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

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

The rich can take the hit—to fix the budget, they should pay their fair share.

Originally published at Penn-Live on December 23, 2016 Remember how Lucille Ball would work her way into some kind of predicament and then look around and wonder how she got there? That’s how our state legislators seem to look at the budget deficit we are stuck with right now. They are looking around wondering how the current Pennsylvania budget deficit, which approaches $3 billion for this year and next year together, happened. But it didn’t just happen. It was the product of a series of long-term and short-term decisions made by legislators, sometimes with the help of our governors. Let’s start, however, with what did not cause the budget deficit, because too many of our legislators, like Lucy, want to blame someone else for the mess they have made. Growth in state spending is not the cause of budget deficits. From 1994 to 2011, under both Democratic and Republican Governors, … Continue reading

New Data, Good News: Health Care

Most news is bad news. And political campaigns are more likely to flag what is wrong with our country than what is right with it. So, it’s not surprising that in the heat of a presidential election, we are more focused on what is wrong with our country than what is right with it. But as the federal government updates its statistics on income, poverty, and health care this week, we can take a moment to appreciate the good news—government at the federal and state level has been increasingly successful at encouraging prosperity. We start today with health care. The Affordable Care Act remains controversial and even those of us who support it recognize that further reforms are needed to guarantee that quality health care remains affordable to everyone. There can be little doubt that the ACA is working in Pennsylvania and beyond. Between those who bought health insurance on … Continue reading

The Emperor’s New Liquor Stores

Originally published at Third and State, June 28, 2016 Act 39 flew through the House of Representatives and was signed by Governor Wolf too fast for us, and many others, to object. If we’d had a chance, we would have pointed out, as the IFO did soon after passage, that the estimates of new revenue from expanding wine and beer sales was way too high. And we would have added that much of the $106 million that the IFO expects will be generated by Act 39 is a one-time deal. Projections of additional sales of wine and beer at the new locations have to be weighed against the loss of sales at Wine and Spirit shops and beer distributors. And now, just weeks later, liquor privatizers are at again, loading up a bill to expand alcohol sales at the Democratic National Convention — as was done for the Republicans in … Continue reading

School funding: what one hand gives another takes away

Originally posted at Third and State, June 29, 2016 As this dispiriting budget season ends, advocates for education could at least be grateful that the General Assembly seems poised to increase basic education funding by $200 million. This is far less than the $400 million necessary to put us on a path towards overcoming massive cuts and the most unequal education funding in the state. And it does little more than help school districts keep up with costs. But at a time when so many legislators are unwilling to find the revenues to invest in anything, it is better than nothing. Yet, at least as Philadelphia is concerned, it will all be for nothing if HB530 passes in its current form. That bill would undermine the ability of the School District of Philadelphia to control the growth of charter schools. Yet, under the present rules, every charter school enrollment disproportionately … Continue reading

Revenue options real and fake: a minimum wage increase and gaming

Originally posted at Third and State. Ten years ago was the last time Pennsylvania raised the minimum wage in advance of the federal government doing so. In those ten years, inflation has reduced the value of the minimum wage to a poverty wage. That’s why it’s time to raise it again, ultimately to $15 an hour, but immediately to $10.10. A raise in the minimum wage to $10.10 will help 1.2 million Pennsylvanians who work hard but make less than $10.10 an hour right now. Eighty-seven percent of those affected would be over age 20 (not teenagers).  Eighty-four percent of workers who will be affected by a minimum wage increase have a high school degree or more.  And 30% of affected workers have some college education. Raising the minimum wage won’t just help workers who receive it — every dollar in new wages will be spent generating economic activity that … Continue reading