Posts by marc stier

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.

New Data, Good News: Health Insurance

Most news is bad news. And political campaigns are more likely to flag what is wrong with our country than what is right with it. So, it’s not surprising that in the heat of a presidential election, we are more focused on what is wrong with our country than what is right with it.

But as the federal government updates its statistics on income, poverty and health care this week, we can take a moment to appreciate the good news—government at the federal and state level has been increasingly successful at encouraging broadly prosperity.

Your Activism (and c3 Dollars) at Work

This is the second in a series of blog posts assessing the 2016-17 budget and the budget negotiation process from PBPC and its allies.

Politics takes patience. Victories take time. And that goes for small victories as well as big ones.

While the 2016-17 Pennsylvania budget leaves much to be desired, it does close about half of the structural deficit this year with recurring revenues; that is, revenue that the state will receive year after year. And that revenue mostly comes from a series of good proposals that we at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center have championed over the years.

Victories

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This is the first in a series of blog posts assessing the 2016-17 budget and the budget negotiation process from PBPC and its allies.

It’s hard to be a progressive in Pennsylvania. We think of ourselves as a modern, Northeastern state on a par with Massachusetts and New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. But when it comes to state politics, we find ourselves looking with envy at those states with their progressive taxes and higher (and much more equal) spending on education and human services than here at home.

Bad ideas under any label

We are hearing that some of the provisions in a House school code bill, HB530, are being included in a Senate-supported school code bill, HB1606. It is unclear which parts of HB530 will be included in HB1606, but we will be monitoring to determine if any of the very problematic provisions of the former bill wind up in the latter.
 
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.

School funding: What One Hand Gives Another Takes Away

As this dispiriting budget season ends, advocates for education could at least be grateful that the General Assembly seems poised to increase basic education funding by $200 million. This is far less than the $400 million necessary to put us on a path towards overcoming massive cuts and the most unequal education funding in the state. And it does little more than help school districts keep up with costs. But at a time when so many legislators are unwilling to find the revenues to invest in anything, it is better than nothing. 

The Emperor’s New Liquor Stores

Act 39 flew through the House of Representatives and was signed by Governor Wolf too fast for us, and many others, to object. If we had a chance, we would have pointed out, as the IFO did soon after passage, that the estimates of new revenue from expanding wine and beer sales was way too high. And we would have added that much of the $106 million that the IFO expects will be generated by Act 39 is a one-time deal. Projections of additional sales of wine and beer at the new locations have to be weighed against the loss of sales at Wine and Spirit shops and beer distributors.