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Pennsylvania 3rd Worst in Student Debt

November 21, 2014 - 5:28pm

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported on the toll student debt is taking on students on a state-by-state level.  Not surprisingly, Pennsylvania is ranked as the 3rd worst in the country with an average student debt burden of $32,528 and an 11.6% student default rate.  To understand what Pennsylvania can do to reverse this trend and help power the economy, read the Keystone Research Center's report on investing in higher education.


New Study Suggests that Low Wages Imperil Future of U.S. Manufacturing and Innovation

November 21, 2014 - 11:20am

Debates about manufacturing wages and jobs require the ability to walk and chew gum at the same time. Let's see if we can do that.

For a half century or more the mantra has been that manufacturing jobs pay better and support a family. But a new report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), profiled in today's New York Times, shows that  manufacturing wages for production workers have dropped below wages for all private sector workers. NELP also finds that “more than 600,000 manufacturing workers make just $9.60 per hour or less. More than 1.5 million manufacturing workers – one out of every four – make $11.91 or less.”

To be sure, there's a little bit of apples and oranges in some of the NELP comparisons. You see, private sector workers as a whole have higher levels of education than manufacturing workers. If you control for education and other individual and job characteristics that impact wages, it's likely still true that manufacturing workers earn more than non-manufacturing. When KRC's Mark Price last ran such controlled comparisons (for a Brookings Institution report), using data through 2010, he found that manufacturing workers averaged $605 per week, 8.4 percent higher than the non-manufacturing average of $558. The manufacturing wage advantage was bigger for less-educated and lower-wage workers. Interestingly, Hispanic workers in these controlled comparisons earned 10% less in manufacturing than comparable Hispanic workers in non-manufacturing.

In sum, for comparable workers, it's likely still true that manufacturing jobs typically pay a bit better than non-manufacturing, especially at the low end (but with the important exception of Hispanics).

It is also true that manufacturing is important as a source of innovation and productivity growth. So manufacturing still matters: but we need to bring manufacturing worker pay to the center of public policy debate, not simply take for granted that manufacturing pays well. So good for NELP for driving home this point.

When you peel the layers of the new NELP report, and abandon the misconception that manufacturing jobs monolithically pay well, you find wide variation in wage levels in manufacturing.

As already cited, $1.5 million manufacturing production jobs pay less than $12 per hour. There are also some manufacturing production jobs that pay pretty well: reading from a graph on p. 8 of the NELP report about 600,000 pay above $21 per hour, with perhaps a third of those over $25 per hour.

There are two likely explanations for the top end of the production worker pay scale: even now, some of these jobs are "legacy" unionized jobs in big manufacturing companies that haven't quite managed to offshore, outsource, or downgrade (two-tier) the pay levels of every last one of their long-tenure production workers; the second explanation is that some manufacturers are "high road" companies that recognize the critical importance of shop-floor skills and pay decently to attract and retain employees with those skills.

Unfortunately, the wage numbers tell a pretty clear story that there aren't that many high-road employers. Relatively low, and declining, wages help explain the purported "skill shortage" in manufacturing. (A recent Economic Policy Institute study also finds that claims of skill shortage are overblown, with many companies content with workers that have modest skills.)

In Pennsylvania, a 2010 Department of Labor and Industry study authored by KRC in collaboration with agency staff found that even in two occupational families (precision machining and industrial maintenance) in which Pennsylvania employers reported the greatest skill shortages, wages had been flat for a decade. Moreover, there were workers in these occupations available (albeit hard to find) in 2007-09 despite employer claims of shortages -- unemployment rates in the recession and early part of the recovery were in the 11% to 13% range. Maybe if employers looking for workers in these occupations paid better, those workers with experience would be a little less hard to find.

The NELP study also highlights the growing importance of temporary employment in manufacturing. This likely reflects use of temporary agencies  to lower wages and benefits further and greater volatility of manufacturing employment in today's global economy.

NELP makes clear that manufacturing workforce policy going forward MUST do two things at once -- as in walk and chew gum at the same time or, in this case, pay attention to wages and benefits as well as to skills.

The general strategy for the state must be to partner with high-road employers -- new startups as well as mature employers -- to elevate the status, skills, credentials, and multi-firm employment security of manufacturing production workers. Apprenticeships are one way to move in this direction. Supporting high-road temporary agencies is a second. Adapting the building trades model of unionism to manufacturing is a third -- as we suggested in a blog a few months ago.

State Sued Over School Funding

November 11, 2014 - 11:47am


Six school districts, seven parents, the Pennsylvania NAACP and the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools filed suit on Nov. 10 against state officials, alleging they are using an irrational means of financing public education that underfunds school districts and denies students in low-income areas equal educational opportunities.

The 149-page lawsuit -- which names the governor, legislative leaders, the secretary of education and the state board of education as defendants -- asks the Commonwealth Court to declare the state’s current funding system unconstitutional and to require a new funding formula that provides adequate and equitable funding to all school districts.

