State Rankings

Pennsylvanians Are Losing Economic Freedom

FEBRUARY 7, 2014

Pennsylvanians are losing economic freedom according to the Fraser Institute’s annual report, Economic Freedom of North America 2013. The commonwealth is slowly losing ground ranking 33rd in 2009 and dropping to 40th in the latest study.

The index measures the limitations on economic freedom imposed by all levels of government in the 50 U.S. states and 10 Canadian provinces under three broad categories. Pennsylvania performs poorly in each category:

  • Size of government: 48th
  • Takings and discriminatory wealth redistribution: 34th
  • Labor market freedom: 24th

There are several reasons for Pennsylvania’s abysmal performance. Chief among them is Pennsylvania's growing debt and spending, which has created $47 billion in unfunded pension debt and an estimated $1.2 to $1.4 billion budget deficit.

If policymakers want to improve the lives of Pennsylvanians, focus should be on increasing economic freedom and opportunity by enacting pension reform, slowing the growth of overall spending and reducing the size of government.

For more on how to accomplish these goals, check out our newest report: Blueprint for a Prosperous Pennsylvania.

posted by BRUCE CORNIBE | 00:55 PM | Comments

Pa's Economy Improves, But Far from the Best

JUNE 17, 2013

Things are looking somewhat up for Pennsylvania’s economy, according to the annual Rich States, Poor States published by ALEC. The 2013 edition ranks Pennsylvania 34th in economic outlook, up from 40th last year and the highest economic ranking since the index’s creation.

Rich States, Poor States considers 15 factors heavily influenced by state policies to predict how a state’s economy will perform. While the commonwealth’s high tax burden and lack of worker freedom continue to hinder growth, a slowdown in state spending and continued phase-out of the capital stock and franchise tax have helped the state move from the bottom third to the middle-of-the pack.

But middle-of-the-pack isn’t good enough. To continue to attract jobs and investment, Pennsylvania will have to tackle big cost drivers like Medicaid and the pension tsunami.  Continued tax reforms will help too, such as Governor Corbett’s latest proposal, which we estimate will create more than 2,500 new jobs by 2018 if enacted.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 02:50 PM | Comments

Pa. Teachers Unions Among America's Most Powerful

OCTOBER 31, 2012

Pennsylvania's teachers unions rank fourth among all U.S. states in their strength and influence, according to a report released this week from the Fordham Institute. We trail only Hawaii, Oregon and Montana.

Among the factors contributing to the muscle of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) and the Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers (PFT) are rich resources, deep political involvement and broad collective bargaining privileges. For example:

  • PSEA and PFT have a wide combined membership (223,000 according to our count). According to Fordham, that translates to the 12th-highest rate of union membership in the United States, at 93.4 percent, and the 19th-highest annual revenue for state affiliates.
  • Union donations made up 1.5 percent of total contributions to political candidates for state office, the 10th-highest among states.
  • Collective bargaining is mandatory for public school teachers in Pennsylvania, and they are allowed to strike. In addition, bargaining is explicitly required or permitted over wages, hours, terms and conditions of employment, and management rights. State law implicitly allows for collective bargaining in 17 other areas, including tenure, layoffs, pension benefits, length of school year, and so on.

In fact, the PSEA is preparing to flex even more political muscle—once again increasing dues on teachers and other school employees.  In 2012-13, a full-time public school teacher and PSEA member will pay $669 in combined dues to the PSEA and the National Education Association. That's 21 percent higher than five years ago.

Over the past few years, the PSEA has been plowing member dues into politics. In 2007-08, the union spent $1.9 million on "political activities and lobbying," which include election mailers, get-out-the-vote drives, independent campaign activities and lobbying of legislators. By 2011, just three years later, such spending had skyrocketed to $4.2 million—a 121 percent increase. This money doesn't count contributions to PSEA's political action committee, PACE, which further rakes in millions.

Despite raising union dues and spending heavily on politics, teachers unions still hang younger members out to dry in tough economic times. Hundreds of teachers have been laid off across Pennsylvania, and the first to go aren't the worst teachers. With union seniority rules, they're just the youngest. Take Esme Santiago, 26, who taught English as a second language in her hometown of Reading (America's poorest city): "I was thinking about my kids. I honestly love my job. My passion is teaching kids in Reading."  

