'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.” 

Confused About Voter ID? You’re Not Alone

By Sharon Ward, Third and State

The eyes of the nation are truly turned to Pennsylvania as the ACLU is back in court today challenging Pennsylvania’s strictest-in-the-nation Voter ID Law. The Commonwealth Court is hearing evidence to determine whether the new Department of State voter ID will do the trick to ensure that anyone who needs an ID can get one, for free, in time to vote in November. If the state fails to make that case, the judge could issue an injunction to prevent the law from taking effect.

Early evidence seems to indicate that could happen. As Capitolwire.com has reported (subscription), Judge Simpson indicated Tuesday he will consider an injunction and has asked lawyers to be prepared to provide input on its scope and force. 

On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center released a report on this topic exactly. The report, Moving Target: Pennsylvania’s Flawed Implementation of the Voter ID Law, asks the question: "How is PennDOT handling the new Department of State ID?" The answer, in layman’s terms, is simple: Not so good.

Fact Checking the Corbett Jobs Record...and Some Unsolicited Advice

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

The Corbett administration has a new summary of Pennsylvania's recent job performance. Today's news that Pennsylvania's unemployment rate is as high as the national unemployment rate underscores, however, that the state's recent jobs record is not  good. Let’s take a closer look.

PA vs. U.S.: The Corbett jobs summary notes that Pennsylvania's unemployment rate is below the national rate — and it was when the summary was first released. This was not a new trend: the Pennsylvania rate was a point or a point-and-a-half below the national rate for most of the four years before Governor Corbett took office. A year ago, the gap between the Pennsylvania and U.S. unemployment rate was still statistically significant. (See Table A.) But the gap between the two rates — the "Pennsylvania advantage" — has been shrinking steadily since 2010 until the Pennsylvania rate finally climbed to the U.S. level in August 2012, both equaling 8.1%.

Private-sector Job Growth: While the administration touts private-sector job growth in 2011, the numbers reflect a national trend, rather than a unique Pennsylvania story. 

The U.S. economy has had 30 consecutive months of private-sector job growth. In fact, Pennsylvania's rank for the percent growth in private-sector job growth has fallen from 8th in 2010 to 36th in the 12 months ending in July 2012. One of the reasons that Pennsylvania's private-sector job-growth ranking is down is the deeper cuts in public employment in Pennsylvania compared to other states. Deep cuts to Pennsylvania public schools and colleges led to a loss of 14,000 education jobs alone in 2011.

These layoffs impact the classroom and Main Street too. Unemployed teachers, like unemployed factory workers, don’t have money to spend, which affects the broader economy. 

Manufacturing Job Growth: Manufacturing jobs growth improved in 2011, but again reflects national trends. In fact, Pennsylvania's manufacturing job growth since early 2010 is slightly below half the national increase. (See The State of Working Pennsylvania 2012.) 

New Hires in Marcellus Shale: Not this one again. The administration is touting natural gas industry growth by citing the number of new hires. As we've explained repeatedly, new hires are not new jobs (most new hires replace people who quit or are fired). In fact, the number of new hires is basically a meaningless number. Statewide there were 580,400 new hires during the 2nd quarter in Pennsylvania, while total non-farm employment rose between the 1st and 2nd quarter by less than 300 jobs. In other words, the only reason to cite new hires is to make the job gain seem substantially larger than it really is. 

The gas industry has led to some job growth in Pennsylvania, just not on the scale claimed by the industry. Between the 4th quarter of 2008 and the 4th quarter of 2011, employment in the core Marcellus Shale industries grew by 18,000. That gain was largely wiped out by the loss of 14,000 education jobs in just one year. Even using the most generous estimates, employment in the Marcellus Shale in direct and ancillary industries in the 4th quarter of 2011 (as published by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and industry) was 238,400 – about 4.2% of total state employment.

Here's the unsolicited advice: Twenty months into Governor Corbett's first term, there is still time for the Governor to pursue policies that will improve Pennsylvania's job performance. There are multiple options that have strong bipartisan and business support. For example, investing in transportation infrastructure as recommended by the Governor's own transportation commission. 

