Saturday, November 30, 2013

The High Cost of Low Prices

  • The low wages from just one Walmart store can cost local taxpayers as much as $1.7 million annually. Each under-paid worker could use nearly $6,000 in public benefits to supplement their income.
  • Walmart competitor Costco pays its employees approximately 2.5 times the wages that Walmart pays and still manages to see rising profits. Companies that pay their workers well also see lower employee turnover: Trader Joe's experiences less than 10% turnover among its full-time employees.
  • The minimum wage is currently set at $7.25 per hour. It has been at that rate since July 24, 2009.
  • In real terms, the minimum wage has actually declined over the past 45 years. People earning the minimum wage in 1968 were essentially earning $10.77 in today’s dollars.
  • The American workforce has become increasingly productive since the 1960s. Had the minimum wage kept pace with those productivity gains, the minimum wage would be approximately $22 per hour.
  • Congress failed to raise the minimum wage for nearly a decade -- from 1997 to 2007. In the past sixteen years, Congress only approved three increases to the minimum wage.
  • The vast majority of Americans – 76% - support an increase in the federal minimum wage.
  • Corporate profits are at an all-time high as a share of the economy, even as the share of those profits that go to workers is at an all-time low.
  • If the big box retailers brought up their wage floor for their lowest-paid workers to just $25,000 per year, putting money in these families' pockets would generate more than 100,000 new jobs and add up to $15 billion of new income to the economy.
  • Walmart spent $7.6 billion in 2012 buying back shares of stock. Had the company directed those funds to workers, they would have each seen a raise of $5.83/hour.
  • The net worth of six heirs to the Walmart empire is estimated at nearly $150 billion. Those six people own more than 42% of American families combined.
From our friends at Message Matters

Who Fills Post-Thanksgiving Plates in Pennsylvania?

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

PITTSBURGH – Now that the Thanksgiving spread has been cleared in homes and soup kitchens around the state, what's next for Pennsylvanians who face food insecurity on a daily basis? 

The concern now runs deeper in the wake of this month's reductions in food stamp or SNAP benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Ken Regal is executive director of Just Harvest, a group dedicated to fighting hunger in and around Pittsburgh.

"It's easy for us to be mindful about our neighbors' lack of food at the holidays,” he says. “But these cuts are going to be true in December, in January, in February, in March, and on and on."

Regal notes it's a critical time for SNAP. The Congressional Conference Committee is weighing relatively modest cuts to food stamps in the Senate version of the Farm Bill, against unprecedented cuts being proposed in the House.

Benefits amounts were cut because a temporary increase enacted during the recession expired.

Regal says many Pennsylvanians who suffered most in that time period still haven't recovered – and now, that additional benefit amount they've relied on has disappeared.

"It's cold comfort to somebody who might have just started receiving food stamps in July, to tell them, 'Oh, this isn't really a cut, it's just an expiration of an increase in benefits from 2009,'" he points out.

Regal says the SNAP reductions that kicked in Nov. 1 are costing a family of four in Pennsylvania roughly $36 less a month in benefits.

The USDA estimates that's enough to feed one of those family members for about a week.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Study Finds Jobs Impact of Shale Drilling Exaggerated by Industry Supporters


