State Rankings

Fresh Start, or Stale Policies of Decades Past?

SEPTEMBER 30, 2015

At the beginning of 2015, we heard a lot about a "fresh start" for Pennsylvania. But nine months later, it's difficult to identify anything fresh about Gov. Wolf's tax, borrow and spend plan.

In fact, Philadelphia Daily News columnist John Baer pointed out that every Pennsylvania governor since the 1970s has raised taxes. Reading that, I naturally thought, “Yeah, well maybe we should stop doing that.”

Some Democrats argue that tax increases are part of responsible governing, noting that every governor elected since the '70s - Milton Shapp, Dick Thornburgh, Bob Casey, Tom Ridge, Ed Rendell, Tom Corbett - raised taxes (the argument is Corbett's fuels-tax hike for $2.3 billion in road and bridge repairs counts).

But Republicans say maybe that's the problem. Maybe the state's economy would be better with lower taxes.

Nate Benefield, of the conservative Commonwealth Foundation, makes the case against raising taxes: "Overall, our tax burden has gone up, and yet we have stagnant growth, among the slowest in the country."

Pennsylvania's ranking in state and local tax burden, according to the respected D.C.-based Tax Foundation, is 10th heaviest among states and third heaviest among the most populous states, behind New York and California.

In other words, for 45 years Pennsylvania politicians have been raising taxes—resulting in anemic job growth, income growth and population growth.

Ironically,Gov. Tom Wolf suggests his $4.6 billion, $1,400 per family of four tax increase represents a new way of doing things in Harrisburg. Raising taxes to historic highs, while rejecting real pension reform or liquor privatization, isn't fresh or innovative. It's the same thing we’ve been doing for decades.

It’s time we stop repeating the same failed mistakes of the past.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 10:10 AM | Comments

Leader of the Free World?

SEPTEMBER 16, 2015

What do Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates and Canada have in common? Their citizens all enjoy more economic freedom than Americans.

According to the 2015 Economic Freedom of the World Index, the United States ranks 16th, down from a rank of 2 in 2000. Americans are losing their economic freedoms while the rest of the world is becoming more free.

The Economic Freedom of the World Index measures economic freedom by analyzing five areas: size of government, legal structure and property rights, access to sound money, free trade, and regulation. The U.S. scored the lowest in the size of government and protection of property rights categories.

Economic freedom is more than an academic concept; it's critical for prosperity. Economic freedom is positively associated with higher average per-capita GDP, longer life spans, higher incomes for the poor and more civil liberties.

To read more about the benefits of expanding economic freedom visit

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 03:12 PM | Comments

Pennsylvanians Are Working Longer for the Government

APRIL 27, 2015

Last Saturday Pennsylvanians passed an important milestone: Tax Freedom Day. This is the day Pennsylvanians earn enough dollars to pay off their federal, state and local tax bills for 2015. 

Pennsylvania's celebration came one day after national Tax Freedom Day, making us the 36th state to celebrate. Last year we did slightly better as the 35th state to celebrate on April 21st.

However, Tax Freedom Day has arrived later and later each year as government spending has climbed. For some perspective, national Tax Freedom Day was January 22nd in 1900. 

Tax Freedom Day 2015

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 02:58 PM | Comments

Pennsylvania's Economy Ranks a Dismal 39th

APRIL 10, 2015

Is placing 39 out of 50 in any competition acceptable? Most people would say no, which is why a new index published by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is so unsettling.

Released on an annual basis, the Rich States, Poor States index ranks states based on their economic performance and economic outlook. In the first category, Pennsylvania performed poorly, ranking 39th. Future economic performance doesn’t look promising either. The authors of the index place Pennsylvania in the bottom ten at 41.

The rankings are based on fifteen different variables that include tax rates, debt service as a share of tax revenue, labor regulations, and tax or expenditure limits. Pennsylvania ranks poorly in nearly all of these areas year after year. As Jana Benscoter of Watchdog points out, Pennsylvania’s economic outlook ranking has never been higher than 33rd.