In manufacturing and workforce development, the administration is also saying some of the right things. But talk is cheap: we need actual investment in skills and innovation if our job performance is going to improve relative to other states and the nation.

Will Senator Williams recuse himself from Marcellus related votes?

Fun fact, everyone, I don't work for any non-profit at all any more. I am no longer a professional Organizer. My career in that vein has ended. That's not to say that I don't still care a ton about the issues. Especially the issue of the environment. Ironically, in fact, I found I did the worst job on the issue I cared the most about. Strange, but that's a post for another time.

The reason I am writing today is because I wanted to put an exchange I had with Senator Anthony Williams of West Philadelphia onto the record. First, because it should be instructive for other politicians on how not to use Twitter, and also because it raises an important public policy question: should politicians recuse themselves from voting on issues that their households have a vested interest in?

It started with this story in The Inquirer. From the short piece:

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, the natural gas industry trade group, is expanding its presence in Southeastern Pennsylvania by hiring Shari Williams, a former communications specialist at the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and the wife of State Sen. Anthony H. Williams (D., Philadelphia).

If you're not familiar, The Marcellus Shale Coalition is a lobbying group that would have you believe that natural gas drilling is so clean and pure that loading the ground full of hydrochloric acid actually improves soil quality. Like... potatoes come out with vitamin C and manganese after one of their shale rigs gets done with a site.

Notably, Sen. Williams was one of two noteworthy Senate D's to cast the wrong vote on the only significant piece of legislation that has passed on the Marcellus Shale so far. Now known as Act 13.

So then when the news came out that his wife is now working for Team Pollution, my hackles were raised. It's not hard to imagine that the Senator had some idea that this relationship might be consummated even as the vote was going down. Shady. Or maybe he didn't. There had to be some reason why he and Hughes backed this legislation when every other Democrat stood against it, though. The crummiest part is that I don't think they even needed their votes to get it passed.

So I sent him the following tweet last Friday:

For the full exchange that followed, hit read more.

Can Philly Drop its Addiction to Throwing Money at Big Business? Not likely

This is a fascinating article about the zero sum game that cities and states across the country play to persuade corporations to move to whichever of them is the "friendliest". In other words, to whichever jurisdiction pays the biggest bounty.

Of course this is not a real game, but a gargantuan swindle perpetrated by big business on job-starved jurisdictions. As a general rule few real jobs are created, those that are cost way beyond what it would cost to create a greater number of public jobs, and the effect on the country as a whole is to drive wages and productivity down. Nationwide over $70 billion had been thrown at companies through these "incentives", enough to rehire every employee laid off in the recession. Many times these companies don't even stay bought. They take the incentive, then a few years later, move again or shut down completely.

Philadelphia is hooked on this kind of legal bribery as its primary economic development strategy. We offer cheap land, tax abatements, tax increment financings and a variety of other special tax benefits for individual, and various classes of, companies. Our political leaders have been doing this for decades, and will continue to, unless and until we make them stop.

Post-Labor Day Thoughts: Middle Class Can't Afford Another Lost Decade

By Mark Price, Third and State

Labor Day 2012 is behind us, but the challenges confronting the middle class are not.

As we do each year around this time, the Keystone Research Center has released the State of Working Pennsylvania. My co-author, a.k.a El Jefe, had a Labor Day op-ed in the Harrisburg Patriot-News where he laid out the theme of this year's report — namely, that the middle class in Pennsylvania and the U.S. cannot afford another lost decade.

The next three figures lay out the major elements of this year's State of Working Pennsylvania: employment growth over the last decade has been weak (Figure 1.10); as a result, incomes over the last decade declined (Figure 1.11); and in the first year of the recovery and of the new decade, income inequality resumed its growth as the top 1% increased their share of all income (Figure 5.1). 

With job growth weak and many policymakers advocating that we lay off more teachers and continue to put off needed investments in infrastructure, we are very concerned that working and middle-class families may end the next decade with less income from work than they started with in 2010.

