Governor Wolf and legislative leaders present Pennsylvanians with two options. The first requires taxpayers to fork over hundreds of millions in higher taxes. The second calls for steep cuts to essential government programs. In the words of Wolf, “We’re going to have cuts the likes of which this Commonwealth has not seen in a generation, if ever.” Taxpayers, we are told, must choose between lousy outcomes: higher taxes or painful cuts.
Make no mistake—this is a false choice. A responsible appropriations bill can be crafted that controls spending and holds the line on tax hikes. New revenues are not necessary to balance the budget—especially not $1 billion worth.
Recall that just last year, Wolf claimed Pennsylvania’s $2.3 billion “structural deficit” mandated $4.6 billion in higher taxes. When the dust settled after a 9-month impasse, the legislature balanced the budget without taxes while also boosting funding for education ($250 million in non-pension spending) and human services ($83 million).
The 2015-16 General Fund spent roughly $30.0 billion. The final revenue projection from the Independent Fiscal Office projects 2016-17 revenues of $30.4 billion. If, in other words, lawmakers limit overall spending increases to $400 million, there would be no need for higher revenues.
Some argue government programs must assume a “cost-to-carry”—baked-in spending increases from one year to the next. Surely, though, this does not apply to Community and Economic Development programs, which see a $10 million bump under the House budget plan. Or the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which would enjoy a $44 million boost. Is there a "cost-to-carry" for House Caucus Operations (R and D), which are set to increase by $16 million?
The spending plan, as currently written, also assumes another $250 million in non-pension education spending, at a time when school district reserve funds are at all-time highs.
Don’t fall victim to the taxpayers’ false choice. By limiting spending increases to $400 million worth of core government functions, lawmakers can protect working families from harmful tax increases.
Pennsylvania's economy isn't looking so hot this summer. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports:
- Pennsylvania lost 23,600 jobs in the last two months (nonfarm, payroll jobs).
- Over the same time frame, the unemployment rate climbed 0.6 percent with 43,900 more individuals officially counted as unemployed. Over a three month span, the unemployment rate rose 0.9 percent, and 60,500 more individuals were unemployed.
- Pennsylvania now exceeds the national unemployment rate.
Here’s some worse news: Our poor economic performance is part of a long-term trend.
- Pennsylvania lost 41,600 residents in net moves to other states last year—one person every 12.5 minutes.The Keystone State has lost 295,000 residents with $11.6 billion in annual income since 1992.
- From 1991 to 2015, Pennsylvania ranked a dismal 46th in job growth, 45th in personal income growth, and 46th in population growth.
- Pennsylvania currently has the 15th highest state and local tax burden.
This bad news comes at a critical juncture in state budget negotiations. The question for lawmakers: Will raising taxes on families offer good news?
History indicates it won't.
Workers hit by the natural gas slump in western PA received some much needed good news this week. Shell announced they will proceed with building a multibillion dollar chemical "cracker" plant in Beaver County.
Shell probably wouldn’t have picked Pennsylvania without millions in tax incentives, but that isn't proof that corporate welfare works. Rather, it shows business climate and tax rates matter.
As expected, a slew of press releases from Gov. Wolf and other elected officials took credit for the expected jobs, but did you know Pennsylvania lost 17,000 jobs last month? Doubtless no politician is sending out news releases accepting the blame.
Truth is: The majority of Pennsylvania jobs are created by thousands of small businesses that don’t get tax breaks or government subsidies. These businesses continue to suffer under the one of the most most oppressive tax burdens in the nation.
Despite our 9.99 percent corporate income tax, (second highest in the nation) Pennsylvania added 55,000 jobs over the past 12 months, and that was a bad year.
So while we can celebrate that Shell will employ thousands of workers in 18 months, and hundreds of permanent workers, it doesn’t change the fact that Pennsylvania's high taxes to are driving away jobs.
In fact from 2005-2015, states spending the most on corporate welfare saw slower economic growth than states spending the least.
Our state would be better off ending corporate welfare subsidies and using those dollars to lower the tax burden on all businesses. If lawmakers eliminated more than $700 million in corporate welfare (identified here), the corporate income tax could be lowered to 7.2 percent.
Pennsylvania should concentrate on creating a positive business climate for all businesses, not a select few.
Why would one of Pennsylvania’s largest natural gas producers suddenly switch from selling all non-Pennsylvania assets to purchasing a $3.3 billion Houston company that operates exclusively in Louisiana?
