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Altoona Mirror (Newspaper) - February 15, 2001, Altoona, Pennsylvania Page A8Thursday, February 15, 2001 Altoona Mirror opinion Edward W. Kruger Publisher David M. Mentzer Sr. Operations Manager Daniel N. Step Circulation Manager Raymond M. Eckenrode Managing Editor Don Watson Sales Manager John L. Eggers Accounting Manager Steven P. Carpenter Opinion Page Editor OUR VIEW THE ISSUE Seizure of temple for nonpayment of taxes. Church must obey laws of society No American should be happy that federal agents were forced to seize an Indianapolis church to satisfy a tax debt, but however unpleasant, the government’s action was the right thing to do. While our society imparts great freedoms, there are limits that have to be enforced for the greater good of society. That’s why yelling, “Fire,” in a crowded theater doesn’t constitute freedom of speech. In the case of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple, the leaders tried to stretch freedom of religion beyond the breaking point. U.S. marshals took control of the church Tuesday morning so that the building can be auctioned in an effort to satisfy nearly $6 million owed in back taxes and fines. The action, which used minimal force, came nearly three months past the deadline when church officials were told to vacate the property. Church nfembers had been conducting a vigil in an effort to prevent the seizure. It seems clear that further delays would not have resulted in a different outcome. The blame for the entire episode lies directly with the church, which decided in 1984 to flaunt federal laws by refusing to withhold taxes from employee paychecks and by relinquishing its nonprofit status, which helped it avoid other tax liabilities. The pastor said that employees paid the taxes on their own and that withholding the taxes made the church an agent of the government in violation of the First Amendment. The church defends its actions by claiming the employees paid their taxes on their own. Our society cannot flourish if laws are not applied as equally as possible. If the church is allowed to stop withholding payroll taxes, why should any other entity or business undertake the process? For example, should a newspaper or radio or television station not have to go through the process of withholding payroll taxes and forwarding them to the government because of freedom of the press? The logical answer is no. It would have been better if the church would have simply followed the law, but it deliberately chose not to do so. And that demanded the church be treated the same as any other lawbreaker. Anything less would be unfair and undermine our society, including its guarantee of freedom of religion. Mirror readers can suggest a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down for the Saturday roundup. Include your name, address and daytime telephone number. Send your idea to Altoona Mirror, Thumbs-up/Thumbs-down, P.O. Box 2008, Altoona, Pa. 16603, or e-mail it to [email protected] The name and town of the person submitting the item will be printed. HONEST' I TWINED DR. LEGER STRICTLY^ THE MERITS or HIS CASE. GUEST COLUMN Deregulation dangers await Pa. By State Rep. Camille George You can hardly pick up a newspaper without coming across another defender of Pennsylvania’s electric deregulation scheme. There’s a frantic tone to the testimony: Deregulation in Pennsylvania will never resemble the debacle in California. I hate to interrupt the can’t-happen-here chorus, but GPU Energy is seeking to escape the rate cap on generation fees that Pennsylvania’s deregulation was supposed to guarantee through most of the decade. Public hearings on GPU’s bid to bust the cap — and charge residential ratepayers for its goofs — is scheduled for 2 and 7 p.m. today at the Altoona Ramada Inn. Didn’t deregulation promoters promise ratepayers in California and Pennsylvania that competition would flourish under deregulation, leading to lower prices? Well, one could go with the flow — all dead fish swim downstream — and believe the hoax that deregulation guarantees competition and lower prices. However; an honest appraisal of deregulation might save Pennsylvania from the deregulation abyss. Where’s the competition? Customers from three utilities covering most of Pennsylvania — PPL Utilities, GPU Energy’s Metropolitan Edison and Allegheny Power — are unable to buy electricity elsewhere at a lower rate. That’s about 2.5 million customers who have no choice on competitive prices. The number of generation suppliers in Pennsylvania has dwindled to six from a high of about 25. First the large power generators such as Exelon and Connectiv fled, saying it cost too much to attract residential customers. Then the smaller providers, including Utility.com and PG Energy, began pulling up stakes in Pennsylvania. So much for robust retail price competition, which deregulation is predicated