Stop the Hate: Arizona Style Anti-Immigrant Measures in Pennsylvania Must Be Killed

Rep. Daryl Metcalf held hearings over the past two days on what he styled as the "National Security Begins at Home" package of legislation. The hearings included the following bills:

HB 41, HB 355, HB 439, HB 474, HB 738, HB 798, HB 799, HB 801, HB 809, HB 810, HB 856, HB 857, HB 858, HB 865, SB 9

Without getting into each and every one of these bills, let me highlight some things these bills would do:

  • Require the flawed e-verify system to be used by all employers in the state
  • Penalize municipalities that are considered "sanctuary cities" (Reading and Philadelphia both fall into this definition). Penalties could include taking away public benefits from all residents in these cities.
  • Make it a crime to knowingly transport an undocumented immigrant. This would include a church driving an individual to services or a child driving her undocumented mother to the hospital
  • Require identification to be used to access any and all public benefits, despite the fact that an estimated 500,000 citizens in Pennsylvania lack ID (you guessed it: this group includes a disproportionate number of poor, black, and elderly)
  • Allow competitor companies and disgruntled employees to bring lawsuits! against a business for allegedly hiring undocumented immigrants. Seemingly no proof is necessary and one can win triple! damages (triple what, I'm not sure, but it sounds big!)
  • Allow police officers to request immigration paperwork of any immigrant and would create a criminal offense for note carrying those papers. How this law will be enforced without racial profiling, I don't know.
  • Deputize local police as ICE agents, able to carry out immigration functions.
  • Deny citizenship to children born in Pennsylvania to undocumented immigrants.
  • and many more fun provisions....

Philly Needs to Ignore the Hate of Stu Byskofsky, and Make a Smart, Humane Decision to Change our Immigration Policies

Stu Bykofsky is a man in search of enemies. This is old news from the man who suggested that another 9/11 style terrorist attack would benefit America, or when he is rallying Philadelphians to stop the incipient evil doers of our time (bike commuters).

Fresh off of eulogizing his recently deceased, charitably minded, anti-immigrant, racist friend, Joey Vento, (Vento said things like “[Illegal Hispanics] are killing, like, 25 of us a day … molesting about eight children a day … All we’re getting is drug dealers and murderers.”), Stu struck again. This go-round of Stu's is truly hate-filled, and appears to be the work of a zealot, or more charitably, a man fearful of the world changing around him, lashing out in any way he can. The target this time? Those same brown folks Vento hated, and a City Councilwoman that he has a disturbing level of vitriol for-- María Quiñones-Sánchez-- and her efforts to lessen harm from the city's participation in the so-called "Secure Communities" program. (Secure Communities is the federal program that encourages local law enforcement to share data with ICE, letting the feds deport a lot more people than they otherwise would be able to. While Pennsylvania has not yet signed on, Philadelphia has at least one contract to allow ICE real-time access to our arrest records system, called "PARS.")

Before we discuss some of the substance of Stu’s ridiculous column, it is probably worthwhile to quickly dress down his continued xenophobic rants against Councilwoman Sánchez. (Note: for those that don’t know me, I am truly biased in favor of María. I have loooonng supported her, I have donated money to her campaign, I have volunteered for her, and, one of the most important people in my life now works for her. My bias, of course, comes from believing in María, like many other progressives in the city. We would need a lot more of those fabled psychiatry sessions to find out where Stu’s biases come from.)

For many progressives, María is one of ‘ours.’ But, despite the supposed exalted status of incumbency, the party did not support María last May. Instead, most of the structure lined up to support Danny Savage, the young, white, connected ward leader who they had placed in office once before. (If you haven't, please read this piece from a few months ago.)

I go through all of that for Stu, who asks this:

Who is Quinones-Sanchez working for?

Um:

Seventh Councilmanic District, Primary Election, May, 2011
Dan Savage: 39.6%
Maria Quinones Sanchez: 60.4%

Yeah, that happened. It was even in the newspaper.

Stu then goes onto to say other ridiculous things about María, such as "when she puts those here illegally - including ex-cons - above her own constituents, she is unfit to hold office.”

"Unfit to hold office" is probably better than the time he seemed to basically say that she was un-American. But, if you wonder whether the rest of his hate filled, xenophobic rant against María hit its intended audience, check out the ever embarrassing Philly.com comments.

