Thirdandstate.org's blog

The Return of Bigfoot: Telling the Truth about Welfare Spending in Pennsylvania

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

BigfootYou may remember that the Commonwealth Foundation put out a report about welfare spending a couple of weeks ago that we likened to “Bigfoot” because it found something in the Department of Public Welfare — massive fraud, millions of non-working adults — that just didn’t exist.

I had a chance to debate Matt Brouillette of the Commonwealth Foundation on WITF’s Radio Smart Talk, and I thought it might be a good time to share the facts and give you my four big ideas about how we push back on the destructive framing that the “Bigfoot” report perpetuates.

First, let me give a shout out to the people who called in to Smart Talk to set the record straight on welfare spending and challenge Matt directly on his use of the welfare frame. It was clear to the listeners that Matt was quite deliberately trying to invoke the image of Ronald Reagan’s welfare queen by describing welfare as everything from afterschool programs to autism services. The audience wasn’t buying it and we shouldn’t allow it.

The first step  when talking about this issue, is to define welfare accurately.

1. Welfare is cash assistance.

Spending Twice as Much on Prisons as on Universities

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

It is no secret that Governor Tom Corbett has proposed deep cuts to higher education institutions in Pennsylvania for the second year in a row.

But just what do those cuts mean? Well, we have two charts at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center's web site that speak louder than words when it comes to funding cuts for colleges and universities.

If enacted, the Governor's 2012-13 budget will result in a funding cut for higher education of one-third since the start of the recession.

Public Colleges Cuts by One Third Since Start of Recession

This budget will also mean that come 2013 Pennsylvania will be spending twice as much on prisons as on colleges and universities.

In 2013 PA Will Spend Twice as Much on Prison as on Colleges and Universities

Let the Facts Get in the Way of a Good Story: Private School Bus Services in PA Cost More

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

The standard conservative narrative is that private delivery of services and goods trumps government delivery. In Harrisburg, for example, Governor Corbett’s Council on Privatization and Innovation often presents its goal as privatization, taking for granted that this will be more efficient and cost-effective.

In fact, the record on privatization shows that in many cases privatization fails to deliver promised savings and can undercut service quality. That’s part of why Cornell Professor Mildred Warner has found that local governments often bring work back in house.

Business Subsidies 101: Take The Money and Run

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

The Allentown Morning Call reports that a plant operated by International Battery in the Lehigh Valley has closed its doors. The facility opened in 2008 with $4 million in incentives from the commonwealth:

International Battery, which opened an Upper Macungie plant in 2008 that was expected to create hundreds of jobs, has abruptly closed without explanation, workers said, surprising local officials who worked for years to attract the company to the Valley...

Phone messages left with various company representatives were not immediately returned. A message left with Wexford Capital, a Greenwich, Conn., hedge fund that invested $35 million in International Battery in 2010, was not immediately returned.

International Battery, which makes rechargeable lithium-ion cells and batteries for the military and industrial uses, was seen as a recruiting win in 2008 when it decided to invest millions of dollars in the Lehigh Valley and create manufacturing jobs.

On that note, I will leave you with the Steve Miller Band.

The Governor's Math Requires Fewer Math Teachers

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

PA Job Growth Slowed in 2011Pennsylvania’s 2011-12 General Fund budget made deep cuts to education and health care while leaving unspent $620 million from a revenue surplus last year and other unused funds.

We have estimated the failure to spend that revenue will by itself translate into the loss of 17,714 jobs (including private jobs lost due to the ripple effects of public job cuts) over the course of the 2011-12 fiscal year.

So it is no surprise that Pennsylvania's job growth slowed in 2011 compared to 2010 and when compared to most other states.

On Wednesday, Governor Tom Corbett resumed his business tour to pitch his 2012-13 budget, which offers another round of budget cuts for the coming fiscal year.

As Economy Picks Up, PA Revenues Take Turn for the Better

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

After months of falling short of targets, Pennsylvania's General Fund tax collections edged past the monthly estimate in February by $16 million, or about 1%. The good showing was driven largely by higher-than-expected personal income tax collections. Corporate tax collections continued to trail estimates.

