Posts Tagged Paterno

Open Records Law Key to Restoring Penn State Credibility

Penn State University is fighting efforts in Harrisburg to place state-related universities, of which Penn State is one, under provisions of the commonwealth’s Open Records law.  This would require the folks in Happy Valley to provide the same transparency as other beneficiaries of the taxpayer’s largess.  As the botched search for a new president of the state’s marquee institution illustrates, the need for such a law clear and compelling.

Even the Jerry Sandusky scandal failed to bring about the structural changes needed to transform the insular and secretive cultural of Penn State’s governing board and administration.  While much about the sordid Sandusky saga remains the topic of debate, there is no doubt the cloistered culture of the university’s board resulted in a climate that allowed the Sandusky wound to fester.  That culture allowed the tragic sexual abuse of young men to continue, destroyed a storied football program, ruined careers, and cast a shadow of shame over a once proud educational institution.

That the “reforms” so far have been little more than window dressing has come into focus as Penn State seeks to select its next president.  Rather than conduct the search in an open and inclusive process, a sub-set of trustees have dominated the search to the point that they have excluded board members who are not part of the inner circle.  Trustee  Anthony Lubrano, elected after the scandal and an independent voice on the board, has been highly critical of the selection process and the failure to significantly involve all board members.

The process so far appears to ensure two things: the new president will take office under a cloud of controversy, and that person will be beholden to the power clique which made the selection.  This is clearly not the way for Penn State to begin repairing its tattered reputation.

If you believe that where there is smoke there is fire, the fact the trustees are undertaking what will be one of their most important decisions in such a manner then it is reasonable to conclude that little or nothing about the institution’s governing culture has either been learned or has changed because of the Sandusky scandal.

Penn State, like virtually every other educational institution, constantly has its hands out asking for more tax dollars.  Like baseball, apple pie and hot dogs, public education at all levels is a cultural icon.  So taxpayers are generally supportive. But, more money does not necessarily guarantee a better education.  So in a time of tight budgets, education spending has come under more scrutiny.  Penn State, along with the other state-related institutions wails and rends garments because their fiscal demands are not being met.

As they roam the halls of the state capitol panhandling for more taxpayer cash, the universities are also fighting to stave off inclusion in the Open Records law.  Their goal is a never-ending stream of state dollars, without transparency and accountability for how those dollars are being spent.  For some reason they believe they deserve a special exception to the rules other institutions receiving state funds must follow.

If anything, the Sandusky scandal and the presidential search fiasco should serve as glaring reasons why Penn State and the other state-related universities should and must be placed under provisions of the Open Records law.  A case can even be made that the law should be strengthened across the boards.

Simply put, you cannot have too much transparency in government.  Information is power.  And the natural inclination of any bureaucracy is to preserve and expand its power.  A strong, enforceable Open Records law is vital to preventing the abuse of such power.  And the key to any new law covering the state-related universities must be enforceability.  Compliance should be tied to funding: comply and the university gets state funds, fail to comply and funding is withheld.

Given the proven inability of Penn State’s board and administration to reform itself the minimum that must occur is to let the light of full disclosure shine into the dark recesses of the institution’s back rooms.  Only then will we the people of Pennsylvania be able to regain trust and confidence in Penn State and it can be restored to its rightful place as one of our commonwealth’s most important and respected institutions.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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PA Property Tax System Broken

By Scott Paterno

For time out of mind, Pennsylvania has funded public education from a locally imposed and collected property tax, supplemented annually by state funds. The idea behind it was simple – tie taxes to property in the school district so that school boards are accountable to the communities in which they operate. There is only one problem – the system is a complete disaster that fuels a vicious cycle with no end in sight.

For the last several election cycles, property tax reform has been an issue. Tom Corbett has paid significant lip service to the issue yet has failed to propose a comprehensive plan. Ed Rendell used it to pass gaming in a state that still limits Sunday alcohol sales. Tom Ridge worked to pass a reform to little effect. House and senate candidates have been tickling the ears of older constituents – people with fully paid off houses, grown kids, yet a rising tax bill – seemingly forever. It is, in many ways, the one issue that appears to have universal support yet never seems to be significantly addressed.

