Flowing fuel & flying pigs

Will the power of markets or the power of government prevail in the debate over reversing the flow of part of the Laurel Pipeline?

 
As previously noted, Buckeye Partners is seeking Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission approval to bifurcate the flow of the cross-state pipeline that now delivers gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from the Philadelphia area to Western Pennsylvania.

 
Buckeye, citing a nearly 67 percent drop in fuel deliveries since 2014, wants to reverse the flow from Pittsburgh to Altoona. It says it can supply more product to the region and at a lower price from refineries in the Midwest.

 
Critics argue that the reversal would create a monopoly situation and raise fuel prices. The Laurel Pipeline is the only one delivering Philadelphia-area product to our region, they stress. And those Philadelphia-area refineries, already struggling, fear the loss of the Altoona-to-Pittsburgh business could be their death knell.

 
But The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that other market forces – such as falling world oil prices and the disappearance of discounted domestic crude arriving by rail – already had made those refineries far less economical.

 
There are, of course, many more moving parts in this equation. But the bottom line should be that the PUC allows markets, not government, to determine winners and losers.

 
After all, government’s track record in attempting to do so is abysmal.

 
About 60 countries now have privatized air traffic control systems. And Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee, once again is pushing for that very change in the United States.

 
This has resulted in the usual wails and cries and gnashing of teeth that a privatized system will result in either less-safe flying skies from an operational standpoint, invite more terrorism, cost consumers more or all three. Others claim the U.S. system is too large to effectively privatize. Still others claim the system is too large to be effectively managed by government.

 
But the foreign record is good. Analysts point to Canada’s privatized system – known as NAV-Canada – as a model for the United States.

 
“By removing the function from the clutches of government budget restraints and political-driven appropriators, NAV-Canada has been able to rapidly upgrade its technologies and practices and to implement those with considerable success,” writes Dan Reed at Forbes.com.

 
That’s been a foreign concept to the U.S.’s Federal Aviation Administration.

 
“(T)he FAA has become the laughing stock of the global air transportation management world for its chronic false starts, delays, missed deadlines and misunderstandings of what’s actually needed or possible in terms of air traffic control modernization,” said Reed, who for years covered aviation at USA Today.

 
Shuster’s bill – the Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization Act — would continue to fund the FAA until 2022. Then a newly created self-funding corporation – nonprofit and nongovernmental – would assume air traffic control duties.

 
Similar proposals have been batted about for years in Washington. But it’s clear that the current system has not kept pace with available technology.

 
All that said, Reed reminds that such a transition would not be easy. The Trump administration has, unfortunately, oversold the ease of that transition and misstated some of the basic facts, which has made the proposal something of a sitting duck at which critics continue to take shots, he says.

 
And then there’s this:

 
“There’s lots of political pork associated with this nation’s (air traffic control system) today,” Reed notes. “We have more physical facilities than necessary and not all of them are situated optimally.

 
“So some members of Congress are going to have to be convinced that voting for a bill that likely will result in a loss of high paying government jobs in their district is a good thing.

 
“That’s a tough sell.”

 
Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

Weekend essay: Back to the deck

Wyeth and Winslow were bumfuzzled.

 
The Tortie cat sisters’ master was on the back deck wielding a menacing-looking contraption that “hissssssed” loudly as it spat out water that then bounced off the floor boards and created a dense mist.

 
Side by side the girls sat inside the closed sliding deck door, trying to figure out what this thing he called “power washing” was all about. Strange, you could almost hear them think, that as the water went down, the color of the deck changed right before their eyes.

 
Back and forth, forth and back, their master went for more than two hours. Finally, The Great Hissssssing Machine fell silent. The deck door opened. And Wyeth and Winslow cautiously began to explore.

 
But the next day, “Dad” was back on the deck. And, again, the door was closed. Only this time the cats noted he was half sitting, half lying on the deck, putting this hairy thing with a handle into a bucket, then transferring a clover-brown liquid to the floor boards, making an odd swishing motion while magically restoring color to the wood.

 
Forth and back, back and forth, their master went, and for nearly four hours. Finally, he was up against the sliding door and had to open it to complete the job. He shooed away the kitties to prevent them from stepping onto the freshly stained deck. Then, half in the door and half out, and on all fours, he finished the job.