The Pennsylvania Constitution requires the state legislature to “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education.” Yet a 2006 state board of education study determined that 95% of the state’s 500 school districts required additional funding, totaling $4.4 billion, to achieve the cost per pupil necessary to provide an education that would enable a student to meet the state’s academic standards.

The General Assembly responded to the study by passing legislation that set funding targets for each school district and established a formula for distributing funding to ensure that all students would have the resources to meet the state’s standards. But, in 2011, state officials abandoned that formula, reduced state education funding by $860 million and passed legislation making it harder for communities to raise revenue locally to cover state funding cuts and growing costs.

Since then, Pennsylvania school districts have had to lay off teachers and staff, increase class sizes, cut back on facility repairs and upgrades, and postpone equipment, textbook and technology purchases. Some school districts are underfunded by more than $4,000 per student, according to the plaintiffs. Consequently, many students in these districts are unable to achieve basic proficiency on PSSA exams, which measure reading, writing, math and science performance, and are unprepared to pass the new, more rigorous Keystone Exams, which soon will be a requirement for high school graduation. Last year, more than 300,000 of the approximately 875,000 students tested couldn’t meet state standards.

The current system discriminates against students in low-income districts because, as the level of state funding for education dropped, school districts have become more dependent on funding from local property taxes, the plaintiffs noted. Per-pupil spending now ranges from $9,800 in districts with low property values and incomes to more than $28,400 in districts with high property values and incomes, according to Pennsylvania Department of Education data.

The plaintiffs held a press conference in the Capitol Rotunda to announce the historic lawsuit, which was filed on their behalf by the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia.

Gov.-elect Tom Wolf has said he wants to increase education funding and supports a new cost study to determine necessary funding levels.  The Basic Education Commission, authorized under state law, plans to recommend a new funding formula by next year. 

Voters sent a clear signal that they want to see education funding cuts restored and a renewed focus on student needs. The lawsuit may be the motivation that all parties need to resolve this longstanding issue. For more information on the lawsuit, visit



2014 Midterm Election Roundup

November 6, 2014 - 12:37pm

Gov. Tom Corbett lost his reelection bid to Democrat Tom Wolf, a York County businessman and former state revenue secretary, in an otherwise Republican sweep in Tuesday’s mid-term election. Consequently, the new Gov. Wolf will face challenges getting his agenda, which includes a reinvestment in education, through a more-Republican-than-ever legislature.

Wolf’s election means that Democrats hold all four statewide elected offices. He joins Treasurer Rob McCord, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale and Attorney General Kathleen Kane.
Pennsylvania Republicans expanded their existing majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly. They added three seats in the state Senate for a new 30-20 majority, and won eight more seats in the state House of Representatives, for a new 119-84 majority of historic proportions there, according to unofficial election results.  That’s the largest majority for Republicans in the House in memory, and the largest of any party since Democrats had 126 seats during the 1957-58 session, according to

Incumbent House Democrats Jesse White of Washington County, Rick Mirabito of Lycoming County and Mark Painter of Montgomery County fell to their respective Republican challengers, Jason Ortitay, Lycoming County Commissioner Jeff Wheeland and former state Rep. Tom Quigley (whom Painter unseated in 2012).

House Republicans picked up five open seats that had previously been held by Democrats. Ryan Warner won Rep. Deb Kula’s old seat in the 52nd District; Harry Lewis won in the new 74th District that was moved to Chester County from Cambria County; David Parker won the new 115th District seat in Monroe County; Aaron Kaufer won Rep. Phyllis Mundy’s old seat in the 120th District; and Kate Klunk ran unopposed for the new 169th District, moved from Philadelphia to southern York County.

The GOP also held on to eight open seats that had been held by Republicans. The new freshman Republican members of the House will be: Barry Jozwiak (5th District), Parke Wentling (17th), Brett Miller (41st), Cris Dush (66th), Russ Diamond (102nd), Craig Staats (145th), James Santora (163rd) and Jack Rader, Jr. (176th).

The 81st District in Huntingdon County will have a new Republican representative too. Richard Irwin, who won the Republican primary as a write-in candidate, defeated incumbent Republican Rep. Mike Fleck, the first openly gay member of the General Assembly, who won the Democratic primary as a write-in.

House Democrats held on to two open seats currently held by Democrats. Peter Schweyer will replace Rep. Erin C. Molchany in the 22nd District in Allegheny County, and Mike Driscoll will replace Rep. Michael P. McGeehan in the 173rd District in Philadelphia.

Democrats will see one of their seats open when the new session begins. Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Philadelphia, won his race for the U.S. House of Representatives, so a special election will be held in the 170th District to replace him.

