Pennsylvania

One Year and Still Going Strong

Third and State celebrated its one-year anniversary this week. We launched on February 1, 2011, and 350 posts later we're still going strong.

We couldn't do it without our readers, so we thought it would be fun to take a look back at what posts you liked the most. And so we bring you a countdown of the top 10 most viewed blog posts at Third and State.

10. Governor Corbett Unveils 2011-12 Budget Proposal, March 9, 2011:

By taking direct aim at schools and higher education, the Governor’s plan disregards a fundamental principle of economic growth — businesses locate and expand in states with an educated workforce and academic centers of innovation.

There is a better choice. Lawmakers can choose to take a more balanced approach that makes targeted cuts, improves accountability and raises revenue.

9. 2011-12 State Budget Highlights, June 28, 2011:

State legislative leaders and Governor Tom Corbett agreed on a 2011-12 state budget deal this week, and on Tuesday, the state Senate approved it on a 30-20 party-line vote. The bill heads to the House of Representatives next. ...

The biggest cuts, in both dollars and percentages, are in education programs, including PreK-12 and higher education.

8. Marcellus Shale, Unemployment and Industrial Diversity, August 3, 2011:

Pa. Loses $300 Million to Gas Drilling Tax Impasse

Legislative inaction on a natural gas drilling tax has cost Pennsylvania $300 million in lost revenue, according to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.

Our Drilling Tax Ticker tracks the revenue Pennsylvania has lost since October 1, 2009 by not having a tax in place. It shot past $300 million Monday morning.

State cuts announced in January to services ranging from help for victims of domestic violence to hospital trauma centers to prekindergarten could have been avoided if the Legislature had enacted a drilling tax.

Plus, the $300 million in lost revenue may be just the beginning. Reuters reported last week that a Marcellus Shale “impact fee” bill now before the state Legislature could cost $24 billion to $48 billion in lost revenue over the next 20 years.

PA Tax Loophole Bill a First Step, More to Be Done

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

Pennsylvania Representatives Dave Reed and Eugene DePasquale rolled out legislation today that would take an important first step towards closing corporate tax loopholes in Pennsylvania.

Corporate tax loopholes have been a problem for a long time in Pennsylvania. They don’t create jobs but do drain needed resources from good schools, health care and infrastructure.

Representatives Reed, a Republican, and DePasquale, a Democrat, deserve credit for recognizing this is a problem and taking steps to address it.

The bill, however, takes a limited approach and leaves many loopholes open for companies to exploit. It should be strengthened to ensure that big profitable corporations cannot use other artificial means to shift profits out of state and dodge taxes.

Matthew Gardner of Citizens for Tax Justice tells Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Joe DiStefano that combined reporting would be a better approach to closing loopholes. Under combined reporting, corporate net income tax would be assessed against income earned in Pennsylvania from a parent company and all of its related businesses.

As Gardner says:

Even if you’re successful in closing one [loophole], you’re doing nothing to stop the emergence of additional loopholes. Combined reporting ends the Whack-a-Mole game by taking away the incentive for companies to artificially shift income from one state to another.

SOTU 2012: Community Colleges, Workforce Development, Taxes & Infrastructure

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

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a pretty good summary of the State of the Union.

Here is the full text of the President's speech, and Wonkblog has a version of the speech with only what they define as specific policy proposals.

What follows are our favorites from the speech.

Community colleges and workforce development:

Join me in a national commitment to train two million Americans with skills that will lead directly to a job. My Administration has already lined up more companies that want to help. Model partnerships between businesses like Siemens and community colleges in places like Charlotte, Orlando, and Louisville are up and running. Now you need to give more community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers – places that teach people skills that local businesses are looking for right now, from data management to high-tech manufacturing.

I want to cut through the maze of confusing training programs, so that from now on, people like Jackie have one program, one website, and one place to go for all the information and help they need. It’s time to turn our unemployment system into a reemployment system that puts people to work.

