Morning Must Reads: Tax Collection Forecast Improves, Philadelphia Got Schools? & Voter ID

In the fall, Pennsylvania's economy looked a bit shaky. Unemployment was rising and leading indexes which predict future growth were signaling weak growth.

Today, the outlook is stronger: unemployment is falling, albeit slowly, and leading indexes (PDF) point to stronger growth over the next six months. Thus, it is no surprise that the Independent Fiscal Office has boosted its forecast for state tax revenue collections.

Although the economy appears to be back on track, the damage done because the economy didn't produce enough jobs in 2011 is evident from looking at the jobs deficit in Pennsylvania as of this March.  

Pennsylvania's jobs deficit, or the difference between the number of jobs Pennsylvania has and the number it needs to regain its pre-recession employment rate, is 267,900. That number includes the 84,200 jobs Pennsylvania lost plus the 183,700 jobs it needs to keep up with the 3.2% growth in population that Pennsylvania has experienced in the 51 months since the recession began.

The jobs deficit has remained above 200,000 for most of the last 12 months. What does it mean? It means that people who lose a job, on average, take longer to find a new one because there are already so many other people out looking for work. It also means that very few workers get wage increases that help them keep up with rising prices.

The jobs deficit in Pennsylvania would be smaller today if federal and state policymakers had not reduced their spending while unemployment is high. The Corbett administration in particular made the situation worse by leaving unspent half a billion in tax revenue and cutting corporate taxes. Now with revenue collections coming in better than expected, there is a real danger that new revenue will be redirected not to vital public services but for further corporate tax cuts.

A higher-than-expected haul of state taxes in April and a new set of revenue projections for coming months offered hope on Tuesday to legislators seeking to soften spending cuts in the upcoming budget.

Pennsylvania collected 3 percent more general fund revenue than anticipated in April, an increase driven by strong collections of corporation and sales taxes. The additional $98.9 million in general fund revenue brings the deficit for the current year to $288 million, leaving it at less than half the $719 million projected when Gov. Tom Corbett delivered his budget proposal in February.

Separately on Tuesday, the new Independent Fiscal Office released a revenue forecast that shows the state bringing in $419 million more this year than projected by the administration and $396 million more next year. Director Matthew Knittel, who joined the office last fall from the U.S. Treasury, said economic conditions have improved since the Department of Revenue produced its revenue projections last winter.

School District officials in Philadelphia are arguing they might not open their doors next fall.

The Philadelphia School District's financial situation is so dire that without a $94 million cash infusion from a proposed city property-reassessment plan, schools might not be able to open in the fall, leaders said Tuesday night.

The Philadelphia Inquirer profiles one of the people Governor Tom Corbett and a majority of the Pennsylvania legislature aimed to prevent from voting in November when they passed the voter ID law.

Wartime welder, civil-rights marcher, world traveler, voter — Viviette Applewhite of Philadelphia's Germantown section can boast of having been all those things.

On Tuesday, she added another title: plaintiff.

Applewhite, who is 93 and uses a wheelchair, became the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed here in state court by the ACLU and the NAACP challenging Pennsylvania's new law requiring voters to produce a driver's license or other photo identification before they are allowed to vote.

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