Multi-State Shale Research CollaborativeNatural gas drilling in the six states that span the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations has produced far fewer new jobs than the industry and its supporters claim and remains a small share of overall employment.
That is the core finding of a new study from the Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative, a group of research organizations in five states, including the Keystone Research Center and Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.
The report injects a much needed dose of reality into the public discourse about shale drilling and job creation. Here are a few of the key findings:
  • While shale-related employment has made a positive contribution to job growth, the number of jobs created is far below industry claims and remains a small share of overall employment in the region.
    • Between 2005 and 2012, less than four new direct shale-related jobs have been created for each new well drilled, much less than estimates as high as 31 direct jobs per well in some industry-financed studies.
    • Region-wide, shale-related employment accounts for just one out of every 794 jobs. By contrast, education and health sectors account for one out of every six jobs.
  • Many of the core extraction jobs existed before the emergence of hydrofracking.
    • Together, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia had 38 percent of all producing wells in the country in 1990 and 32 percent in 2000.
    • Some counties with a long history of mineral extraction have experienced a shift in employment from coal to shale extraction.
  • Industry employment projections have been overstated.
    • Some industry supporters have equated “new hires” with “new jobs” and attributed ancillary job figures to shale drilling even when they have nothing to do with drilling.
    • Industry-funded studies have used questionable assumption in economic modeling to inflate the number of jobs created in related supply chain industries (indirect jobs) as well as those created by the spending of income earned from the industry or its suppliers (induced jobs).
  • Drilling is highly sensitive to price fluctuations, which means that job gains may not be lasting.
    • In some counties, employment gains have been reversed as drilling activity shifted to more lucrative oil shale fields in Ohio and North Dakota.
    • Direct shale-related employment across the six-state Marcellus/Utica region fell over the last 12 months for which there are data — the first quarter 2012 to the first quarter 2013.
Read the Full Report
Read a Press Release on the Report
The Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative brings together independent, nonpartisan research and policy organizations in New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia to monitor employment trends and the community impacts of energy extraction in the Marcellus and Utica Shale, Learn more athttp://www.multistateshale.org..

The Keystone Research Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization that promotes a more prosperous and equitable Pennsylvania economy. The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center is a non-partisan policy research project that provides independent, credible analysis on state tax, budget and related policy matters, with attention to the impact of current or proposed policies on working families

Education and Jobs Take Center Stage at PA Gov Forum

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

PHILADELPHIA - Five Democrats vying to become the next governor of Pennsylvania talked education and job creation at a forum in Philadelphia over the weekend, an event that was put together by several unions and activist groups. 

According to Gabe Morgan, Pennsylvania state director of 32BJ SEIU, the tenure of incumbent Republican Governor Tom Corbett has dealt a huge blow to Pennsylvania's working class.

"If working families in this state are going to be able to move ahead, and if we're going to be able to save our education system, it's really important that whoever is running for governor, and whoever is going to be the next governor, really focus on those issues," the union leader declared.

The forum included candidates Kathleen McGinty, Rob McCord, Tom Wolf, Allyson Schwartz and John Hanger.

McCord, Pennsylvania's state treasurer, said the next governor needs to rebuild an education system that's been dismantled by the incumbent.

"It starts with reversing that billion-dollar theft of the K-12, in-classroom funding, and it continues with having a funding formula that takes into account little things like English as a second language and poverty rates and the lack of ability to charge property taxes," McCord declared.

McGinty, a former head of the state Department of Environmental Protection, told the crowd that Corbett's promise of job creation has fallen short because of misguided theories on economics.

"If we want the economy to grow, we've got to put money in people's pockets," she said. "If we want people to be able to afford to go to a job and pay for the transportation and the child care and the clothes and everything else that comes with going to your job, you have to have a living wage."

The first debate to include all of the candidates for governor is scheduled for February 28, in Harrisburg at the Pennsylvania Progressive Summit, www.paprogressivesummit.org.

Friday, November 22, 2013

ProgressNow Names new Executive Director

Keystone Progress, the PA Affiliate of ProgressNow, welcomes Arshad Hasan

WASHINGTON, D.C. – ProgressNow, a national grassroots communications organization with affiliates in 22 states, announced this week that they have named Arshad Hasan as their new Executive Director.  Hasan was previously the Executive Director of Democracy for America.  During his time at DFA, he developed and directed the DFA’s grassroots training programs, DFA Campaign Academy and DFA Night School before being elevated to the role of Executive Director. Prior to DFA, Arshad worked with a variety of PACs and non-profits on legislative issue campaigns, corporate accountability campaigns, grassroots fundraising and electoral campaigns.  

While Hasan was Executive Director of DFA, the organization doubled membership from 500k to 1M, grew the budget from $1.7M to $4.5M, and specialized in upset electoral victories with early backing of successful candidates like Reps Alan Grayson, Donna Edwards and Jerry McNerney.

