Morning Must Reads: State of The Union, Stimulus and Austerity Economics PA Style

Tonight President Obama will deliver his State of the Union Address to Congress. We are expecting the President to recommend an extension through the end of 2012 of extended unemployment insurance benefits and the payroll tax credit. It looks as though a major theme in the address — besides the catch phrase “built to last” — will be conventional policies aimed at reducing inequality, such as increased spending/tax credits for education and training.

Education and training are important and fruitful means of reducing inequality, but they fall well short of what's needed to reduce the degree of inequality we now face.  A more forceful step in the direction of reducing inequality would include raising the minimum wage and making it easier for workers to form and join unions. We don't expect to hear the President call for either of those changes.

The President will propose paying for his new initiatives with higher taxes on wealthy households. As with education and training, restoring some sense of fairness to the tax code is a laudable goal but longer-lasting reductions in inequality will only come from policies that allow the pre-tax wages of more Americans to rise as the size and wealth of our economy grows.

Third and State This Week: PA Jobs Report, Revenue Outlook and Kids Denied Health Care

This week, we blogged about the state's revenue picture, Pennsylvania's December jobs report, a new report on the cost of interest rate swaps, and the termination of public health insurance for 88,000 Pennsylvania kids.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

  • On the state budget and the economy, Michael Wood shared his analysis of the state's revenue picture midway through the 2011-12 Fiscal Year. And Mark Price highlighted some of the key takeaways from a conference hosted this week by the Independent Fiscal Office on Pennsylvania's economic and revenue outlook.
  • On jobs and unemployment, Mark Price provided his analysis of the December Pennsylvania jobs report and what the outlook is for 2012.
  • On financial matters, Sharon Ward blogged about a new report from the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center documenting the hundreds of millions of dollars that interest rate swap deals negotiated with Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and other banks have cost the City and School District of Philadelphia. Chris Lilienthal highlighted some of the media coverage of the report.
  • On health care, Mark Price shared a report from The Philadelphia Inquirer that Pennsylvania has terminated public health coverage for 88,000 kids since August. Mark also linked to a news report on the resignation of a Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare adviser.

More blog posts next week. Keep us bookmarked and join the conversation!

Pa. Revenue Mixed, as Governor Prepares 2012-13 Budget

Pennsylvania's revenue picture remains mixed as Governor Tom Corbett prepares to roll out his 2012-13 state budget proposal in a few weeks.

Pennsylvania continues to see an increase in collections over last year, but revenues trail Corbett administration estimates so far this year. That has prompted the administration to announce midyear budget freezes this month and could impact the budget plan the Governor will present in early February.

Weak corporate collections are taking a toll, and it appears likely that Pennsylvania will end the year with a revenue shortfall, despite solid growth from 2010-11. Still, the revenue picture, in the short term, may not be as dire as that painted by the Corbett administration. The state is carrying a half a billion dollars in reserve that more than covers the current shortfall.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center has a full analysis of the revenue numbers at the midpoint of the 2011-12 Fiscal Year.

Morning Must Reads: Job Growth in 2011 and More Layoffs, Higher Property Taxes in 2012

On Thursday, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry released data on employment and unemployment in December. Compared to the summer months, the top line numbers were good, with unemployment falling three-tenths of one percent to 7.6% (U.S. rate is 8.5%).

Nonfarm jobs were up 6,500, which is a pretty good number (we need to average 8,000 new jobs a month to get back to full employment in three years). Service-sector job growth in December was atrocious; the sector added just 300 jobs. Most of the month’s job growth was in durable goods, with manufacturing adding 2,600 jobs, construction adding 3,000 and mining adding another 600.

Those 3,000 construction jobs don't represent a sudden resurgence of the construction industry. As most of you are happily aware, December was quite warm; this meant construction activity in the month was above historical averages which shows up as job growth in the final numbers. The actual trend in construction employment is at best no or very slow growth.

The bottom line is that in the last 12 months, Pennsylvania added 59,200 jobs. That's fewer jobs than were added from December 2009 to December 2010 (63,900). The primary reason Pennsylvania added fewer jobs in 2011 than it did in 2010 is the loss of 19,800 jobs in the public sector.

Morning Must Reads: The Debut of Pennsylvania’s Independent Fiscal Office

Yesterday, Pennsylvania's new Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) held a conference to release its economic and budget outlook for the next five years (PDF).

The event included presentations from staff at the Philadelphia Federal Reserve, IHS Global Insight, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Several of the presentations noted that Pennsylvania’s job growth weakened over the summer primarily due to substantial layoffs of teachers and other state and local workers. The director of the IFO, Matthew Knittel, very cautiously predicted that state and local layoffs are at an end.

Developing Story: Bank Swaps and Philadelphia

As Sharon Ward wrote yesterday, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center put out a new report documenting the millions made by large financial institutions like Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs off interest rate swaps negotiated with the City and School District of Philadelphia. Those swap deals have cost the city and school district $331 million in net interest payments and cancellation fees. If interest rates continue to remain low, still-active swaps could cost the city another $240 million in future net interest payments.

Here's a quick look at how the story is being told in the daily news clips.

Morning Must Reads: PA Department of Public Welfare Adviser Resigns $100K Job Over Conservative Journal, More on Banks

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports this morning that Bank of New York Mellon has reached a partial settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Under the deal, the bank will stop listing services as "free" that it, in fact, charges a fee for. What remains to be settled are monetary damages for allegations that the bank overcharged pension plans and other clients for financial services.

Bank Swap Deals Cost Philadelphia City, School District

Large financial institutions, including many that received financial bailouts in the wake of the financial crisis, are making hundreds of millions of dollars off interest rate swaps negotiated with the City and School District of Philadelphia.

That's the key finding in a new report the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center out today. We found that swap deals negotiated with banks such as Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs have cost the city and school district $331 million in net interest payments and cancellation fees. If interest rates continue to remain low, still-active swaps could cost the city another $240 million in future net interest payments.

Morning Must Reads: Shameful: PA Has Denied 88,000 Kids Health Care Since August

Key elements of the Corbett administration's strategy are to cut business taxes while reducing spending on public health and education. This morning we learn this strategy has resulted in the loss of health care for 88,000 Pennsylvania children.

Third and State This Week: Food Stamps Assets Test, Lagging Job Growth and State Cuts

This week, Mark Price dominated the blog, writing about income inequality, challenges facing school districts and a new policy intended to limit access to food stamps for low-income families with modest savings.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

  • On poverty and public welfare, Mark Price blogged about a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial questioning the wisdom of the state's reinstatement of an "assets test" for Pennsylvanians receiving food stamps, As the editorial states: "Instead of encouraging the working poor to save, Pennsylvania welfare officials want to punish families for having a few dollars in a bank account."
  • On jobs and the economy, Mark wrote that Pennsylvania is headed in the wrong direction, with November 2010-November 2011 job growth less than November 2009-November 2010.
  • On the state budget, Mark highlighted news reports on the local impacts of state cuts, and he passed on news reports on income inequality and challenges facing schools and higher education.

More blog posts next week. Keep us bookmarked and join the conversation!

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