 
But not before Wyeth hopped onto his back to get a better view.

 
“Don’t you dare jump onto that deck,” his master warned.

 
“Meow,” Wyeth responded in apparent understanding, then taking time to offer a friendly nibbling of “Dad’s” ear before retreating to her observation post.

 
Days later, all the hissssssing and swishing done, the deck was dry. Down went the all-weather rug and, atop it, the deck furniture. Unfurled was the retractable awning.

 
And Wyeth and Winslow quickly assumed their positions on one of the chair’s thick cushions so conducive to mutual grooming and sisterly slumbers.

 
Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

The human side of the opioid scourge

This week’s Allegheny Institute Policy Brief (Vol. 17, No. 22) explores the high and growing economic cost of this nation’s opioid abuse scourge. Indeed, the numbers are a stark indictment of the severity of the problem.

 
But far too many also know the human cost – the soul-numbing experience of losing a loved one to drug addiction.

 
Eleven years ago, before this story became the public health crisis it now is considered to be, its ugly tentacles reached into the McNickle family.

 
Below, a reprint of my Aug. 27, 2006, column in the old Pittsburgh Tribune-Review detailing my daughter’s heart-rendering experience with her late boyfriend. It was headlined “A death in the family”:

 
Losing a first love to a breakup surely is heart-wrenching. But losing that first love to death must stretch the limits of all known feelings. I don’t know that feeling, thank God. Sadly, my first-born now does.

 
My elder daughter Taylor — all of 20 and struggling to find her place in the world as so many 20-year-olds do — last week suddenly had her first love peeled from her heart. Suddenly, but not necessarily unexpectedly.

 
I don’t know if Taylor and Jay, 25, eventually would have married. But I do know they were in love. Dads know these things and understand love’s unstoppable force. Daughters might always be daddy’s little girls but we know our limits.

 
Jay strived to overachieve but found only little success, as “success” popularly is measured these days.

 
There was a tangle with the law as a juvenile; there was a more serious encounter as an adult.

 
There were jobs, fought for hard and won; there were jobs lost when the immutable law of life — actions have consequences — was invoked as surely as the sun sets each day.

 

There were accidents, near-death experiences — at the beach and on the road.

 
There was pain and there was anxiety. Great pain and wicked anxiety.

 
Taylor, no stranger to struggling to master the basic vagaries that life presents — but with far more successes than she gives herself credit for — formed a kinship with Jay. In her heart of hearts, she wanted to protect this fellow struggling traveler.

 
Indeed, for the last year and a half, she did. As best as a young woman a score old knew how and with a capacity for empathy — empathy, mind you, not sympathy — that runs deep and wise in Taylor beyond her years.

 
And in the process of protecting Jay, she learned much from him. A math whiz, he opened her mind to numbers and their relationships; it always had been her weak spot.

 
She also better learned humility and how to give of oneself when the gain is not pecuniary but personal: Jay set a wonderful example by regularly volunteering at a homeless shelter.

 
Taylor grew up. Her eyes were opened to a wider world of the far less fortunate. She learned to laugh more, particularly at herself. She spread her wings and embraced new things.

 
And she learned of love and to love — the deep, abiding kind that is the rarest of commodities, the kind for which most people long search but seldom find.

 
But Jay’s pain and anxiety were his demons. As happens with so many people — too many people — with both afflictions, prescribed drugs can become addicting crutches. If the addiction goes denied, untreated or half-treated, the demons win. And when the prescriptions run out and cannot be had, the demons demand substitutes.

 
The demons won Tuesday last. What he took, why he took it and where it came from remain question marks. But Jay died. In his bedroom. Photographs of “T,” as he called her, nearby. Found by his devoted mother. His sister had the lousy job of calling her brother’s girlfriend.

 
I held my sobbing daughter on her bed Tuesday night. Taylor wondered if Jay, a master of frugality who would bargain down a $1 flea-market item, had a last will and testament.

 
“I don’t know if there’s anything to leave to me,” Taylor said, the tears rolling down her cheeks as her dad did a poor job of maintaining his composure. “But if there is any money,” she said, “I’m giving it to the homeless shelter.”

 
“He’d be oh so very proud of you,” I said, finally breaking down.

 
And perhaps the demons won’t have the last laugh.