upon. “It’s very disappointing,” opined the state’s consumer advocate. Disappointing? How about downright scary? GPU may be the first to attack the caps, but I doubt it will be the last. GPU foolishly sold its generation plants — pulling the plug on hundreds of jobs in Pennsylvania — without long-term contracts in place. Without cheaper alternatives available to its customers, GPU has been forced to buy power for them on the open market, as has California, at prices substantially higher than it is permitted to charge its customers. GPU now is asking residential ratepayers to pay for its mistakes. Today’s public hearing also will focus on GPU’s buyout by FirstEnergy of Ohio, a merger that poses the threat of more job losses. GPU has said the California experience demonstrates that earnings and cash flow will deteriorate if wholesale supply costs continue to skyrocket out of control. GPU later retracted the comparison to California after the utility was blistered by deregulation defenders who were aghast at any comparison to California, even by the utilities they are supposed to be watching. The deregulation craze ignores the basic reasons for regulation: to protect ratepayers, workers and the environment in monopolistic markets. There was a time when the Democratic Party would have stood up for residential ratepayers, the estimated 150,000 utility workers who have lost jobs nationwide and responsible and reliable power generation. However, the deregulation mania caught many in its crazed currents. Only 27 state representatives joined me to vote against deregulation. Pennsylvania’s deregulation defenders say the state’s low growth rate will make the state an exporter of power for years to come. That’s one dubious selling point: Pennsylvania has power to spare because it ranks 47th in the nation in job creation and 45th in the rate of job growth. While the number of power suppliers in Pennsylvania has dwindled, the defenders boast that ample generation capacity is in the planning stages. Once the rate caps dissolve, however, deregulation by its very nature denies citizens the ability to keep suppliers from charging the highest prices they can get away with. Deregulation also affects environmental safeguards. President Bush already has suggested waiving Clean Air standards in California so electrical output can be increased, a strategy that can best be compared to burning the last stick of furniture to keep the house warm. Consider this scenario: Pennsylvania, with its worst-in-the-nation growth in median income, takes the lead in power-plant construction. Environment be damned, the country needs electricity. Arguments against sprawl and for protecting key habitats — can anyone say National Arctic Refuge — fall quicker than chads in Florida when the lights won’t come on. Power plants vie with landfills to see which will obliterate more of Pennsylvania. Deregulation proponents are fond of saying Pennsylvania consumers have saved $3 billion under deregulation. The bigger question is how much consumers should be saving. The backroom dealings leading to deregulation resulted in a sweetheart deal for GPU involving distribution rates and customers paying grossly inflated “stranded costs” to utilities that invested heavily in nuclear plants or other money-losing ventures. GPU couldn’t even win after rigging the deck and now is asking ratepayers to pay for its mistake of not having contracts in hand to supply power at reasonable rates to its non-switching customers. It sold its generating plants for $1.5 billion to the sole bidder, Sithe Energies, with the state Public Utility Commission’s OK. Three months later, Sithe sold them for $2.1 billion. Some sharpies, those GPU and PUC officials. California, Here We Come? Denying the possibility means ignoring the present realities. Deregulation in Pennsylvania may not create the same havoc as it has in California, but I believe Pennsylvania’s residential ratepayers will come out a big loser. Regulation in the public interest protects residential ratepayers, their homes and habitat and frequently the very monopolies that are trying to escape responsible safeguards. Just ask a Californian or a GPU investor. (George, D-Clearfield/ Centre counties, is Democratic chairman of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.) Write a letter All letters to the editor must be original and include your full name, complete mailing address and daytime telephone number for verification purposes. Letters of 300 words or less are preferred. The Mirror reserves the right to edit or reject any letter. Submit your material by: E-mail: [email protected] Mail: Altoona Mirror Letters P.O. Box 2008 Altoona, PA 16603 Fax: (814) 946-7540 In person: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday Commercialism trumps public service of presidents By George F. Will Washington Post Writers Group The nation is preparing to celebrate, with automobile