....

Substantively (if we can call it that), Stu’s latest problem is the devastating report by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

The report is based on case summaries from immigration lawyers, who provided the author with vivid examples of why local and state governments need to seriously consider their participation in Secure Communities. As the report states:

Anecdotal case data collected by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) from its attorney members, representing 127 cases from across the country, offers clear evidence that the way in which DHS engages state and local law enforcement (LLEAs) in immigration enforcement is distracting the department from its stated priorities.

Stu implies that the 127 case studies listed (9 from PA), many of which are totally horrific, are somehow the entire universe of wrongful deportations. This would be clarified if Stu looked up the meaning of the word ‘anecdote,' or bothered to speak with lawyers at places like HIAS or Nationalities Services Center who see these cases first-hand.

Of course, a couple of actual Philadelphia journalists have looked at the data, and it is worrisome, at best:

According to ICE data, 238 of the 421 Philadelphia suspects transferred from Philadelphia Police to ICE custody between October 27, 2008 and February 28, 2011 were never convicted of a crime, one of the highest rates under Secure Communities in the country. Another 86 were classified by ICE as level 2 or 3 offenders and 97 were convicted of level 1 offenses, which are the most serious crimes.

Denvir and Ferrick's article also has those meddlesome anecdotes:

One moment Teresa Garcia's son was there, the next he was gone.

Garcia said her 25-year-old son was deported to Mexico last year after being arrested by Philadelphia police for allegedly making threats against a friend who had failed to repay a loan. Her son was innocent, his mother said. He never got a chance to prove it.

Once arrested, information about him and his case was instantly turned over to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, who determined that he was an undocumented immigrant and removed him from the U.S.

The young man had lived in America since he was two. He had no memory of his homeland. Still, back he went.

The City’s response to the above?

Deputy Mayor of Public Safety Everett Gillison sympathizes with critics of the program, but he says that the Mayor is unlikely to change his mind.

"They are supposed to target those in the level 1 [high-level crime] area. We've looked at these, and we have asked them why a lot of people getting deported are in level 2 or level 3. But on a case-by-case basis, that's not really our call," says Gillison. "I can suggest to you that you will find any number of stories that will break my heart, I'm sure. But I'm not dealing with a perfect situation."

I respect Gillison a lot. But that is a totally ridiculous response. Yeah, we know this doesn’t work like it is supposed to. Yeah, you will find cases that break my heart! But, sorry, on we march!

There are a lot of problems with participating in something like Secure Communities.

On the most basic level, we don’t need to participate in the government’s schizophrenic, cruel deportation game (see, for example, these three articles which ran in three days earlier this month: here, here and here), which is targeting human beings who are looking for better lives, and contributing to their communities.

I have personally seen (anecdote alert!) how unscrupulous people threaten immigrants with deportation in order to take advantage of them- oftentimes in explicitly criminal ways. Other stories abound too, including immigrants literally being targeted and attacked on our streets, the cops coming out, not getting interpreters, arresting everyone, including the victims, and before anything is actually sorted out, guess what happens? In other words, not only may witnesses not come forward, but victims may not either, because police make snap judgments, arrest people, and boom, the Deportation Machine, rings the bell, as another life is ruined.

But, even from a pure self-interest angle, in a city with a 'stop snitching' culture, putting up barriers between immigrant communities and the police is a really bad thing. The further we go down this road, the worse this relationship will be, and the less people will talk to the police, no matter how many times the Mayor refers to wanted criminals as cowards or assholes. We don’t want that, right?

Opting out of participation in Secure Communities is what we should do. Period. It is a bad program, that does not work. Opting out is not a crazy position. Officials across the country, including the recently departed, long, long time DA of Manhattan, the Governor of New York and the Mayor of Boston, have lined up against this program. Meanwhile, in Philly, the Mayor’s office admits the program isn’t working right, yet on we go, with the Deportation Machine chugging along.

But, even if we decide to participate in Secure Communities, there is a compromise that could probably work. Strangely, it was proposed by that brown woman that (Daily News Columnist) Stu Bykofsky loves to hate, and it was approvingly endorsed by ... the Daily News editorial board:

Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez proposes the city delay the time it allows ICE to access records, until after a preliminary hearing when it is clearer who might be a victim and who might be a defendant. This seems like a reasonable compromise to a tough issue.