 
Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

Debating a pipeline’s reversal

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has scheduled a public comment session in Harrisburg on Tuesday to gather public input on what could be the best news for gasoline prices in Western Pennsylvania in a very long time. But it’s a contention some dispute.

 
Buckeye Partners, which owns the Laurel Pipeline, has filed a request with the PUC to switch the flow of the western portion of the 350-mile pipeline that transports gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from Philadelphia-area refineries to Western Pennsylvania.

 
That reversal, Buckeye says, would allow for cheaper fuel products from Midwestern refineries to be piped into the western half of the Keystone State.

 
Western Pennsylvania long has been plagued by markedly higher gasoline prices than those across the border and an hour away in Eastern Ohio. The additional supply, if demand remains static, would result in lower prices local, the company says.

 
But critics are crying “Foul!”

 
Some Western Pennsylvania businesses – Sheetz and Giant Eagle, primarily – and some elected leaders say the reversal will limit supply (the Laurel Pipeline is the only supplier of East Coast gasoline, they argue), create monopoly conditions and raise prices.

 
Those companies say they now have the ability to tap gasoline supplies that flow in both directions and can chooses the cheaper product at any given time.

 
Well, then why is there often such a dramatic price differential between Western Pennsylvania gasoline and that found a relatively short drive away (even when factoring in higher Pennsylvania taxes)?

 
Additionally, critics see the pipeline reversal as part of a larger plan by Marathon Petroleum to push well past Central Pennsylvania and challenge those Philadelphia-area refineries on their home turf.

 
Competition is a bad thing?

 
Those Eastern Pennsylvania refiners are none too happy to see their market share cut, given they already struggle with reduced capacity. Some of those operations, by the way, have been subsidized by taxpayers.

 
But Buckeye Partners says an increase in the volume of gasoline that could be piped into Western Pennsylvania will force prices lower. It insists, too, that it can meet the demand for reformulated fuels required in the Pittsburgh area for summer pollution reduction.

 
State Rep. Eric Nelson, R-Westmoreland, told the Tribune-Review he believes a company should be allowed to do what it sees as a good business decision.

 
“The government shouldn’t be restricting the business,” he told the Trib. “The Legislature in the past has restricted Western Pennsylvania by mandating this summer gas issue. That results in higher prices for our residents.”

 
As do state taxes that, when combined with the federal impost, leave the Keystone State with one of the highest gas taxes in the nation.

 
The PUC has purview over this matter as part of the commonwealth regulatory regime. It’s up to the commission to separate fact from rhetoric to determine what would be in the best interest of consumers. And while one monopoly should not be ended to create another, state restriction of competition never is good for consumers.

 
Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

Weekend essay: Allan Meltzer, 1928-2017

One of the greatest economists that many people might never have heard of died on May 8. But Allan Meltzer’s contributions to economics – on topics such as central banking, inflation, the cost of the regulatory state and, of course, his vigorous defense of capitalism — were enormous.

 
After all, Mr. Meltzer proffered cogent economic thought in a discipline too often dominated by thought illiberal.

 
Meltzer, a friend to this institute, was 89. He had been a professor of political economy at Carnegie Mellon University for 60 years. True to form, he was working on yet another book at the time of his death. By any account, his was an incredible, and incredibly productive, run.

 
And given his work involving international economics – think of his well-founded points of order that International Monetary Fund and the World Bank had grown too big for their britches — it is no hyperbole to say the world sorely will miss Meltzer.

 
I was honored in 2012 to be on the receiving end of Meltzer’s intellectual benevolence. I was editorial page editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review at the time. He sent me an “uncorrected advance reading copy” of his new book “Why Capitalism?”

 
The narrative was pristine, as were his arguments.

 
At under 150 pages, it was (and remains) a wonderfully accessible primer that should be mandatory reading in every institution of higher learning, if not in high schools.
Perhaps the best way to honor Meltzer upon his death is with his own words, taken from the preface to that book:

 
“Democratic capitalism has three unequaled strengths. It is the only system that achieves both economic growth and individual freedom, and it adapts to the many diverse cultures of the world. Adapting to cultures means that it works well with people as they are, not as someone would like to make them. …

 
“Alternatives to capitalism, whether socialism, communism, fascism, or some religious orthodoxies, offer some groups (a) utopian vision of mankind that becomes the one ‘right path.’ Utopian visions and orthodoxies always bring enforcement, often brutal enforcement.