But before we get in to the politics of why we can’t seem to get a real fix, let’s look at the stunning dysfunction of the system – a system that grows more antiquated and damaging each year.

Starting at the most basic element, Pennsylvania uses a system of property taxes to fund public education based on the value of properties within the school districts themselves. Districts with lots of valuable personal and business real estate – think districts like Hershey, State College, Lower Merion and Mount Lebanon – have well funded schools. Districts with lower property values and lots of untaxed public property – Harrisburg is perhaps the best example – are in a constant struggle to make ends meet. As the economy tightens, and as property values fall, more and more districts are finding themselves in the same position – saddled with a declining tax base and rising costs.

This starts the cycle. As property values fall, so does the desirability of the school district. Once a school district’s quality is perceived as falling, the image of the town in which it resides falls with it. This in turn scares off potential residents, as home owners with kids would rather move into a town with a solid school district. As a result, the demand for property in the better school district goes up, increasing the value of the property within that district. As property values rise, so does the funding base for the school district.

Meanwhile, the town literally next door with the less attractive school district sees the opposite effect. Fewer potential home owners wanting to move into a district lowers demand for property in the town, and consequently lowers property values. As property values fall, so does the tax base and the funding for the school district. As the school district struggles, it further drags down the appeal of the community it serves, making a recovery harder and harder with each passing year.

This is exacerbated in urban and quasi-urban settings where more and more lower income residents move into higher density rental properties. The effect is to increase population density without any improvement in tax revenues, putting an even greater strain on the limited and declining resources in these districts.

This is a cycle doomed to failure. Towns can’t improve their property values without improving their school system, yet they can’t improve their school system without a deepening tax base that can only come with an improved and attractive school system. Like the chicken and the egg, there is no way to know which came first; all we do know is the result has been sliding toward disaster for more than a generation and yet we still have no comprehensive solution to the problem.

And that brings us back to the “why” – politics. You see, while both sides want property tax reform, there has yet to be a real majority supporting the type of comprehensive reform that might actually make a difference. One side wants to “tweak” the system in order to trumpet cutting taxes. Another side wants to increase funding across the board but needs to disguise the tax increase. Still others want to exempt certain properties of elderly constituents while failing to provide an offset. In short, there are lots of political maneuvering yet no real fix to the obvious problem. In laymen’s terms, the politicians have been “painting over the rust” hoping the public is distracted from the rot underneath.

But there is a tipping point coming, and one that will bring real passion into the discussion across the state. No, I am not referring to any political event – it’s the growing use of “pay to play” athletics and extracurricular activities in school districts across the state.

Over the past few years, as it has become harder to raise property taxes in a bad economy and as property values have fallen off as much as 40% in some districts, school boards have been faced with Hobson’s choice: either charge for extra curricular activities or end them. It’s a choice that more and more districts are facing, and as a result the vicious cycle continues and gets worse.

Athletics, as trivial as they may seem on paper when discussing education, are more than just games; they are avenues to learn life lessons that transcend the playing field. The lessons learned, such as teamwork, leadership, dedication, how to succeed and fail, serve the participants as they move forward. These are, after all, some of the most important lessons we learn in our youth.

The value of athletics – or band, debate club, or any number of other extra curricular activities threatened with “pay to play” funding models – go far beyond their cost. To many parents they are a part of the school experience, and as more and more of them are forced to write a check or tell their child they can’t participate, the louder the outcry for real reform.

And we need real reform. The process will be messy and ugly at times, but the fact is we need real leadership from our elected officials to reverse – truly reverse – the root of the failure our government keeps trying to ignore: the property tax system itself.

If we want to stop the vicious cycle that dooms poor school districts to struggle, if we want to provide a truly equal educational experience in every school in Pennsylvania, if we really want to improve outcomes, we must stop treating the symptom and start treating the cause – we MUST completely rethink and recreate our public school funding system, and elect officials with the courage to do just that. Anything short of that is a path to failure evident to all – except those officials in Harrisburg.

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This Week on Lincoln Radio Journal: Scott Paterno; Independent Voters Rule!