The enlarged Republican majorities in the General Assembly will face a serious budget shortfall next year that the current legislature failed to address this year.  They will have two choices: new cuts to education and colleges, which will lead to higher local property taxes, or a severance tax on gas drillers.

Many Pennsylvania political analysts are attributing Corbett’s loss on an otherwise Republican night, both nationally and statewide, to his funding cuts to education. Voters seemed to reject Corbett’s argument that he didn’t cut state education spending.  And they linked local property tax increases, larger class sizes, teacher layoffs and program eliminations to his budget cuts.

Pennsylvanians spoke with their votes for governor, suggesting broad support for Wolf’s proposals to increase school funding and institute a severance tax on natural gas.  Even in solidly Republican districts, especially in the southeast, incumbents running for reelection had to come out on the record in support of public education funding, and several pledged support for a severance tax.
The House and Senate will elect new leaders on Nov. 12, and based on the new configuration there may be changes. Senate Majority Leader Dominick Pileggi lost a key supporter late in October, and his position may well be in jeopardy.

Tom Wolf, like Ed Rendell in 2002, will enter office with firm Republican majorities in the legislature. How this will affect his agenda, and the chances for success in advancing his priorities, remains to be seen. His 55% to 45% defeat of a sitting governor, in a year that otherwise favored Republicans, allows him to claim a mandate. 

Cutting taxes won't spur economic growth

October 29, 2014 - 9:19am

Flying in the face of the often heard rhetoric that tax cuts are the cure for all ills, a new study finds that cuts to business taxes are at best ineffective, and at worst harmful to state economic growth and development. A better strategy for growth is to increase investment in education and infrastructure.

State economic development is related to many factors, but few of these are controllable by state policymakers. One often used lever is to cut taxes – particularly for businesses. Traditional economic theory would have you believe that if a state makes it more profitable for businesses to operate by cutting taxes, that state would have more business activity.

The problem is that this strategy doesn’t work, according to the study. This is because business taxes are not the only factor that influences business behavior. Being close to customers, availability of a well-educated workforce, access to raw materials, and energy costs are much larger factors in a business’s profitability than state taxes. For instance, in Alabama state taxes cost corporations only 1.89% of their revenue. Varying this small factor has a limited effect on the actions of businesses.

Using data from all 50 states spanning the years 1977 to 2005, the study’s authors (Soledad Artiz of Harvard University and Kenneth Meier of Texas A&M) found that state policies seeking to spur business investment had no demonstrative positive effect on state economic development. The authors take a broad perspective on economic development. They measure the changes in gross state product, employment, personal income, net job creation, poverty, and the creation of new establishments.

The biggest factor found to influence the growth of state economies was the health of the national economy. State economies are tightly tied together, making it difficult for individual state actions to make much of a positive difference.

When state lawmakers cut taxes, the net effect may be slower economic growth. This is because the loss of business tax revenue means less funding for government services that often pump money back into a state’s economy.

So, when politicians talk about cutting taxes as a way to grow our state's economy, know that the opposite could occur.

Germany Makes University Education Free Again -- Pennsylvanians Take Note

October 27, 2014 - 1:24pm

Our just-released report on Pennsylvania higher education points out that student tuition and fees at Pennsylvania's four-year state-owned universities now cover nearly 75% of university costs. Prompted by this, our friend Charlie Bacas sent us today a story on states in Germany making tuition free again. In 2006, Germany began allowing public colleges to charge students up to 1,000 euros per year (currently $1,270). Student protests, petition campaigns, and fear of voter backlash reversed this change. Public universities will once again have free tuition for all students.

Another object lesson for Pennsylvania students and voters?

Pennsylvania Needs to Stop Shortchanging Its Future and Invest Smartly in Higher Education

October 27, 2014 - 12:29pm

While there's been a lot of focus recently on K-12 school funding cuts in Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania higher education has experienced even larger state funding cuts in percentage terms. Pennsylvania's starting point for investing in higher education, moreover, was already near the bottom.

The list of poor rankings that reflect Pennsylvania's underinvestment in higher education is somewhat mind blowing.

For example, Pennsylvania is 48th for investment in higher education per capita.

Pennsylvania has seen the fifth largest decrease in higher education funding since 2010-11, including a $90 million cut – 18% -- from funding for the state's cheapest four-year college option, the state-owned Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) universities.

Pennsylvania has the third-highest tuition and fees at public four-year colleges; we have the seventh-highest tuitiion for our community colleges.

We have the third-highest student debt among graduates from four-year colleges. While that ranking for average debt includes graduates of private and state-related schools (Pitt, Penn State, Temple, and Lincoln), the average debt of graduates from state-owned PASSHE universities is almost as high -- right around $30,000.

Pennsylvania is 41st for the share of adults (25 to 64 years of age) that have more than a high-school education. That's up from 45th or 46th a decade or so ago but we've been stuck around 41st since 2010.