 
“The 20th century saw many such outcomes. None achieved both higher living standards and greater individual freedom. National Socialism, Soviet and Chinese Communism instead produced mass murders of millions.

 
“This should have extinguished the appeal of utopian visions, but it has not. Many still believe that social justice can only be achieved by ending or severely regulating capitalism. …

 
“Capitalism is not a perfect solution to human problems. Perfect solutions are utopian; capitalism is a human institution that works with humans as they are. …

 
“People are not perfect; capitalism and all its many alternatives are not responsible for what goes wrong. People, most often people in powerful positions, are. Capitalism disperses and limits power while the alternatives concentrate power in a few hands.”

 
The world is a better place for Allan Meltzer’s scholarship and his persistence in not simply stating his case but in making it. May this gentle and affable giant of economics rest in peace.

 
Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

Liberty, safety & Real ID

Scholars of America’s Founding long have argued that one of Benjamin Franklin’s most famous quotes routinely is twisted from its original intent. For some, that very quote has been front and center in the Pennsylvania debate over adopting federal Real ID standards.

 
First, the Franklin quote:

 
“Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

 
Those opposing the federal government’s efforts to force a number of holdout states – Pennsylvania among them — to adopt standards it says will strengthen immigration enforcement and homeland security regularly invoke the Franklin quote to protest an ever more intrusive government apparatus.

 
And, indeed, there are many valid concerns over Real ID and in a number of quarters.
Real ID requires the several states to upgrade their driver’s licenses. Among the “improvements” – photos taken with facial recognition software and the scanning of supporting identification documents – think certified birth certificates and original Social Security cards – into a Department of Motor Vehicles database.

 
Among the fears: “Secure” government computers that are anything but and an interlinked network of state databases that could – could — yield a national identity database. To some, this is the equivalent of Stasi or Nazi officers issuing the terror-instilling order of “Papers, please!”

 
And in its typical approach – no carrot but a large cudgel — the federal government says states that do not adopt Real ID will see their residents denied access to some accommodations, including air travel.

 
The Pennsylvania Legislature, facing an early June federal deadline, is working on a hybrid measure that would allow those wanting Real ID to have it, but pay the full cost for the issuance of such driver’s licenses, and allow those who don’t want to participate the right to opt out. Whether that will pass federal muster remains to be seen; few think it will.

 
Some have railed at the state Legislature for its tardiness in addressing the issue. They think it’s reprehensible that their punting or half-acting legislature essentially would force them to buy an expensive passport to travel within the United States.

 
Critics say those complainants can’t see the liberty lost for the convenience they seek. And they roundly resist this latest federal encroachment.

 
Among them, Pennsylvania Rep. Frank Ryan, a Lebanon County Republican, who grudgingly supports the legislation wending its way through Harrisburg.

 
“We don’t work for the crown, the crown of Washington, D.C.,” he told cityandstatepa.com. “We won that battle in the 1700s.

 
“This bill is a sad commentary that we have to make reasonable accommodations to those people that don’t wish to participate in a system that’s been mandated by a master 250 miles away,” Ryan told the website.

 
Indeed, it is.

 
Back to ol’ Ben Franklin’s quote:

 
“Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

 
Of course, the quote dovetails nicely with the argument against Real ID. But its conscription for this contemporary debate (and many others similar) does not comport with its original meaning in context. Or so says Brookings Institution scholar Benjamin Wittes.

 
He told NPR’s “All Things Considered” in March 2015 that Franklin’s words were written in “a tax dispute between the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the family of the Penns, the proprietary family of the Pennsylvania family who ruled from afar.”

 
“(T)he Legislature was trying to tax the Penn family lands to pay for frontier defense during the French and Indian War. And the Penn family kept instructing the governor to veto. Franklin felt that this was a great affront to the ability of the Legislature to govern,” Wittes told NPR’s Robert Siegel.

 
“(S)o (Franklin) actually meant purchase a little safety literally. The Penn family was trying to give a lump sum of money in exchange for the General Assembly’s acknowledging that it did not have the authority to tax it.”

 
Wittes contends the Franklin’s quote “defends the authority of a legislature to govern in the interests of collective security.”

