Corporate Welfare




Pennsylvania Deficit Watch: December 2016

DECEMBER 2, 2016

Pennsylvania Deficit Watch

State revenue collections came in at $79.5 million below the official estimate for November, according to the Pennsylvania Deparment of Revenue. Lackluster collections wiped away the little progress made during October when revenue collections slightly exceeded expectations.

Overall, Pennsylvania collected approximately $2 billion last month, which was 3.8 percent less than anticipated. To date, revenue collections are $261.8 million below estimate.

In July, the legislature passed and Gov. Wolf signed a $1.3 billion revenue package, which includes $650 million in higher taxes, to help pay for a $1.6 billion increase in government spending. The revenue assumptions built into the billion dollar package are proving unrealistic.

The chart below shows revenue collections lagging official estimates in the first five months of the fiscal year.

Back in August, the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) released a report identifying major problems with the revenue projections lawmakers used to create the appearance of a balanced budget. To present a more accurate picture of Pennsylvania's finances, the IFO made the following adjustments:

  • The IFO deducts $95 million to pay for the expenses of the Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA) from sales tax revenue. The legislature moved this line-item out of the General Fund Budget and created a new fund via the fiscal code. Legislative leaders have expressed an interest in passing gambling expansion to generate $100 million to cover CFA spending, but no enabling legislation exists.
  • IFO assumes Act 39 (wine modernization) will raise $73 million in 2016-17. The legislature predicts an increase of $149 million—a $76 million difference.
  • IFO projections of tobacco tax revenue (includes taxes on cigarettes, e-cigarettes, loose & roll-your-own tobacco) are approximately $38 million less than the official projections.
  • $75 million from the Philadelphia casino is not included in the IFO’s official revenue estimate. They do not expect it will generate revenue for the current fiscal year.

In reality, the budget was unbalanced from the start, counting on $260 million in one-time revenue and transfers from other funds. It also includes a $200 million loan from the Pennsylvania Professional Liability Joint Underwriting Association.

Borrowing money to pay our bills is the very definition of unbalanced.

If current revenue trends continue, lawmakers and the governor will need to focus on reducing government spending to balance the budget. Ideas to consider include,

With seven months left in the fiscal year, revenue collections can improve. But lawmakers should start putting together a plan to balance the budget now in case revenues don't match expenditures come June. The last thing taxpayers need is another tax hike to cover last year's bills.

posted by BOB DICK | 08:07 AM | Comments

Pennsylvania Deficit Watch: November 2016

NOVEMBER 10, 2016

Pennsylvania Deficit Watch

Last month we raised concerns about Pennsylvania's fiscal trajectory. At the time, state revenue collections were more than $218 million below the official estimate. The current revenue picture is slightly better.

Pennsylvania collected approximately $2.2 billion last month, which was $36.1 million more than anticipated. Still, to date, revenue collections are $182.4 million below estimate.

In July, the legislature passed and Gov. Wolf signed a $1.3 billion revenue package, which includes $650 million in higher taxes, to help pay for a $1.6 billion increase in government spending. The revenue assumptions built into the billion dollar package are now proving unrealistic.

The chart below shows revenue collections lagging official estimates in the first third of the fiscal year.

Back in August, the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) released a report identifying major problems with the revenue projections lawmakers used to create the appearance of a balanced budget. To present a more accurate picture of Pennsylvania's finances, the IFO made the following adjustments:

  • The IFO deducts $95 million to pay for the expenses of the Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA) from sales tax revenue. The legislature moved this line-item out of the General Fund Budget and created a new fund via the fiscal code. Legislative leaders have expressed an interest in passing gambling expansion to generate $100 million to cover CFA spending, but no enabling legislation exists.
  • IFO assumes Act 39 (wine modernization) will raise $73 million in 2016-17. The legislature predicts an increase of $149 million—a $76 million difference.
  • IFO projections of tobacco tax revenue (includes taxes on cigarettes, e-cigarettes, loose & roll-your-own tobacco) are approximately $38 million less than the official projections.
  • $75 million from the Philadelphia casino is not included in the IFO’s official revenue estimate. They do not expect it will generate revenue for the current fiscal year.

