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PA Budget Summit: Resources and a Recap

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center hosted its annual Budget Summit on Thursday in Harrisburg, providing an in-depth look at the state and federal budget plans and what they mean for communities and families across Pennsylvania. With nearly 200 in attendance, it was our largest Budget Summit yet.

Check out our web site where we have posted materials from the Summit, including presentations on the state and federal budgets. And check back next week when we will have more, including video clips from the Summit.

And take a minute to watch this report from Fox 43 for a nice (and quick) recap of the Summit.

From the Fox 43 report:

Educators, political candidates, and community leaders gathering to discuss how Governor Corbett's proposed budget would affect them at the Pennsylvania Budget Summit.

"The ultimate goal is for everyone in this room to understand what's happening in Harrisburg. To be able to talk to their lawmakers intelligently, and bring their messages back to their communities to get involved, and speak up about the things that they value," says Sharon Ward with the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.

The Santorum Problem

In January, a coalition of environmental groups led something like 200 people in a rally against natural gas drilling in the Pennsylvania Capitol’s Main Rotunda. Folks came to the Capitol angry that the legislature looked intent to take away the right of towns to use Zoning to control how close well pads are built to their homes and schools. A frequent shout at rallies like this is some version of, “Let’s vote ‘em out!” Legislators never seem that afraid of losing their jobs. Legislators continue to sell out their constituents in the interest of the rich and powerful, I believe, because of The Santorum Problem.

This is The Santorum Problem: if an incumbent who serves industry actually does get voted out of office on his merits (which is rare), there will always be a much better paying job waiting for him after he loses. If an elected loses for protecting corporate America, corporate America has a golden parachute ready for him.

Click read more to see how I spell this out in a bit more detail...

White House Plan to Close Special Interest Tax Loopholes Is the Right Approach to Reform, But Details Matter

The President has put forward the beginnings of a tax reform plan that takes the right approach, but is still missing critical details.
 
America needs a level playing field where businesses succeed by being more productive and innovative, not by hiding profits in the Cayman Islands or other tax havens. By ending special-interest tax preferences, the administration plan could help the economy and reduce debt, while addressing public outrage about large companies dodging their taxes.
 
The current system serves nobody except the relatively few companies that can most exploit these loopholes and the armies of tax lawyers and lobbyists that must be hired to play this destructive game.”
 
The President’s plan includes very promising proposals. If the details include reforms such as complete reporting of all profits and taxes paid, clear cut rules to end profit shifting to bogus off-shore subsidiaries and enforceable minimum rates to deter tax avoidance gamesmanship, then this plan will fulfill its promise.
 
Preventing firms from sheltering profits overseas will encourage companies to keep their business here.  We were encouraged to see some of the revenue raised put toward clean energy. We urge that loophole closing is pursued aggressively and that additional revenue will be put toward some combination of reducing the public debt and reducing severe cuts to public priorities.

Some Hope for PA Revenue in January but Corporate Taxes Still Lag

A blog post by Michael Wood, originally published at Third and State.

Pennsylvania’s revenue performance has been pretty uneven this fiscal year due in part to a stubbornly slow growing economy and to policies that have cut the tax bills of big profitable corporations. After months of significant revenue shortfalls, however, January provided some hope.

General Fund collections came in close to estimate in January – falling $10.2 million, or 0.5%, short of monthly targets. This is a marked improvement over the previous several months, when revenues fell between 3% and 6% short of estimate. Get my full analysis of the January revenue numbers here.

January is an uneventful month for most revenue streams, with personal income tax collections being the exception. January is second only to April, when tax returns are due.

Corporate collections continued to fall significantly short of estimate in January and account for more than half of the General Fund’s revenue shortfall so far in 2011-12.

Revenue collections for the 2011-12 Fiscal Year are $497 million, or 3.5%, below the Corbett administration’s revenue estimates. The administration is now projecting a year-end revenue shortfall of $719 million, although the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) believes this to be too pessimistic, based on recent economic trends. The IFO expects the year-end shortfall to be in the $500 million range.

Today, CFPB to possibly end $39 lattes

Would you knowingly agree to pay a $35 fee each time you used your debit card at point of sale, simply to allow you to purchase a $4 latte with only $2 in your account? Even the banks didn't think so, that's why they made “standard overdraft protection” a feature of your checking account that you didn't need to choose. Banks also changed the default switch on debit and ATM cards to allow overdrafts. The combination of these practices, along with the switch from cash to debit card transactions encouraged by rewards programs, made overdraft revenue a major profit center over the last 12 years or so, as the old regulators mostly slept.

At a news conference in NYC today, Director Richard Cordray of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will announce a major investigation of bank overdraft fee practices and propose a model "penalty box" disclosure to appear on bank statements. From Ylan Mui of the Washington Post: "The bureau said it will look into whether banks are reordering customers’ debit-card charges to maximize overdraft fees. Reordering transactions can double or triple penalties, and the practice has been the target of several class-action lawsuits against the nation’s biggest banks. The CFPB’s inquiry also will focus on bank overdraft policies, how they market the plans, and their impact on low-income and young consumers. The agency will solicit feedback from the public."