Former Vermont Governor and founder of DFA Howard Dean said, “Having seen how passionately Arshad has been building grassroots groups in state after state, I know that his combination of ambition, enthusiasm, strategic thinking and experience will be the perfect fit for his new role as Executive Director for ProgressNow. "

Hasan takes over as executive director for Denise Cardinal, who is stepping down after spending the last six years in the ProgressNow network.  From 2007 to 2010, Cardinal was the Executive Director of ProgressNow’s Minnesota affiliate, Alliance for a Better Minnesota.  She then took over as Executive Director of ProgressNow. 

"I can think of no one better than Arshad to head the ProgressNow family of organizations," Cardinal said. "He knows firsthand the important role our network plays in fighting state-level battles against corporate interests trying to game the system and extremist right wing legislation that takes away our rights. He's a team player and will work closely with our state and national allies as we continue this vital work."

“Arshad is a dynamo. Whether leading DFA as executive director or dropping everything for a week to go canvassing on a ballot initiative at a crucial moment, he brings a passion and commitment to state issues that is all too rare in a national leader,” said Becky Bond, Vice President and Political Director for Credo Action. “Arshad is a joy to work with and we look forward to seeing him honor Denise Cardinal's wonderful work by continuing to build the ProgressNow network and give activists in the states an even stronger launch pad for campaigns that can win real progessive change.”

The ProgressNow network, which has grown to 22 states in 2013, promotes progressive ideas and causes via creative earned media strategies, targeted email campaigns and cutting-edge new media. 

“In my time at DFA I've come to learn that the key to organizational success isn't simply to do more, it is an organization knowing what it excels at, and doing it even better – identify a niche, double down on strengths, and grow deeper before growing wider,” Hasan said.  “ProgressNow is unafraid to pick a smart fight and is tenacious in its determination to win that fight. This is what attracts me to the organization. I'm excited to add my talent, experience, and skills to the already-existing pool of talented progressive practitioners in the ProgressNow network.”

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Keystone Progress demands documents about Gov. Corbett’s Philadelphia schools fiscal crisis

Keystone Progress demands documents about Gov. Corbett’s Philadelphia schools fiscal crisis
(HARRISBURG, PA)—Keystone Progress today filed Right to Know Law requests seeking information from the office of Governor Tom Corbett and the state-run School Reform Commission regarding funding for Philadelphia’s schools.

The request seeks communication between state officials and outside organizations, including the Philadelphia School Partnership and PennCAN.

“We believe the crisis in the Philadelphia public schools was created at the state level,” said Michael Morrill, executive director of Keystone Progress.  “Gov. Corbett and his team have mismanaged education funding and cut funding from the Commonwealth.  This request for correspondence should reveal who made these decisions and who influenced Corbett to cause this crisis.”

Under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law, the Governor and the Department of Education have five business days to respond.


Keystone Progress is Pennsylvania’s largest online progressive organization, with over 250,000 subscribers.  KP uses traditional field organizing, the internet and new media to organize at the state and local level; and utilizes cutting-edge earned media strategies to promote a progressive agenda and counter right-wing misinformation.  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Poll: More PA Kids have Health Coverage than People Think

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

HARRISBURG, Pa. - A perception about health insurance for children in Pennsylvania is that things are worse than they actually are.

A poll done for the Georgetown Center for Children and Families shows most people assume that more kids are uninsured and live in poverty since the recession. However, Joan Benso, director and chief executive of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, said only one in 20 children in the state isn't covered by health insurance.

Pennsylvania helped lead the nation, Benso said, by forming its own Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in 1992, five years before the federal government followed suit.

"When the federal law passed in 1997," she said, "we had over 45,000 kids on a waiting list in Pennsylvania that, as soon as we had a federal partnership, we could open the door and let in. And today, we serve over 180,000 children in the CHIP program, and more than a million in Medicaid."