In reality, the budget was unbalanced from the start, counting on $260 million in one-time revenue and transfers from other funds. It also includes a $200 million loan from the Pennsylvania Professional Liability Joint Underwriting Association.

Borrowing money to pay our bills is the very definition of unbalanced.

If current revenue trends continue, lawmakers and the governor will need to focus on reducing government spending to balance the budget. Ideas to consider include,

With two-thirds of the fiscal year remaining, revenue collections can improve. But lawmakers should start putting together a plan to balance the budget now in case there isn’t enough revenue to cover expenses come June. The last thing taxpayers need is another tax hike to cover last year's bills.

posted by BOB DICK | 11:12 AM | Comments

Can a Dwight Schrute Save Scranton?

NOVEMBER 8, 2016

Dwight K. Schrute is an employee at Dunder Mifflin—a fictional Scranton paper company featured in NBC’s The Office. And he just may be the key to overcoming the city’s very real economic decline.

But before offering a way forward for Scranton, it’s important to understand why the city is struggling. A new paper from the Mercatus Center does an excellent job detailing the source of Scranton’s troubles.

The authors—Adam Millsap and Eileen Norcross—identify Scranton’s inability to adapt to changing economic conditions as one of the main reasons for the city’s economic and fiscal problems.

They specifically cite economist Ed Glaeser who wrote, “In the coal towns of central Pennsylvania, exodus, not innovation, was a more common response.” Glaeser's rhetoric matches reality. In 1930, the city’s population was 143,433. In 2014, it was just 75,281.

Regrettably, government policies only made things worse. Spending and taxes rose—forcing fewer taxpayers to pay for bloated budgets driven by public sector benefits. Millsap and Norcross cite the inflexibility of Pennsylvania’s collective bargaining process as the main culprit:

Act 111 is intended to give police and firefighters’ unions binding arbitration in exchange for a prohibition against striking. [26] However, the law evolved to “give uniformed employees the upper hand when it comes to collective bargaining.” [27] When negotiations between the city and unions break down, an arbitration panel of three people is selected. Municipalities are required to pay the full cost of arbitration, regardless of ability to pay. Arbitration sessions are not open to the public. The municipality has limited ability to appeal the panel’s decisions.

The chart below illustrates spending growth for police and fire services—a product of the state’s broken collective bargaining process.

Officials have tried to improve Scranton’s finances with a combination of tax increases, cost cutting, and asset sales but costs, thanks to pensions, continue to soar. They’ve also utilized government-subsidized development projects to boost economic growth but to no avail. Government-centric solutions simply aren't working.

To truly turn Scranton around, dramatic changes to state and local policies are necessary. At the local level, Millsap and Norcross recommend improving the city’s business climate by reducing the overall tax burden. Controlling spending is critical too. Officials can do this by privatizing government functionsthe city's parking authority is one possible option, according to the report.

At the state level, officials must reform the collective bargaining process to help distressed cities get control of their budgets. As it stands now, collective bargaining law imposes costs on cities without taking into account their ability to pay. By giving local officials more autonomy to negotiate with unions, they can better protect local taxpayers.

Back to Dwight Schrute. If you know the character, he has a reputation for being entrepreneurial and hardworking (also, a little quirky). If distressed places like Scranton and Uniontown are going to experience a revitalization, that's exactly the kind of people they'll need to attract. 

Ultimately, government can only lay the foundation for an economic turnaround. But if that foundation is strong, innovative, educated, and hardworking people can and will build upon it.

posted by BOB DICK | 09:45 AM | Comments

Pennsylvania Deficit Watch: October 2016

OCTOBER 7, 2016

Pennsylvania Deficit Watch

Pennsylvania’s state budget is three months old and showing signs of a major budget deficit.