Memo to Ripoffs, Swindlers, and Job Destroyers: Philly has a Tax Break for You!!!

Philadelphia now has a tax package in place that supposedly was a major factor in persuading Josh Kopelman to move his venture capital company, “First Round Capital” to Philly. It seems like FRC is a fine company. It funds brand new start-up businesses, and plans to provide incubator space for many of them in its new headquarters in University City. Patrick Kerkstra over at the Inky is crowing over FRC’s move and is all but saying “gotcha” to people like me who questioned the tax breaks that the City is giving them.

Here’s the rub. Those same tax breaks are available to Bain Capital and Mitt Romney (if and when Mr. Empty Suit returns to full-time vulturing with the firm.) They’re also available to similar companies in the private equity industry, one which has over $4 trillion of buying power under its control without any tax help from us. So here’s the question: In order to get a First Round Capital, do we also need to exempt all these other private equity firms and their leaders from business taxes? Here’s the business model for many of them: buy up existing companies with money borrowed on their assets, pay huge management fees, sell off assets, dump workers.

The New Yorker gives an example of how this model played itself out in real life after Bain Capital acquired Armco Steel Company and reorganized it into “GS Industries”:

[W]ithin two years of investing eight million dollars to create GS Industries and take a majority interest, Bain Capital had paid itself a special dividend of $36.1 million, financed by a big issue of debt. . . . G.S.I. subsequently struggled against domestic and foreign competitors. In 1999 it sought a federal loan guarantee, and in 2001 it entered bankruptcy protection. More than seven hundred workers lost their jobs, health insurance, and some of their retirement benefits. A federal agency had to put up $44 million to bail out the company’s pension plan. Even while G.S.I. was fighting for survival, Bain continued to extract management fees from it—about $900,000 a year, according to a recent Los Angeles Times story. “Bain partners think the profits they made are a sign of brilliance,” an official of the steel workers’ union who negotiated with G.S.I. told the paper. “It’s not brilliance. It’s lurking around the corner and mugging somebody.”

Sometimes jobs aren’t destroyed, they’re just sent away:

The next step in many leveraged buyouts is outsourcing—closing plants and selling assets, using the returns to pay back the loans, and then contracting production out to low-wage factories in other countries, usually where repressive governments prevent workers from organizing their own unions. This is precisely what happened when Freescale Semiconductor was taken over in a 2006 leveraged buyout. In the first year after the buyout, Freescale was forced to pay $760 million in interest on the debt it assumed because of the LBO. In 2007, it laid off more than 2000 employees and outsourced a substantial amount of work, including 50 percent of its assembly, packaging, and testing. In the fall of 2007, Freescale announced plans to open a design center in China that would employ 100 engineers.

Most interesting about these stories is the point about that federal agency putting $44 million into GSI while its management was extracting $900,000 a year in fees. It’s interesting because it’s so typical. This industry thrives on government largesse. Indeed, the single largest source of capital to the leveraged buyout industry is government pension funds. Why is that? Well, apparently, it’s because governments are such good marks for the con-men that run the industry. By using a variety of bogus methodologies for calculating their returns, these companies feed the need of public pension managers to report strong growth in their funds. And as we’ve seen with governmental gullibility respecting interest rate swaps, City managers just can’t resist the pitches of anyone approaching them with a deal that seems too good to be true.

So here’s what we have, for the most part, in this industry: ripoffs, swindlers, and job destroyers. (I’m trying to be nice here.)

Now if these companies come to Philly, that doesn’t mean they would destroy Philadelphia jobs. Who knows, they might actually add some management type jobs. But isn’t extending tax breaks to such companies the reverse of socially responsible investing? Do we want to be known as the go-to City for socially irresponsible investing?

Of course it’s easy for the press to make anyone who suggests that we stop subsidizing evil into looking like silly, naïve, navel-gazers. Kerkstra and I had a long chat about how we might survive as a civilization without getting in bed with corporate pillagers before he wrote his piece. But the only comment he published from me was the wistful one in which I suggested that we be leaders in just saying no. That comment was turned into lovely softball to be served up to the City’s Commerce Director, who replied: "We don't get that luxury. We have to be competitive, and this is a baseline requirement for being competitive."

