Social SecurityThe Marylanders who testified before Congress...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Social Security

The Marylanders who testified before Congress (The Sun, Jan. 10) do have a legitimate complaint with Social Security, but neither the Republicans' nor the Democrats' plans will provide a remedy.

Jean McCauley stated her earnings would reach the Social Security ceiling of $11,280 in June; at that point she will lose $1 in benefits for every $3 she earns above the limit.

While some may argue a 33 percent marginal tax rate is high, it is certainly worthwhile to continue working.

The reason Mrs. McCauley must debate whether to continue working or not is that Social Security will withhold her entire next quarter's worth of benefits as soon as she earns $1 over the ceiling.

Say Mrs. McCauley earns $2,000 a month working, and in addition she receives $1,000 a month from Social Security. By June she will have earned $12,000 for the year, thus crossing the $11,280 ceiling.

Some simple arithmetic tells us she has earned $720 over the limit, and her benefit should be reduced by one-third of this amount, or $240.

Common sense would dictate sending her a check for $1,000 minus $240, or $760 in July. Instead Social Security will send no check in July, no check in August and no check in September.

What if she gets sick and can't work, or she is laid off or simply decides to take September off? Social Security will reconcile her account at the end of the year, but how is she supposed to make ends meet until then?

Instead of needing a raise in the income ceiling, these seniors merely need a change in the Social Security Administration's accounting practices . . .

Allen Smith

Carney

Newest Oxymoron

Has "Democratic Club" become the newest oxymoron?

It must have. According to The Sun Jan. 22, Baltimore County Councilman Louis DePazzo was voted out of the Battle Grove Democratic Club because he exercised his inalienable right to support the candidates of his choice in our most recent "democratically" created free election.

I am a strong supporter of the multi-party system that is a large part of the foundation of our great democratic government. I am a veteran, as are my brother and father, of wars fought to preserve that government and all it stands for.

Therefore, I find the action taken by the Battle Grove Democratic Club reprehensible and bordering on unpatriotic.

Mr. DePazzo's knowledge, experience and political savvy make him an asset to any organization, be it a political club or a county council.

But this Democratic club obviously holds party above all else, including friendship, respect and -- seemingly -- country.

For the record, I voted against Mr. DePazzo. Not because he was a Democrat, nor because he supported Republicans.

Ed Groff

Baltimore

Gingrich Smoke

Newt Gingrich's and his press secretary Tony Blankley's latest slanderous statements are so far out-of-bounds that an apology is called for.

The same week that Mr. Blankley wrote a "sputtering" explanation of the firing of the House historian over the "Nazi" flap, he described pro-health tobacco control activities as "Nazi."

In a New York Times interview, Mr. Blankley said he was unconcerned that his smoking in House chambers might conflict with anti-smoking laws. "I can't imagine that the [anti-]smoking Nazis have any sovereignty here," he said.

Mr. Gingrich and his spokesman have managed to insult Jewish groups and public health interests.

Representatives of both groups have denounced the statement as despicable, although neither Mr. Blankley nor Mr. Gingrich have dissociated themselves from it.

Quite the opposite of Nazis, tobacco control activists are interested in saving lives. Tobacco is by far the number one preventable cause of death and disease in our society.

As a member of the state medical society, I call on Mr. Gingrich to distance himself from this reckless slander which suggests he is more beholden to the tobacco industry and special interests that finance his election campaigns than to the American people.

Joseph Adams, M.D.

Towson

?3 The writer is secretary of Smoke Free Maryland.

Clean the Air

Why all the screaming, yelling and fuss about clear air, auto emission testing, etc.?

The Environmental Protection Agency wants to clean up the air. I say great.

Most people don't want to spend money on emission testing, or repairs to their cars. The auto makers don't want to build cleaner cars, which would increase prices and decrease profits.

Part of the answer may be mass transit. How much of the automobile-generated air pollution could be attributed to traffic back-ups, disabled vehicles, accidents and rubbernecking? When these things foul up traffic, we have too many cars on the road.

In the last several months I have cut my driving time, gasoline expenses and the amount of auto-generated air pollution by two-thirds. How? By joining a car pool with two other people.

Now I have two new friends, more time to read the newspaper, scan my mail, nap or enjoy the scenery along the Beltway.

Until we demand better mass transit, cleaner and more dependable buses from our government, we are going to be stuck in traffic breathing dirty air.

We also have to do our part.

Jerome F. Henger

Baltimore

Right for Once

A Jan. 21 letter, by a professed bean counter, faults KAL for showing too many males in an abortion-topic cartoon, especially on the "choice" side.

The writer even offers to refer KAL to a gender awareness support group.

Perhaps the writer needs to attend some seminars as well, especially on history and statistics.

Statements by early feminist leaders show a moral and political opposition to abortion; some feared it would be exploited by men.

Present-day polls show abortion rights supported by more men than women in this country. So much for the "battle of the sexes" slant given by the feminist and media pundits.

However inadvertently, KAL gets something right for once. No wonder his fellow liberals are upset with him.