Radio Program Schedule for the week of April 7, 2012 – April 13, 2012

This week on American Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute about new Obama Administration regulations aimed at preventing the construction of new coal fired electric generation plants
  • Andy Roth of the Club for Growth has the Real Story behind tough primaries for the U.S. Senate in Utah and Indiana
  • Adam Tragone of Human Events has an Off the Cuff discussion about the so-called “Amazon Tax” with David Harsanyi of Human Events
  • Colin Hanna of Let Freedom Ring, USA has an American Radio Journal commentary on why Jesus was a conservative

This week on Lincoln Radio Journal:

  • Eric Boehm of the Pennsylvania Independent has this week’s news headlines
  • Lowman Henry talks with John Kennedy from the Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania about the mood of the Pennsylvania electorate heading into the primary election
  • Joe Geiger from the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations has Lydia Mitchell from the State YMCA of Pennsylvania in the Nonprofit Spotlight to talk about the Youth in Government program
  • Scott Paterno has an Uncomfortable Truth commentary on why independent voters will decide who will be the next President of the United States

Visit the program web sites for more information about air times. There, you can also stream live or listen to past programs!

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This Week on Lincoln Radio Journal: Eric Montarti Talks About Harrisburg Takeover

Radio Program Schedule for November 19, 2011 – November 25, 2011

This week on American Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with Tim Goeglein author of The Man in the Middle: An Inside Account of Faith and Politics in the George W. Bush Era
  • Adam Tragone of Human Events has an Off the Cuff talk with former Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Sam Rohrer about congressional redistricting
  • Dr. Paul Kengor from the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College has an American Radio Journal commentary on the need to record the stories of our vanishing war veterans

This week on Lincoln Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with Eric Montarti, Senior Policy Analyst at the Allegheny Institute about City of Harrisburg being taken over by the commonwealth
  • Joe Geiger from the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations has David Thompson from the National Council of Nonprofits in the Nonprofit Spotlight
  • Col. Frank Ryan, USMC (Retired) sits in for Scott Paterno with a commentary on why being pro-union is not the same as being pro-worker.

Visit the program web sites for more information about air times. There, you can also stream live or listen to past programs!

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Scott Paterno Commentary: The Uncomfortable Truth