How un-American of them. The Daily News Editorial Board is clearly unfit to hold office write editorials.

Our participation in this cruel program hurts the city, hurts good people, and, frankly, it is just really stupid public policy, from a city that makes enough mistakes as it is. The rants of tired old men aside, this compromise is the least we could do.

It’s getting harder to answer friends who ask me: “Why do you bother working within the Democratic Party?

It’s getting harder to come up with a convincing answer to friends who ask me: “Why do you bother working within the Democratic Party? It’s hopeless.”

My answer: in the near future, working to build space for progressive politics within the Democratic Party is the only option. I still believe this, but recent events have really tested my commitment.

Last summer many progressives Democrats learned that the Philadelphia Democratic Party had refused to seat duly elected committeeperson Tracey Gordon. This incident gave birth to the Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus. Please see our website and Facebook page.

Party Chair Bob Brady refused to respond to the repeated attempts of Tracey Gordon and of the Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus to resolve the issue.

After all these attempts to contact Brady, Tracey Gordon’s lawyer Irv Acklesberg wrote to PA Party Chair Jim Burn requesting a grievance hearing with the PA Democratic Party State Committee. See the attached letter from Irv Acklesberg to Jim Burn.

Burn’s response is attached. Burn makes the preposterous claim that Tracey Gordon has not exhausted Philadelphia Democratic Party grievance procedures.

Ending the Celebrity CEO Role of Schools Chief

Good riddance to Arlene Ackerman. If there was one thing that was totally bizarre about Ackerman's last stand, it was that she kept making bizarre statements that she refused to "play politics," with bizarro quotes like:

Is it a crime to stand for children rather than stooping down into the political sandbox for a politician's campaign victory?

and

I've been criticized for not being a politician," Ackerman said. "I am unapologetic about [not] making deals that hurt our children.

Uh... Up down, black white, dogs cats. You get the picture.

On her way out, Ackerman lobbed a few bombs in the direction of Dwight Evans and Michael Nutter. As a result, both Nutter and Evans have serious questions to answer about Ackerman’s allegations. But, the idea that Ackerman would not “play politics” is one of those 21st century, cognitive dissonance moments, up there with death panels and the like.

Remember Heidi Ramirez? She was the former member of the School Reform Commission who actually asked real questions of Ackerman at SRC meetings, and actually listened to parents and community members as they testified. She was forced out, and it was an open secret that Ackerman had elected officials helping to do the deed, insinuating that Ramirez didn’t care or understand the problems of African-American kids, and that her oversight (you know, her job) was part of a personal attack against Ackerman. So, out went Ramirez, and any semblance of oversight.

David Simon could not have written a story line about Arlene Ackerman. It would have been seen as a little too cynical and unrealistic. How could someone actually make up this departure? It was like watching a car crash. In slow motion. For two months straight.

Again, it was an open secret that Ackerman was leaving- the only question was how much money that they would pay her to go away. And, so, what did the “unpolitical” Ackerman do? In what appeared to be a clear attempt to leverage a higher buyout, she watched as the city was again set aflame among our old racial lines. (And, OK, she might have done a lot more than just watch.) You cannot get more craven than a politician who knows that she is leaving, pretending otherwise and turning Philadelphians on each other, all for an extra plate of gold or two on her garish, over-sized parachute.

So, good riddance, Arlene Ackerman. Don’t spend all of our money in one place.

As we go forward, I strongly hope that we realize that we desperately need to step away from the celebrity CEO model of school governance. The celebrity CEO culture, an infection that spread from Wall Street to the classrooms of our city, has done nothing but enrich a couple of people, while we are left to pick up the pieces.

So, no thank you, Joel Klein. Rubert Murdoch needs you more than we do. And, Michelle Rhee, if you hear the phone ring, its not us. Actually, we would probably go straight to voicemail, given that USA Today keeps calling to ask those pesky questions that you refuse to answer about systemic cheating in DC.

One person is not going to fix our school system. We need a committed oversight board, elected or not, to do its job. And we need someone- anyone- to identify what is Philadelphia’s philosophy and vision with respect to our public schools. When we have oversight, and a vision of what we want, then we should hire a skilled educator and community leader to fill the role of Superintendent.