This isn’t surprising given the dramatic growth of government spending and taxation since 1970 and Pennsylvania’s inhospitable regulatory environment, both of which are roadblocks to job creation and prosperity.

But Pennsylvania doesn't have to continue down this path. If the commonwealth lowers the tax burden on businesses and families, restrains spending growth, and fixes its regulatory climate, we can shed these low rankings and grow an economy that works for everyone.

We're at a watershed moment, with a choice between the largest tax hike in Pennsylvania's history or reducing government spending to leave more in the pockets of Pennsylvanians. It's a choice between prosperity or economic stagnation.

posted by BOB DICK | 02:43 PM | Comments

Former Pennsylvanians Voted with their Feet

JANUARY 5, 2015

Moving out of Pennsylvania

Residents continued their exodus from Pennsylvania in 2014.

The latest Census population estimates, released last month, show that Pennsylvania gained 5,913 in total population between July 2013 and July 2014. This increase was driven by natural causes—13,400 more births than deaths—and international migration (a net of 29,000).

However, on the negative side, the state lost 31,400 residents to other states in net domestic migration. Only New York, Illinois, New Jersey and California lost more.

United Van Lines data supports this, putting Pennsylvania among the top 10 "outbound states" (again, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois top the list).

This is the continuation of a long-term trend: Pennsylvania lost 89,000 to other states since 2010, more than 40,000 from 2000-2009 and more than 250,000 during the 1990s in net state-to-state moves.

But it's part of a larger trend as well. State residents have been fleeing from high tax states to lower tax states. Indeed, while a net loser on the whole, Pennsylvania has gained population from residents fleeing higher-taxed New York, New Jersey, and Maryland.

That residents "vote with their feet" must be considered in any discussion of increasing Pennsylvania's tax burden.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 05:12 PM | Comments

Economic Freedom Key to a Prosperous Pennsylvania

DECEMBER 2, 2014

Pennsylvania Economy

Pennsylvania is the 27th freest state in America according to the Fraser Institute's annual Economic Freedom of North America report, which is hardly news to be celebrating.

States were ranked based on their size of government, level of taxation and labor market restrictions. Texas and South Dakota topped the US list, while Maine ranked last.

Why is economic freedom important? Higher levels of economic freedom directly correspond with more job opportunities and a higher standard of living.

According to the study, the most-free states averaged $55,000 per-capita in 2012 gross domestic product compared to roughly $48,000 for the least-free states. In other words, more economic freedom translated to a $7,000 boost in income per person.

When you consider the entire continent, Pennsylvania ties for the 30th freest state or province. Texas is the only US state to make the top five (the rest are Canadian provinces). Over the past decade, economic freedom has declined in both the United States and Canada, but the decline has been more gradual in Canada.

If Governor-elect Wolf and the new state legislature truly seek a fresh start for the commonwealth, they must take steps to restore economic freedom.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 04:45 PM | Comments

Survey: Pennsylvania Unfriendly to Small Business

JULY 25, 2014

You're probably aware that Pennsylvania’s tax burden is among the most oppressive in the country. But the tax code is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the state’s stifling regulatory policy. Entrepreneurs and innovators are also weighed down by complex regulations and onerous licensure requirements.

According to a recent survey of thousands of firms, Pennsylvania is one of the least friendly states for small business—receiving a "D" grade for its overall business climate, a lower mark than each of its bordering neighbors. Only 5 states scored worse with an "F".

Small Business Rankings Map

The survey estimates a whopping 43 percent of low-income occupations in Pennsylvania require a state license. Starting a new business in the Commonwealth has never been more challenging.

The hidden cost of regulatory compliance is staggering. Every afternoon spent toiling away with confusing paperwork is an afternoon that could be spent providing goods or services. Every trip to City Hall to renew a permit, every hour wasted on a government phone tree, every day spent waiting for the bureaucratic stamp of approval to arrive in the mailbox—each of these is a lost opportunity for sustainable, long-term economic growth.