The improving revenue picture for both January and February may signal that tax collections (other than corporate levies) have taken a turn for the better. There have been many signs of a growing economic recovery, including a decrease in the unemployment rate, which bodes well for many state tax streams in the second half of the 2011-12 fiscal year.

February collections trimmed the revenue shortfall for the fiscal year to $482 million, or 3%. Tax collections for the fiscal year trail estimates by $449 million.

Compared to the prior fiscal year, total tax collections are up $507 million, or 3%, as of February — another sign that the economy is improving.

Fiscal Year to Date Tax Collections Trail Estimates, Still Growing Over Prior Year

Before we break out the champagne, the continuing — and largely self-inflicted — shortfall in corporate tax collections is a cause for concern.

Corporate taxes fell 13% short of estimate in February, bringing the shortfall for the year to just under $300 million, or 18%. Much of the corporate tax shortfall can be laid at the feet of the Corbett administration's February 2011 decision to adopt the federal "bonus depreciation" — something Pennsylvania previously had not done.

'Cutting Training for Jobs the Economy Needs Most'

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

When you have a moment, check out this New York Times article on the impact of state cuts to public higher education across the country — and the impact they are having on our economy. These types of short-sighted cuts, like the 20% reduction in higher education funding proposed by Governor Corbett this year, put us in a worse position today and down the road.

The article highlights some of the "efficiencies" we could see if the cuts keep coming:

As state funding has dwindled, public colleges have raised tuition and are now resorting to even more desperate measures — cutting training for jobs the economy needs most.

Technical, engineering and health care expertise are among the few skills in huge demand even in today’s lackluster job market. They are also, unfortunately, some of the most expensive subjects to teach.

Pennsylvania has a long history of shortchanging higher education funding, coming in 45th (as a share of personal income) or 46th (per capita) in the the amount of state support for higher education in FY 2011, according to annual Grapevine survey.

If we want a well-educated workforce to fill the jobs of tomorrow, we have to invest in educating them today.

adultBasic: A Year of Struggle for Many Working Pennsylvanians

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

One year after Pennsylvania’s adultBasic program came to an end, many working Pennsylvanians are still struggling with the lose of this critical lifeline. Anxiety and financial pressures are common, and many are allowing chronic health conditions to go untreated.

That was the message delivered by health care providers, advocates and former adultBasic enrollees during a media conference call hosted by the Pennsylvania Health Access Network (PHAN) Wednesday.

adultBasic was created more than a decade ago to provide affordable health coverage to low-income working Pennsylvanians who either lacked job-based coverage or were denied outright because of pre-existing health conditions.

But when a funding agreement between the commonwealth and Pennsylvania’s four Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans expired, Governor Corbett opted to end the program rather than renegotiate the agreement. The adultBasic program shut down one year ago today.

Rick Mossinghoff, a part-time worker from Robinson Township, Allegheny County, was one of the Pennsylvanians who suddenly found himself without health coverage. He opted to enroll in Special Care – a plan for low-income people offered by the Blues and touted by the Corbett administration as an alternative. His new premiums were five times the cost of adultBasic.

“When I had adultBasic, I was able to have physical therapy to combat the arthritic degeneration in my hip,” Mossinghoff said during the conference call. “That all ended, when I lost my coverage – because Special Care doesn’t cover any rehabilitative or physical therapy care.”

Must Read: The Inequality Governor Strikes Again

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

One of the factors driving the increase in inequality prior to 2000 was the growing gap between the wages of colleges graduates and everyone else.

Therefore, a straightforward policy to limit the rise in inequality would open the door to college attendance for the children of low-income adults. However, as the figure to the right illustrates, gifted but low-income children are much less likely to complete college compared to similarly gifted but high-income children. In fact, these gifted, low-income children are as likely to complete college as the least academically gifted, high-income children.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports this morning that proposed budget cuts by the Corbett administration are likely to lead to fewer courses offered at satellite locations of the State System of Higher Education. Satellite locations are more likely to serve students from low-income families.