 
That is, Franklin was concerned about the ability to defend frontier towns from raids; “he regarded the ability of a community to defend itself as the essential liberty (and) that it would be contemptible to trade,” Wittes said.

 
That said, Wittes does concede this salient point:

 
“(M)aybe it doesn’t matter so much what Franklin was actually trying to say because the quotation means so much to us in terms of the tension between government power and individual liberties.”

 
Perhaps twisted. But still applicable. As the Pennsylvania debate over Real ID certainly shows.

 
Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

A civil discussion

It’s a sad fact of this age of instant cyber communication that the “Comments” section of many, if not most, Websites are bereft of intellectual heft.

 
All too often, the comments quickly devolve into polemics bordering on incoherence bordering on insanity. And even if the comment thread begins with at least a modicum of intellectual oomph, it often doesn’t last long.

 
There are exceptions, however. A great case in point can be found in the comments regarding an Allegheny Institute op-ed (posted at Townhall.com) on Frank Gamrat and Jake Haulk’s May 3 policy brief (Vol. 17, No. 20) on jobs and how they are tied to tax revenue in the Keystone State.

 
The bottom line of the scholars’ research was that while improvement in business and consumer optimism bodes well for Pennsylvania’s economy, myriad taxing and regulatory issues must be addressed to achieve bona fide economic betterment.

 
Refreshingly, the responding comments show there remain a goodly number of thinking people willing, and able, to engage in rational and polite discussion.

 
To wit, one poster responded:

 
“One of the measures of how a given state is doing is the net wealth being held by its current residents. If one rich person moves out of state (and takes all his cash and investments with him) and is replaced by one poor person, the population has not changed, but the “wealth” held within the state has certainly dropped. Future economic activity will certainly be diminished by that move.

 
“Also, the new (poorer) resident is likely to earn less at his job (presuming he has one) than the guy that just moved-out. That will drop the state income and sales tax revenues.”

 
Good point.

 
Then, the same respondent added this:

 
“I don’t have details, but I get the ‘feeling’ that much personal wealth has left most of the Northeast states during the last several decades. It would be interesting if someone were to study the ‘private per-capita-wealth’ trajectory of each state over time.”
That would be a worthy point to study.

 
The discussion continues with another posting:

 
“It would be very interesting and we both can guess the results. The Northeast economy was predicated on natural resources and transportation; this allowed steel, energy and manufacturing to blossom. You can’t replace those heavy industries with outlet malls and expect the same standard of living or tax base.”

 
Then there was this response:

 
“There is a chicken & egg question here — which came first, the outlet malls or the emigration? Climate is a substantial issue –which do you prefer: New York or North Carolina winters? But that could be countered with preferential tax policy.

 
“Tax policy is probably the biggest factor. People move out of the Northeast because they don’t want to pay the higher income/property/sales taxes or the estate taxes on their children’s legacy.

 
“It seems to me that most of the Northeast states are in a tax-induced stall. They raise tax rates (or add taxes) to cover their costs because income/wealth is moving out and the higher taxes causes more people/money/income to leave.

 
“They’ve got to become ‘cheap-living’ states to attract people to come and not to go –but they’ve got too many promises to keep (bonds/pensions/etc.). Sounds like a future financial train-wreck to me.”

 
Then, one of the prior posters continued the discussion:

 
“Pennsylvania government has a predatory attitude toward business and industry; they have never met a business they couldn’t drive out of the commonwealth.

 
“Businesses that can’t afford to leave Pennsylvania are breathing a temporary sigh of relief that (President Barack) Obama is gone, that’s all.

 
“The other bounce can be attributed to tourism and the halo effect of having major transportation arteries running through the state. Someone on their way from New England to the Midwest may stop at Breezewood for a coke and a sandwich; there is your economic boom.”

 
Added yet another commentator:

 
“IMHO (In my humble opinion) PA is lucky to have a mix of industries and thereby attract a diverse work force. I think we are at the point where the PA Legislature has to come to terms with the pension obligations and potential sale of the liquor store business. They will alleviate some of the problems.

 
“The next step would be that you cannot tax folks to point of wanting to relocate. My example will be the metro NY/NJ area where a lot of folks will be retiring around 2020 and beyond and will probably relocate to the Sun Belt states.”

 
Ah, how gratifying to see such civil discourse. For it keeps the discussion on point and advances the debate.