Smart III

Bel Air

Relevant Facts About Sparks School

The Jan. 21 letter of R. T. Wilke, "County Government Failed Sparks School," demands an immediate response. Public opinion needs to be based upon fact, not conjecture.

We empathize with Mr. Wilke's admitted bitterness for our loss; however, his letter unfortunately reflects some common misconceptions.

Here are relevant facts. Decisions about our schools are the responsibility of the school board, whose members are appointees of the governor, not locally elected officials.

In practice, the county government and Superintendent Stuart Berger make recommendations to the board, which can consider or ignore them in exercising its decision-making authority.

So to the extent there is an issue, the question might really be how local citizens can hold these appointees accountable for a local school system.

As to the Sparks facility, the wiring for the computer lab had been, in fact, completed before the fire and additional enhancements to the school were already planned.

Moreover, Sparks certainly did have a fire alarm system and smoke detectors.

We are concerned about the open appeal to emotion based upon speculation as to the fire's cause.

It is true that the cause of the fire has not been determined formally; informally, we understand the Fire Department has tentatively eliminated arson, the electrical system and the heating system blower as the cause.

Regardless, this issue will only promote divisiveness at a time when consensus, if not unity, is called for.

The facts just don't support key assertions in the letter. Indeed, the afternoon of the fire, Dr. Berger and the county government, led by Dutch Ruppersberger, had already set in motion both short- and long-term plans for Sparks school.

In one week's time, a team was assembled to plunge into the task of rebuilding the school.

This team, comprised of representatives from the community, the PTA, the staff of Sparks, the county government and the school system, has met several times.

The Sparks community is well on its way to opening a new school, perhaps as early as September of 1996.

We share Mr. Wilke's grief and frustration in the loss of a treasured and historic building. We also share his wish that this ,, had never happened. But we should guard against emotional reactions and conjecture that may lead us to bickering and delay.

What we need now is a common focus on the future.

Bernadette Worthing

Laura Eurice

Sparks

The writers are, respectively, PTA president and president-elect, Sparks Elementary School.

Cost-Effective Anti-Pollution

The state's new Vehicles Emissions Inspection Program--(VEIP) has come under intense and organized attack from a variety of sources. But everyone agrees that Maryland has a clean air problem and needs to fix it.

Despite the whining attacks, the vehicle inspection program is the fairest and most inexpensive way to do it.

The program simply identifies cars that are polluting and requires that they be fixed. Maryland motorists have had their automobile emissions inspected since 1988.

The air pollution problem in Maryland is severe. Baltimore's air is the sixth worst in the U.S., and Washington's is the tenth worst.

According to the American Lung Association, air quality was unhealthy to breathe in Maryland on 79 days this past summer. And in fact, the air violated federal standards on 11 days.

Ground level ozone pollution, this area's main pollution problem, is a serious lung irritant. Especially vulnerable are very young children, the elderly, people who exercise strenuously and the more than 600,000 Marylanders with chronic lung disease.

This results in non-negligible health care costs. According to recent studies, more than 25 percent of asthma attacks requiring hospital visits can be attributed to air pollution.

The University of Maryland estimated that ozone pollution causes up to $40 million in crop damage in Maryland each year.

The emissions program recognizes that automobiles are, by far, the single largest contributor to our air pollution problem, contributing 38 percent of the hydrocarbon emissions that produce ozone.

By comparison, big smokestack industries contribute less than 4 percent.

In fact, the new program will eventually reduce pollution in

Maryland by 39 tons each day.

If clean air targets for Maryland are not met, sanctions under the Clean Air Act could cause enormous financial impacts to the state.

The federal government, for example, could cut off federal highway funds. But, more important, if the air pollution reductions are not achieved through VEIP, additional emission regulations will be necessary on small businesses that can least afford them.

Plus, without VEIP, even tighter regulations would be required on already highly regulated larger industries.

In terms of cleaning the air, the VEIP program is among the least expensive methods.

For example, the net cost to the Maryland economy for removing hydrocarbon pollution is $800 per ton for the VEIP, while the recently EPA-mandated reformulated gas costs $6,000 per ton, and new reformulated paint, also to be required by EPA, will cost $12,000 per ton.

The per ton costs for new regulations on small businesses like bakeries and printers and dry cleaners would be even higher.

Despite the organized uproar, the new tests are, at worst, inconvenient.

Although many motorists fear the more stringent dynamometer testing, the test conditions are clearly no worse than what one encounters on the road.

Although some are loathe to get out of their cars for the brief test, it is no worse than leaving one's car at the shop, or leaving it to a parking or car-wash attendant.

Although everyone hates to wait, the facilities guarantee that the waiting time should be no more than 15-20 minutes for 95 percent of customers.

And although motorists fear that expensive repairs will be mandated, most repairs will essentially be simple tune-ups that the failing car probably desperately needed anyway.

Obviously, it is difficult to generate enthusiasm for an additional inconvenience in anyone's life.

But, despite the vocal and vehement opposition, most Marylanders recognize that drivers must take responsibility for their fair share of the air pollution problem in Maryland.

erry J. Harris

Baltimore

Stop Whining about that 3-Cent Increase in Postage

Carolyn Spencer Brown's comments (letter, Jan. 18) regarding postal service compels me to scream, "Stop whining!"

