Overall, the audit revealed that only 56 percent of the companies receiving the state money had created or retained the number of jobs they had promised in their applications. The DCED raised interest rates on some financing for 46 businesses as a penalty in some of those cases, and assessed $10.9 million in fines against 72 others, of which $4.5 million has been collected.
The lesson from the audit is that policymakers should be skeptical and demanding when doling out public money for businesses. Such programs are necessary to keep the state in the game, but that does not preclude lawmakers and regulators from separating solid projects from others that do not fulfill their promises.
The (Hazleton) Standard-Speaker
INCORPORATE NUNS IN CHURCH LEADERSHIP
Most American Catholics were bewildered six years ago by the Vatican's harsh approach to several orders of nuns here, and dismayed when Pope Benedict XVI authorized an "apostolic visitation" — an investigation — of the sisters.
Rank-and-file Catholics, after all, know the sisters as educators, nurses, clothiers of the naked and feeders of the poor. That the nuns somehow had fallen out of favor with the Vatican seemed inconceivable.
Yet Cardinal Franc Rode, head of the Vatican's office for religious orders, said in 2008 that he was concerned about "a certain secular mentality that has spread in these religious families and, perhaps, also a certain feminist spirit."
As it turns out, not so much.
The Vatican, now under new management in the person of Pope Francis, released a report Tuesday recognizing the invaluable contributions of the sisters and noting the challenges they face in modern American society.
It is not a coincidence that the report reflects Pope Francis' emphasis on social justice as the work of the church. In the United States and in much of the world, nuns are the church's embodiment of that priority. Their schools, hospitals, shelters and unlimited work for the poor are the church's best foot forward in societies around the world. That's why 60,000 U.S. Catholics sent a petition to the Vatican speaking up for nuns and protesting the investigation.
In its U.S. inquiry, the Vatican reached roughly the same conclusion after asking 350 communities of nuns about their missions, prayer schedules, living arrangements finances and property. About 80 Vatican investigators visited 90 communities of sisters — some of whom did not fully cooperate.
But the biggest problem involving American nuns is that there are not enough of them. There are only about 50,000 sisters nationwide, roughly 40 percent of the number 50 years ago, and their median age is in the mid-70s.
Rather than investigating the sisters, the Vatican should examine ways to generate more vocations, perhaps by more fully incorporating them into the leadership of the church.
— The (Wilkes-Barre) Citizens' Voice
PENSION REFORM SHOULD NOT BE LINKED TO A NATURAL GAS EXTRACTION TAX
The GOP-controlled state Legislature must make Pennsylvania's biggest financial woe — $50-billion-plus in unfunded pension liabilities — its top 2015 priority. And it must do so without linking pension reform to Democrat Gov.-elect Tom Wolf's proposed natural gas severance tax.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, (during a Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association forum at last weekend's Pennsylvania Society gathering in New York) said he's willing to consider the severance tax if Wolf will negotiate on pensions. Going beyond compromise, that sets up GOP lawmakers to capitulate to Wolf's taxing agenda.
Allegheny Institute scholar Frank Gamrat reminds that the extraction tax would have to compensate for the state-mandated elimination of the impact fee, a levy that has brought counties and municipalities nearly $130 million over the past three years. And for the tax to yield the Wolf-estimated $1 billion-plus at current gas prices, "production would have to rise by more than 50 percent." It's a quite iffy proposition given current market trends.
A too-high severance tax "could have adverse consequences for Pennsylvania," says Gamrat. GOP leaders must take heed when he urges that the Legislature not spend "a great deal of (its) time and political capital" on a severance tax and focus instead on "pension reform" to address "the principal cause of the commonwealth's budget problem."
— Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
BRING PENNSYLVANIA SOCIETY BACK TO KEYSTONE STATE
Pennsylvania politicians and guests mingled last weekend at the annual Pennsylvania Society bash in New York City. Some events were by invitation only. Others, including receptions for elected officials from both parties, were open to anyone with enough money for admission.
The gala event dates to 1899, when James Barr Ferree, a Pennsylvanian who lived in New York, invited 55 Pennsylvania friends for dinner at the Waldorf Astoria, according to www.pasociety.com. "In the more than 100 years that have passed since that first gathering, the society has sponsored scores of historical and social functions, bringing together its members and friends to remind them of Pennsylvania's vital and long-standing leadership in the economic and industrial life of the nation," the website says.
Times have changed since the society was formally incorporated in 1903, and so has Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh gets well-deserved press about how the region has reinvented itself from a steelmaking center into a high-tech hub. Pope Francis will visit Philadelphia in 2015 and Philly could host the Democratic National Convention in 2016. Why not pump dollars into Pennsylvania's economy by alternating the Pennsylvania Society's December weekend between those cities?
— Erie Times-News