Posts by stephen herzenberg

Alcohol Privatization More Costly to Consumers and Comes with Greater Social Harm

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Alcohol PrivatizationThe Pennsylvania House of Representatives began debate Monday evening on a new plan to privatize state wine and spirits stores. To help inform that debate, the Keystone Research Center has a new Alcohol Privatization Issue Page summarizing our recent research and analysis on the issue. Much of our work has found that privatization is likely to have significant negative impacts on the state’s fiscal and public health.

Commonwealth Foundation Public Relations Director Buries His Head in the Sand

What’s the first thing a conservative think tank does when it has no response on the substance of an issue? Attack.

This past weekend, for example, the Commonwealth Foundation responded to a new Keystone Research Center report showing that states like Pennsylvania which tightly control alcohol distribution have fewer alcohol-related traffic deaths as a result. (Fifty-eight fewer in Pennsylvania is our estimate.)

Educational Tax Credits Are Often a Bait-and-Switch

A story in Monday's New York Times explores the use of state tax credit programs to pay for "scholarships" for students who attend private schools. The story suggests that many of the students who receive such scholarships already attend private school and are not low-income.

To the extent that this is true, the political marketing of these programs as alternatives (for a select few students) to public schools in distressed communities is a "bait and switch." Educational tax credits actually siphon taxpayer dollars to subsidize private schools, reducing state revenues available for public schools.

Dumb and Dumber State Construction Policies

I've got an idea: let's employ low-wage, low-skill, and sometime out-of-state workers on small and medium-sized state-funded construction projects, with no benefit to taxpayers and negative impacts on local economies.

Sound like a stupid idea? That's because it is.

Here's the backdrop: Pennsylvania's prevailing wage law requires that workers on state-funded construction projects be paid a wage in line with what most other workers in their trade are paid within a certain geographical area.

Let the Facts Get in the Way of a Good Story: Private School Bus Services in Pennsylvania Cost More

The standard conservative narrative is that private delivery of services and goods trumps government delivery. In Harrisburg, for example, Governor Corbett’s Council on Privatization and Innovation often presents its goal as privatization, taking for granted that this will be more efficient and cost-effective.

In fact, the record on privatization shows that in many cases privatization fails to deliver promised savings and can undercut service quality. That’s part of why Cornell Professor Mildred Warner has found that local governments often bring work back in house.

More on Regulations and Jobs

On Wednesday, WITF’s Radio Smart Talk hosted two anti-regulation advocates to explain why regulations are, well, bad. The listeners of the show who called in did a good job underscoring the critical importance of effective regulation and exposing the lack of evidence for the views of the show’s guests.

I tried to call in myself, but time ran out before I could join the discussion. Had my call been taken, I would have pointed listeners to the writing of Bruce Bartlett, a former high-level policy person in the Reagan and Bush administrations. In a column tellingly entitled “Misrepresentations, Regulations, and Jobs,” Bartlett points out that “no hard evidence is offered” for the claim that new regulations are holding back investment and job creation: “it is simply asserted as self-evident and repeated endlessly throughout the conservative echo chamber.”

Gutting Prevailing Wage Laws Will Hurt PA Economy

Legislative proposals to weaken Pennsylvania’s prevailing wage law covering state-funded public construction are a perennial in Harrisburg, but this year there are even more proposals than usual.

Some observers think that legislative action may result before the end of the year. I weighed in on the issue in an op-ed in Tuesday's Harrisburg Patriot-News, explaining that if the real motivation is to save money on state-funded construction projects, research points in a different direction than eroding the wages workers earn on these projects.

Liquor Privatization Findings Too Good to Be True

The privatization of Pennsylvania's wine and spirits shops will not do much for state revenues but will usher in alcohol-related social problems.

Those were the key takeaways offered by researchers working with the Keystone Research Center at hearings of the Pennsylvania House Liquor Control Committee this week in Philadelphia.

University of Michigan researcher Roland Zullo, who has worked with Keystone on privatization issues, presented the results of his analysis of a pro-privatization study commissioned by Governor Tom Corbett's Budget Office. As Zullo's written testimony shows, the study, performed by Public Finance Management (PFM), was very open about its assignment: show how privatization will maintain annual wine and spirits revenue for the state, while maximizing upfront fees from privatizing.

As Roland shows, this is an impossible assignment.

What is Pat Toomey Doing? Inequality and America's Future

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Let me connect three dots for you. Draw your own conclusions about the impact of Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey’s proposal in the super committee to reduce the federal deficit.

Putting the Brakes on Pennsylvania’s Recovery

Public-sector job losses are putting the brakes on Pennsylvania’s economic recovery, endangering private-sector job gains

Those are the findings in a new Keystone Research Center policy brief that I co-authored with Mark Price. (You can read the press release here.)

Over the last year, Pennsylvania has lost 21,000 public-sector jobs, including some 13,000 education jobs. The impact is being felt well beyond the public sector, slowing the pace of private-sector job growth as the ripple effects of out-of-work teachers and laid-off government workers take a toll on the broader economy.