Thirdandstate.org's blog

Pennsylvania Among 'Terrible 10' Most Regressive Tax States

By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

Working families in Pennsylvania pay a far higher share of their income in state and local taxes than the state’s wealthiest earners, according to a new study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP).

Pennsylvania’s tax system scored so poorly that it made the list of the “Terrible 10” most regressive tax states in the nation.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center (PBPC) co-released the report, Who Pays? A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in All 50 States, with ITEP. PBPC Director Sharon Ward made the point in a press release that "No one would deliberately design a tax system where low-income working families pay the greatest share of their income in taxes, but that is exactly the type of upside-down tax system we have in Pennsylvania.”

Middle-income families in Pennsylvania pay more than double the share of their income in taxes than the very wealthiest Pennsylvanians, while low-income families pay nearly three times as much as top earners, the report found. Get more details on the report, including a Pennsylvania fact sheet, here.

PA State & Local Taxes: Shares of family income for non-elderly taxpayers

The report should bury once and for all the myth of the makers vs. the takers. Low-income families in Pennsylvania are paying much more of their income in state and local taxes than the top 1%.

Republican Governors Opt-In to Medicaid Expansion

By Sharon Ward, Third and State

There is growing bipartisan agreement that the optional expansion of Medicaid provided by the Affordable Care Act is too good an opportunity to pass up.

This month, the Governors of Arizona and North Dakota, both Republicans, announced their intention to opt-in to the Medicaid expansion, joining their counterparts in Nevada and New Mexico. To date, 14 states have decided to expand Medicaid in 2014, and another seven are leaning toward expansion. Pennsylvania remains among the 21 undecided states.

Support for Medicaid Expansion Growing

Here’s what Arizona Governor Jan Brewer had to say about Medicaid:

The Reports of Unions' Death Are Greatly Exaggerated

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

There's a good deal of crowing in conservative circles this week about the new 2012 numbers on union membership. Union membership nationally fell by about 400,000, to 14.4 million. Union membership in Pennsylvania declined 45,000, including 59,000 in the private sector.

Of course, for anyone who cares about, say, the American Dream, democracy, and rising living standards, the newest numbers are bad news. A simple chart put together by the Center for American Progress shows that unions are vital to the middle class. As unions have weakened, so has the share of income going to middle-income workers — and the gap between the 1% and the 99% has mushroomed.

Mind the gap: Opting Out of Medicaid Expansion Leaves Low-income Families Behind

By Michael Wood, Third and State

Federal health care reform is moving forward thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last year — and it is a great deal for Pennsylvania. Unless the state decides to “opt out,” Medicaid coverage will be expanded to include many Pennsylvanians who are uninsured.

One group that will benefit immediately are parents with incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty level ($25,390 for a family of three). The benefits don’t end there: others who don’t receive health coverage through their work will be able to buy insurance on a competitive health marketplace or exchange — making coverage more affordable.

However, if Governor Corbett prevents the Medicaid expansion, it will create a coverage gap for families between 46% and 100% of poverty, as the chart below shows (click on it for a larger view).

Those families between 46% and 100% of poverty earn too much to qualify for Medicaid (for a family of three, this means earning over $8,781 but less than the federal poverty line of $19,090). These families won’t receive Medicaid coverage, and they won’t receive subsidies to buy health coverage.

We all benefit when more people have health coverage. Let’s make the right decision in Pennsylvania and expand Medicaid coverage.

PA Revenue Strong Midway Through Year; Tax Cut Could Have Big Impact

By Michael Wood, Third and State

With a strong December showing, the commonwealth now has a General Fund revenue surplus of $171 million (1.4% above estimate) for the first half of the 2012-13 fiscal year, double the Corbett administration’s revised estimate for the entire fiscal year. The strong December collections exceeded estimate by $112 million (or 4.8%).

The increased revenue is a good sign of a modestly recovering national economy and a brightening of the state’s fiscal picture going into the 2013-14 budget season. This is a nice change from previous years when midyear shortfalls triggered cuts to state services.

In December, personal income, corporate, and realty transfer taxes exceeded revenue targets by 10.1%, with sales, inheritance and other taxes (on cigarettes, alcohol, and table games) falling short of expectations by 2.8%.  