Taxes:

Must Reads: State of The Union, Stimulus and Austerity Economics PA Style

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

Tonight President Obama will deliver his State of the Union Address to Congress. We are expecting the President to recommend an extension through the end of 2012 of extended unemployment insurance benefits and the payroll tax credit. It looks as though a major theme in the address — besides the catch phrase “built to last” — will be conventional policies aimed at reducing inequality, such as increased spending/tax credits for education and training.

Education and training are important and fruitful means of reducing inequality, but they fall well short of what's needed to reduce the degree of inequality we now face.  A more forceful step in the direction of reducing inequality would include raising the minimum wage and making it easier for workers to form and join unions. We don't expect to hear the President call for either of those changes.

The President will propose paying for his new initiatives with higher taxes on wealthy households. As with education and training, restoring some sense of fairness to the tax code is a laudable goal but longer-lasting reductions in inequality will only come from policies that allow the pre-tax wages of more Americans to rise as the size and wealth of our economy grows.

Manufacturing, energy, job training and middle-class growth will be the cornerstones of President Barack Obama's speech tonight as he takes to the nation's grandest political stage for the annual address on the state of the union, according to senior advisers.

Pa. Revenue Mixed, as Governor Prepares 2012-13 Budget

Pennsylvania's revenue picture remains mixed as Governor Tom Corbett prepares to roll out his 2012-13 state budget proposal in a few weeks.

Pennsylvania continues to see an increase in collections over last year, but revenues trail Corbett administration estimates so far this year. That has prompted the administration to announce midyear budget freezes this month and could impact the budget plan the Governor will present in early February.

Weak corporate collections are taking a toll, and it appears likely that Pennsylvania will end the year with a revenue shortfall, despite solid growth from 2010-11. Still, the revenue picture, in the short term, may not be as dire as that painted by the Corbett administration. The state is carrying a half a billion dollars in reserve that more than covers the current shortfall.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center has a full analysis of the revenue numbers at the midpoint of the 2011-12 Fiscal Year.

Year-to-date tax collections as of December are up $398 million, or 3.6%, over this point last year, but are falling short of Corbett administration estimates by $466 million, or 3.9%. Total revenue collections are $487 million, or 4%, below estimates.

Year-over-year growth slowed in December with monthly tax collections outpacing those a year earlier by only $6.5 million, or 0.3%. Some of this slowdown has to do with a shift in the timing of sales tax payments, but weak corporate collections are also having an impact.

PA Job Growth in 2011 and More Layoffs, Higher Property Taxes in 2012

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

On Thursday, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry released data on employment and unemployment in December. Compared to the summer months, the top line numbers were good, with unemployment falling three-tenths of one percent to 7.6% (U.S. rate is 8.5%).

Nonfarm jobs were up 6,500, which is a pretty good number (we need to average 8,000 new jobs a month to get back to full employment in three years). Service-sector job growth in December was atrocious; the sector added just 300 jobs. Most of the month’s job growth was in durable goods, with manufacturing adding 2,600 jobs, construction adding 3,000 and mining adding another 600.

Those 3,000 construction jobs don't represent a sudden resurgence of the construction industry. As most of you are happily aware, December was quite warm; this meant construction activity in the month was above historical averages which shows up as job growth in the final numbers. The actual trend in construction employment is at best no or very slow growth.

The bottom line is that in the last 12 months, Pennsylvania added 59,200 jobs. That's fewer jobs than were added from December 2009 to December 2010 (63,900). The primary reason Pennsylvania added fewer jobs in 2011 than it did in 2010 is the loss of 19,800 jobs in the public sector.

Ann Belser at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has more on the job numbers.

The Debut of Pennsylvania’s Independent Fiscal Office

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

Yesterday, Pennsylvania's new Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) held a conference to release its economic and budget outlook for the next five years (PDF).

The event included presentations from staff at the Philadelphia Federal Reserve, IHS Global Insight, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Several of the presentations noted that Pennsylvania’s job growth weakened over the summer primarily due to substantial layoffs of teachers and other state and local workers. The director of the IFO, Matthew Knittel, very cautiously predicted that state and local layoffs are at an end.