    All the statistics about unchecked union influence boil down to this: Kids' education gets hurt. Taxpayers get hurt. And even teachers like Esme get hurt, too. That's the price Pennsylvanians pay for winning fourth place in the union power rankings.

    posted by PRIYA ABRAHAM | 09:45 AM | Comments

    Happy Cost of Government Day 2012

    JULY 20, 2012

    Cost of Government 2012Today Pennsylvania reached its Cost of Government Day, according to Americans for Tax Reform's annual report. In other words, it took the average Keystone worker until July 20, or 202 days, to earn enough to pay off federal, state and local government spending and meet the costs of regulation. While an improvement from last year, Pennsylvania remains a dismal 35th place among U.S. states, and burdens workers an additional five days more than the national average.

    The American worker labored 88 days to cover federal spending, 40 days to cover state and local government spending and 69 days to cover regulatory costs. Federal spending continues to fuel the unsustainable costs of government. Over the last 10 years, federal spending has cost workers an additional 17 days, consuming nearly a quarter of GDP.

    Unfortunately, the President's signature health care law is projected to push the cost of government day even later in the year. That means workers will have to work even longer to pay for their government, as the new law could cost Americans more than $2.3 trillion, requiring hundreds of billions in tax increases.

    posted by JONATHAN HUMMA | 09:00 AM | Comments

    The Unseen Effect of Cracker Credits

    JUNE 5, 2012

    Icon BusinessTaxationGov. Tom Corbett is reportedly pushing a targeted tax credit for Shell and other companies that locate an ethane processing plant—often called a "cracker" plant—in Pennsylvania. The credit would total $1.7 billion over 25 years (or $67 million per year).

    The announcement of Shell's decision to locate in Pennsylvania was much celebrated, reportedly bringing 10,000 direct and related jobs to the state. But unfortunately this analysis doesn't take into account the net effect of offering targeted tax breaks.

    Pennsylvania's corporate income tax of 9.99% is the highest flat rate among the 50 states (this on top of the U.S. corporate tax rate, the highest in the industrialized world). A Tax Foundation analysis finds Pennsylvania has the highest business tax cost for mature firms, and second-worst for new companies.

    The proposed tax credit will make Pennsylvania more attractive for Shell, but doesn't improve the economic climate for thousands of businesses, large and small, that exist in the state, or for companies or entrepreneurs in every other industry.

    Pennsylvania has long been a leader in "economic development" spending—both direct subsidies and tax credits—but we have been a laggard in job growth. Moreover, a Legislative Budget and Finance Committee in 2010 on Pa.'s tax credit programs found there is little hard evidence or monitoring of job creation from these incentives.

    These targeted tax breaks and corporate welfare subsidies prevent across-the-board tax rate reductions that would benefit all Pennsylvanians—attracting new businesses from all sectors, and allowing existing businesses to expand in Pennsylvania. Ditching this tax credit, and eliminating existing tax breaks to reduce tax rates, would go further in creating jobs in the Keystone State.

    posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 02:00 PM | Comments

    Pennsylvania's Economy Struggles to Compete

    MAY 22, 2012

    frustration In three separate studies on the state's economic competitiveness and business climates, Pennsylvania remains near the bottom of the pack.

    The 2012 Alec-Laffer Economic Competitiveness Index, ranks states economic performance and outlook (1 being the best, 50 the worst). According to the index, the Keystone State ranks 40th in economic outlook for 2012 thanks to several factors, including:

    • 50th in Top Marginal Corporate Income Tax Rate
    • 32nd in Top Marginal Personal Income Tax Rate
    • 50th in Levying Estate/Inheritance Tax
    • 45th in Remaining Tax Burden (additional taxes beyond those already ranked)
    • 41st in Recently Legislated Tax Changes

    Another study by placed the Keystone State as the 43rd best state for business—a four position drop since last year. CEOs found, " regulation heavy even for very small 1-2 person businesses," this despite a "positive" ranking in the development trend indicator as a result of the natural gas boom.

    The general business climate is one thing, but how is the outlook for small businesses? The Foundation Small Business Survey found that Pennsylvania's small business climate is mediocre, earning a C for overall friendliness to small businesses. Although the survey gave business start ups a C+, the commonwealth received a C- for hiring regulations, and a D in jobs training programs.

    Pennsylvania remains a relatively unattractive place to begin or operate a business. Crippling taxes, heavy regulation, and burdensome bureaucracy have held back the Keystone State's economic growth.

    posted by PHILLIP TROMETTER | 00:00 PM | Comments

    Pennsylvania Businesses Face the Highest Taxes

    MARCH 1, 2012

    A new study from the Tax Foundation finds that mature Pennsylvania businesses are the highest taxed in the nation. Newly established operations in the commonwealth are the second highest taxed, behind Hawaii.