 

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

Weekend essay: May, May go away

This is not the kind of May gardeners had in mind. At least not this gardener. At least not thus far.

The growing season began in earnest and with great promise many weeks ago. Celery that had overwintered under a row cover suddenly bulked up. Onion sets, sown in raised beds rich in organics, shot up in record time.

And, of course, that fall lettuce that became winter lettuce that turned into spring lettuce (under a row cover, of course) kept passersby marveling and the neighborhood in greens. Some – the lettuce, not the passersby or the neighbors — even bolted in the spring’s burgeoning warmth, freeing up space for a new planting.

The other raised beds, appointed anew with plenty of mushroom manure and nicely aged compost, sat ready for sowing and planting. The long-range forecast looked so promising by the third week of April that sweet peppers were planted.

A few friends really pushed the envelope: in went their green beans (begun under grow lights indoors) and even big-box store tomatoes, planted with bravado if not braggadocio.

Oh, there were the normal vagaries in the early spring weather, cold snaps and an onion snow among them. But nothing was so severe, or out of the ordinary, that it could not be weathered, so to speak. A row cover here to preserve warmth or a bit more mulch there to sop up excessive moisture staved off harm.

Then the rains really came. The ground has become perpetually soggy. Even well-drained raised beds have turned soupy. And that burgeoning warmth turned to a dank dampness reminiscent of a May nearly 30 years.

Remember? It was in May 1989 that Pittsburgh received 6.5 inches of rain. Many a garden rotted ‘round these parts. Many a garden replanted in June either produced lower yields or not at all. It was, in a word, disgusting.

Nobody’s predicting that kind of rain this May. At least not yet. Still, those peppers have spent a lot of time under buckets the past week or so. Boasting early bean and tomato planters have fallen mute.

It will continue to be relatively cool and damp. And that could be an invitation for more disgust, especially for those who refuse to reset their plans and do the hardest thing a gardener can do – wait.

It once was written how blessed prudence is in a good disposition. As in disposition, as in gardening.
The rains will subside. Seasonal norms will return. The garden will grow. And, hopefully, the May of our gardening discontent will yield a June to remember more fondly.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

Budget holes & gambling trolls

As the budget hole keeps getting deeper and deeper for state government, the pressure is on – from some quarters – for the Pennsylvania Legislature to raises taxes.

 
It’s a pressure that must be abated. For this insidious policy of tax and tax and tax at ever higher rates and spend and spend and spend in even higher measure must be brought to its knees.

 
The state Department of Revenue says April tax collections were 13 percent below expectations at $537 million. That puts the commonwealth on a path to a $3 billion-plus shortfall next summer.

 
While some have noted that a shift in the law that moved the deadline for corporate net income tax filings from April to May is responsible for the latest lagging numbers, legislative officials tell the Post-Gazette it accounts for only $200 million.

 
Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf has cut the budget. But he’s also proposed tax hikes of $1 billion, including an onerous, industry-punishing tax on Marcellus shale natural gas extraction.

 
At least some in the Republican-controlled House favor expanding legalized gambling (see below) and privatizing some aspects of wine and liquor sales. The GOP-controlled Senate has not endorsed the plan.

 
Simply put, raising taxes should be off the table. To paraphrase the captain in 1967’s “Cool Hand Luke,” what we have here is a failure to communicate the failure of the systemic cycle of raising taxes to cover budget shortfalls.

 
Government would be better to cut taxes – and regulations – to facilitate more business activity, thus generating more money for state tax coffers.

 
After all, the less you tax something, the more you get of it. It’s that elementary. It’s that fundamental. That Harrisburg cannot appear to learn this lesson suggests critical thinking skills never were taught – or taught for naught.

 
Executives of nine Pennsylvania casinos are opposing legislation that would authorize up to 35,000 video slot machines in everything from Keystone State bars and bowling alleys to fire halls and social clubs.

 
Well, of course they are. They fear it would end their state-sanctioned monopoly on gambling.

 
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that in a letter to House and Senate leaders, the operators (excluding Penn National) argue:

 
Such operations “will do nothing more than rob Peter to pay Paul, cannibalizing the casinos and the taxes they generate.”

 
Talk about the raven chiding blackness. Talk about cannibals taking offense to cannibalism. Talk about a false narrative.