A few weeks before he announced his own run for the White House, Gov. Perry made the following statement: “Our friends in New York six weeks ago passed a statute that said marriage can be between two people of the same sex. And you know what? That’s New York, and that’s their business, and that’s fine with me. That is their call. If you believe in the 10th Amendment, stay out of their business.”
It is a simple view of the 10th Amendment and one that certainly has merit: individual states should be left to their own devices on matters that are not, to paraphrase the Amendment, expressly delegated to the Federal Government. As Gov. Perry correctly notes, that includes the definition of marriage, among other things; absent a Constitutional amendment, the States have jurisdiction.
The wording of the amendment is important. It reads: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” It is often referred to as “the reserved powers clause” because of its distinct wording; it limited federal constitutional powers to those powers specifically delegated while the remainders – everything else – were “reserved to the States.”
The history of the Republic is marked by the battles over the reserved and delegated powers, on issues ranging from slavery to abortion, from apple grading to building codes. The Founders meant it that way, and intentionally left the larger swath of political unknowns to the states. They did this so that new policies could to be tested on a smaller scale while respecting local mores and customs.
The system is genius. As Franklin noted, it set up each state as an incubator of policy ideas, allowing failures to be limited in scope while the very best policies could be replicated by other states.
That is why Governor Perry’s position on the 10th Amendment is correct – but it is also why his attack on Romneycare rings so hollow.
This is not a specific defense of Romneycare; on the contrary, I dislike the law and there are many aspects that were failures. But, bluntly, that is exactly what is supposed to happen – states are supposed to try and fail in the hopes that they will occasionally succeed. This allows our society to benefit from the testing of any number of new policy ideas while significantly limiting national risk in the event an attempt does fail.
Think about it in these terms: does anyone think that uninsured people aren’t an issue we, as a society, should try and address? The cost of mandatory treatment for uninsured people at hospitals makes the economics alone a sufficient basis for the attempt. In 2006 most of us – myself included – wanted to see states try new options to mitigate this obvious problem.
When then Gov. Romney took a swing at the problem he did so with the right intentions – he built a plan that fit his constituency in the hopes of solving a problem all but the most cynical see. It was not a plan for Pennsylvania, Hawaii or Texas – it was a plan for Massachusetts. 
The legislation’s results were mixed; fewer children are uninsured but the plan was unwieldy and expensive. The country learned from the experience, even if the Obama administration did not; state governments did not adopt the Massachusetts plan. And it is hardly the fault of the former Governor of Massachusetts if a subsequent President tried to force a state plan on the entire nation while dramatically expanding the original plan’s scope.
No one – not even Perry – is arguing that the people of Massachusetts didn’t get what they wanted when the legislature adopted a version of universal care. And, at the same time Massachusetts was setting its policy, the people from “the State of Texas” were able to keep their system – a result 10th amendment purists should applaud. The system worked exactly as the Founders intended.
Governor Perry, as his remarks on gay marriage demonstrate, knows this. His attacks on Governor Romney over a valid state issue are therefore politically crass and disingenuous.
But even more than that, the attempt to score cheap points shows the lack of perspective many sense in the current governor of Texas. After all, we want states to experiment with new ideas and ways to try and solve problems we all know exist. If we make the price of such failure the end of later ambition aren’t we dooming ourselves to repeating the same problems again and again? Put another way, if we place such a huge disincentive on trying new things, aren’t we simply limiting ourselves to the failed ideas of the past?
The 10th Amendment encourages the opposite. Governor Romney understood this and was willing to take a chance and see if there wasn’t something better than the status quo.
Did it work? Not the way he’d hoped. But the attempt was and remains important, as does the critical lesson – that the states are the place to try these new solutions. Let the states try and fail (until we succeed) as the constitution intended. One size does not fit all.
That is why Governor Perry is in such a bind – he needs to attack Gov. Romney for passing universal healthcare when in reality he knows that this is exactly what the 10th Amendment he champions contemplates. He understands the fundamental difference between Romneycare and Obamacare has always been this simple: Romneycare is a state level solution envisioned by the 10th Amendment and welcomed by the constituents it serves; Obamacare is a federal mess imposed through questionably democratic means on a populace who doesn’t want it.
The next 4-8 years will present any number of new and nearly intractable problems, ranging from emerging threats to economic upheaval. Solutions will be proposed at all levels of government – exactly as our federal system envisioned. Some of these ideas will succeed while even more will likely fail. But the attempts are desperately needed, and the solution to our big problems will remain elusive as long as we don’t have encourage and foster those attempts.
That is what the 10th Amendment envisioned. Do we really want a leader so hidebound by rhetoric that he cannot see the larger principle? Can we afford a leader who will only “stick to his guns” when circumstances ultimately (and inevitably) change? And can we truly call such a person a “leader?”
After all, isn’t that what we have now, and isn’t that what we are seeking to replace?
I’m Scott Paterno, and that is the uncomfortable truth.

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This Week on the Lincoln Radio Journal: Curt Schroder & Gaming Reform

Program Schedule for the Week of September 24, 2011 – September 30, 2011

This week on Lincoln Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry has a Newsmaker interview with State Representative Curt Schroder of Chester County on reforming the state’s casino gaming system
  • Joe Geiger of the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations has Bets McManus of Leadership Cumberland in the Nonprofit Spotlight
  • Scott Paterno has an Uncomfortable Truth commentary on the role of money and consultants in political campaigns.

This week on American Radio Journal:

  • Lowman Henry talks with Andrew Moylan of the National Taxpayers Union about how NTU found common ground with the Left on proposed federal budget cuts
  • Andy Roth of the Club for Growth has the Real Story on skirmishes in congress as the federal budget deadline looms
  • Adam Tragone of Human Events has an Off The Cuff talk with Kate O’Hare, blogger for the Los Angeles Times about the recent California state Republican Party convention
  • Col. Frank Ryan, USMC (Ret.) takes on Warren Buffet and taxes on his American Radio Journal commentary

Visit the program web sites for more information about air times. There, you can also stream live or listen to past programs!

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