    The study evaluates the impact of corporate income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, local income taxes, gross receipts taxes, and unemployment compensation taxes. You can click here for the Pennsylvania profile, and read a story on the study in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

    The study looks at seven categories of businesses and the effective tax rate on each. The table below identifies the burden, and ranking among the 50 states, for each type of business studied.


    Pennsylvania Business Tax Costs
    Newly established operations Mature Operations
    Type of Firm Total Effective Tax Rate Tax Index Tax Rank Total Effective Tax Rate Tax Index Tax Rank
    Capital-Intensive Manufacturing Operation 6.1% 53.1 9 6.1% 48.4 5
    Labor-Intensive Manufacturing Operation 11.8% 100.7 26 9.1% 78 15
    Call Center 36.3% 145.9 45 30.2% 144 48
    Distribution Center 59.5% 164.5 48 48.0% 156.5 49
    Corporate Headquarters, 30.7% 190.1 50 28.0% 178.4 50
    Research and Development (R&D) Facility 33.5% 227.4 50 29.1% 226.4 50
    Retail Store 45.5% 139.4 47 31.2% 184.3 50
    Average 145.9 49 145.1 50
    Source: Tax Foundation, "Location Matters",


    posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 11:40 AM | Comments

    Right to Work Helps Oklahoma Economy

    NOVEMBER 21, 2011

    A new analysis from the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs shows that since the Sooner State passed a right to work law in 2001—allowing all workers to choose whether or not to join or pay a fee to a union—the state has outpaced the nation in manufacturing job growth. 

    At the same time, Oklahoma has become a net winner in state-to-state migration, as more residents moved to Okalahoma from other states than left the state for elsewhere.  This reverses a downward trend Oklahoma had been expericencing prior to 2000.

    Naturally, the vast majority of domestic imigrants came from forced unionization states.  Concidentally, Pennsylvania, a forced union, state has been among the biggest losers in state migration for decades.

    posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 10:30 AM | Comments

    PA's High Unemployment Taxes

    OCTOBER 28, 2011

    Pennsylvania employers pay some of the highest unemployment insurance taxes in the nation, according to a new study by the Tax Foundation. Tax rates vary based on the frequency of layoffs. If a company frequently lays off employees, their unemployment insurance taxes will be at or near the maximum rate. But if a company rarely lays off employees, their tax rate will be close to the minimum rate. 

    Nationally, Pennsylvania has the highest minimum employer tax rate, which ranges from zero to 2.7 percent. The state's maximum employer tax is the fourth-highest in the nation.

    The study also found states raise unemployment taxes on employers during times of high unemployment and lower them during economic booms. This pattern makes it more difficult for businesses to hire when unemployment is high and easier when jobs are plentiful.

    50 states UI Taxes

    posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 10:46 AM | Comments

    By the Way, Residents Don't Like High Taxes

    SEPTEMBER 26, 2011

    Dr. Antony Davies, a member of CF's Council of Scholars, and John Pulito add to the growing body of research showing higher state taxes drive out residents. Their new study, "Tax Rates and Migration," finds lowering "high-income" tax thresholds, high overall state income taxes and high property taxes deplete populations.

    Often known as "millionaire taxes," states lower personal income tax thresholds to include more than millionaires in the highest bracket. For instance, anyone in Arizona who makes $150,000 or more a year pays the highest level of income tax, in Ohio it is $200,000. The evidence suggests people tend to leave states that lower "high-income" tax thresholds, the same way they leave states that raise tax rates. Pennsylvania does not have tax thresholds because the state levies a flat 3.07 percent personal income tax, but seven states don't even have a state personal income tax.

    However, Pennsylvania is a large offender in the property tax category. Property taxes have skyrocketed, increasing by $2.1 billion, or 26 percent, from 2004 to 2008—exceeding both inflation and student enrollment. The authors find property tax rates have a greater effect on out-migration than high-income tax rates.

    For example, a one percentage point increase in the property-tax differential between two states has almost three times the effect on migration as does a one percentage point increase in the difference in high-income tax rates.

    High levels of local and state taxation combined with heavy business taxation are a major reason Pennsylvania is losing residents to other states.

    posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 03:00 PM | Comments

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    The Commonwealth Foundation is Pennsylvania's free-market think tank.  The Commonwealth Foundation crafts free-market policies, convinces Pennsylvanians of their benefits, and counters attacks on liberty.