Well, that’s not all I said, Mr. Commerce Director. I noted that we have a Mayor who happens to be the head of the National Conference of Mayors. He’s also a leader in the region, and perhaps a rising star in the national Democratic Party. Couldn’t our Mayor take the lead in proposing that cities and counties stop throwing their money around by engaging in the zero-sum game of corporate bribing? Wouldn’t it be worthwhile to figure out how to use the money that would be saved by all of us just saying no for things that would improve the livability of our towns and cities? That would start a race to the top, instead of the bottom. It would be a race in which no one loses, instead of the one we’re in, in which everyone – except the .000001 % - loses.

But no, the conventional wisdom is that cities are helpless, they must pay and then pay again for companies that rip off everyone, from workers, to cities, to school districts, to pension funds. It’s all pretty shameful, not to mention very, very unimaginative and downright stupid.

Mayor Nutter forgot the meaning of "public" in public ed

It probably wouldn’t surprise you to hear a Pennsylvania politician questioning the very definition and premise of public education. It may surprise you that Philadelphia’s leading Democrat is on record saying public vs. private ought to be meaningless when it comes to education.

At a press conference Thursday, Mayor Nutter said parents deserve school choice and that public, private, religious designations don’t matter. In his talk, the Mayor went on to say:

"I’m not getting caught up in all this. At my level, these are esoteric debates that ultimately don't mean anything to these young people sitting here in this room.”

Children care about their teachers, recess, lunch and whether they’re in a safe learning environment.

“That’s what this is all about,” he cried out.

While the mayor certainly hasn’t been hanging around the high schoolers I know, he may be right that my nine-year-old isn’t really paying attention to such discussions.

Does that mean we shouldn’t either?

Ask a parent who can’t dream of paying a $26,100 tuition bill from Penn Charter whether a quality free public elementary school in their neighborhood is a matter of meaningless “esoteric debate.”

Philadelphia public schools are 85% students of color and 80% economically disadvantaged. We have 20,000 children classified as special need and almost 12,000 English language learners. Is it “meaningless” that private and religious institutions hold the right to discriminate against and exclude those whom they choose not to serve? There’s no mandate for private schools to provide language services for new immigrants, serve special needs students, or take recently adjudicated youth. They have the right to promote religious scripture and denounce same sex orientation. They have the right to deny collective bargaining and employ non-certified teachers.

Would the Mayor consider it a matter of meaningless “esoteric debate” to take some lessons from Philadelphia’s failed history with privateeers like Edison Schools Inc. which exploited public funds for private gain with miserable results? Is it meaningless to take a look at our neighbors in Chester City and consider the fractured relationship they have with a charter school run by a for-profit company and a bankrupt school district?

I’m sure our governor would love for us to call concerns about transparency with voucher programs like the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) “meaningless” and “esoteric.” A recent New York Times investigation found that EITC programs nationwide permit forfeited tax dollars to go toward private and religious institutions that might otherwise be blocked from receiving public monies.

No matter to Pennsylvania. Since 2001, PA has diverted close to $400 million to organizations that give out the scholarships. The state's program was cited extensively in the Times investigation for questionable practices. And Harrisburg just approved a new $50 million per year tax credit targeted toward students who live in areas with low-performing schools.

Notably, the Times cited the architects of the program who crowed about the intricate and ingenious ways they were able to evade scrutiny. Perhaps if fewer people treated this as an “esoteric” subject, maybe there would be more public accountability.

We have more than a decade of money and broken promises poured into the idea that there’s some magic solution to neglected public schools. Philadelphia has been ground zero for every manner of experimentation from reformers touting the miracles of the private sector. When the Mayor calls the “public” in public education a mere label, he dumbs down important conversations about what lessons we’ve gained from using public funds for too many failed private enterprises.