A similar picture exists over the first half of 2012-13 — corporate, personal income and realty transfer tax collections are a combined 5% higher than expected, while sales, inheritance, and other taxes have fallen 2.4% short of budget estimates.

One area of concern is that sales tax collections (the state’s second largest tax source) are $125 million, or 2.7%, lower than projected. It is not clear the reason for this as vehicle sales and consumer spending have been increasing. Perhaps the new tax collections from some online retailers may not be as large as anticipated.

Compared to last year, collections are $583 million, or 5%, higher, with corporate ($254 million) and personal income tax ($186 million) collections making up most of the increase in 2012-13.

What to Make of the Fiscal Cliff Deal?

By Sharon Ward, Third and State

Tell us what you think about the Fiscal Cliff deal. Take our two-question survey.

The agreement reached by President Obama and Congress on January 1 was both historic and disappointing — and it leaves much unsettled. The urgency of the Fiscal Cliff has dissipated, but significant threats remain to federal funding for state and local services as well as refundable tax credits for low-income working families, Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

There is much to dislike in this agreement. It makes permanent most of the Bush era tax cuts, ensuring that income from dividends and capital gains will be taxed at a lower rate than income from work. It makes permanent the estate tax but locks in a tax rate that creates a huge windfall for the top 0.3% of households. Sequestration cuts — the automatic spending cuts that members of both parties hated and the President said would not occur — have been postponed for two months, with three-quarters of FFY 2013 cuts ($85.6 billion) and $109 billion in annual cuts after that still in law through 2022. The President’s line in the sand on raising tax rates for the top 2% of earners got pushed way back, with top rates kicking in at $400,000 for an individual and $450,000 for a couple. A low-wage earner might need 20 years to make that much.

Few in PA Would Be Affected by Ending High-income Tax Cuts

By Sharon Ward, Third and State

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center is out today with a new analysis finding that President Obama’s plan to end federal tax cuts for high-income earners would have very little impact on taxpayers in most Pennsylvania counties.

In over half of the state's 67 counties, fewer than 1 in 100 residents (that's 1%) would pay the higher marginal tax rate on income above $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for married couples.

In most counties, only a small number of individuals are affected. In 24 counties, fewer than 200 high-income earners would pay the higher rate. Almost two-thirds of the top earners who would be impacted reside in just six Pennsylvania counties.

Map 1. Percentage of Taxpayers in Each PA County with Incomes Over $250,000

Map 2. Number of Taxpayers in Each PA County with Incomes Over $250,000

Under President Obama’s plan, families earning over $250,000 would keep other tax breaks on the first $250,000 of income, including a lower bottom tax rate and preferential tax rates on capital gains and dividends — a savings of $12,112 per taxpayer. The top tax rates would be restored to those in effect in the 1990s when the nation added 23 million jobs.

In the Bid to Privatize PA's Lottery, One Is the Loneliest Number

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

Three Dog Night: One

One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do …

Although I’m dating myself, some of you may recognize the Harry Nilsson song made famous by Three Dog Night. We recommend that Governor Tom Corbett download it to his iPod as he contemplates whether to accept a solitary bid from Camelot Global Services to take over the operation of the Pennsylvania Lottery. Whether privatizing state services or getting a new roof for your house, having a single lonely bidder is a red flag for a fleecing — for overpaying the contractor.

In its bid, Camelot promises 20 to 30 years of lottery profits that barely increase at the rate of inflation — even with the addition of new lottery games such as Keno and online gaming. The deal could produce big-time profits for Camelot with performance no better than the public system could produce. If the company maxes out its incentive-based compensation over the initial 20-year contract, it could receive $1.15 billion in today’s dollars; more when you count annual management fees.

A good deal for Camelot, but not for the Pennsylvania seniors who benefit from lottery proceeds, as the Keystone Research Center finds in a new report. The impact on seniors is critical since the lottery generates $1 billion a year for services that benefit area senior centers, low-cost prescription drugs, transportation for seniors, and property tax and rent rebates.

Pennsylvania Private Job Performance Through the Looking Glass

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

In the 1890s, scientist George Stratton reported that, after four days of wearing a lens that inverted his vision, his brain reprocessed what he saw and flipped everything back up the right way.