Actual revenue collections are already behind $218.5 million through the first quarter, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue. In July, the legislature passed and Gov. Wolf signed a $1.3 billion revenue package, which includes $650 million in higher taxes, to help pay for a $1.6 billion increase in government spending.

The revenue assumptions built into the billion dollar package are now proving optimistic. The chart below shows revenue collections lagging official estimates in each of the first three months.

 

In August, the Independent Fiscal Office identified problems with certain revenue projections used to balance the budget—at least on paper. Here are their major assumptions:

  • The IFO deducts $95 million to pay for the expenses of the Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA) from sales tax revenue. The legislature moved this line-item out of the General Fund Budget and created a new fund via the fiscal code. Legislative leaders have expressed an interest in passing gambling expansion to generate $100 million to cover CFA spending, but no enabling legislation exists. 
  • IFO assumes Act 39 (wine modernization) will raise $73 million in 2016-17. The legislature predicts an increase of $149 million—a $76 million difference.
  • IFO projections of tobacco tax revenue (includes taxes on cigarettes, e-cigarettes, loose & roll-your-own tobacco) are approximately $38 million less than the official projections.
  • $75 million from the Philadelphia casino is not included in the IFO’s official revenue estimate. They do not expect it will generate revenue for the current fiscal year. 

Moreover, the budget was unbalanced from the start. The budget counts on $260 million in one-time revenue and transfers from other funds, and a $200 million loan from the Pennsylvania Professional Liability Joint Underwriting Association.

Borrowing money to pay our bills is the very definition of unbalanced.

If current revenue trends continue, lawmakers and the governor will need to focus on reducing government spending to balance the budget. Such as,

As the fiscal year progresses, and more revenue collections are announced, we will continue to update our Deficit Watch.

posted by BOB DICK | 04:39 PM | Comments

How to Fix the Vape Tax

SEPTEMBER 19, 2016

The House will return to session later today, with the Senate to follow early next week. The two chambers are in session for a total of nine days. This gives lawmakers a limited amount of time to address Pennsylvanians' priorities. 

The repeal of the 40 percent vape tax is one such priority. The tax is scheduled to go into effect on October 1, but it has already inflicted immense harm on the business owners, employees, and customers in the vaping community. Approximately 50 shops have shut their doors, according to industry experts. More closures are inevitable if lawmakers fail to repeal this punishing tax.

The 40 percent tax is levied on products purchased and on shop owners’ existing inventory. If a shop holds $100,000 in inventory, the owner would be required to cut the state a check for $40,000. Is this a reasonable demand?

The answer is no. And that's why entrepreneurs like Dori Odosso and Amy Crivella are speaking out. It's why Scottie Freeman had to close down his business, and why Chris Hughes is planning to do the same. These people—and countless others—have been adversely affected by Gov. Wolf’s insistence on raising taxes.

Fortunately, lawmakers have introduced varying pieces of legislation to prevent further harm. Here are the legislative options offered thus far:

  • HB 2339, which is sponsored by Rep. Joseph Petrarca, repeals the tax outright.
  • HB 2342, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Wheeland, repeals the excise tax and replaces it with a 5 cent-per-milliliter tax. Sen. Camera Bartolotta has announced her intention to introduce similar legislation in the Senate.
  • Sen. Thomas Killion has introduced SB 1362, which would delay the payment of the tax from 90 days after it takes effect to 180 days.

Complete repeal is preferable and practical. The tax itself is estimated to bring in just $13 million—a relatively small sum in the context of a $79 billion budget. Lawmakers could replace this revenue by cutting less than 2 percent of the current budget's $800 million in corporate welfare spending.

If lawmakers won't support spending reductions, creating an alternative tax structure that keeps vape shops open is the next best option. This solution was the subject of our Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed published just this morning. The issue is clearing gaining momentum. Now is the time to act.

Vape shop owners and their customers deserve a government than protects their right to do business—not one that tramples on it.

posted by BOB DICK | 05:08 PM | Comments

Government Favoritism Hurts Honest Businesses

AUGUST 2, 2016

Buried in a little debated 267-page tax code bill is a provision emblematic of Pennsylvania’s corporate welfare culture.