Helen said the following, in her post a few weeks ago (The fittingly titled "Ackerman’s Last Days"):

If there’s one lesson we should remember about education reform, it’s that it relies less on numbers, data and yes even money, than it does on the delicate fabric of community and social trust. These relationships determine the sustainability and engagement of a whole society’s efforts to educate our children.

The goes for more than firing Ackerman, of course. It should be front and center as we choose another leader of our schools.

Living in "Hamsterdam"

Some of you may know I work in the office of City Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez. The Seventh Councilmanic District starts a few blocks above Girard Avenue and slices up along the west side of Frankford and then Kensington Avenue, neatly avoiding any meaningful concentration of wealth or gentrification (Northern Liberties, Temple, Fishtown). If you think there is something fancy that might be in the district, like a beer garden or coffee shop or condoized factory, it turns out to be on the other side of the line. Instead the district sweeps in the remnants of our industrial corridors and the poor, vibrant but brutalized communities who were left living in that tiny two-story factory housing after successive waves of flight.

I work on housing and land issues, with a subspeciality in the variety of ways deeds are forged or otherwise stolen, and those stolen houses sold, mostly to unsuspecting unsophisticated Spanish-speaking victims who just want somewhere affordable to live. I try to figure out how to keep a slumlord's 400+ properties in foreclosure from being turned over to speculators or abandonment. I field calls from people trying to legitimately buy vacant lots, for side yards to keep the dealers out, or because they're the dealers and want to control the block. The names on those deeds are often Jewish people who left sixty years ago and then died. Nothing's ever probated, and there's no way to legally get almost any of those lots to people who can secure and care for them.

There are a lot of vacant properties in Kensington - the aerial view on Google maps is a beautiful deep green - and the work involved in trying to navigate the broken city systems that deal with those properties, and to push policy reforms to unbreak those systems, it's endless (my boyfriend can tell you he has to fight to get me to stop thinking about lots so I can fall asleep). All that's another news story.

This post is about Philadelphia Weekly's new list of the 'top ten' drug corners in Philadelphia. The last list, in 2007, had corners that were scattered around the city. 2011's are all compounded in the same tiny wasted stretch of Kensington where you find all those lots I dream about: "from Lehigh to the south to Westmoreland, roughly a half-mile stretch, and from Kensington Avenue to N. Fifth Street, a distance just less than a mile." It's a blunt tool, picking ten drug corners based mostly on arrest frequency, but it captures something bigger and truer: I know all these blocks, and the 10 corners featured are surrounded by 10 and 10 and 10 more of the same. "No area of the city came close to Kensington and Fairhill in terms of the density and brazenness of the drug selling."

This is Hamsterdam.

But what does it mean to have a de facto Hamsterdam in Kensington when people, families, senior citizens, all still live there?

Digging Deeper: The role of property tax in urban redevelopment

Today's installment in Patrick Kerkstra's Plan Philly/Inquirer series on property tax delinquency digs deeper into the relationship between property tax delinquency and blight, and how a strategically-designed collection system could support redevelopment.

It's well worth reading and discussing, as it encapsulates the hard policy decisions that need to be considered in order to even begin changing the status quo. These should be central as the Ross and Taylor bills are amended and improved in Harrisburg, and our city government considers how to weigh in to that process as well as act locally on near-term legislative and administrative reforms.

* What pace of tax or lien foreclosures can the market absorb before property values become depressed and supply outpaces demand?
* How can we make sure the new owners are more responsible than the old ones?
* Does the City want to own all this land in advance of development interest, and take on responsibility for maintenance and liability?
* What will it take politically to move from five entrenched public or quasi-public agencies which own land, to a new system with centralized inventory and processes?
* How can we improve protections for low-income occupants, so we can keep people in their homes and avoid new costs from increased displacement and homelessness?

All that uncollected property tax: Looking for a vision of reform behind the dollar signs

$472 million in uncollected property tax looks to be this year's $1.5 billion - the estimated unpaid court fees and forfeited bail that is now being collected by aggressive private firms following the newspapers' revelations of long mismanagement at the disbanded Clerk of Quarter Sessions. Time will tell if the property tax numbers in a report by PlanPhilly.com (in partnership with the Inquirer) draw the same sustained public attention, and spur creaky systems to change.