Pennsylvania's rural regions suffer the most from the state's underinvestment in higher education, with 26 counties having little or no access to community college. One positive sign: Senator Joe Scarnati (R-25), the president pro tem of the Senate, has been a leader in addressing this issue, which could open the door to bipartisan progress in the future.

Pennsylvania's low spending is short-sighted because investment in higher education pays off handsomely for states and for individuals.

  • According to the Milken Institute, each one year of additional average education beyond high school is associated with a more than 17% increase in both GDP per capita and wages.
  • College-educated workers earn hourly wages more than three-quarters higher than workers with only a high-school degree and also have an unemployment rate half or less of the unemployment rate of less-educated groups.

In sum, when we shortchange investment in higher education, we shortchange ourselves.

Interestingly, the top four states for investment in higher education are Wyoming, North Dakota, Alaska, and New Mexico. Four resource-rich states that use some of their mineral wealth to invest in higher education. Perhaps there's a lesson there.


Memory Lane -- Larry Summers on Why Some People Mow Lawns and Others Don't

October 21, 2014 - 3:36pm
While searching for something else online, I just tripped over a letter to the editor from 1988. The letter was published during the 1988 presidential campaign, in response to a New York Times profile of the economists' advising George H.W. Bush ("Poppy") and Michael Dukakis ("Tankman").   Larry Summers was the economist advising Mr. Dukakis. The profile of Prof. Summers in The Times seemed to suggest that he thought the world was divided into people who mow lawns and people who have their lawns mowed based on how much people like mowing (i.e., based on what economists call people's "preferences.").   I thought that was a bit off key. So I wrote the following, published under the title "Economic Axioms."  
June 26, 1988

To the Editor:

According to the economic theory of compensating differentials, workers in unpleasant or hazardous jobs should be paid more highly to compensate them. A corollary is that a person like Prof. Larry Summers (''The Economists Behind the Candidates,'' June 5), who ''loves'' his work, should be paid less. Of course, then he might not have enough to pay for someone to mow his lawn.

Stephen Herzenberg, Washington, June 5


Good times.

Pennsylvania is now dead last in job growth since January 2011

October 21, 2014 - 2:10pm

As we reported on Monday new jobs data for September were not encouraging with payrolls in Pennsylvania falling 9,600 jobs over the month.

According to data for all the states released this morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nonfarm payroll employment increased in 39 states.

Based on this data Pennsylvania’s rank for percent job growth since January 2011 has fallen to last place among states (50th). 

Today’s numbers drive home emphatically that you can’t cut your way to prosperity.

We were ranked in the top 10 for job growth in 2010.

Then tens of thousands of layoffs in education, and the state’s postponed investment in infrastructure and delayed acceptance of Medicaid expansion dollars delivered a body blow to Pennsylvania’s recovery, the effects of which are still being felt.  

In recession and recovery, Pennsylvania needs a balanced, creative policy and state budget approach that fuels the state’s economic engine, not an unbalanced one that slams on the brakes.

Here are the details on how we ranked the jobs data

Read The State of Working Pennsylvania 2014 (at for our complete examination of recent trends in economic data in Pennsylvania.


September job losses mark three consecutive months of job loss in Pennsylvania

October 20, 2014 - 11:44am

On Friday the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry reported that the unemployment rate fell from 5.6% to 5.7% while nonfarm payrolls fell by 9,600 jobs in September.  

Those disappointing payroll numbers in September plus revisions for August mean Pennsylvania has shed 3,700 jobs a month in the 3rd quarter of this year.  Resident employment drawn from a survey of households performed better in September registering a gain of 11,000 jobs. That’s the first gain in resident employment since April of this year. Still on average resident employment in the 3rd quarter fell by 19,700 jobs a month.

Over the last year weak growth in resident employment of just 16,000 meant that most of the improvement in the unemployment rate has been a result a decline in the labor force which has fallen by 93,000 in the last 12 months.

Exploring the change in payrolls by industry over the month the weakest sectors were Construction (down 2.1%), Transportation and Utilities (down 1.4%), Wholesale Trade (down 1.1%), and Information (down 1.2%).

Manufacturing had a good month adding 2,700 jobs but remains down by 2,100 over the last year.

All in all there is nothing to celebrate in the September job numbers for Pennsylvania.

Educational Tax Credits: Increasing Public Funding of Private Schools at the Expense of Public Schools

October 10, 2014 - 4:49pm

In the last few days of the legislative session, state lawmakers are fast-tracking a bill that would expand and unify the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC).  Tax credits provide taxpayer subsidies to businesses that fund scholarships to students attending private and religious schools, pre-K through 12th grade.  House Bill 1207, a proposal by Rep. Jim Christiana (R – Beaver County), would make more tax credits available for businesses and combine the tax credit programs so any money left in one program could be used by the other.  Taxpayers would pay up to 90% of the tab.

