Posts by marc stier

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.

A Budget Balanced in Name Only?

Finally, with the passage of a revenue bill to fund the appropriates bill passed last wee, we can say the 2016-2017 budget is done.

But whether it was a success or not, is very much in doubt.

The budget deficit is, technically closed. New projected revenues of $1.3 billion have been enacted.

But as the following table shows, over half of the new revenue is non-recurring. That is, it is one-time revenues that will be available only this year and not in future years. That means we will start the 2017-2018 budget year already more than $700 million in deficit. 

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. 

Revenue Options Real and Fake: A Minimum Wage Increase and Gaming Expansion

Ten years ago was the last time Pennsylvania raised the minimum wage in advance of the federal government doing so. In those ten years, inflation has reduced the value of the minimum wage to a poverty wage. That’s why it’s time to raise it again, ultimately to $15 an hour, but immediately to $10.10.

Some things are worse than a late budget.

As the June 30th deadline looms, we have little more than rumors about what kind of Pennsylvania budget might be enacted by the General Assembly for 2016-17. But while some may find optimism in talk of getting the budget done, the rumors we are hearing about the details of the budget in the works are extremely worrisome.