and appliance and mattress sales, next Monday’s national holiday, which, as every schoolchild knows, is Washington-Adams-Jefferson-Madison-Monroe-Adams-Jackson-Van Buren-Harrison-Tyler-Polk-Taylor-Fillmore-Pierce-Buchanan-Lincoln-John-son-Grant-Hayes-Garfield-Arthur-Cleveland-Harrison-McKinley-Roosevelt-Taft-Wilson-Harding-Coolidge-Hoover-Roosevelt-Truman-Eisenhower-Kennedy-Johnson-N ixon-Ford-Carter-Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush Day. That is, Presidents Day. Feel the excitement. The excitement of the.magical date — this year — of Feb. 19. Before 1971 the nation set aside two days — the actual birthdays; what a concept — to show reverence for the foremost founder of the Republic and the man most responsible for preserving it. Washington’s birthday (Feb 22) and Lincoln’s (Feb. 12) were observed. However, what we revere nowadays are three-day weekends, which boost the travel industry and sell dishwashers and mattresses    ( “Inclusiveness,” one of today s values, is served by Presidents Day, which lenders ti a Father of Oui Country an equal ingredient with Warren Harding in a bland pudding of presidents. Egalitarianism is served by Presidents Day, which conscripts us into paying equal, if watery, respect to the author of the Gettysburg Address and the author of the Marc Rich pardon. And the generic Presidents Day serves a third contemporary obsession, “fairness.” Time was, fairness involved treating like things alike and unalike things unalike. But in this “nonjudgmental” age, fairness means treating everyone alike. Greg Crosby, writing in The Weekly Standard, wonders what comes next. Change Martin Luther King’s birthday to Civil Rights Leaders day? Should Christmas become Religion Founders Day? If, as Presidents Day attests, remembrance no longer matters and commerce — the three-day weekend of traveling and selling — trumps everything, let’s get serious. Let’s take the selling of naming rights to another level. Cities and sports franchises sell such rights. Hence Pac Bell Park (San Francisco), RCA Dome (Indianapolis), Pepsi Center (Denver) and so on, including the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl football game. Denver’s mayor is still protesting the naming of the Broncos’ new football stadium as Invesco Field. He and many others think Should bear the venerable name of Mile High Stadium. It is nice that at least something is venerated. But bet against the mayor. Massachusetts is thinking spaciously in seeking sponsors for Boston subway stops. (A delicious possibility: “Next stop, the National Rifle Association Station at Harvard Square.”) But why stop there? What about: The General Motors White House. The presidential limousine is, after all, a Cadillac. Ford could counter with the Lincoln-Mercury Lincoln Memorial. Naming the Nike Capitol Building could be done tastefully: a single dignified white swoosh on the dome. That would not be an eyesore to people across the street at the Microsoft Supreme Court building, which may someday be the scene of arguments about the antitrust ruling against... never mind. There could even be naming rights for congressional districts, such as the Miller Genuine Draft District (Milwaukee) or the Enron District (Houston). And why not, if, as Presidents Day announces, economic values are everything and we are more consumers than citizens? Consumer sovereignty — ‘’voting by dollars” — is popular sovereignty beyond the political sphere. And advertising, which promises democratic distribution of pleasures, defines a uniqueness of American affluence. Historian Daniel Boorstin says Europeans used to go to the marketplace to get what they wanted; now they, like Americans, have severed wants from needs and go to the marketplace to discover what they want. Television and, even more, the Internet bring the marketplace to the consumer. If shopping is an inherently public activity, what inherently private space remains? Advertising is the art of arresting attention in the hope that some commercially useful response may occur. In the sensory blitzkrieg of life in this commercial republic, making that arrest is increasingly difficult. So perhaps government should, in the name of economic growth, rent its buildings’ names for advertising. It already has, in effect, sold off any serious contemplation of the meaning of Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays, bartering that for the greater good, or so the government seems to suppose, of stimulating economic activity over a three-day weekend of shopping and travel. It is one thing, and on balance a good thing, to have a commercial republic ip which many of mankind’s turbulent pas- * sions and disturbing inclinations are channeled into commerce, by which the public good is served. But surely two days could be devoted to the appreciation of Washington and Lincoln, who undersi>od lur.. Touch more there is to public service. Triggered tax