John Micek’s Friday article brought this experiment to mind. Micek quotes Pennsylvania House Speaker Sam Smith summing up the accomplishments of the House of Representatives in the 2011-12 legislative session: "We … focused on the economy and private-sector job creation." Majority Leader Mike Turzai echoed Smith saying: "We kept our commitments on fiscal responsibility and private-sector job-creation."

Let’s take a look at some actual job numbers.

Between January 2011 (the start of the current legislative session) and September 2012 (the latest data available), the number of private-sector jobs in Pennsylvania grew by 87,000, an increase of 1.8%. In this period, Pennsylvania ranked 31st out of the 50 states for private job growth by percentage. National private-sector job growth equaled 3%.

If you look at the last 12 months, from September 2011 to September 2012, Pennsylvania’s private-sector job ranking falls to 35th, with the state’s private-sector job growth equal to about half the national rate.

Now, compare that to job growth between January 2010 and January 2011, when the commonwealth ranked 12th among the 50 states with job growth of 1.8% (compared to the national rate of 1.3%).

Will Pennsylvania Take Full Advantage of Health Reform?

By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

With the election decided, it is now clear that the Affordable Care Act is here to stay. That’s great news for Pennsylvanians, some of whom have already begun to benefit from the health reform law, and many others who will see more gains as major provisions take effect in 2014.

As Judy Solomon writes at the Off the Charts Blog, a key provision of the law will allow states to expand Medicaid to cover low-income adults earning up to 133% of the poverty line, with the federal government covering most of the costs:

The question now is whether some states will squander this opportunity to cover millions of uninsured Americans.

Coverage for more than 11 million poor, uninsured adults is at risk if states don’t expand Medicaid, according to the Urban Institute.

Status of Health Reform Medicaid Expansion

As you can see in the chart above, Pennsylvania is among the states that have not made a clear decision on the Medicaid expansion. 

Pennsylvania Tax Giveaways and an Island in the Sun

By Jamar Thrasher, Third and State

A few weeks ago, the Pennsylvania General Assembly fast-tracked a bill in the waning days of the legislative session to allow certain private companies to keep most of the state income taxes of new employees. News reports to follow indicated the new tax giveaway was designed to lure California-based software firm Oracle to State College.

Well, it turns out the CEO of Oracle, which will benefit from the largess of Pennsylvania taxpayers, recently bought his very own Hawaiian island, as CNN reported back in June.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, the third richest man in the U.S., purchased about 98% of Lana'i, the sixth largest of the Hawaiian islands. Forbes reported that the deal was rumored to be worth $500 million.

As CNN tells us:

The island includes two luxury resorts, two golf courses, two club houses and 88,000 acres of land, according to a document filed with the Public Utilities Commission.

Which bring us back to Pennsylvania, where Governor Corbett recently signed House Bill 2626, allowing qualifying companies that create at least 250 new jobs within five years to pocket 95% of the personal income taxes paid by the new employees. 

Not Exactly a Mahogany-paneled Corporate Boardroom

By Kate Atkins, Third and State

Montgomery County Budget ForumA hundred days after passage of the state budget, it is too soon to fully assess the impact of cuts to human services, Montgomery County's administrator for behavioral health and developmental disabilities told a group of 50 consumers and social service providers at a budget forum last week.

Still, Administrator Eric Goldstein told the forum at the Norristown Recovery and Education Center that he has concerns about the state's move toward block grants for human services funding. Unlike Bucks, Chester, and Delaware counties, Montgomery County did not apply to be part of this year’s new pilot block grant for the Human Services Development Fund.

Eric Goldstein was joined by speaker after speaker who testified to the importance of the modest dollars invested in prevention and community supports for people struggling with mental illness or substance abuse.

One speaker, Troy, a solidly built man with a confident manner and a winning smile, said people call him a “success story,” but he remembered the days when he struggled with drug addiction. He described how he would walk into the Norristown Center and feel a lift from the friendly and familiar faces of the staff, who would ask him how he was doing.

“I’m looking for a job,” he would tell them.

“Really?” they would reply.

“No,” he would admit. “Not really.”

More Than 180 Voter Suppression Laws Proposed

By jamar Thrasher, Third and State

We have written a lot about Pennsylvania's Voter ID Law, which has been put on hold by the courts for the upcoming election. Turns out we're not alone when it comes to voting suppression.

