Economy




Recent Issues

How Does Pennsylvania's Tax Burden Compare?

AUGUST 25, 2016 | Policy Points

Pennsylvania’s tax structure should benefit all Pennsylvanians, not just some. Unfortunately, our state’s stifling tax burden harms residents. Each year, government spending grows, increasing the pressure for higher taxes. These taxes weigh heavily on the state’s economy and lead to slow job and income growth. Lower taxes are the key to a stronger economy.

My Journey to Commonwealth Foundation’s Board

JUNE 30, 2016 | Commentary by JANE LEADER JANECZEK

How did a registered Democrat and the daughter of former Democratic Governor George Leader find a place on Commonwealth Foundation’s Board? 

Pennsylvanians Flee from High Taxes

MAY 4, 2016 | Policy Memo by ELIZABETH STELLE

New census figures paint a sobering picture. In 2015 alone, Pennsylvania lost 41,600 residents to other states in net migration. This amounts to one person every 12.5 minutes, nearly the entire population of York. Residents in states with higher state and local tax burdens are more likely to want to move than those in lower-tax states. Below are real-life stories of Pennsylvanians on the move.





Recent Blog Posts

The Rust Belt's Labor Reform Wave

NOVEMBER 18, 2016

Lagging job growth, rising taxes and coercive union tactics created an appetite for labor reform throughout Rust Belt states.

Transforming Labor, our latest policy report, ranks states on their progress towards reforms that can produce budget savings, shield taxpayers from overspending, and guarantee greater protections of individual workers’ freedom of association.

The report also recounts recent reforms. Nowhere did labor reform make a bigger impact than Wisconsin.

Wisconsin’s Act 10 of 2011 made sweeping changes by limiting collective bargaining for public sector workers to base wages and requiring employees to contribute more toward their health and pension benefits. According to the MacIver Institute, state retirement savings alone amounted to $3.36 billion from 2011 to 2016, and Milwaukee Public Schools alone saved $1.3 billion in long-term pension liabilities. That’s a big win for taxpayers.

In 2012, Michigan, the historical home of unionization, passed a right-to-work law.

The Michigan Education Association (MEA) quickly moved to enforce its “maintenance of membership” or opt-out clause for public school teachers who wanted to leave the union: The teachers could do so only in August. Many teachers were unaware of the obscure union resignation window and missed the opening. With the help of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, frustrated educators filed an unfair labor practice charge asserting that the MEA’s opt-out window violated the state’s right-to-work protections against forced union association.

In September 2015, the Michigan Employment Relations Commission ruled in favor of the teachers (a decision later upheld by the Michigan Court of Appeals), forcing the MEA to change its rules and bylaws. Michigan teachers may now leave the union whenever they please, a major victory for educator freedom across the state.

This week the Detroit Free Press wrote:

Workers must be willing — even in the face of intimidation and fear — to withdraw their union membership and stop funding their union’s political prejudices. It is the only tool they have to protect themselves from the political bias of the people who claim to have their best interest at heart

The same discontent is now creating momentum for labor reform in Pennsylvania. This session, Governor Wolf signed contract transparency legislation, Pennsylvania finally outlawed stalking and harassment during labor disputes and paycheck protection cleared the state Senate.

Pennsylvania still has a long way to go. Transforming Labor gives Pennsylvania’s public sector labor laws a D. In comparison, Wisconsin earned an A, and Michigan a B.

Labor reform isn't just critical for economic resurgence, it has election consequences too.

Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania all turned out to be a critical factor in the presidential election. Politico noted organized labor’s historically low support for the Democrat nominee. The Fairness Center's Right on Labor blog documents the historic shift in voting patterns.

However, the gap between union leaders and their members shouldn't come as a surprise. Pennsylvania union households overwhelmingly favor reforms, like paycheck protection, that their leaders vehemently oppose.

The wave of union reform moving through the states shows taxpayers, union members and non-union members alike, understand worker freedom is a key ingredient to restoring prosperity.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 00:20 PM | Comments

A Dramatic Shift in Pennsylvania

NOVEMBER 9, 2016

From celebration to soul-searching, post-election analysis is everywhere.

While top-of-the-ballot results dominate headlines and your news feed, don’t miss the dramatic shift that occurred last night in Pennsylvania.

Republicans achieved historic majorities in both chambers. In the state House, Republicans will control 60 percent of the seats for the first time in 70 years. In the Senate, Republicans will field the largest majority of any party in 68 years. But that's only part of story.

For years, we’ve talked about the Taxpayer Party vs. the Big Government Party in Harrisburg. Partisan labels aside, the real question is whether a lawmaker represents taxpayers’ interests or toes the government union leaders’ line.

While the Taxpayer Party has grown over the years, it couldn’t always overcome the strength of the Big Government Party. We saw this last month. Pension reform legislation fell three votes short in the House.

Last night in Pennsylvania and around the nation, the Taxpayer Party saw significant gains in state legislatures. Election results in states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan showed the political benefit of taking on powerful government union interests to protect taxpayers from tax hikes and special political privileges.

It is no coincidence that over the past five years, Wisconsin and Michigan took bold steps to strengthen the Taxpayer Party, including limiting collective bargaining and passing right-to-reelect and right-to-work legislation.

Similarly, as the Taxpayer Party has grown in Pennsylvania, we’ve begun to see results. For example, Governor Wolf signed contract transparency legislation, and paycheck protection cleared the state Senate. These steps are critical to address rising government spending that's consistently driven by the Big Government party.

Yet, despite the gains of the Taxpayer Party in the General Assembly, divided government will continue in Harrisburg. That's an opportunity.

With an extremely tough budget on the horizon in 2017, the newly minted Legislature must work quickly to address the underlying problems that drive budget debates: surging pensions costs and a broken and expensive welfare system.

What’s more, the strengthened Taxpayer Party has an unprecedented chance to seize opportunities like expanding access to quality education choices and finally removing the state from the booze business.

This will require immense effort and continued vigilance. We’re excited to work towards implementing these ideas to build a stronger, more prosperous Pennsylvania

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE, DAWN TOGUCHI | 02:16 PM | 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



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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.

Will Lower Standards Help Pa. School Performance?

December 9

Pennsylvania’s primary tool for grading schools –the School Performance Profile (SPP)—is being overhauled. The current SPP is not particularly straightforward, but it’s based mainly on test scores and academic growth. At the direction of Gov. Tom Wolf, the revised SPP will become ...