Talk of tax re­turns can dis­tract from real is­sues

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - — The (Wil­liamsport) SunGazette

This elec­tion cy­cle, with emo­tions and ten­sions par­tic­u­larly high, al­most ev­ery­thing is hy­per­politi­cized and used by can­di­dates, their back­ers and even the news me­dia as weapons with which to dis­credit.

In vir­tu­ally ev­ery cam­paign, from the pres­i­den­tial race to con­tests for the U.S. Sen­ate and lo­cal of­fices, per­sonal at­tacks and dem­a­goguery are the fo­cal points in­stead of sub­stan­tive de­bates about pol­icy.

One of the tac­tics du jour is the politi­ciza­tion of tax re­turns. Can­di­dates for pub­lic of­fice — and es­pe­cially the pres­i­dency — ought to re­lease their tax re­turns to as­sure vot­ers that they are not crooks, to para­phrase the fa­mous words of for­mer Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon. That means mak­ing sure there are no con­flicts of in­ter­est or oth­er­wise crooked ac­tiv­ity.

But the re­lease, ex­am­i­na­tion and pub­li­ca­tion of tax re­turns today isn’t about en­sur­ing that a politi­cian’s fi­nan­cial ac­tiv­i­ties are on the up-and-up. It’s typ­i­cally about the de­mo­niza­tion of a can­di­date by at­tempt­ing to clas­sify him or her as rich, out of touch or a mem­ber of the of­ten de­rided “1 per­cent.” It shouldn’t be, though — it should be about con­flicts of in­ter­est and bad deal­ings.

It’s a shame that even tax re­turns have to be politi­cized in races that should be about ideas and is­sues. It’s cer­tainly valu­able to know if a can­di­date is re­spon­si­ble with his or her fi­nances. But it’s also im­por­tant to re­al­ize that taxes are used more of­ten than not as a po­lit­i­cal ploy by cam­paigns to at­tack and cast doubt, dis­tract­ing vot­ers from con­se­quen­tial pol­icy is­sues and mat­ters of sub­stance.

Tax re­turns would have more rel­e­vance in elec­tion sea­son if con­flict-of-in­ter­est laws at the lo­cal, state and na­tional lev­els were up­dated and mod­ern­ized to dis­al­low con­flicts and pun­ish vi­o­la­tions. But when is the last time you re­mem­ber an elected of­fi­cial re­cus­ing him or her­self from a vote for that pur­pose?

Per­haps that’s a re­form our elected of­fi­cials ought to pur­sue af­ter the mud­sling­ing of elec­tion sea­son con­cludes. — Los An­ge­les Daily News, Dig­i­tal First Me­dia

Gen­eral as­sem­bly should have some say over la­bor pacts

Gov. Tom Wolf re­cently ne­go­ti­ated a new col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment with AFSCME la­bor force that in­cludes nearly 32,000 state em­ploy­ees.

Ac­cord­ing to the state’s In­de­pen­dent Fis­cal Of­fice, the agree­ment will cost the state $390 mil­lion over the next three years.

Under the way state gov­ern­ment now works, Gov Wolf ne­go­ti­ated the agree­ment uni­lat­er­ally with the state’s largest union. And he has the right to do the same re­gard­ing other agree­ments the state has.

As for the Penn­syl­va­nia Gen­eral As­sem­bly, it has one re­spon­si­bil­ity find the money from tax­pay­ers to pay for the agree­ment and no ne­go­ti­at­ing power.

State Rep. Garth Everett, a Muncy Repub­li­can, is push­ing leg­is­la­tion that would give the Gen­eral As­sem­bly the power to over­ride the gov­er­nor’s ne­go­ti­a­tion de­ci­sions.

We sorely need some check and bal­ance over this or any fu­ture gov­er­nor.

It’s not the pay in­creases are ex­or­bi­tant they are in the 2 to 3 per­cent range.

But the state is strug­gling to bal­ance its bud­gets and fac­ing fu­ture fis­cal woes, start­ing with an un­der­funded pen­sion sys­tem that threat­ens to over­run the rest of the state bud­get.

Under sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances in the pri­vate sec­tor, work force re­duc­tions and pay freezes would be the likely sce­nario.

But our state gov­ern­ment has shown for years it is not in touch with the fis­cal re­al­i­ties that ev­ery­one else lives by.

Lead­ers sim­ply spend more to solve prob­lems and tax­pay­ers with no right of re­fusal or over­sight are ex­pected to pay for it.

There at least needs to be a mech­a­nism in place to make la­bor ne­go­ti­a­tions with state work­ers a mat­ter that the Gen­eral As­sem­bly has some over­sight over.

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