 
By varying estimates, there already are between 15,000 and 40,000 illegal VGTs (video gaming machines) operating in Pennsylvania watering holes and other parlors of regular neighborhood visitation. (Ahem.) Anecdotal information suggests the latter number.

 
It’s anybody’s guess what the value of this underground economy is but it is not insignificant. It’s difficult to imagine that legalizing fewer machines would have much, if any, effect on the big casinos.

 
But it’s not hard to imagine that legislation proposed in Harrisburg would hurt not the big casino players, but the little “illegals” made legal.

 
How’s that?

 
First off, think of the specter of fewer machines generating less play and less revenue.
Then think of the typical government red tape – all the overregulation that will come with it.

 
Then think of this:

 
Legislators see legalizing neighborhood VGTs as a way to help close the growing state budget deficit. There are predictions of increased revenues of $100 million in the first year and $500 million, half-a-billion dollars annually, once fully implemented.

 
But, and it’s a very big “but,” only about 4 percent of those proceeds would be remitted to the local jurisdiction hosting those now-legalized video gaming devices.

 
It’s more likely in such a scenario that legalizing VGTs would do more harm to local economies (albeit the underground economies) than help them. “The State,” acting like “The State,” actually would be sucking money out of those local jurisdictions.

 
Why not let the local jurisdiction keep a majority of the legalized VGT proceeds? Would that not reduce the demands on “The State,” easing part of the budget crunch?

 
Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

Of fracking & groundwater; of Pirates & paying bills

Yet another scholarly study should help put to rest the ecocratic article of faith that hydraulic fracturing — employed to release natural gas and oil from shale rock — contaminates ground water.

 
In a three-year study of 112 drinking wells in Northwestern West Virginia, researchers from Penn State, Ohio State, Stanford, the French Geological Survey and Duke, which led the examination, fracking was found not to have contaminated ground water.

 
But the study did find that accidental spills of fracking wastewater might pose a threat to surface water in the region, reports Matt Vespa, writing at Townhall.com.

 
The peer-reviewed study was published in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, a European Journal.

 
“Based on consistent evidence from comprehensive testing, we found no indication of groundwater contamination over the three-year course of our study,” said Duke researcher Avner Vengosh.

 
“However, we did find that spill water associated with fracked wells and their wastewater has an impact on the quality of streams in areas of intense shale gas development.”

 
Vespa says 20 wells were sampled before drilling or fracking began in the region, which provided a baseline for later comparisons.

 
It’s not the first study to disprove that fracking itself, somehow by rote, contaminates groundwater. But this study should go a long way in continuing to debunk an anti-fracking narrative that continues to have traction among many environmentalists.

 
No business likes to be considered a deadbeat in paying its bills. And though the term might be a little strong given the analysis, the Pittsburgh Pirates should be embarrassed nonetheless.

 
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the venerable National League franchise was among the bottom third in paying suppliers within the agreed terms in the first quarter of 2017.

 
The Pirates take 31 days “beyond terms” to pay its suppliers, found the assessment comes from Creditsafe, “a global business intelligence firm” based in Allentown, Pa.
“The study looked at the overall creditworthiness of all 30 (Major League Baseball (MLB) team,” the newspaper said, “as well as how quickly each paid their bills in the first quarter of 2017.”

 
While the Baltimore Orioles ranked at the top of Creditsafe’s list for financial stability and had a perfect credit score for paying its bills on time, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were the slowest to pay bills from suppliers, “with an average payment being 52 days beyond agreed terms and a credit score that rates their creditworthiness as a very high risk.”

 
That said, most MLB teams pay their suppliers within terms, the analysis found.
As Creditsafe CEO Matthew Debbage told The Inquirer:

 
“Days beyond terms (DBT) is a commonly used business credit term that indicates how long a business has taken to pay its suppliers beyond the agreed payment terms.”
Most interestingly, Debbage said DBT “is often cited as the most predictive data item when assessing a company’s ability to stay in business,” Debbage said.

 
Do tell.

 
Now, no one is saying that the Pirates are ready to go belly up – unless the Pirates aren’t telling the public something, that is. But being laggards in paying suppliers (and being near the bottom of a list among your peers) certainly shouldn’t be considered any kind of best business practice.

 
And it certainly does not endear yourself to your suppliers.

 
Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinsitute.org).