Range Resources, which in 2004 drilled the first commercial horizontal well in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, plans to purchase Memorial Resource Development partly because of regulatory hurdles in Pennsylvania and other Northeastern states.
Energy companies are trying to cope with constant calls for higher taxes, new methane emissions standards, a dramatic overhaul of drilling regulations, and pipeline delays. At the same time, the region is experiencing a severe and prolonged drop in natural gas prices.
The Dallas Morning News reports:
“The U.S. gas market is Balkanized," said Subash Chandra, an analyst with Guggenheim Securities. "And the Appalachian Basin is becoming increasingly isolated."
Pipeline projects in Pennsylvania and New England running into regulatory issues over the past year include Northeast Energy Direct, Constitution, Rover and PennEast. In some cases, the delay could be a matter of months; for others, longer.
Keeping the natural gas from getting to market in the Northeast makes retail prices bounce around more and can contribute to shortages in an unusually cold winter. And it pushes some producers to the sidelines for a while.
“A couple of the producers with the best cost of production in North America are sitting on their hands for a couple of years," Miller said.
In Pennsylvania, the industry has shed thousands of jobs, and the number of drilling rigs operating in the state is at 2007 (pre-boom) levels. The paper continues:
But in the meantime, the Range purchase of Memorial means Range will have options. It can push development in Louisiana while waiting for more congenial conditions in Pennsylvania.
Reporting on the transaction, Forbes says, “[P]ipeline bottlenecks in the northeast have gotten so bad that Range has been realizing sale prices 66% below market.”
Before punishing the natural gas industry with a severance tax or regulations of questionable value, Pennsylvania politicians should consider congeniality—or common sense.
Unfortunately, a lack of it seems already to have driven one company to invest $3 billion in Louisiana instead of in Pennsylvania.
The commonwealth, on net, loses one person every 12.5 minutes. Some say it's all about the weather, but a recent Gallup poll found another reason. Across the country, residents in high-tax states are more likely to want to leave than those in lower-tax states.
Decades of high taxes, growing red tape and rising debt are driving Pennsylvanians away. Can you relate? Have you left the keystone state for brighter opportunities? Share your story below and help us show Harrisburg that higher taxes are the wrong way to go.
In the Wall Street Journal, Florida Governor Rick Scott makes a mockery of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and his quest to raise taxes, calling Wolf one of his "favorite governors."
"Every time they raise taxes,” Mr. Scott says, “it’s basically a gift to Florida."
Florida’s population increased by 350,000 last year, and IRS data confirm that many were exiles from high-tax California, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.
As we've pointed out recently here, Pennsylvania has long been losing residents to other states—more than 40,000 lost in net state to state migration last year alone, or one resident every 12.5 minutes.
Pennsylvania and other high tax states are losing to states with lower overall tax burdens.
Not to worry though. Gov. Wolf has a solution! He's going to change the slogan for tourism!
Of course we all know slogans are the key to economic growth and job creation. Take this quick poll and tell us what you think Pennsylvania's new Tourism Slogan should be.
Eunice Medina is a childcare worker living in Oakland, California. Last March, the city instituted a $12.55 minimum wage, leaving Eunice with fewer workdays and reduced hours.
Across the country in East Aurora, New York, restaurant owner John Rooney just closed one of his two locations after 14 years in business:
I've got employees that have been working for me for 14 years, that we had to say goodbye to, for no other reason," Rooney said, "than that increase in the minimum wage.
Eunice and John are cautionary tales for Pennsylvania where Governor Wolf just issued an executive order to raise the minimum wage for 450 state workers and future state contractors.
Increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.15 an hour for about 0.57% of state workers sounds compassionate, but experiences in Oakland, New York and many other places show higher wage mandates lead to fewer job opportunities.
Of course, the Commonwealth isn't like a regular employer. Instead of layoffs, politicians will simply pass on the $4 million cost of this mandate to taxpayers.
Interestingly, after lauding his executive order, Gov. Wolf seemed to acknowledge that wage mandates are a burden. When asked if the wage increase will affect human service workers, the governor explained they didn't want to place further burdens or pressure on human service workers absent a budget.
The Independent Fiscal Office confirmed the governor's concerns in a report it relased on the costs of raising the minimum wage, concluding it would keep or put 31,000 Pennsylvanians out of work. Some may argue this is a necessary tradeoff to reduce poverty, but research from the Employment Policies Institute found no statistically significant evidence that a higher minimum wage reduces participation in means-tested welfare programs.
