The PA House GOP Budget Plan to Raid Special Funds Explained

The Pennsylvania House Republican plan to balance the budget in part by raiding other state funds is something of a moving target. A new amendment Representative Moul (A03286) to House Bill 593 is the legislative vehicle in which elements of the plan will move to the floor of the House as early as today. We want to take a step back and put the whole plan to use supposedly “surplus” money that is “sitting around doing nothing” into perspective. This plan rests on a fundamental confusion between bank balances and budgets, one that has played a role in the life of most married couples once or twice. And perhaps the easiest way to understand it is to consider a scenario not unfamiliar to most of us. One partner — I’m going to make him the husband in this version but it doesn’t have to be — picks up a flyer from … Continue reading

Pennsylvania’s Budget Choices This Year

As we head into what everyone hopes will be the last month of the Pennsylvania budget season, this is a good moment to take stock of where we are and what’s at stake in the decisions the governor and General Assembly will make this year. Doing so will also explain why the Pennsylvania’s Choice campaign is urging people to attend a tele-town hall on the budget at 7:15 on June 1, a budget rally at noon on June 5 in Harrisburg, and lobbying days later in the month. (More information and registration for these events can be found here.) Continue reading

Terrorism will get nowhere in Great Britain

I’m listening to the BBC and marveling at the resolve and sensibility of the folks in Manchester. Young women are saying, “Some things we can’t control. So we just go about our lives.” If there are any people who history shows can’t be terrorized it is the English, Welsh, and Scots. They have stood guard at the gates of our civilization before and never given up. Continue reading

Another term for Alan Butkovitz

In all excitement about the DA’s race, a lot of Philadelphians have not paid much attention to the Controller’s race, also on the ballot. My choice in that race, as it was four years ago, is Alan Butkovtiz. Four years ago I wrote this in support of him against an opponent who had a strong record as an independent thinker on budget matters: “If you actually read the reports of our Controllers, as I have for many years, you will see that under Alan Butkovitz, the office of the Controller has done some exemplary work. His report on emergency medical response and the follow up reports are fabulous (and address an issue I care a great deal about and campaigned on in 2007.) He’s revelations of corruption in the Sherriff’s office has led to criminal investigations and civil action to recover millions of dollars. He’s issued many other reports pointing to wasteful spending and sources … Continue reading

About that letter about Larry

  There is a letter from 12 “former Assistant DAs” calling on voters not to vote for Larry Krasner on the grounds that he has never been a prosecutor, that he has been misleading in criticizing the culture of the District Attorney’s office, and that our safety will be at risk. Not only do I not find the letter plausible, for a number of reasons, large and small, the more I read it and learn about those who signed it the more appalled by it I get. To start with the big reasons. First, we don’t need to take Larry Krasner’s word for the problems in the DA’s office. There is plenty of independent evidence. We know that mass incarceration, especially of black men, is a serious problem across America and the rate of incarceration in Philadelphia is among the highest in the country. We know that the Philadelphia DA’s … 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

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