But a similar, fundamental, error already looms. In a city with a persistent 25% poverty rate, and glaring hunger numbers (1 in 2 people in Philadelphia's First Congressional District, as reported last week), much of that debt is simply uncollectible. It's not hiding under beds and in nightstands. A significant amount of tax and water debt can and will never be collected. We are stuck, rock and hard place, Scylla and Charybdis: leaving all that debt in place burdens title, increasing abandonment and blight, and complicates efforts to get people to pay their current and future tax debt.

It's easy to sell papers and get column inches with the accusation that government inaction and unfairness is costing those of us who followed the rules and paid taxes and bills on time, particularly against the backdrop of budget crises that are starting to look apocalyptic for states and cities. And it's not untrue. But it's mostly beside the point.

Look at the options presented, essentially two. One: quick and mass foreclosure. Two: unload the problem by selling off the debt itself to private third parties, who should have market incentives to foreclose and no meddling City Council members to interfere. Both are misguided for reasons amply suggested by the study's own data.

Arlene Ackerman's last days

The final act of Arlene Ackerman’s tenure should come with little surprise but plenty of outrage at the local and state powers who have let it drag out in such bitter, toxic fashion.

The last two School Reform Commission meetings and the media attention around them have been, frankly, a citywide embarrassment and alarming to parents, school staff and community organizations working frantically to get ready for the start of school. We’ve got more than a thousand vacancies districtwide – a terrifying number considering that it’s less than three weeks before teachers report for their first day.

Yet paralysis has gripped the District with the political silence around Ackerman’s tenure.

Few doubt that there’s backroom negotiation to push her out while her lawyers try to finagle a reputed $1.5 million buyout. But in public, the SRC mouths its feeble support, the mayor has publicly declined comment, and the governor remains AWOL.

Meanwhile, Ackerman is playing her own games, meeting with supporters, calling into radio stations, and feeding into the rallies organized on her behalf to leverage her own negotiating power. The energy she puts into these efforts makes one wonder if she basks in this kind of controversy and divisiveness - after all, it deflects attention from her actual practice. For those familiar with Ackerman’s tenure in San Francisco, a bitter and ugly fight to the finish is part and parcel of this superintendent’s history.

The SRC dug themselves into this mess when they perfunctorily extended Ackerman’s contract in March. At the time, they had plenty to go on for termination of her contract for cause – from financial mismanagement to civil rights abuses. Instead, they chose to look the other way on multiple egregious offenses. Now they’re stuck with the impossible choice of paying a million-plus dollar buyout in the midst of a financial crisis or figuring out some way to force out someone who has no qualms in making sure her exit is as polarizing, ugly, and contaminating as possible.

It didn’t happen this way in 2006 with former Superintendent Paul Vallas, who faced public excoriation from everyone from City Council to the state legislature once a $73 million deficit was announced. The public acknowledgement that Vallas had failed in his mission as a financial manager and lost faith with city and state leaders left no question that we needed new leadership. He exited the city quickly, and we moved on.

We can’t move forward right now.

With their silence, the powers who govern and maintain responsibility for the District have rendered themselves impotent, morally and politically absent and have left the city in a place of racial and class hostility and division. There’s a lack of trust and a loss of priorities, communities and schools are manipulated and pitted against one another, and there’s increasing disgust on all fronts.

It seems baffling why the SRC, mayor and governor aren’t highlighting the current bungling of the superintendent. From organizational chaos to financial mismanagement, the grounds that justify termination for cause seem to grow.

Among her most recent egregious actions:

  • A budget year fail: In the midst of the worst financial crisis in the history of the District, Ackerman clung to questionable pet projects – like Saturday school at Promise Academies and enrichment programs for summer school – then played a losing game of chicken with the state legislature around the school budget. When their state budget projections fell apart, it became eminently clear the District had few plans to handle the dramatic budget reductions. Everything from layoffs and programs being shuttered was handled poorly and hastily. Oh yeah, and she sabotaged relationships from City Hall to Harrisburg at the same time, too.
  • Delaying teacher assignments: By my calculations, only 15 percent of schools are fully staffed for September. Over 200 schools districtwide have vacancies. Carnell Elementary and Overbrook High School have 20 or more vacancies apiece as of this writing. It’s not clear why the District allowed a grievance over Promise Academy layoffs to hold up the whole process. Now our schools are going to have a mad scramble to fill their vacancies with qualified teachers.
  • No management structure: We are six weeks into the fiscal year and there’s still no organizational chart for the schools. It’s not just about what’s on paper either. I hear numerous complaints that staff don’t know who’s in charge of what anymore.
  • A bungled summer program: Ackerman insisted on her $18 million, 18-day summer school. When the media publicized poor attendance, the District moved to cut sites and teachers resulting in a chaotic shuffle.
  • A rogue superintendency?: On Friday afternoon, Ackerman reportedly called into 900/WURD and said that “they” wanted her out but that she would “[fight] like hell” for “the children.” The night before this week’s fiery SRC meeting where supporters called the SRC liars and threatened to “call out the troops,” Ackerman held a meeting with supporters saying she was being targeted. Going to war with your bosses is always foolhardy and should come with repercussions.