A PBPC analysis shows why taxpayers foot nearly the entire bill: the triple dip tax reduction.  In addition to the tax credits, businesses could file for state and federal tax reductions for “charitable” contributions.  Despite the heavy investment of taxpayer dollars, the Keystone Research Center notes that there is no enforcement of requirements or guidelines, and no data exists on how well these programs perform.  While public schools are required to let taxpayers know how well they perform, these programs still cannot answer the most basic question:  Do the students receiving scholarships or aid from these programs improve academically?  A House Amendment by Rep. James Roebuck (D – Philadelphia) took modest steps toward accountability by requesting descriptions of grant programs, including demonstrated or expected results, and basic auditing of financial statements.  The Amendment was not adopted.

Without evidence of academic improvement, proponents try to claim that these tax credits keep private enrollment from nose-diving, particularly in areas with struggling Catholic schools that have made it their mission to serve low-income children.  When we look at private school enrollment since 1997-98, we see that a decade of tax credits has not stopped a steady decline in students attending private schools, most of which are Catholic schools.  Meanwhile, we see that charter school enrollment grew substantially, suggesting charter growth possibly came at the expense of private schools.

Source: PBPC analysis of Pennsylvania Department of Education

We all care about improving the education of Pennsylvania’s children, especially those in poverty, but tax credits don’t work.  There is no proof that the students who have received any scholarship or aid have improved academically.  None.  Instead of giving taxpayer dollars to programs without accountability or a proven success record, we should instead use public money to reinvest in public education for the benefit of all our children and lay the groundwork for a strong economy for today and tomorrow.

Another victory in the fight to keep predatory payday lending out of Pennsylvania!

October 10, 2014 - 10:09am

As many of you are aware Pennsylvania law prohibits lenders from charging exorbitantly high interest and fees on small loans in Pennsylvania.  In the last several years the Payday lending industry which in other states regularly charges fees and interest of 300% or more has been lobbying the state legislature to offer similarly destructive financial products to Pennsylvania consumers.  In our briefing paper Bankrupt by Design: Payday Lenders Target PA Working Families we found that expanding this form of lending in Pennsylvania would cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars and result in the loss of good jobs from the state’s economy.

Earlier this week Pennsylvania State Senator Jake Corman from Centre County attempted to get the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee to adopt a resolution that would authorize a study of payday lending in Pennsylvania.

The broad coalition that has been working hard to protect consumers from this form of predatory finance was alarmed by the proposed study design which in addition to being rushed included feedback from the organization lobbying on behalf of the payday lenders but not members of the coalition raising concerns about the harm of this product.

Thanks to the efforts of Senators Rafferty, Vance, Stack, Williams, Boscola, Farnese and Brewster the resolution did not get adopted!

You can bet the Payday Lenders and their lobbyists will be back so please don’t hesitate to reach out to these Senators and thank them for standing up for working families!

Your legislative champions need to hear from you when they do good!


A funny thing happened to our data on the way to Philadelphia

October 6, 2014 - 9:29am

If you have been following this gubernatorial election, or just watching television, you might have noticed that the Wolf campaign has been arguing that 27,000 jobs were lost in education in Pennsylvania.  That’s a figure my colleagues and I released in late August in our annual State of Working Pennsylvania.  To generate that number we used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to calculate education employment in local governments in the 2010-11 school year, which ran from July 2010 to June 2011. In that school year there were 308,000 workers employed in the education sector.  In the 2013-14 school year, which ran from July 2013 to June 2014, there were just over 280,900 workers employed in the education sector. Take the difference and round down, and you get 27,000 fewer people employed in that sector today than in 2010-11.

During the gubernatorial debate last Wednesday morning, Gov. Corbett claimed that 14,000 job losses in education occurred during the previous administration.  According to Dave Davies at WHYY, the Corbett campaign cites as the source for that claim a story by Melissa Daniels in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

In early August Daniels called me, asking questions about job loss in local governments. I shared with Daniels the monthly data since 2003 that I summarized above and explained that the bulk of losses in the education sector (just over 15,000 jobs, see Table 1 below) occurred between the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years.  I noted that I prefer to use an annual estimate of employment in education tied to the actual school year as well as the state budget cycle, given the importance of state revenues to local education.

Daniels thanked me for the data and ran a story with the lede that education employment in September 2013 was at its lowest level since September of 2003.  Daniels reported that "Pennsylvania lost 11,200 teachers and staff during Corbett's term, according to state data."

Daniels defined job losses during the Corbett administration as the change in education employment between September 2011 and September 2013 (see Table 2 below). Corbett took office in January 2011, and his first budget, which impacted school district budgets for the 2011-12 school year, was signed in June 2011. In other words, employment in September of 2011 reflected the budget choices of the Corbett administration in its first state budget. But by Daniels construction, the lower level of employment in September 2011 was thanks to state budget choices by the Rendell administration made in 2010, which is clearly mistaken. Daniels article even says: “Corbett's first budget coincided with the expiration of the stimulus and a 4.19 percent decrease in education employment, the largest decrease during his term.”  That 4.19% decrease is the percent change in education employment from September 2010 to September 2011, which is 12,700 (see Table 2 below). But by reporting job loss under the Corbett administration as the change from September 2011 to September 2013, or 11,200, she implied that the 14,500 job losses that occurred between September 2009 and September 2011 were under the Rendell administration.