cuts best route By David S. Broder Washington Post Writers Group According to a poll in the current issue of Newsweek, 67 percent of Americans favor President Bush’s proposed $1.6-trillion tax cut, but a nearly identical 65 percent say it is more important that the projected budget surpluses be used to reduce the national debt. Politicians in Washington can choose to cite the poll findings as further proof that voters want to have their cake and eat it too. Or they can credit their constituents with common sense and fashion the tax cut in ways that assure continued progress in paying down the debt. Bush claims to do both, but his proposal leaves the debt reduction largely to chance. Its official $1.6-trillion, 10-year cost does not include the additional billions that would be entailed in his suggestion that the cuts be made retroactive to Jan. I or the billions of additional interest that would have to be paid on the higher debt that would remain if revenues are reduced. By some calculations, the Bush plan would consume the entire projected non social Security surplus, thus slashing the promised debt reduction. There is a better, safer, more prudent way. It is to give people a tax cut now, from the surpluses that are actually in the Treasury, but to trigger additional tax cuts over the coming decade only if agreed-upon debt reduction targets are met. It looks as if that “prudence policy” can prevail, if the politicians who support it don’t lose their nerve or fall victim to partisan quarrels among themselves. They find their rallying point in a section of Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s testimony to Congress last month. The headlines went to Greenspan’s declaration that current surpluses are large enough to permit a significant tax cut — an important green light from a notably cautious guardian of fiscal integrity. But Greenspan also said, “It is important that any long-term tax plan, or spending initiative for that matter, be phased in. Conceivably, (it) could include provisions that, in some way, would limit surplus-reducing actions if specified targets for the budget surplus and federal debt were not satisfied.” Picking up on that hint, three moderate Democratic senators, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Dianne Feinstein of California, have sent Bush a letter saying that “in our view, such a ‘trigger’ mechanism offers a safety valve to protect against what many senators fear: a return to deficits should economic conditions — and budget estimates — change in the years ahead.” Two Republican senators, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, also signed the letter. Independently, Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine and George Voinovich of Ohio, both Republicans, have urged the president and senior administration officials to get behind the Greenspan idea for conditional, phased-in or . triggered tax cuts in future years. That means there is a potential majority in the 50-50 Senate for this proposal. The House outlook is less certain, but Democrats on that side are showing some backbone — and a degree of cohesion — in their response to the Bush proposal. Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri told me he was surprised — and heartened — by the embrace members of his caucus gave to former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin’s late-January speech at the House Democratic retreat, where Rubin vtfhrned of the risks the Bush proposal raised to the hard-won fiscal discipline of the last eight years. Rather than telling Rubin how tough it would be politically to oppose the Bush plan, Gephardt said, members urged him to go public with his message and help rally voter opposition. Within the Democratic caucus, both liberals and conservatives are finding reason to question Bush’s plan. Conservative “Blue Dogs” are fearful it will endanger the balanced budgets for which they fought so long and hard. The “Progressive Caucus,” made up of about five dozen liberals, is pushing a proposal that would declare an annual “dividend” of $300 for every man, woman and child, but only as long as surplus targets are met and debt-reduction continues. Other “rebate” plans are also circulating, with almost all of them providing proportionally greater relief to working-class families than the Bush plan, which is estimated to give almost 40 percent of the dollar benefits to the top I percent of taxpayers. Some Democrats are arguing for structuring tax relief in the form of credits against Social Security FICA taxes, a heavier burden for most working families than their income tax bills. The debate is just beginning, but the good news is that, unlike 1981 — when congressional Democrats swooned over Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts — the skeptics have not been silenced and are making their argu ments heard.    . ;

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