One last point: If there’s one lesson we should remember about education reform, it’s that it relies less on numbers, data and yes even money, than it does on the delicate fabric of community and social trust. These relationships determine the sustainability and engagement of a whole society’s efforts to educate our children. The political silence has allowed hyperbolic rhetoric to step in and threaten that already fragile social compact. A voice of moral leadership at a time when our public schools are facing their most dramatic financial and leadership crisis in a decade is the most important thing the SRC, our mayor and governor can do.

To the commissioners, our mayor and governor: Your silence is not that kind of leadership. It’s time for swift action. End the circus around Arlene Ackerman, and let’s move on.

The Standard and Poor's Downgrade

A blog post from Mark Price, originally published on Third and State.

The economic news of the past two weeks has been decidedly grim.

On July 29, new data confirmed that the economy in the first half of 2011 grew much more slowly than necessary to bring down the unemployment rate.

A few days later, the bizarre debt-ceiling fight was resolved with agreement to cut nominal federal spending over the next two years. Economic forecasts prior to this deal put the U.S. unemployment rate at 8% at the end of 2012. Cuts to federal spending mean higher unemployment forecasts are on the way.

By the way, this morning the forecasters at Goldman Sachs increased their unemployment forecast for the end of 2012 to 9.25% — and that assumes Congress will agree to extend the current payroll tax credit before January.

Unless you are living off the grid, you couldn’t have escaped news that last week was brutal for the Stock Market. Then late in the day Friday, credit rating agency Standard and Poor's — after correcting a $2 trillion math error — decided to go ahead and downgrade the full faith and credit of the U.S. taxpayer from AAA to AA+.

Time to Tell Toomey: Jobs, Not Cuts

The resolution of the debt crisis last week was a travesty. This was a crisis forced on us by Republicans who held the entire country hostage to their single-minded determination to keep taxes low on the rich. Unfortunately the Democrats bowed to many of the teabag Republican demands, and so now while millions of Americans are jobless, the federal government will be cutting spending. As Paul Krugman has so clearly pointed out, that is the exact wrong thing to be doing at a time like this. We MUST fight back.

One of the masterminds behind the Republican hostage-taking strategy is our own Senator Pat Toomey. Neighborhood Networks and MoveOn.org will be collaborating next Wednesday at noon to take the message to Senator Toomey that his mindless and immoral catering to the richest 1% of the people of this country is unacceptable. Please go here to sign up for this event. Or, if you're on Facebook, sign up here.

Out of adversity often comes progress. It is important news that NN and MoveOn are working together on this event. Many of you will remember that Neighborhood Networks was born out of a previous MoveOn campaign more than 6 years ago. For a variety of reasons it has been difficult for the two organizations to collaborate over the intervening years. But with everyone recognizing the strength of the right wing assault on basic progressive values, many of us are working harder than ever to bring the left together. That’s why both NN and MoveOn are part of the American Dream movement led nationally by Van Jones. And that’s why we are now working together at the local level as well.

The Middle Class ‘Under Attack’

A blog post from Mark Price, originally published on Third and State.

At the Keystone Research Center, we have been chronicling for years the forces that are putting a tighter and tighter squeeze on middle-class Pennsylvanians.

Last week, we released a new report in partnership with the national policy center Demos that takes the temperature of the state's middle class in the wake of the Great Recession. I'm sorry to say, once again, the patient is not well.

The state's annual unemployment rate is the highest it has been in nearly three decades and the cost of going to college is on the rise.