That may not be news to you, but you may be surprised to know that more than 180 voter suppression laws were proposed in 2011 and 2012, according to The New York Times. These are laws defined as restricting or limiting voter access based on a myriad of qualifications.

Among the voter suppression laws enacted over the past two years: reductions to early voting, tougher voting rules for ex-convicts, limitations to voter registration drives, and (drum roll, please) voter identification requirements. The data were collected and analyzed by New York University's Brennan Center for Justice.

From the Times report:

A Rare Victory In The Endless Fight Against Corporate Welfare

By Mark Price, Third and State

In a rare victory against corporate welfare in Pennsylvania, Ahold USA has withdrawn its request for property tax breaks for a meat-packaging facility it is building in Lower Allen Township, Cumberland County.

As Michael Wood explained before the request was withdrawn:

'How 'bout No, You Crazy Dutch....'

By Mark Price, Third and State

The Only Proper Villian We Could Find From the NetherlandsOn Monday night, the Lower Allen Township commissioners in Cumberland County considered a proposal from Ahold USA, the corporate parent of Giant Food Stores, for a $400,000 property tax abatement on a meat repackaging plant on which the company has already broken ground. (Ahold USA is itself the subsidiary of the Netherlands-based Ahold.)

The company has neglected a basic principle of the economic development game through which companies extract subsidies and tax breaks from states and localities where they were going to build anyway: until you have the subsidy in hand, don't give away that it will not impact your location decision.

But since the company made this error, the title of this blog post, taken from the Austin Powers movie Goldmember, should suffice for the township's answer. (It is pure coincidence that Goldmember, a Dutchman pictured to the right, has a gold G on his velvet sweatsuit.)

Here are two stories on this issue.

The Lower Allen commissioners should continue to say no to Ahold's request because it is a simple giveaway that diverts needed tax revenue from the township. It would be that much costlier if the West Shore School District (which has absorbed $2.2 million in state budget cuts since 2010-11) and Cumberland County (where property taxes for most homeowners and businesses may rise by 22% next year) follow suit.

The repackaging plant will consolidate meat cutting operations for Ahold USA's stores in the mid-Atlantic region. Customers will no longer get their meat freshly cut in the store, instead, the meat cutting and packaging function is being moved to a central location with easy access to the interstate. Some meat cutters will lose their jobs in the process, while others might be offered jobs at the new facility, at a lower wage.

For its $400,000, Lower Allen Township is being promised between 450 and 800 jobs; there is no word on how many jobs will be lost at Giant Food Stores in the region or at the company's Maryland division.   

Normally, a corporate giant like Ahold will approach government officials to inform them they are on the short list for a new facility being planned. Just look at how the Shell Corporation enticed incentive offers from Ohio and West Virginia before securing the mother lode of all incentives from Pennsylvania (a $1.67 billion, 25-year tax break).

Unfortunately for Ahold USA, the company has already broken ground on the meat repackaging plant. So the township commissioners made the right move by putting the request on hold. Why divert scarce tax dollars to a profitable corporation to do something they are already doing anyway?

While they make good beer in the Netherlands, Ahold corporate honchos could learn a thing or two about economic development blackmail from Dick Yuengling Jr., the owner and president of D.G. Yuengling & Son’s.

Although the company recently expanded distribution in Ohio, making Western Pennsylvania an economically attractive location to expand production, the brewing scion doubts he would build a new brewery in Pennsylvania. Yuengling wasn't specific about what he means by business climate, but it is pretty clear from a Patriot-News interview that he doesn't think Pennsylvania as a rule offers enough taxpayer cash to corporations. (Although, Yuengling says his decision of where to build will not be based on the incentives offered.)

The decision comes down to taxes, incentives and the state’s business climate, Yuengling said. 

In the interview, Yuengling hinted that there are far more business-friendly states. And while he didn’t directly criticize any Pennsylvania administration, past or present, he said he can never be certain which way the state is leaning in terms of its tax and business policies. 

By contrast, he said enticing incentives offered by other states might be too good to pass up. However, he declined to cite any states he might be considering for the brewery... 

“We don’t necessarily base business decisions on incentives like that. But if they are going to give them to somebody, we would stand there and take them.” 

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