Must Reads: Where Is the Shared Sacrifice?

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

When the economy is as weak as it is today, the prudent approach to the state budget is a balanced approach that looks to cut spending and raise additional revenue. A Patriot-News editorial this morning points out that nonprofit groups providing services to victims of domestic violence and rape, as well as people with severe health problems, have been particularly hard hit by the last several years of budget cutting.

The last couple of years, especially 2011, have been tough ones because of state funding cuts, and this year might not be much better. As lawmakers and the governor look at another difficult budget — introduced in February — they need to think hard about what further reductions in funding to charitable groups will mean in communities across the state...

Some of the testimonials in the latest survey [by the United Way] show the grim reality for many people seeking help:

A shelter director said, “For the second year in a row, our shelter has turned away more battered women and their children than we were able to house, due to lack of beds.”

“We are unable to provide health center services as we were before. A nurse is only at the center 16 hours per week vs. 40 hours,” one service stated.

“We’ve had to tell people wanting to get their GED that they had to seek services elsewhere,” a provider said.

“Ms. Smith has ALS and needs a device to be able to communicate in her last days. However, she is on a waiting list to borrow the equipment she needs,” added another.

New Year, Same Old Economic Austerity

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

From November 2009 to November 2010, Pennsylvania added 63,300 jobs. From November 2010 to November 2011, the state added just 51,000.

Wait, isn't that backwards? Nope. A weak economy, the end of federal Recovery Act funds and state budget cuts slowed the pace of Pennsylvania job growth in the most recent year.

The big question mark going forward is whether the pace of job growth in the Commonwealth will continue to lag the rest of the country. Key will be whether school districts continue to face large budget deficits.

The news out of Stroudsburg this morning suggests this is going to be another challenging year for the Pennsylvania job market.

Larger class sizes, staff reductions, eliminating elective courses for students or a wage concession are possible remedies to close a projected $9.8 million deficit in the Stroudsburg Area School District budget, said Business Manager Don Jennings.

As school districts continue to add people to the unemployment lines, the Corbett administration is looking to make the situation that much worse by adding costly new regulations to address a problem that doesn't exist. 

January Freeze: Governor Announces $157 Million in Midyear Budget Cuts

Governor Tom Corbett announced $157 million in state spending cuts this week to resolve a midyear revenue shortfall. This marks the fifth straight year of cuts to health care, education and human services.

Weak economic growth in the first half of the fiscal year contributed to lower-than-expected revenue, but the picture, in the short term, may not be as dire as that painted by the Governor. The state is carrying a half a billion dollars in reserve that more than covers the current revenue gap. And despite falling short of estimate, state revenues as of December 2011 are still ahead of collections a year ago. Every major tax has seen year-over-year growth, except for corporate tax collections (which account for more than half of the current revenue shortfall).

Actions taken by the Corbett administration and the General Assembly have contributed to the revenue shortfall. The decision last year to allow corporations to accelerate depreciation costs may be costing more than originally estimated, while doing little to improve the economic outlook. That, combined with the continued phase-out of the capital stock tax in 2012, will cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue.

Changes to the revenue estimate may also be playing a role. Estimating a larger share of revenue collections in the first half of the year and a smaller share in the second half of the year, may have contributed to the midyear shortfall and could set the stage for a stronger revenue showing between now and June.

Regulations and Jobs

A blog post by Stephen Herzenberg, originally published at Third and State.

On Wednesday, WITF’s Radio Smart Talk hosted two anti-regulation advocates to explain why regulations are, well, bad. The listeners of the show who called in did a good job underscoring the critical importance of effective regulation and exposing the lack of evidence for the views of the show’s guests.

I tried to call in myself, but time ran out before I could join the discussion. Had my call been taken, I would have pointed listeners to the writing of Bruce Bartlett, a former high-level policy person in the Reagan and Bush administrations. In a column tellingly entitled “Misrepresentations, Regulations, and Jobs,” Bartlett points out that “no hard evidence is offered” for the claim that new regulations are holding back investment and job creation: “it is simply asserted as self-evident and repeated endlessly throughout the conservative echo chamber.”