If Gov. Wolf and other policymakers are truly concerned about lifting people out of poverty, they should pursue the following refroms:
Lower the cost of doing business: It is possible to raise wages and increase hiring at the same time. According to a Mercatus Center study, a one-percentage point drop in the corporate tax rate would likely increase annual economic growth by 0.1 to 0.2%.
Reward hard work: Restructure welfare programs to avoid the arbitrary benefit cutoffs discouraging employment and trapping families in poverty.
Lower barriers to employment: Scale back professional licensing to give low-wage earners the opportunity to increase their incomes through entrepreneurship.
Residents in states with high taxes to want to move out, according to a recent Gallup poll. This includes 33 percent of Pennsylvania residents.
This shouldn't be a shocker—Pennsylvania families have been voting with their feet for a long time.
Just last year, Pennsylvania lost 41,600 residents on net from state-to-state migration, nearly the entire population of York, Gov. Wolf’s hometown. That's one person leaving every 12.5 minutes.
From 1992-2014, the commonwealth lost $11.6 billion per year in adjusted gross income—and more than $350 million annually in state income tax revenue—due to state-to-state migration.
As I point out in a recent op-ed, Gov. Wolf's tax and spend agenda will only accelerate this "brain drain:"
Where are families moving? To North Carolina, Florida and Delaware—where state and local tax burdens are significantly lower.
States with the largest migration losses over the past five years — including Pennsylvania — had a higher average state and local tax burden (10.93 percent) than those with the greatest gains (8.84 percent).
The lesson is simple: People vote with their feet. Out-of-control spending and burdensome taxes change a state's future. To many, America's Keystone State is looking more like an exit door and Wolf's policies will push it ever wider.
Wolf's latest budget calls for a tax hike of $850 per family of four—that's on top of the existing state and local tax burden of more than $18,000 per family. In all, Wolf demanded an astonishing $3.6 billion in new taxes, including an 11 percent retroactive personal income tax increase. If Wolf gets his way, you'll owe higher taxes on money you've already earned.
If Gov. Wolf succeeds in raising Pennsylvania’s personal income tax from 3.07 percent to 3.30 percent (an increase of 7.5 percent in the rate), what will be the impact on job creation? Over 6,500 jobs that would have otherwise been created will not exist.
In collaboration with economists at Suffolk University’s Beacon Hill Institute, CF used an economic modeling program—Pennsylvania State Tax Analysis Modeling Program (PA STAMP)—to analyze the impact of Wolf’s tax proposals on job growth. And the projection for Wolf’s most recent scheme is not pretty for working families in the commonwealth.
Worse, the 7.5 percent increase in the income tax rate accounts for merely half of the revenue expected to be extracted from taxpayers—from a myriad of still-evolving tax increases—in the most recent tax hike proposal. The 6,500 job loss projection does not account for potential tax hikes on movie tickets, digital downloads, businesses filing fees, bank shares, lottery winnings, and cigarettes.
Let your representative and senator know Pennsylvanians can't afford higher taxes. Too many jobs are at stake.
Given the rumblings of an imminent vote on higher income taxes, it's important to remember what happened 12 years ago (nearly to the day!) with our state budget.
Ed Rendell was governor. Republicans controlled the House (108-95) and Senate (28-22). Republicans passed a no-tax-increase budget in early 2003 and were poised to reject job-crushing tax hikes. The governor had line-item vetoed education spending and was holding kids’ education hostage to get his tax increases. Sound familiar?
Gov. Rendell had demanded a 30 percent increase in the Personal Income Tax. I vividly remember Senate leaders in mid-November as they declared their steadfast resolve to not vote for higher taxes. Many expected the House and Senate would hold the line on tax increases. The public was with them!
But then, just before Christmas, the dam burst. 30 Republican representatives and 14 Republican senators–against the will of the majority of their majority–joined with enough Democrats to pass a 10 percent increase in income taxes. Governor Rendell signed the bill on December 23, 2003.
The borrowing of billions followed quickly in 2004, with massive spending increases each year thereafter.
Much has changed since Rendell’s first year in office. Over 76 percent of the House and Senate has turned over. The Republican majority is the largest in 60 years. What hasn't changed, however, are the forces that profit from Big Government: the government unions, which remain as powerful and wealthy as ever before.
And yet here we are today. Will the legislature agree to massive tax hikes without meaningful pension or liquor reforms?
Will 2015 be a repeat of 2003?
Gov. Wolf’s year-long pursuit of higher taxes shouldn’t end like Gov. Rendell’s. History doesn’t need to repeat itself.
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