Buzz Bissinger spouts off on race and Jeremy Lin - and we all cringe

I get it. There are plenty of people who don’t like the Knicks, are sick of two weeks of Linsanity and consider the Jeremy Lin hype to be premature and therefore overrated.

And then there’s Buzz Bissinger:

You know it’s quite the man who thinks there are worse things you can call Jeremy Lin – AND THEN PROCEEDS TO NAME THEM. All the while, reminding Asians of our place on the racial slur ladder, touting that racial slurs haven't hindered Lin's success (at least in the last 17 days), and making sure he cites other black athletes to legitimize this type of thinking.

Here are more Buzz-kills:

  • ”But I don’t think fans are going wild over him now because of his breaking the Asian-American pro-basketball barrier. They like him because he is talented and exciting, at least so far. They also like him because he is light-complected and, in his Christian beliefs and prayer penchant, echoes much of white America.” (Jeremy Lin: Reality checking the hype, Daily Beast)
  • WARNING ALERT: THE FOLLOWING MAY BE CONSIDERED POLITICALLY INCORRECT AND INAPPROPRIATE ON SEVERAL LEVELS. REPEAT THIS IS A WARNING ALERT. IF YOU ARE OFFENDED, SKIP OVER, OR LIGHTEN UP AND GET A LIFE.YOU CAN HANDLE THIS: He has not solved Michael Vick’s dog-killing problem that continues to make him the most hated athlete in America, although he could by opening a Vietnamese-style restaurant with him and carefully planning the menu together. (OK, OK So Jeremy Lin is on fire, Daily Beast)

So, yeah, let’s start with a few things.

I don’t know what racial universe Bissinger lives in, but one in which he calls Asians “light complected” and dismisses anti-Asian racial stereotypes as not rising to a level of real concerns is pretty much beyond comprehension. It’s a bizarre black-white racial paradigm in which Asians have made an unwelcome entry and must therefore be equated with white privilege and whose singular breakout success must be posited in direct opposition to the success of black athletes.

That narrative devalues the unique experience and history of Asians in America and the reality of anti-Asian racism and violence. It also misses the much broader showing of multiracial solidarity and consciousness raising which has grown as a result of Lin's presence on the national stage.

End of Mortgage Assistance Could Undermine Economic Recovery

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

Economic forecasters predicting strong economic growth in the next several years rest those hopes on a robust recovery in residential construction. In light of that, The Philadelphia Inquirer has some troubling news this morning in a story about a surge in foreclosure filings over the last 12 months.

The rise in foreclosure filings may be the result of lenders moving forward with long planned foreclosures rather than a worsening of economic conditions. More troubling is the rise in 90-day delinquencies, which could be the result of the end of Pennsylvania's Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (HEMAP). The permanent end to HEMAP also means rising costs for future taxpayers.

Combine and Cut: Governor's Block Grant Plan for County Human Services

A blog post by Chris Lilienthal, originally published at Third and State.

A week after Governor Tom Corbett rolled out his state budget, many people are still trying to make sense of it.

Perhaps the biggest reshuffling in the Department of Public Welfare budget involves the expansion of the Human Services Development Fund, a flexible funding stream used for a wide variety of human services at the county level. This fund has been repeatedly reduced over the past few year. The new budget combines and cuts funding for other programs into a single Human Services Development Fund Block Grant.

All told, the new block grant is funded at nearly $674 million. That reflects a cut of more than $168 million, or 20%. Portions of a variety of health and human service programs ranging from homeless assistance to mental health services to protecting children from abuse would be impacted (see the table below).

Pa. Marcellus Shale Fee Among the Lowest in the Nation

A blog post by Michael Wood, originally published at Third and State.

Lost amidst our work this week on Governor Corbett's 2012-13 budget was the state Legislature's passage of a Marcellus Shale package that will give Pennsylvania one of the lowest drilling tax or fee rates in the nation. The bill is now awaiting the Governor's signatures.

As The New York Times wrote this week:

Critics, among them some municipalities and environmental groups, said the bill was a capitulation to the energy industry and would all but eliminate their ability to decide where gas development could happen. The measure would limit it in densely populated urban areas but not in suburban spaces, critics said. They also said the environmental and safety standards, like the requirement that wells be at least 500 feet from any house, were weak.

The Times also cited our estimates that "at the current price of natural gas, the fee would amount to an effective tax rate of 2.6 percent, far less than the 5.4 percent in Texas."

