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

Some things are worse than a late budget

From the Third and State blog. As the June 30th deadline looms, we have little more than rumors about what kind of Pennsylvania budget might be enacted by the General Assembly for 2016-17. But while some may find optimism in talk of getting the budget done, the rumors we are hearing about the details of the budget in the works are extremely worrisome. We know that everyone on both sides of the aisle wants a budget done more or less on time. All members of the House and half the members of the Senate face re-election in November, and none of them want a long, drawn-out budget and delays in funding schools and human services. Yet to reach agreement on a budget legislators have to find their way between their determination to get one done and the structural deficit that requires either some new revenues or difficult budget cuts. More … Continue reading

Finally: waste, fraud, and abuse!

Originally appeared on the Third and State blog, May 24, 2016 After ribbing Senator Wagner and his fellow members of the taxpayer caucus for not understanding the basics of budgeting, I want to acknowledge that they did come up with a really good idea today. It appears that the Pennsylvania State Police take two sheets of paper to print tickets. Some intrepid investigator discovered that they could get the whole thing on one sheet of paper if they printed in landscape rather than portrait mode. At 8 cents per sheet of paper for the 542,000 tickets they print, that’s a savings of $43,384. We at PBPC are always interested in making government cost efficient and we acknowledge that this is a great idea. We hope it won’t be delayed while we study whether it’s better to print landscape mode or just use two-sided printing. Now, at this rate of savings, … Continue reading

How to create a progressive income tax in Pennsylvania

Originally appeared as How to create a progressive income tax in Pennsylvania, in Newsworks, May 24. So, it turns out that you can actually create a fair income tax in Pennsylvania. One of the unfortunate conditions of Pennsylvania politics has been our “uniformity clause,” which prohibits taxing any one class of income at different rates. It has stood in the way of creating what most states with an income tax have, a graduated system in which those with higher incomes pay at a higher rate. A consequence of our uniformity clause is that our state and local taxes, taken together, are among the most regressive in the entire country. The Institute on Tax and Economic Policy lists Pennsylvania as one of the “Terrible Ten” states with the most unjust tax system. It’s not hard to understand why. State and local taxes take a little over 12 percent of the income of the … Continue reading


Originally published at Third and State, April 4, 2016 It appears that some elements in the Republican Party of Pennsylvania have one and only one goal – to not raise taxes. It doesn’t matter if spending in our classrooms, and especially in the classrooms in our lowest income communities, have not recovered from the Corbett cuts of 2011-12; they won’t raise taxes. It doesn’t matter if waiting lists for mental health and intellectual disability services grow; they won’t raise taxes. It doesn’t matter if tuition keeps rising for our colleges and universities. It doesn’t matter if the budget is “balanced” with smoke and mirrors; they won’t raise taxes. It doesn’t matter if the ratings agencies can see through the smoke and mirrors and plan to downgrade our credit again; they won’t raise taxes. And now that all the special funds have been raided, all the bills have been put off … Continue reading