Shortly after the article appeared Stephen Miskin, press secretary to the PA House Majority Leader and spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, used Daniels' article to taunt the Pennsylvania Education Association on Twitter:

Then last week Tom Corbett, during the gubernatorial debate, went one step farther, cited the number in Daniels' article and claimed 14,000 jobs were lost under the Rendell administration. If you correct Daniels' error there were 1,800 education job losses under Ed Rendell, and 23,900 education job losses under Tom Corbett.

When Daniels' story first ran back in August, I followed up with her to explain that her construction of the data was mistaken. She thanked me for my feedback and promised to call me if she ever returned to the subject.  I also submitted a letter-to-the-editor pointing out her mistake, but the paper never published it.

There is, I think, a silver lining here.  This year’s gubernatorial race has proved definitively that there is a strong desire not to be associated with the cuts in school programs, rising property taxes and loss of thousands of jobs in education that have occurred in the last four years thanks to a cuts-only approach to resolving recession-induced state budget shortfalls.  I think we can expect future governors, regardless of party, to use a more balanced approach to resolving the budget shortfalls that always emerge when recessions reduce tax revenues.


Another Thumbs Down on Ride Sharing...Unless It Catalyzes New (OK, Old) Union Forms

September 25, 2014 - 11:00pm

A good friend earlier this week shared this story on ride sharing.

The story underscores the strong parallels between ride sharing and the deregulated trucking industry, which we pointed out a few months ago.

In both cases, in the context of an excess supply of drivers, a downward spiral can result in compensation, while hours of work mushroom as drivers try to maintain a decent weekly wage. Both cases also compromise service and safety because there is no effective method of monitoring insurance, driver quality and knowledge of routes, vehicle maintenance etc.

The only silver lining here is that the Uber/Lyft "ride sharing" example may lead more workers -- and more of the public -- to see the need for new forms of union that include all drivers (whether in a taxi or their own ride share vehicle) in a metro area, and therefore have the power to lift job quality standards. Those drivers could negotiate fair wages and benefits, or per mile rates, along with affordable insurance.

This wouldn't really be a new union form; it borrows heavily from unions in construction and in the arts -- and in trucking back when the National Master Freight Agreement set industrywide standards.

This kind of multi-employer and industrywide union only looks new becaue so many people (and workers) have come to associate unions with company or plant-level manufacturing unions.

One reason the Uber/Lyft example may help us rediscover forms of unionism that fit the "new economy" is the stunning gap between the rhetoric of the "sharing economy" -- and the rhetoric of a harmonious partnership between ride-share companies and drivers -- and the reality of a downward wage and upward hours spiral.

When the reality is so far from the rhetoric it calls the question: how can we create a sharing economy in which workers actually do thrive?

And having that question called is helpful.

Philly Cigarette Tax Hike Becomes Law

September 23, 2014 - 11:38am

It’s finally law! Philadelphia can now raise its own local cigarette tax by $2 per pack to fund its own schools and prevent further teacher losses and cuts in the classrooms.

Gov. Corbett signed the bill authorizing the increase today, after the state Senate passed it by a 39-11 vote last night, and the state House of Representatives approved it by a 114-84 vote on Monday.

The new tax, effective Oct. 1 on cigarettes and little cigars in the city only, is expected to raise $80 million for the Philadelphia School District, which has endured draconian budget cuts, school closures and widespread staff layoffs because of funding shortfalls.

The bill had been in limbo for months as legislators first wrangled over it and then refused to return from their summer vacation to vote on it before the start of the school year.

Each week of delay cost the school district $1.6 million in revenue. More school closures and another 1,000 staff layoffs were imminent without passage of the legislation.

August job growth disappoints in Pennsylvania

September 19, 2014 - 3:33pm

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that nonfarm payrolls in Pennsylvania grew by 100 jobs in August and the unemployment rate edged up slightly to 5.8%.

To be clear that 100 is not missing a zero.

The jobs picture with respect to resident employment was actually substantially worse as 35,000 fewer residents reported having a job in August. 

The first point as always with employment data is we should be cautious about interpreting a single month of data.  As Figure 1 illustrates while Pennsylvania added 2,450 jobs a month in 2013, the pace of job growth so far this year has been stronger with the commonwealth adding 4,300 jobs a month.

The primary motor of job growth in Pennsylvania since January has been the construction industry which has been growing much faster in Pennsylvania than in the rest of the country.  That pattern reversed itself in August as the construction sector lost more jobs than any other sector (down 3,000 over the month). 

