A Victory for Seattle "For-Hire" Drivers...and for the Next Labor Movement

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One regular theme on this blog is that area-wide unions that lift wages and benefits in industries that cannot relocate are the main way we're going to fix our income distribution and — thanks to the political power of such area-wide unions once they represent tens of millions — fix our democracy.

Budget Deal: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

It’s time for Speaker of the House Mike Turzai to come back from his fundraising trip and call the Pennsylvania House of Representatives together and belatedly finish the Pennsylvania budget. A bipartisan majority in the Senate has passed a bill to fund the budget. While it is not perfect, if Speaker Turzai will allow it to come to the floor for a vote, it appears a similar bipartisan majority can pass it in the House as well, preferably with some amendments to it’s most problematic features.

And, let there be no doubt, there are many problematic features in both the revenue package and the the companion bills passed by the Senate. But before we look at the problems, we should look at what has been achieved this year. The Republican leadership in the Senate has recognized something we have been saying all year: Pennsylvania has a revenue problem, not a spending problem. And thus a number of Republicans voted for a package that raises $571 million in new recurring revenues to close our budget deficit in this and subsequent years. They recognize that we need new taxes to maintain the level of spending on education, human services, environmental protection, and infrastructure that Pennsylvanians demand, let alone to close the investment deficit in providing services in all those areas. At a time when the Speaker of the House and other Republicans continue to live in a fantasy budget-land in which spending should always be cut and taxes never raised, it is an achievement to have the Republican Senate Majority embrace reality and the need to raise new revenues.

Don’t Take Skinny Repeal Lightly — The Dangers of “Just Pass Something” Mentality

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As I write this, the Senate is moving in a somewhat haphazard way to a vote on what has been called a “skinny” repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Not only do we not know exactly what will be included in the skinny repeal, but we, like members of the Senate, are uncertain about the point of passing such a bill.

Skinny Repeal as Trojan Horse

Most observers of the Senate believe that the goal of enacting a skinny repeal bill is simply to keep the process of repealing, or repealing or replacing, the Affordable Care Act alive. If the Senate acts on some health care bill that is an amendment of the AHCA passed by the House, the next step will be a House-Senate Conference Committee, which would write a final bill that attempts to thread the very narrow needle between more moderate and more conservative Republicans in both the House and Senate. The bulk of the work of the committee would, likely, be carried out in private among Republicans only. The bill it produces would go back to the House and Senate where it would receive an up and down vote with no opportunity for amendments.

Senate to Choose Between Health Catastrophe or Something Worse

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Mitch McConnell and his Republican allies have one more trick up their sleeves to try to get some health care bill through the Senate. This week they will seek a vote to proceed to debate on the bill passed in the House on the understanding that there will be a process, colloquially known as voterama, in which a series of votes on one or more substitutes to the bill, or amendments, will be introduced. That is, Senators are being asked to proceed to debate without any clear idea what final bill they will eventually vote on.

I will say more about the process in a moment. But first I want to urge you to join the Insure PA / Protect Our Care phone bank to ask people in those states with Senators who are unsure about their position to call those Senators and ask them to vote no. (You can call Senator Toomey, too, but he pretty clearly has decided he cares far more about tax cuts for the rich than health care for Pennsylvanians.)

STATEMENT: On the State of PA Budget Negotiations

Marc Stier, Director of the PA Budget and Policy Center, made the following statement on the current state of PA budget negotiations:
 
"If news reports are accurate, enough members of the House Republican caucus heard the voices of their constituents who contacted them in the last 24 hours to demand new recurring revenues to balance the budget in a responsible way.

Drillers Are Right – PA Needs Tax Rate on Gas Like Other States: It’s Time for a Severance Tax

In its recent letter to Speaker Mike Turzai, the Marcellus Shale Coalition points (in paragraph three) to the effective tax rate (ETR) on production as a key indicator of whether Pennsylvania should enact a severance tax in addition to the per-well impact fee we already have.

OK, let’s look at that ETR using Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) estimates of the ETR for 2011-16 and IFO estimates of prices and production to project the ETR (using IFO’s method) in 2017 and 2018.*

Public Investment and Economic Growth: Even the Commonwealth Foundation Gets It (Sometimes)

A strange post a few days ago by Elizabeth Stelle of The Commonwealth Foundation seeks to undermine the case for a severance tax on natural gas drilling, but inadvertently explains exactly why we need new recurring revenues in the state.

Stelle first repeats once again — without evidence — the same tired argument that natural gas drillers “pay more in taxes and regulatory costs than producers in competing states.” Not once has anyone at the Commonwealth Foundation quantified those regulatory costs or attempted to respond to a series of papers put out by PBPC, including this most recent one, that show that natural gas drillers are not paying much, if anything, in corporate income taxes to Pennsylvania and are paying far less in taxes (and fees) here than in other states.

Statement on CBO Score of BCRA

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Earlier this week we released a blog post and a long paper called, “It Can’t Be Fixed” that explained why the basic structure of all of the Republican “repeal and replace” necessarily leads to a health care system in which large numbers of Americans and Pennsylvanians lose insurance.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) evaluation of the last version of the Senates’ Better Care Reconciliation Act (without the Cruz Amendment) released on Thursday confirms our argument once again. The CBO predicts that 22 million people will lose health insurance in the first decade. Our quick analysis of the impact on Pennsylvania shows that over one million will lose insurance in our commonwealth.

Speaker Turzai: Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

The Pennsylvania Budget for Fiscal 2017-2018 is still not finished. Pennsylvanians deserve to know why and who is responsible. The answer is the House Republican Caucus led by Speaker of the House Mike Turzai, who refuses to accept any plan for funding the budget already passed by the General Assembly that includes new, recurring revenue — that is revenue that is generated year after year. 

How Would Trump’s Food Stamp Cuts Hurt Americans? Let Us Count the Ways.

This guest post is from Brian Barth, a writer for Modern Farmer. Modern Farmer is a quarterly magazine devoted to the people, policy, issues, animals, plants, and technology of farming and food. The piece ran as a blog post on the blog of the Coalition for Low Income Pennsylvanians.

President Donald Trump has proposed deep cuts to funding for the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly referred to as food stamps. The administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget seeks a $193.3 billion decrease in SNAP funding over the next decade, a nearly 30 percent reduction over current levels. Such deep cuts have virtually no chance of gaining congressional approval, but they lay bare the President’s approach to our nation’s security net. Who stands to lose?

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