Health Care Again

Originally published at Third and State April 21, 2017.  News reports indicate that, as many of us had feared, the Republicans in Congress and President Trump have not given up on their effort on health care, not only to repeal and replace the ACA but to institute a per capita cap on Medicaid spending. The new plan, as we will explain in a moment, is even worse than the last one. But before we get to the details, we need to stop and ask, “why are we here again?” Knowing the answer to that question is critical to understanding what the Republicans propose. Why Health Care: Avoiding the Loser Label There are basically two reasons the Republicans are seeking a mulligan on health care. The first is that Trump and the Republicans promised to repeal the ACA and don’t want to look like losers to their hard-core, right-wing voters and … Continue reading

Larry Krasner for DA

I generally don’t get involved in electoral politics now. But I’m going to make one exception this year and tell you that I plan to vote for Larry Krasner for DA. And the reason I’m making the exception is that I’m not just a little with him. I feel the same way about him that I did about Helen Gym two years ago and a really special candidate for city council at large in 2007. He is the only candidate I see who can look at the DA’s office with fresh eyes and stop and think about how it can contribute to the well being of the city as opposed to tinkering around the edges of an on-going operation. He’s the only candidate who understands the rot in the PPD and who is willing to do the hard work (and absorb the punishment he will receive for doing it) in … Continue reading

Facts, Not Hysteria, About the Soda Tax

Originally published by the Philadelphia Business Journal on April 20, 2017. Also at Third and State.  Co-authored by Diana Polson. The reaction of the beverage industry to the Philadelphia soda tax continues to be self-centered, hysterical, and dubious. Before looking at their claims, let’s keep in mind something very important: every tax has some negative consequences for some businesses. And, yes, it is a shame if some business absorbs some costs and a few people lose jobs as a result. But public policy has to be driven by the consequences for all of us. So, the question is not whether an individual business is hurt by the Philadelphia soda tax, but whether the city and its citizens benefit on the whole. We think the answer is clearly yes, not just because of the investment in Pre-K education and community recreation centers made possible by this tax, but because of the … Continue reading

The House Republican Budget Proposal

The House Republican Budget proposal for 2017-2017 is deeply problematic in six respects. First, the proposal does not close the state’s budget deficit, but leaves a gap of close to $800 million. Most of the revenue ideas presented by the House Republican Caucus to fill that gap are similar to the one-time revenues and fund transfers that have failed to fix our structural deficit in the past. The Republicans do not seem to be considering any proposal to increase recurring revenues by fixing our upside-down tax system. Second, the House Republican budget widens, rather than closes, the state’s investment deficit, especially in education, environmental protection, human services, and community and economic development: Education: It proposes $50 million less for Pre-K education and Head Start than the Governor’s budget, as well as eliminates the $8.5 million safe school initiative. Environmental Protection: It proposes $9 million less than the Governor’s budget for … Continue reading

Chuck Berry and the Invention of Rock and Roll

In the mid-90s, when I was in my forties, a friend of mine, the late political theorist Jean Elshtain, came to deliver a talk at the university at which I was teaching and hung out for a few days at my house. We talked  gossiped, talked about politics and, as we frequently about music. At that time I was well into jazz and didn’t much listen to contemporary pop or what had become of rock music. But Jean was a still a rocker who loved Bruce, whose music I knew, and a bunch of others whose music was new to me. She asked me if I had been into jazz when I was a teenager. I said, “yes, but rock was what really moved me, then.” She seemed a little surprised. “Rock is the music of angry teenagers and I was an angry teenager,” I replied. I was thinking about … Continue reading

The Russian Connection? It’s Not a Distraction.

I see a lot of folks saying don’t get distracted by the Trump’s “craziness” and / or the investigations of his connection to Russia when the Republicans in Congress are about to pass a series of horrible pieces of legislation. It’s certainly important to keep fighting against all that legislation, especially, the attacks on the ACA and Medicaid which will lead to to thousands of premature deaths and enormous  suffering if they are successful. But… 1. That the President of the United State might have conspired with a foreign power to take power is not a distraction from more important issue. If Trump did what many suspect, he betrayed the core of political life, our republican form of government. Everything else we care about, including our freedom, the future of the earth, and economic justice depends on protecting that form of government. The mere possibility that Trump conspired with Russia … Continue reading

Is this the year Pa. resolves its perennial budget crisis?

Originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, December 28, 2016. Many of us who write about budget politics have a keyboard shortcut to enter “Pennsylvanian Budget Crisis” into a document. Year after year, we write in December about the upcoming crisis and again in July (or sometimes far later) about how the crisis has been temporarily averted. It is crisis time again. But perhaps this is the year we can change the script. There are new ways to do something that has eluded us in the past – solve the crisis on a long-term basis without imposing harsher new taxes on working people and the middle class. Before coming to our long-term solution to the crisis, first a word about its dimension and cause. The Independent Fiscal Office has projected that the deficit for the current fiscal year, ending June 30, will be $500 million while the deficit for the next … Continue reading

Combine spending restraint with new revenue

Originally appeared in the Erie Times, December 28, 2016 Pennsylvania has been struggling with persistent budget deficits since the start of the Great Recession in 2008. And we at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center have been recommending a “balanced approach” to resolving the deficit from the beginning, one that combines restraint in spending with new revenues. But since 2010, under Govs. Tom Corbett and Tom Wolf, the General Assembly has adopted an unbalanced approach. Spending has gone down but revenues have gone down faster. From 1994 to 2011, under both Democratic and Republican governors, the state spent 4.7 percent of the state’s gross domestic product. During the Corbett years that fell to 4.3 percent as spending on education and human services were sharply cut. And while, thanks to Wolf, the state has been able to restore some of those cuts, spending in the last two years remains at the … Continue reading

Pennsylvania needs a fairer tax system

Originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 26, 2016 Our proposal would be more equitable while also helping to close the deficit Pennsylvania faces another budget crisis. The combined deficit for this year and next is roughly $3 billion. It’s time all Pennsylvanians — and especially the members of our General Assembly — recognize that recurrent budget crises won’t stop until we fix our upside-down tax system. Federal tax rates are higher for those with higher incomes than those with lower incomes. However, combined state and local taxes, because they rely on property taxes, sales taxes and income taxes that do not have steeply graduated rates, often tax those with low incomes at roughly the same percentage as those with high incomes. Pennsylvania is worse than most states on this score. It is one of what the Institute on Tax and Economic Policy calls the “terrible 10” when it comes … Continue reading

Time to fix our upside-down tax system

Originally published at the York Dispatch on December 23, 2016. Pennsylvania has been struggling with persistent budget deficits since the start of the Great Recession in 2008. And we at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center have been recommending a “balanced approach” to resolving the deficit from the beginning, one that combines restraint in spending with new revenues. But since 2010, under Gov. Tom Corbett and Gov. Tom Wolf, the General Assembly has adopted an unbalanced approach. Spending has gone down but revenues have gone down faster. From 1994 to 2011, under both Democratic and Republican governors, the state spent 4.7 percent of the state’s GDP. During the Corbett years, that fell to 4.3 percent as spending on education and human services were sharply cut. And while, thanks to Wolf, the state has been able to restore some of those cuts, spending in the last two years remains at the same level … Continue reading