Bartlett goes on to explain that “the number of layoffs nationwide caused by government regulation is minuscule and shows no evidence of getting worse during the Obama administration. Lack of demand for business products and services is vastly more important.”

A Must Read: Inequality Matters

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

A debate has been simmering in this country since the early 1980s about rising inequality, a debate aided by more powerful computers and readily available income data that labor economists use to analyze inequality trends.

The debate has oscillated between two camps — the first arguing inequality trends are troubling, the second arguing a combination of there is no rise in inequality and even if there were it is OK or even good (for the vitality of our economy, for example). The battle of ideas spurred new research using new datasets, but the debate always breaks down in the same way.

Part of the argument about inequality being OK has been that what matters is intergenerational mobility. As long as people born of modest means have the opportunity to vault into the top of the income distribution, the American Dream of widespread mobility is alive and well.

In telling this story, Americans often compare themselves favorably to class-bound Europe where, according to the standard narrative, millions toil generation after generation eating gruel under the jackboot of cheese-eating aristocrats. A New York Times story this morning provides fresh evidence that, well, actually there is less intergenerational mobility here in the U.S. than in Europe. The story even has some conservative voices suggesting maybe this is a problem. (Side note: could Rick Santorum maybe let Eric Cantor know about this problem?)

OK, here's a tough one. Now that we agree that the American Dream is on life support, what's the conservative plan to revive it?

Déjà vu All Over Again: Mid-year Cuts and a Budget Shortfall on Tap for 2012

A blog post by Sharon Ward, originally published at Third and State.

Governor Tom Corbett will announce a new budgetary freeze before the end of the year to help resolve what the administration expects to be a $500 million revenue shortfall, according to Budget Secretary Charles Zogby, who gave the annual mid-year budget briefing on Tuesday.

Secretary Zogby painted a grim picture, as expected. The current revenue shortfall of $345 million could grow even beyond the $500 million current estimate, according to Zogby, and growth in mandatory spending for pensions, debt service and the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) will contribute to a budget for 2012-13 that is short about $750 million.

The Commonwealth plans to resolve the revenue gap with additional cuts. The secretary did not anticipate having "any revenue options" on the table and said he would look for further cuts in "waste, fraud and abuse" in DPW, controlling growth in corrections spending, and scaling back capital spending to make up the difference.

He did acknowledge that the Governor would rather reduce prisons than schools or higher ed and that making cuts was not something the administration relishes — suggesting that the work advocates have done this year may be penetrating.

In a nutshell, the persistently anemic economy is hurting tax collections, and growth in 2012 will be lower than previously estimated, making the 2012-13 budget more difficult than one would expect coming out of a recession.

Secretary Zogby rightly identified areas of built-in growth that will contribute to a structural budget deficit moving forward.

No PA Marcellus Shale Fee for 2011

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

Another year has nearly come and go, and still Pennsylvania has no Marcellus Shale drilling tax or fee.

To refresh your memory, the state House and Senate seem to be engaged in a game of how low can you go with their competing shale plans.

Last month, the House approved HB 1950, taking Governor Tom Corbett’s approach to a drilling impact fee. It would collect $160,000 over the 50-year life of an average Marcellus Shale gas well, the equivalent of a 1% rate.

The Senate, meanwhile, adopted SB 1100, sponsored by Senator Joseph Scarnati, raising $360,000 over the life of an average well, the equivalent of 2.2%.

A comparable well in Texas would raise $878,500 — five times more than Governor Corbett’s plan and nearly two-and-a-half times more than SB 1100. Even an industry-supported drilling tax proposal from August 2010 would collect more than these plans.

Under both the House and Senate bills, drillers will pay less in Pennsylvania than they do in Arkansas, Texas, Wyoming and many other energy-rich states.

Now fast forward to this week. On Wednesday, the Senate amended the Scarnati plan into HB 1950 and sent it back to the House before adjourning for the rest of 2011.

Why kick the ball back to the House? StateImpactPA explains:

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