What Works in Pennsylvania

The Campaign for What Works has a great video illustrating the interconnectedness of the investments our state makes in a variety of areas from early childhood education to public transportation to workforce training. These investments not only improve the quality of life of Pennsylvanians but create jobs and build a stronger economy.

As the campaign says on its home page: "Pennsylvania works when our state budget supports what works."

Take a minute to watch the video and pass it on.

Some Hope for PA Revenue in January but Corporate Taxes Still Lag

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

Pennsylvania’s revenue performance has been pretty uneven this fiscal year due in part to a stubbornly slow growing economy and to policies that have cut the tax bills of big profitable corporations. After months of significant revenue shortfalls, however, January provided some hope.

General Fund collections came in close to estimate in January – falling $10.2 million, or 0.5%, short of monthly targets. This is a marked improvement over the previous several months, when revenues fell between 3% and 6% short of estimate. Get my full analysis of the January revenue numbers here.

January is an uneventful month for most revenue streams, with personal income tax collections being the exception. January is second only to April, when tax returns are due.

Corporate collections continued to fall significantly short of estimate in January and account for more than half of the General Fund’s revenue shortfall so far in 2011-12.

Revenue collections for the 2011-12 Fiscal Year are $497 million, or 3.5%, below the Corbett administration’s revenue estimates. The administration is now projecting a year-end revenue shortfall of $719 million, although the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) believes this to be too pessimistic, based on recent economic trends. The IFO expects the year-end shortfall to be in the $500 million range.

End of Mortgage Assistance Could Undermine Economic Recovery

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

Economic forecasters predicting strong economic growth in the next several years rest those hopes on a robust recovery in residential construction. In light of that, The Philadelphia Inquirer has some troubling news this morning in a story about a surge in foreclosure filings over the last 12 months.

The rise in foreclosure filings may be the result of lenders moving forward with long planned foreclosures rather than a worsening of economic conditions. More troubling is the rise in 90-day delinquencies, which could be the result of the end of Pennsylvania's Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (HEMAP). The permanent end to HEMAP also means rising costs for future taxpayers.

Combine and Cut: Governor's Block Grant Plan for County Human Services

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

A week after Governor Tom Corbett rolled out his state budget, many people are still trying to make sense of it.

Perhaps the biggest reshuffling in the Department of Public Welfare budget involves the expansion of the Human Services Development Fund, a flexible funding stream used for a wide variety of human services at the county level. This fund has been repeatedly reduced over the past few year. The new budget combines and cuts funding for other programs into a single Human Services Development Fund Block Grant.

All told, the new block grant is funded at nearly $674 million. That reflects a cut of more than $168 million, or 20%. Portions of a variety of health and human service programs ranging from homeless assistance to mental health services to protecting children from abuse would be impacted (see the table below).

Pa. Marcellus Shale Fee Among the Lowest in the Nation

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

Lost amidst our work this week on Governor Corbett's 2012-13 budget was the state Legislature's passage of a Marcellus Shale package that will give Pennsylvania one of the lowest drilling tax or fee rates in the nation. The bill is now awaiting the Governor's signatures.

As The New York Times wrote this week:

Critics, among them some municipalities and environmental groups, said the bill was a capitulation to the energy industry and would all but eliminate their ability to decide where gas development could happen. The measure would limit it in densely populated urban areas but not in suburban spaces, critics said. They also said the environmental and safety standards, like the requirement that wells be at least 500 feet from any house, were weak.

The Times also cited our estimates that "at the current price of natural gas, the fee would amount to an effective tax rate of 2.6 percent, far less than the 5.4 percent in Texas."

The fee sets a 15-year rate schedule for Marcellus wells that rises and falls based on the price of natural gas and inflation. The Associated Press made the point, again citing our work, that this is much lower than drillers pay in other states:

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:

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