Posts by marc stier

OP-ED: Is this the year Pa. resolves its perennial budget crisis?

This piece originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, December 28, 2016.

Many of us who write about budget politics have a keyboard shortcut to enter "Pennsylvanian Budget Crisis" into a document. Year after year, we write in December about the upcoming crisis and again in July (or sometimes far later) about how the crisis has been temporarily averted.

It is crisis time again. But perhaps this is the year we can change the script. There are new ways to do something that has eluded us in the past - solve the crisis on a long-term basis without imposing harsher new taxes on working people and the middle class.

Two Approaches to the State Budget

It’s becoming more and more rare to see serious attempts on the part of newspapers (and their virtual counterparts) to compare policy proposals meant to deal with a serious public issue. That’s one reason I was so happy to see Tim Stuhldreher’s excellent piece, “Pennsylvania think tanks battle over remedies for $1.7 billion state budget deficit” in LancasterOnline.

Broad and Narrow Taxes

Last week, just as we were putting out our paper on how to raise revenues without raising taxes on working people and the middle class, Governor Wolf announced that he would not call for raising broad-based taxes, particularly the personal income tax and sales tax, in the budget proposal he puts forward in February.

The Budget Our Democracy Deserves

Many of the ideas in this post are components of PBPC's recently-released "Fair Share Tax Proposal for Pennsylvania."

The recent political talk about Pennsylvania is focused on the latest in a series of fiscal crises. But lurking in the background is a larger crisis—a crisis of democracy in Pennsylvania. 

On The Mid-Year Budget Briefing: The Full Picture Is Even More Grim

Budget Secretary Randy Albright’s mid-year budget briefing this week brings worrisome news that, at its current level of expenditure and revenues, the Pennsylvania budget for the 2016-17 will have a deficit of $600 million. Part of that deficit is the result of lower tax revenues than were projected when the budget was enacted in July. Another part is higher human service caseloads, which will require a supplemental appropriation.

IFO Report: Deficits Now and In The Future

Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center Director Marc Stier made the following statement following the Independent Fiscal Office release of their Five Year Economic and Budget Outlook:

On HB 1885 — The Sanctuary Bill

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Legislation rushed to the finish line in an election year is notorious for being both badly crafted and motivated by less than pristine motives. And that certainly goes for HB 1885, the anti-sanctuary city bill passed by the House recently and currently under consideration in the Senate this week. 

There is a lot wrong with the bill, starting with the intention of its sponsors to appeal to the anti-immigrant voters whose ire has been inflamed by Donald Trump and continuing on to its likely consequence of leading to racial profiling that undermines police-community relationships, and thus effective policing, in (documented and undocumented) immigrant communities.

But here I want to focus on the potential economic costs of the bill to the counties and cities of Pennsylvania—costs that have been barely considered in the fast-track legislative debate on it. The House Fiscal Note on the bill does not even try to identify, let alone estimate, these potential costs.

Against HB 530 — Once More With Feeling

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HB 530, a revision of the laws that govern charter schools, has reared its ugly head again. We continue to oppose it.

School districts in Pennsylvania contain a mix of traditional public schools and charter schools. Some local school districts want to add charters schools. Many do not. All of them should be empowered to evaluate the best way to educate students in their respective districts. 

Unfortunately, provisions in HB530 will remove much of the supervisory and decision-making authority from local school districts in every corner of the state. Since charter schools receive funding from local school districts, the creation of new seats in charter schools without school board supervision and control diminishes the ability of school districts to establish and manage their budgets. That could result in the underfunding of traditional schools or significant local tax increases. That is why we oppose this legislation, which that permits charter schools to enroll new students, add grade levels, and recruit students from outside the school district without the approval of the local school board.

Rep. Brad Roae Compares School Board Members to Hitler

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This week, in a Facebook discussion with a person who seems to be one of his constituents, Representative Brad Roae (R-Crawford/Erie) felt it was appropriate to compare school board members in Pennsylvania blaming charter schools for the financial difficulties of their districts to Adolf Hitler blaming Jews for “everything that was wrong with the world.”

I’m not sure whether I should be more offended as a Jew or as a policy analyst by Representative Roae’s remark.

The Revenue Shortfall and the Budget

Almost as soon as the Pennsylvania budget was passed in July, rumors swirled about the legislature coming back—either in a lame duck session in December or next year—to fix it because it was not truly balanced. The Department of Revenue’s announcement yesterday that revenues for the year to date are running $218 million below estimates, makes revisting the budget even more likely.

In July, we at PBPC pointed out that estimates of some of the one-time revenues included in the budget—especially those from selling licenses for internet gaming, for a second Philadelphia casino, and for the expansion of alcohol sales—were possibly over-stated. We also said that we were not confident that enough money was appropriated to meet the likely caseload for medical assistance (The Commonwealth must appropriate its share of funding for these programs to continue to draw down the federal funding for them.) Those problems still remain.