He plays into widespread disinvestment in public education and the resulting gross inequities. He gives cover to a Governor whose billion dollar slashing of public education funding and promotion of private and charter enterprises has resulted in school districts across the state starved to the point of dysfunction.

Thanks to such efforts a Philadelphia public school classroom is $78,000 poorer than a classroom in a surrounding suburb. Three-quarters of our elementary schools lack a certified librarian. We’ve got one nurse for every 1500 students and a mindset that only guarantees nursing care for the “medically fragile.” Is it any surprise that the choice debate is here and not in Lower Merion which generously funds its schools?

The Mayor’s right that we don’t need meaningless esoteric debates. What parents want is a free, safe, well resourced neighborhood public school for our kids and we want to know why politicians can move heaven and hell to make everything BUT that a priority.

We want a smart conversation about the things our public schools SHOULD provide to every child and what resources it will take to make that happen. We want our political leaders to know that a public school is a communal responsibility – not a matter of individual whims.

Most of all we need our Mayor to understand that - at his level - underfunded public schools serving high poverty, high needs children versus a failed history of exploitation and privatization is never a meaningless esoteric debate.

YOU can Prevent the Vote Stealing

You all know what's going on; the GOP is trying to take us all back to the 18th century, to have a country that literally is governed in the image of the founding fathers. Justice Scalia will fill in the details. To make it happen, they have to be sure the women, the people of color and the young, don't vote.

You don't like that idea? Then you have to keep reading. . .

THINGS YOU CAN DO NOW TO HELP VOTERS VOTE

1. Transport voters with the necessary documentation to PennDOT to obtain a Non-Drivers License Photo ID Card, stay with them and help them through the process and transport them back. Volunteer trainings will be scheduled at the Coalition office at 310 W. Chelten Ave. Call the Coalition office to get more info: 215-848-1283.

2. Volunteer with the Homeless Advocacy Project or the Senior Law Center (215-701-3201) clinics to help voters obtain birth certificates.

3. Take calls from voters with questions about the birth certificate process or other aspects of Voter ID requirements. Contact either of the organizations above.

4. Make calls to voters in your neighborhood to see if they have proper id. Jeff Garis of Pa. Voice is coordinating a calling blitz from 8/12-8/25 at least. Contact him at jgaris@infoservicesgroup.net or 215-694-4783.

5. Contact the NAACP to help: 8/22 (today) from 3-7 pm at a high volume location to assist with voter registration and educate about Voter ID. There will be a team leader to assist you. There will be other dates and times to do this; let Gloria Gilman (215-568-4990; gmgilman@igc.org) know what you’d like and she’ll connect with the NAACP to try to set up a group or contact them directly. Locations include Broad and Olney, Bridge & Pratt; Market East; FernRock; Frankford Transportation Center; 69th Street Terminal. NAACP coordinator is John Jordan: j715jordan@yahoo.com; 215-715-5681.

6. Canvas door to door (put on door hangers with needed info to targeted neighborhoods where it is believed that there are a lot of people without proper id); phone bank; do data entry; do packet assembly: daily. Shifts in morning, afternoon, evening, weekends daily. Call the Coalition office: 215-848-1283 or go there at 310 West Chelten Ave. It’s near the Chelten Avenue station on the Chestnut Hill line, and if you’re driving, there is free parking.

7. Get trained about Voter ID issues by the Coalition office and agree to do one or more speaking engagements. There are many unfilled requests for this. Contact Molly Morrill to arrange this: mmorrill@seventy.org; 215-557-3600. There is a lot of information and forms available online at the Committee of Seventy website: seventy.org website.

8. Check the Coalition calendar to see what’s listed: http://www.seventy.org/ElectionsVoterID.aspx

9. There is an app called the Cost of Freedom App widget detailing voter ID requirements in Pa and around the country which can be sent out to your email lists or social media contacts, especially to young people: www.costoffreedom.info or contact Faye Anderson at 215-995-5028 or costoffreedomproject@gmail.com about this.