This drives home that job growth in Pennsylvania remains unhealthy in that when we have gotten good news in recent months that good news has depended on strong growth in one sector, construction. 

For more on Pennsylvania’s recent economic performance be sure to check out the State of Working Pennsylvania 2014.  As a final depressing note, remember slow job growth generally means slow or no growth in wages and incomes for most workers and that means a shrinking middle class and rapidly rising top incomes.

Number of Poor Pennsylvanians High, Income Growth Not Widely Shared

September 18, 2014 - 6:48pm

Poverty remained high in the commonwealth last year, highlighting that many residents have not yet recovered from the recession and underscoring the need for the state to do more to help struggling Pennsylvanians afford such basics as decent housing, nutritious food, and reliable child care and transportation.

Nearly one in seven Pennsylvanians lived in poverty in 2013, according to new Census Bureau data released on Sept. 18. For a family of four, that meant living on less than $24,000 last year. The median annual income in Pennsylvania, adjusted for inflation, did not rise between 2012 and 2013, and remained far below pre-recession levels.

The change in poverty varied across Pennsylvania, with 20 of 39 counties measured showing a difference from 2007 to 2012.

The child poverty rate in Pennsylvania increased from 15.9% in 2007 to 19% in 2013, making it the 28th highest in the nation.

Despite these increases, Pennsylvania’s overall and child poverty levels were below the national average.

Median household income in Pennsylvania was $52,007 in 2013, $243 below the national average and 23rd highest among the 50 states and Washington, DC.

Pennsylvania’s median income remained statistically unchanged from 2012. In inflation-adjusted terms, Pennsylvania’s median household income was $2,547 lower than it was prior to the recession.

Nationally, median household income showed a modest ($133) increase from 2012 to 2013. Pennsylvania needs to act to prevent the commonwealth from falling further behind as other states' household incomes grow.

This data on the stagnation of working families and the poor dovetails with the results of a Keystone Research Center report, released two days before these Census numbers, that showed that the top 1% of earners enjoy a larger share of income, while the middle class has shrunk, in every Pennsylvania county since the late 1970s.

Click on the highlighted words for tables detailing poverty and median income data by county and metro area and for a graph comparing Pennsylvania and U.S. poverty rates from 2007 to 2013.

Shortsighted Policies Led to Pa.'s Money Woes

September 16, 2014 - 3:48pm


Pennsylvania is already short of money and borrowing to pay bills less than three months into a new budget year. And that's after transferring $225 million from other state funds in July.

State officials can't blame a natural disaster, unfortunate accident or month of unexpectedly low tax collections. Instead, the culprit is a built-in imbalance between revenues and expenditures triggered, in large part, by policymaker choices.

Today’s action marks the first time in recent memory when the commonwealth has had to borrow operating cash so early in the budget year, particularly when the economy is expanding. The actions today should serve as yet another warning to both lawmakers and citizens of the growing price of failing to fix the state’s ongoing fiscal challenges.

This is not the first sounding of the alarm on this issue. In 2013, the Independent Fiscal Office warned of the state’s ongoing deficit. In July, Moody’s Investor Service cited the commonwealth’s “large and growing structural imbalance that reflects underperforming revenues, the continued use of one-time measures in the budget, and the ongoing deferral of restoring reserves,” when it downgraded Pennsylvania’s credit rating.

As the rating agency made clear, the state budget is fiscally unsound, and relying on optimistic revenue projections and one-time transfers that do little to correct a structural imbalance. The Rainy Day Fund hasn't been replenished since it was cleaned out in 2010 at the height of the recession.

The Corbett administration isn't exclusively to blame. Lawmakers made matters worse by adding new tax cuts the commonwealth clearly cannot afford. Examples include the House’s recent refusal to close a loophole in the bank tax that has further destabilized the state budget by limiting revenue growth as the economy expands.

A path to a more sustainable budget exists, but we need to stop digging the hole deeper. Lawmakers need to examine the tax cuts that have been whittling away at the state revenue base and adopt commonsense, recurring revenues such as a severance tax on natural gas.

We know the price of inaction: Pennsylvania’s budget situation will only grow more precarious, with more cuts to classrooms and critical services; more reliance on one-time revenues and other gimmicks to bring in quick cash; and more pressure on local property taxpayers to pick up the tab.

Property Tax Elimination Bill Advances in Senate

September 16, 2014 - 2:48pm

It was a good day for corporations that own land in Pennsylvania; not so much for individual Pennsylvanians who eat food and earn money.

The Senate Finance Committee voted 6-5 on Sept. 16 to advance SB 76 to the Appropriations Committee, often a bill's last stop before the full Senate takes up consideration of it.