Ms. Brown and many like her have expressed what are on the surface perfectly valid complaints about the U.S. Postal Service's seemingly ambivalent approach to providing adequate support for the Jan. 1 rate increase.

I do not work for the USPS, so my opinions will no doubt reflect only that of a consumer, a characteristic I share with Ms. Brown and millions of others.

Just prior to the rate increase, I stopped buying rolls of 100 stamps to avoid getting "burned" by the rate increase. I consider myself to be an above average user of the postal system.

A few people mail more, and they generally use postage meters. So, the rate increase is a trivial matter of changing the metered rates. That leaves all the rest of us, including the whiners.

The majority of these people will have less than a book of 20 stamps, but let's assume for the sake of argument that they have 100 "old" stamps floating around. The rate increase will put you out $3.

You can still use the stamps for mailing parcels, and in time the USPS will provide penny postage to make up the difference.

Just be patient. Buy G-stamps and get on with your life. You hate standing in line, buy your stamps by mail. It's fast, the representatives are courteous. They even have an toll free 800 number to boot.

I find it ironic Ms. Brown mentioned videos. I wonder how many of the people whining about the "inconvenience" associated with the postage rate increase have driven to video stores to return tapes in extreme winter weather just to avoid paying the $1.50 late fees.

They expose themselves, their expensive automobiles and children to damage and bodily injury, just to avoid getting "burned."

Do they complain? Amazingly, they revel in their triumphant returning of videos sans a fine!

Let's get real, folks. You had ample time to use your old stamps. For instance, one could simply write a few quick letters to old friends.

You could have sent your elected representatives a missive containing a piece of your mind.

As for Ms. Brown's comment regarding postal service competition: Well, in my humble opinion they have it in spades. I use them by choice because I think for comparable service they have the lowest price.

Unlike Ms. Brown, I will not wait for privatization of the USPS. I employ postal service competition now, in all its varied forms. In fact, this letter to The Sun was sent by fax.

Sending a fax is cheap, basically free locally.

It's quicker than affixing postage to an envelope, sealing it and placing same in a curbside mailbox. That sounds like brutal competition to me.

The way I look at it, if you are willing to wait (and whine) for the Post Service to change, you can certainly put up with waiting in line.

As for me, I just don't have the time. So, while you're wasting away, I'll be reading my e-mail.

Richard L. Saffery

Parkville

The recent postal changes have generated much media coverage and many comments for and against the increase in our rates.

No organization likes to raise prices. Our costs have increased. We increased postage rates to cover those costs.

While every attempt was made to provide ample notice to our customers and be sure that the supply of the new stamps met demand, some of our customers did not receive the service they expect.

Rate-setting for the Postal Service is a very lengthy and public process and unlike private companies that can decide when and how much they will increase the cost of the service they provide.

When the Postal Service determines, through cost and volume studies, that an adjustment in rates is needed, its board of governors recommends the change to the Postal Rate Commission.

The board of governors has 11 members, nine of whom are appointed by the President, subject to confirmation by the Senate.

The remaining two members are the postmaster general and deputy postmaster general. They function much the same as the board of directors of a corporation.

The Postal Rate Commission is made up of five presidentially-appointed members, confirmed by the Senate and appointed for six-year terms.

After no more than 10 months of hearings on the request, the PRC submits its recommended decision on the proposal back to the governors.

Major competitors, mailing groups and members of the public attend these hearings and provide evidence and testimony.

The governors may approve, implement under protest or reject the PRC's recommended rates. The governor's unanimous decision to accept the recommended rates was announced Dec. 12.

All post offices placed the new stamps on sale Dec. 13. Less than one-fourth of the supply on hand was purchased prior to the Jan. 1 implementation date.

The initial supply was determined by population served, normal lobby traffic and available rate increase buying patterns.

This method proved adequate for the supply of the 32-cent stamp. Purchases of the 3-cent stamp after Jan. 1 far exceeded the plan.

To date, the Baltimore district has received a total of 16 million 3-cent and 3-cent make-up stamps. Ten million were available on Dec. 13. An additional 6 million were available on Jan. 3 to assure our ability to meet our customer demand.

Most of our lobbies served three to four times their normal number of patrons on Jan. 2 and 3.

In Baltimore, we have implemented stamps by mail, phone or fax. We have added banks, major food stores and other outlets for stamp purchases, vending equipment, temporary post offices major malls and a drive-through post office. Plans to do more are under way and will continue in added emphasis.

It has been four years since the last increase in postage. At 10.3 percent, this rate change is well below the inflation rate.

The Postal Service is the best, most affordable and most personal communications system in the land.

It is a service based on the principle that all citizens, no matter where they live, should have equal access to a universal postal system at uniform postage rates. That principle has been successfully fulfilled for over 200 years. We're working hard to keep it that way.

Richard W. Rudez

Baltimore

The writer is district manager of customer service and sales of the Postal Service's Baltimore district.

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