PA's July Jobs Report Is Out, and It's Not Good News

By Mark Price, Third and State

Pennsylvania's unemployment rate shot up three-tenths of a point in July to 7.9%. Just two months before in May, the rate was 7.4%. Total nonfarm jobs in the state were down 3,100 in July.

That's not all. There was a big revision downward with the state's nonfarm payroll count for June: it was originally reported as 5,729,700, but was revised down by 17,400. To put it in some perspective: Pennsylvania reported a June jobs gain in its report last month of 14,600 jobs. After the latest revisions, Pennsylvania actually lost 2,800 jobs in June.

Industry-wise, the July report is a mixed bag. Mining; trade, transportation & utilities; information; professional & business services; and other services saw gains. Constructions; manufacturing; financial activities; education & health services; leisure & hospitality; and government saw losses.

Overall, July was not a good month for the labor market in Pennsylvania, with employment falling in both the household (-10,000) and establishment (-3,100) surveys, and, of course, with the unemployment rate rising to just shy of 8% and shamefully close to the national unemployment rate of 8.3%.

I say shamefully because Pennsylvania weathered this recession better than most states and early in the recovery posted strong job gains. The Pennsylvania advantage coming out of the recession is being slowly whittled away by the persistent loss of public-sector jobs, mostly in local school districts, that has followed deep cuts in state funding.

I wouldn't panic over these numbers; there is no reason to believe the Pennsylvania or national economy are headed into a recession. Growth just remains disappointingly weak and will likely remain so through the end of the year.

My partner's son is a drug addict

He's getting along better than he has in years. He's in a methadone program. He has a mental illness diagnosis but he's been relatively stable. After a series of "brushes with the law," he hasn't been in jail in two years. He's in a stable relationship. He's been in the same apartment for two years. He's participating actively in two different counseling programs.

His girlfriend is in a similar situation. Recently she has been reducing her methadone dosage, with the hope of getting off of it.

They have been using the $200 they each get per month in welfare benefits to pay rent on their apartment in Kensington.

They both just got letters saying that their welfare cash subsidies will be ending as of July 31rst.

I know this isn't the crowd that needs to be preached to - but how in the world does this make any sense?

With losing this source of income, and the accompanying increase in financial stress in their lives, the likelihood of them using again in the future will increase. If they use, the chances of them committing crimes to pay for their habit will increase. Along with the chances of them committing crimes increasing, so do their chances of being incarcerated. With incarceration will come increased cost to the state.

Multiply their (or somewhat similar) situation by thousands (tens of thousands? - if you weren't aware of this, the cash welfare benefits for tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians will be cut off tomorrow). Consider that many of those being cut off are mentally and physically disabled.

Being disabled will not exempt anyone from having their assistance cut off

Consider that many of those being cut off have nowhere to turn to for help.

WTF?

Republicans Try Stealing Election in Broad Daylight

The power hungry Republican Party and its corporate sponsors have now put our very democracy at issue. It’s a flawed thing to begin with, given the makeup of the U.S. Senate, the electoral college, and here in Pennsylvania, the small, inconvenient window of time within to vote, and the heavy restrictions that have been imposed on absentee voting. But under Act 18, enacted a few months ago, PA democracy is threatened in an even more profound way. Fully 10% of theoretically eligible PA voters – an astounding 18% of those living in Philadelphia – may not be able to cast their votes at all in November’s election.

This is because Act 18 requires all voters, even those well known to election officials and who may have been voting for decades at the same polling place, must show a photo id when they come to vote. And not any photo id will do; it must be a Penndot issued id, military, student or passport id, or one of a very few other kinds. An estimated million or more people in our state don’t have them.

The overwhelming majority of those blocked from voting will be poor people, minorities, and young people. And, of course, most of these will be Democrats.

A number of individuals and groups have filed suit to stop this abomination from going into effect in November, and the hearing on the suit will begin on July 25 in Commonwealth Court. But meanwhile it is up to us to do what we can to get people the ID’s they need. Fortunately a coalition of over 100 PA organizations has come together to accomplish just that, the PA Voter ID Coalition. They will provide you with training and materials to work in your very own neighborhood to get this work done. Please, if you value democracy, join this work.