The provision directs hotel tax revenue generated inside a Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) to hotel owners and developers. The revenue can be used to pay for hotel renovations or to finance entirely new hotels.

The hotel tax normally funds tourism promotion and economic development for the Lehigh Valley. But now, rather than using the revenue to promote the Lehigh Valley, it will be used to subsidize a small group of private enterprises.

“This is blatantly unfair competition,” said Bruce Haines, who is a managing partner of the Hotel Bethlehem, which competes directly with hotels inside the NIZ. “We worked hard to get where we are. We put our own capital on the line. We did it the old-fashioned way.”

The new rule governing the NIZ will make it harder for entrepreneurs like Bruce to compete. Businesses inside the NIZ already had access to tax dollars before the change. Now they’ll have an even larger pool of tax dollars to use for new projects.

This raises an obvious question: Are the subsidies necessary? Research and experience both say no.

According to scholars from the Cato Institute and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, NIZ-type programs generally don’t create new wealth; they just shift its location. These findings are consistent with Bruce’s experience: “The NIZ isn’t really creating new businesses. They’re just moving from the surrounding areas into the NIZ. The market works for hotels. It doesn’t need subsidies.” 

Bruce understands that competition is a necessary part of any free market. “If more businesses open in the Lehigh Valley without subsidies, that’s okay because it’s fair. But I should not have to lose potential customers because of crony capitalism. Philosophically, that bothers me.”

Handing out tax dollars to businesses, carving out special exemptions, or creating new rules benefiting a select few dampens economic growth. To promote broad-based prosperity, government must refrain from tilting the playing-field in favor of any business.

posted by BOB DICK | 04:28 PM | Comments

Pennsylvania’s Prime Subsidies to Amazon

JULY 26, 2016

Corporate welfare projects and celebratory press releases go together like peanut butter and jelly. For the most recent example in Pennsylvania, see the latest from the governor’s communications office:

Governor Tom Wolf announced today that Amazon will expand its presence in Pennsylvania and has committed to the creation of at least 5,000 new, full-time jobs statewide.

Wait for the kicker:

The company received a funding proposal from the Department of Community and Economic Development that includes a $5 million Pennsylvania First Program grant, $15 million in Job Creation Tax Credits to be distributed upon creation of the new jobs, and $2.25 million in WEDnetPA funding for employee training.

These stories, sadly, are commonplace in the commonwealth—the nation’s leader in corporate welfare. Rather than leveling the playing field for all businesses, Pennsylvania government picks winners and losers with a hodge-podge of grants, loans, and tax credits—often only available to well-connected firms with influential lobbyists.

Sure, 5,000 (promised) jobs will be terrific for Pennsylvanians lucky enough to land one. But what about the entrepreneurs competing with Amazon who won’t benefit from taxpayer-funded perks? Don’t hold your breath waiting for a follow-up press release. 

See this CF Policy Brief for more on the costs of corporate welfare.

Relatedly, Amazon’s founder and CEO Jeff Bezos net worth was recently pegged at $65 billion. Whether they like it or not, Pennsylvania taxpayers are helping Bezos climb higher on the list of the richest people on Earth.

Bill Gates better not get comfortable at the top.

posted by JAMES PAUL | 03:09 PM | Comments

What's in the Senate Budget?

JUNE 29, 2016

Earlier today the state Senate passed an amended version of a House budget proposal, which included the largest spending increase in a decade. The House must now agree to the Senate's changes before sending it to the governor.

So, what's in the new budget proposal? More spending.

The Senate added $74 million in new spending to the House's proposal. But the spending increase appears smaller because $95 million from the "Transfer to the Commonwealth Financing Authority" line item was shifted off the General Fund Budget. The Senate budget reduces that line item to $0, but taxpayers are still required to foot the bill for the payments, even if it comes out of a different pot of money.