Voting to advance the property tax elimination bill were: Republican Senators Mike Brubaker of Lancaster County, Pat Browne of Lehigh County, John Eichelberger of Blair County and Senate Pro Tem Joe Scarnati of Jefferson County; and Democratic Senators John Blake of Lackawanna County, and John Wozniak of Cambria County.

Voting against SB 76 were Republican Senators Pat Vance of Cumberland County, Stewart Greenleaf of Montgomery County, and Scott Hutchinson of Venango County; and Democratic Senators Rob Teplitz of Dauphin County, and Matt Smith of Allegheny County.

The bill's supporters will tell you that SB 76 would eliminate property taxes. What they are less vocal about is how it would make up that lost revenue.

SB 76 would raise the sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent and expand the tax to cover such currently non-taxable items and services as food, non-presciption medications, garbage collection, funeral expenses, child care and non-housing charges at many nursing facilities, among other things. Many business-to-business services would be exempt from the sales tax.

The bill also would increase the personal income tax from 3.07% to 4.34%.

So SB 76 would be a true tax cut only for corporations and large businesses that would no longer have to pay local property taxes. For the rest of us, it would merely be a tax shift, and to some pretty essential items and services at that.

But worst of all, SB 76 would hurt Pennsylvania's public schools. It would make permanent recent state cuts to education. It would drain billions of dollars from schools in future years by artificially capping state education funding at levels unrelated to actual costs. And it would undermine local control of schools and hand over funding decisions to Harrisburg.

It's not too late to stop SB76. Watch this blog for further updates on the bill's status.

In the meantime, here's PBPC's statement on the Senate Finance Committee's action.

Giving Away the Golden Egg: Shale Tax Revenue Could Top $1 Billion by 2015-16

August 28, 2014 - 9:04am

Here’s one estimate that Pennsylvania exceeded in 2014—gas production in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region came in ahead of projections for the first half of the year. Had Pennsylvania adopted a severance tax - a prospect still on the table as late as June - the Commonwealth would have $1 billion in revenue by 2015-16, and $780 million in new funds. That’s enough to make a serious dent in two key areas: restoring cuts to public schools and closing an expected $1.7 billion budget gap in 2015-16.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that Pennsylvania produced 1.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the first half of 2014, a 14% increase from the prior six-month period. Because of rising natural gas prices, the value of gas produced grew from $6.4 billion to $9.6 billion in the same period.

The Trib reports that the number of new producing wells fell in Pennsylvania, but production grew, particularly in the northeastern part of the state: Susquehanna, Bradford, and Lycoming counties topped the list, with Washington and Greene in the southwestern corner rounding out the top five.

Dave Spigelmyer, Director of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, predicts that Marcellus wells will produce 4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in 2014. That would mean production will grow by 29% over 2013’s output. While production is growing, the number of new wells fell from an average of 675 over the previous reporting periods to less than 500 in the first six months of 2014.

Source: Pittsburgh Tribune – Review Analysis of DEP Data

Pennsylvania remains the only significant gas-producing state that does not have a severance tax. With the new production numbers we estimate that a 5% severance tax could raise over $1 billion by 2015-16 and almost $1.5 billion by 2018-19. Assuming all current impact fee uses (local governments, housing, environmental programs) are fully funded, the additional revenue would grow from $780 million in 2015-16 to $1.2 billion in 2018-19. 

Pennsylvania’s impact fee falls short in several critical ways:

  • The impact fee is based on the number of new producing wells, not production. As the Trib article points out, drillers are improving technology, increasing per well production and reducing the need for new wells. As a result, Pennsylvania will receive less impact fee revenue than was expected. How smart is that?
  • Pennsylvania is losing out as natural gas prices rise. Over the winter natural gas prices increased from $3.50 to $6 a thousand cubic feet – so gas producers enjoyed a windfall. The impact fee doesn’t adequately capture the growth in gas prices, so Pennsylvania doesn’t benefit when gas prices spike.
  • As the price increases, fee revenue declines as a share of the economic value of the gas. The impact fee –by design— is barely affected by production or price. As a result, production doubled between 2011 and 2012 while impact fee revenue declined from $204 million to $202 million. This means that the gap between what the impact fee and a severance tax generates will grow even greater than was previously estimated.

Pennsylvania is letting the goose escape with the golden egg, leaving us with an empty nest to clean up. No other state would accept such a deal. North Dakota, in the middle of a shale oil boom, collected $2.5 billion in severance tax revenue in 2013 while Pennsylvania is getting less than a tenth of that from its impact fee.

Enacting a severance tax, despite the obvious advantages, will be tough. Ask our friends in Alaska  – Sarah Palin came to the governor’s office, believe it or not, as a reformer who fought the big oil companies to secure more revenue for state services and increased payments to residents. Her replacement, an oil company lobbyist, undid the reforms. Alaskans went to the polls on August 19 to vote on a ballot initiative to end the sweetheart tax breaks. The proponents of the change were outspent 10-1, and it looks as though the reform measure has gone down to defeat