The Coalition is headquartered at 310 W. Chelten Avenue. They will hold a training on field operations Monday, July 23rd at 6 PM, and another on the elements of Act 18 on Wednesday, August 1st. Please stop by or call them at 1-866-687-8683 to find the best way for you to pitch in to save our democracy.

Pa. Budget: Failing to Invest in a Stronger State Economy

By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

Despite ending the 2011-12 fiscal year with a $649 million fund balance, Pennsylvania fails to make the investments essential to building a strong economy or to reverse a recent trend where job growth in the commonwealth has lagged behind other states.

So concludes the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center analysis of the enacted 2012-13 state budget, which was released Friday.

In the final budget, the General Assembly restores some of the cuts proposed by Governor Tom Corbett, while leaving intact a 10% cut to human services and deep cuts to public schools and higher education made in 2011. The budget continues to shift costs to local governments and taxpayers, while adding new tax breaks for businesses.

The spending plan, at $27.656 billion, is $517 million more than the Governor’s February proposal but remains below budgeted 2008-09 levels, despite four years of recession-driven increases in demand for services. The largest cut in this budget comes from the elimination of the General Assistance Program, which provides a temporary monthly benefit to 68,887 Pennsylvanians who are sick, disabled or escaping an abuser. It ends next month

Cuts to education enacted last year, meanwhile, have diminished the quality of instruction in our poorest school districts and resulted in the loss of 14,000 jobs in 2011.

PA Starts New Fiscal Year with $400 Million in the Bank

By Michael Wood, Third and State

After a less than stellar May, General Fund tax collections bounced back strongly in June — exceeding estimate by $170 million, or 6.5%. This narrowed the 2011-12 revenue shortfall to $163 million, or less than 1% of total estimated collections for the year.

As a result, the state ended the year in a much better fiscal situation than projected back in February, when Governor Tom Corbett released his budget plan. Counting the dollars the state had in the bank, Pennsylvania actually started the fiscal year with a $400 million fund balance.

The recently enacted budget acknowledged this but only to a point. The Legislature increased General Fund spending in 2012-13 by $655 million from the Governor’s  proposal — restoring funding in a number of important areas: higher education, accountability block grants, and half of the 20% cut proposed for county services included in the now-rejected Human Services Development Block Grant. Lawmakers also found funding for another round of business tax breaks.

However, June collections indicate more could have been done — for General Assistance recipients, environmental programs, and child care. Lawmakers also passed on setting aside any of the additional revenue in the Rainy Day Fund.

Click here for the Tale of the Tape.

The revenue surplus in June was led by corporate tax collections — coming in $180 million higher than the monthly target, or 38%. After falling short of estimates for seven of the first eight months of the fiscal year, corporate taxes ended June with a small surplus of $39 million, or 0.8%.

The Human Cost of Eliminating General Assistance in Pennsylvania

By Kate Atkins, Third and State

Since the Great Depression, Pennsylvania has had a General Assistance (GA) program — a small cash benefit that serves as a bridge to self-sufficiency for the temporarily disabled and for victims of domestic violence and addicts seeking help to turn their lives around.

Since the Great Depression. Until late last month when state lawmakers adopted a new budget.

That budget will end Pennsylvania’s modest benefit for 68,000 people, effective August 1. At $205 per month, nobody was getting rich from the program. Here is a sample of who is using General Assistance and why:

A disabled military veteran in Lancaster County, who applied for General Assistance to get him through until his Social Security disability benefits were approved.

A waitress in her 50s who was diagnosed with breast cancer and used General Assistance when she could not work as she was receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatment. After about nine months, she was able to return to work.

Good Samaritans who are caring for children not related to them — perhaps children of a close friend of neighbor. Many of these children are now likely to end up in the foster care system.

A very focused group of young women I saw at a recent rally in Delaware County, who chanted: “Pennsylvania, we need GA. We’re in treatment, we need to stay!”

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