And let’s not forget the cynical reason behind many regulations: to protect established firms from facing new competition. The unfortunate victims of these regulations are consumers, who suffer with higher prices and fewer choices.

Making life simpler for families and job creators may sound like a minor reform, but it would go a long way toward improving Pennsylvania’s economic outlook. 

posted by JAMES PAUL | 10:00 AM | Comments

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

Inaction on Pensions Leads to Downgrade for Pennsylvania

JULY 17, 2013

This latest look at Pennsylvania's fiscal house shows the urgency of pension reform and spending restraint.

Fitch Ratings yesterday downgraded Pennsylvania's bond rating.  This effectively sends a sign to investors of greater risk in buying Pennsylvania bonds, which could result in higher interest rates for state projects like road repair and school construction.  These additional costs will be passed on to taxpayers.

Fitch writes that the downgrade was based on "the commonwealth's failure to adequately address key fiscal pressures."  Fitch noted a "structural imbalance"—meaning revenues aren't keeping pace with state spending.

Failure to enact pension reform was a major factor in the downgrade.  Fitch writes, "Sizable increases in [pension] contributions due to the systems were required in the current-year budget and are forecast in the coming years, and are projected to consume much of future revenue growth."  This exponential growth in future taxpayer pension costs—and the downgrade—shows why we simply cannot "let Act 120 work".

Moreover, Fitch notes that the pension crisis is going to get worse, not better, as the unfunded liability is expected to grow until 2018. The report also mentions the lack of action pension reform measures, and suggests it is "unclear if any pension reform will be enacted."

Why did pension reform fail to happen?  Matt Brouillette shows how the "Big Government Party" that benefits from the status quo blocked reform.  In another recent piece, Priya Abraham describes how we can protect taxpayers from the Pension Tsunami.

The downgrade in our state borrowing only shows the urgency for pension reform now

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 01:39 PM | Comments

We're 39th! We're 39th!

JULY 16, 2013

CNBC just released its ranking of the top states for business in 2013.  In case you missed the subtle wording in this blog's title, Pennsylvania languishes near the bottom.

Pennsylvania turned in its worst performances in the categories of "Cost of Doing Business"and "Workforce" (44th each) and highest in "Technology & Innovation" and "Access to Capital" (5th each).

Why is Pennsylvania failing to compete, falling below even states like Illinois and New York that are hardly known for their economic growth?

You can look to this year's state budget to better understand why Pennsylvania isn't seen as an ideal destination for businesses.  While our poor ranking is hardly the result of one year's legislation, the burdens our government places on job creators were on full display. 

For the fourth time, the legislature delayed the phase-out of the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax, a double tax that discourages business investment and kills jobs. Desperate for revenue, lawmakers pushed back the phase-out of this tax—which was originally set to end in 2009—until 2016.

And what about the catchphrase "closing the Delaware Loophole?"  Instead of helping taxpayers or businesses, it merely gives the Department of Revenue more power and makes filing tax returns more complex.

Combine these unfriendly measures with the fact that Pennsylvania businesses pay the second highest tax rate on their profits in the entire industrialized world, and you start to wonder how Pennsylvania ranked as high as 39th.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  Pennsylvania is gifted with abundant natural resources, fearless entrepreneurs, and cutting-edge technologies. Lawmakers should work to cultivate the state's business environment by lowering the overall tax burden, ending the Capital Stock & Franchise double tax once and for all, and passing more business-friendly legislation such as Sen. Pileggi's and Rep. Bloom's successful effort to end the state's death tax on small businesses.

Until lawmakers recognize that it is businesses—not government—that create wealth, our rank will only drop further and we’ll continue to see Pennsylvania's job creators and job seekers head to friendlier states.

posted by DAWN TOGUCHI | 09:00 AM | Comments

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The Commonwealth Foundation is Pennsylvania's free-market think tank.  The Commonwealth Foundation transforms free-market ideas into public policies so all Pennsylvanians can flourish.