Counting that expenditure, the Senate budget is $31.63 billion—$1.6 billion (5.3 percent) more than last year's enacted budget.

The biggest Senate increases were in the areas of higher education. They also added $9 million in DCED programs—that is, corporate welfare programs and "walking around money" (WAMs) used for local projects in their districts.

The table below summarizes the differences between the two budgets. One last point: The legislature has still not agreed to a plan to balance the budget. So we will continue to monitor what revenue sources will be used to pay for the additional spending.

Department House Senate Difference Notes
Executive Offices $182,918 $184,068 $1,150 Increases to Human Relations Commission and Law Enforcement Activities
Treasury $1,163,015 $1,163,265 $250 Increase to General Government Operations
Agriculture $140,527 $143,658 $3,131 Increases to multiple programs, shows
Community and Economic Development $231,851 $240,847 $8,996 Includes Commonwealth Financing Authority funding moved offline; Major Increases in Marketing to Attract Tourists and Keystone Communities
Conservation and Natural Resources $106,336 $106,961 $625 Increase to Heritage and Other Parks
Drug and Alcohol Programs $52,354 $47,604 -$4,750 Elimination of Emergency Addiction Treatment
Education $11,770,661 $11,781,340 $10,679 Increases to Job Training Programs and Community Colleges
Penn State $244,400 $250,510 $6,110  
Pitt $143,193 $146,773 $3,580  
Temple $146,913 $150,586 $3,673  
Lincoln $14,084 $14,436 $352  
State System of Higher Education $433,389 $444,224 $10,835  
Thaddeus Stevens College $12,949 $13,273 $324  
PHEAA $313,554 $321,289 $7,735 Increases to four programs
Environmental Protection $147,808 $148,356 $548 Increases for Environment Program Management and Chesapeake Bay Commission
General Services $114,886 $119,390 $4,504 Increase for Capitol Fire Protection
Health $214,218 $215,493 $1,275 Increases for General Government Operations and Bio-Technology research
Human Services $11,968,156 $11,982,401 $14,245 Increases in 11 programs
Judiciary $354,503 $355,503 $1,000 Increases in all courts, reduction in Reimbursement of County Costs
Government Support Agencies $51,665 $51,765 $100 Increase in Center for Rural Pennsylvania
General Fund Total $31,554,717 $31,629,079 $74,362 Includes Commonwealth Financing Authority funding moved offline; The state must make this payment, even if it comes from another fund. It does not represent a reduction in spending.

 

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 09:49 PM | Comments

Corporate Welfare: The New Budget Hostage

JUNE 10, 2016

Gov. Wolf is withholding approval of corporate welfare projects until lawmakers agree to advance his legislative agenda.

According to a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review story, administration aides told Senate Republicans no economic development grants would be approved until lawmakers present Gov. Wolf with an acceptable budget.

The governor can offer this ultimatum because he must approve Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grants. RACP uses borrowed funds—with interest covered by taxpayers—to finance economic development projects.

The economic impact of RACP is questionable at best. Generally, states spending the most on economic development, AKA corporate welfare, see their economies grow at a slower rate than states spending the least.

Corporate welfare’s ineffectiveness is not the only strike against it. It also concentrates power in Harrisburg. The Tribune-Review story perfectly encapsulates why this is a problem. No one person should have the power to pressure legislators into voting for higher taxes by withholding approval of local projects. 

Pennsylvania must move away from a system that relies—at least in part—on politics to drive economic decision-making. Two pieces of legislation awaiting action in the Senate, HB 928 and HB 930, move Pennsylvania in the right direction. The bills impose debt and spending limits on RACP and Public Improvement Projects.

Reducing government debt and restraining its ability to grant corporate handouts is the moral and practical way to grow our economy.

posted by BOB DICK | 01:21 PM | Comments

Shell Cracker Plant Proves Taxes Matter to Job Creators

JUNE 8, 2016

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.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD, ELIZABETH STELLE | 04:10 PM | Comments

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