The fee sets a 15-year rate schedule for Marcellus wells that rises and falls based on the price of natural gas and inflation. The Associated Press made the point, again citing our work, that this is much lower than drillers pay in other states:

PA House passes resolution making 2012 "Year of the Bible"; Reps. Cohen and Vitali move for reconsideration

I learned through a Move On email yesterday about HR 535, which was unanimously passed on January 24. The resolution declares 2012 as the "Year of the Bible" in Pennsylvania, in a way that not only recognizes the influence of the Bible, but crosses the line into advocacy for its purported messages. The petition is here; feel free to go sign it and skip the rest. But if you're interested, I'll tell you why I think this is important.

Scrapple TV News: Republican Wingnuts, Stu Bykofsky, Charles Chaput, and the Philly Going Out of Business Sale

Scrapple News: we tell you what to think, and you obey.

In this episode: Republican front-runners still crazy; Stu Bykofsky doubles down; Archibishop Charles Chaput climbs into bed with YOU; and how much would you pay for a 330 year old city?

Enjoy!

Rally Against School District's Decision to Close Gym's Used for Recreational Programs Effective Immediately

The School District’s plan to close schools (Lincoln, etc.) on Saturday’s (and to close early during the week) is not only appalling but detrimental to the well-being of the children who look forward to playing basketball and indoor soccer each weekend. This immediate shut-down of the schools will not just affect the Holy Terror’s girls basketball team that my daughter plays for but will cause many other teams and programs around the Northeast to cease as well. Taking this positive activity away from her and all of the other children is just plain wrong. Many teams utilize the gym in Lincoln High School. The season just began and isn't even halfway through. This School District's decision lacks thought and reason. What else are the School District and City going to take away from us?

I know this issue is important to all of us and I am hoping that something can be done.

Please see link to the news story as well as information regarding the rally planned for Saturday below.

Link to story:
http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2012/02/07/recreation-programs-slammed-by-decision-to-close-philadelphia-schools-after-hours/

RALLY INFO:
Rally against gym closings

As you may know, the School District of Philadelphia has unveiled a plan to save money by reducing the times when school buildings are open for extracurricular activities.

Starting next week, the Philadelphia School District plans to cancel all weekend programs and shut school buildings by 8 p.m. during the week.

I am fighting against this plan, which will have a negative impact on many activities and programs, including Recreation Department activities, school programs and athletic events and will literally leave thousands of children out in the cold.

Please join me for a rally against this plan, at 9 a.m. this Saturday, Feb. 11 at Lincoln High School, located at 3201 Ryan Ave.

Tell the school district to put kids before politics!

Abandoning Pennsylvanians

Governor Tom Corbett unveiled a 2012-13 state budget Tuesday that abandons middle-class Pennsylvanians and our most vulnerable citizens.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center has a full analysis of the Governor's proposal. Here's the quick version.

With this budget, the Governor continues to turn his back on middle-class families who rely on good schools and affordable college tuition.

Help for the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians is reduced or eliminated. Tens of thousands of families and children have already seen health and other services terminated. This approach is not about finding efficiencies or cutting waste but rather cutting off help to people who have been hit hardest by the recession.

And while there is a call for greater accountability for every dollar in spending, businesses are let off the hook based on claims that they will create jobs in exchange for tax cuts that now total more than $1 billion.

This is not the path to a stronger economy or a better Pennsylvania.

We'll have more to say in the weeks ahead. For now, you can learn more by reading our analysis.

Governor's Budget Moves PA in Wrong Direction

Governor Tom Corbett delivered his 2012-13 budget address to a joint session of the state Legislature today. We are still working on our budget analysis at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. Check our web site later Tuesday evening.

In the meantime, check out Sharon Ward's op-ed below on the Governor's budget originally published in the Allentown Morning Call.

Will Michael Nutter Be the Deciding Vote on the Shale Bill?

Update: The Pennsylvania Senate approved the shale fee bill Tuesday by a vote of 31-19. The House followed suit Wednesday, approving it by a narrow vote of 101-90.

Will Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter be the deciding vote on a bad Marcellus Shale bill?

In typical fashion, the Pennsylvania Legislature is ramming through a shale bill, including a natural gas drilling fee, at the very last minute that is worse than anything we have seen so far.

Rumors are that the Mayor is pressuring Philadelphia Senators to take the deal, which is bad for all Pennsylvanians and not so hot for Philly.

There has been tremendous pressure on Southeastern Senators to hold out for a tax that is more than a pittance, and to restore to local governments the constitutional right to protect their communities from the excesses of drillers gone wild.

The Democratic leadership team of Jay Costa and Vince Hughes have breathed life into a Democratic Caucus that has existed pretty much to collect their paychecks. They have done a fabulous job pushing for strong environmental protection against a legion of gas lobbyists, while the Governor's inclination is to give the drillers the keys to the state and walk away. Philadelphia Senators Vince Hughes and Tony Williams are the most likely to take the bait.

We need a round two on the shale bill. Our Senators, and the Mayor, should hold out for a better deal.

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