According to the report, times are particularly tough for Pennsylvania's young people, with state budget cuts to 18% of public university funding and a 7.5% tuition hike in Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education. Pennsylvania's young people already bear the seventh highest rate of student debt in the nation — at approximately $28,000 on average.

State Spending Cuts Kill Private Sector Jobs

A blog post from Mark Price, originally published on Third and State.

Recent debates about the impact of state taxes and spending have taken place in a “fact-free” zone, where anti-tax advocates urgently warn that “taxes kill jobs” without offering any evidence that this is true.

Thanks to recent analysis by economist Adam Hersh at the Center for American Progress, we now have some fresh data on the health of the economy in states that cut their budgets in recent years compared to those that increased spending.

The verdict: Those states that made steep public spending cuts in the wake of the Great Recession have seen weaker economic growth in the years since. Budget-cutting states have experienced rising unemployment, fewer new private sector jobs and weaker economic growth than the states that increased spending.

While this analysis does not tell us whether the spending cuts caused the negative economic outcomes, it is clear that steep spending cuts are correlated with markedly worse economic performance.

This could all be very bad news for Pennsylvania, where lawmakers and Governor Corbett recently enacted a 2011-12 state budget with deep cuts to education, health care and human services. Overall, the budget cuts spending by an inflation-adjusted rate of 4%, as the Keystone Research Center notes in a new policy brief interpreting the Center for American Progress data.

Your Job or Your Hours

A blog post from Chaquenya Johnson, originally published on Third and State.

When the economy is hit by a sudden drop in demand, employers typically react by cutting employment or hours of work — sometimes both.

In a recent paper, John Schmitt of the Center for Economic and Policy Research reviews the experiences of Denmark and Germany in the Great Recession and finds that, while both countries experienced a comparable decline in their economies, the outcomes for employment were very different.

German employers absorbed the decline in demand entirely with reductions in employee hours of work. As a result, unemployment actually fell over the course of the Great Recession, even as Germany’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) declined.

The German approach is partly attributable to negotiations with unions; union coverage in Germany is 63%. But German employers also took this path because of a program called “short work,” a version of what we know in the U.S. as Shared Work.

Under these programs, an employer facing a decline in demand can cut hours of work rather than jobs. Employees who take a pay cut because they are working fewer hours have their pay supplemented with unemployment insurance benefits.

Employers get the benefit of having workers available when demand returns, which saves them training and hiring costs. Workers get unemployment benefits, while keeping their job and their skills and maintaining ties to the workforce.

In Denmark, employers reacted to the Great Recession in much the same way as they have in the U.S.: they cut mostly jobs.

NN Meets to Fight the Next Step in Privatizing Education: Vouchers

In the legislative term just ended, Governor Corbett and his right wing clones in the Legislature devastated public education funding. But they have new blows ready in their effort to destroy the future of Pennsylvania’s children. The next step planned is to divert some of the insufficient money that has been left for public education into private hands through vouchers. Neighborhood Networks will be meeting on Tuesday night to discuss the next intended blow and what we can do to ward it off. Susan Gobreski, Exec. Director of Education Voters PA will be with us. We hope you will be too.

The idea that problems with public education can be solved by giving poor parents a voucher to pay for their kids to go to quality private schools is a sham. The legislation that now embodies this idea is Senate Bill 1. If enacted, it would probably cost $1 billion per year, taken directly out of amounts that would otherwise be available to public schools. Yet, according to Education Voters, only 6,500 students would use the vouchers provided for in this bill, about 65% of whom already attend private schools. Low income students will not likely be among the new students getting assistance, since many of them would have to come up with additional money for tuition; the vouchers wouldn’t pay enough.

Furthermore, nothing guarantees that poor, educationally challenged, low income students would ever be admitted to the best schools whether they pay full tuition or not. These schools would retain total discretion to admit whomever they want.

More eco-cops to be layed off in new Corbett budget...

There's two ways to think about the ineffectiveness of Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection as described in this video.

Of course, a lot of folks' prejudices tend them toward the former, but the evidence suggests that the real problem is the latter.

If we keep laying off eco-cops, do we really expect polluters not to try to get away with polluting more? And who can catch them but DEP? Answer: almost no one.

That's why Clean Water Action thinks the real environmental news today isn't the quibbling over a severance tax. It's the fact that the state's GOP has agreed on a budget that will cut environmental enforcement staff another $10 million.

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