduced.

Unfortunately, our situation only gets worse with time.  A series of intricate actuarial changes in the way pension obligations are calculated and measured by standard setting and rating authorities will soon compound the seriousness of our situation. 

The significant savings initiatives the city has put into place over the past six years have been very beneficial.  Yet these steps are equivalent to repairing a house room-by-room.  It's now time to permanently strengthen the foundation.  Without that, the whole place will collapse under its own weight.         

We cannot save, borrow, tax or invest our way out of this problem.  For example, it would require close to a 100% real estate tax increase to just keep pace with our growing minimal pension payments.  Yet, this would have no impact at all on eliminating the problem; the debt caused by our pension plan's unfunded liability.  It's equal to making a minimum payment on a huge credit card balance; it gets you nowhere.  Taking this approach is irresponsible financial management and will lead to crippling long-term consequences for all Allentown stakeholders.  

After much research, study and evaluation of several options, it was decided the most prudent, cost-effective financing tool for the City to address this formidable problem is a concession lease that leverages the equity of our water and sewer operations in order to receive a sizeable upfront payment to reduce or eliminate our unfunded liability. 

This is the best option we have to address the City's fiscal crisis. If this option is not implemented, in less than 24 months Allentown will be another PA city making ugly headlines about bankruptcy and a lack of political will to address its obligations. We will not allow Allentown to become another Harrisburg, Scranton or worse yet Stockton, California.

We fully understand the enormous responsibility that comes with this recommendation.  A team of the country's most respected and experienced legal, financial, engineering and technical professionals has been assembled to help the City meet this challenge.  This team has been laser-focused on preserving the excellence and dependability of Allentown's water supply; including compliance with environmental standards and technical expertise; conducting thorough due diligence; and carefully crafting a concession agreement which includes a structured rate schedule and provisions for monitoring and enforcing water quality and performance standards. 

Allentown is on the road to sustained economic recovery and stability. With this option, and working with City Council and the City Controller, we can eliminate or substantially reduce our unfunded pension liability debt, stabilize our tax rate for years, and keep our important water and sewer assets in good order, condition and repair for decades to come.

I encourage you to review the information on the city's website.
http://www.allentownpa.gov and click on the Water/Sewer Concession icon. 

Also, please watch the following video outlining the details of both our pension crisis and our proposed solution. 
http://www.youtube.com/embed/YDSIbFqElDk.   

While we did not create the pension liability problem, it is our responsibility to resolve it.  Lyndon Johnson said it best, "Yesterday is not ours to recover but tomorrow is ours to win or lose." We truly believe the proposed concession lease is the best solution to preserve and protect Allentown's future.  This is a fiscal cliff we CAN -- and MUST avoid.

12/06/2011

Banks making more loans to businesses

Commercial loans

11/22/2011

Mixed Signals from KAA Lehigh Valley Purchasing and Employment Index

An index utilized by Kamran Afshar Associates to guage business sentiment in the Lehigh Valley rose sightly in October over its July level. However, all the individual indicators that make up the index, except for "past expenditures," dropped. Compared to July, local businesses surveyed in October reduced their plans for future hiring and plans for future expenditures.  
 
The October Purchasing and Employment Plans Index for the Lehigh Valley rose to 56.1 (adj) from 55.2 in July '11.  The index is 5.4% above its October '10, level, all due to actual and planned expenditures.
 
It should be noted that the index is a whopping 18.3% above its October '09 level. 
 
The index is not reflecting recessionary tendencies.   However, it is showing very little indication of any significant improvements in hiring.