Pennsylvania's number of uninsured children dropped by another 5,000 between 2010 and 2012. However, the state remains a holdout in terms of Medicaid expansion. Gov. Tom Corbett is asking the Obama administration to let the state use federal Medicaid expansion dollars to pay the premiums for newly eligible adults to get private insurance in the new health insurance marketplace.

Benso said Medicaid expansion would help more Pennsylvania families gain health insurance coverage.

"Families use coverage more effectively," she said. "They're more likely to have those routine visits. They're more likely to have an ongoing relationship with a health care provider, if the whole family is insured."

Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown Center, said outreach and efficiency go a long way in places where children's health insurance programs are working best.

"States that have done a really good job of streamlining their program, reducing the red tape, making families feel welcome - and have covered their parents - are going to have much lower rates of uninsured kids," she said.

The report and poll are online at ccf.georgetown.edu.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Group Calls PA Charter School Bill "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing"

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA 

HARRISBURG, Pa. - A wolf in sheep's clothing: That's how a Pennsylvania public education advocacy group describes a bill in the state legislature that would change the way charter schools are authorized to operate. 

According to Susan Gobreski, executive director of Education Voters of Pennsylvania, her biggest concern revolves around Senate Bill 1085, allowing an institution of higher learning to authorize charter schools.

"Private authorizers would actually take the power from school boards away and give it to entities that aren't part of the community or aren't accountable to the community, and yet it would still send them the bill," she warned.

Gobreski does say there can be a place for charter schools if the education formula as a whole is better thought out.

"The issue is whether or not we have a good system," she said, adding that that means, "Whether or not our state funding system is set up so that charter schools and traditional community schools are able to coexist without taking funding from one set of children to give it to another."

Gobreski said S.B. 1085 doesn't address what it is that needs to be changed most about the way charter schools in Pennsylvania operate currently, and that is "making sure that they are accountable, making sure that what's happening in charter schools is transparent, making sure that communities can plan and that communities have a say in the role that charter schools play in their communities."

Backers of S.B. 1085 say it places greater emphasis on charter-school performance and increases accountability for charter school authorizers. Gobreski however said the legislation also removes enrollment caps, which means communities lose more control over how those institutions function within their community and allows uncontrolled expansion of charter schools.

See the bill in full at bit.ly/I01i9B.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Pennsylvania "Stink Tanks"

KP report on PA Think Tanks gets national love, ignored by PA media

Last week Keystone Progress(KP)  released an exposé on the relationship of PA’s think tanks to its corporate and billionaire funders, and how they are part of a well-funded propaganda network.

 “The Commonwealth Foundation and the Allegheny Institute: Think tanks or corporate lobbyist propaganda mills?” (http://tinyurl.com/CommFound) received little attention by mainstream media in Pennsylvania.  However, the KP report and the corresponding national report received widespread coverage in national media.  The report was picked up by Politico, Huffington Post, Salon, The New Yorker, The Guardian, and dozens of other publications.

“This is an important report that exposes how corporations and powerful billionaires are determining our political future in Pennsylvania,” said Michael Morrill, executive director of Keystone Progress. “It is unfortunate that too many of Pennsylvania’s media corporations choose to protect this arrangement by not reporting on these relationships.”

The Keystone Progress and the Center for Media and Democracy report exposes how two nominally independent tanks—the Commonwealth Foundation and the Allegheny Institute—are taking their cues from right wing funders, the Republican Party and the agenda established by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The report exposes the relationship of far-right State Policy Network (SPN) to both groups.  SPN is a web of conservative state-based think tanks across the United States. In addition to its state think tank affiliates, many other national right-wing organizations are associate members of SPN, including the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Cato Institute, the Franklin Center, the Heritage Foundation, the Heartland Institute, and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

SPN and many of its affiliates are some of the most active members and largest sponsors of ALEC, where special interest groups and state politicians vote behind closed doors on “model” legislation to change Americans’ rights, through ALEC’s task forces.  SPN has close ties to, and works with, other national right-wing organizations like the Franklin Center and David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity.

The report shows how these organizations take advantage of tax laws to push an extreme right-wing agenda that aims to privatize education, block healthcare reform, restrict workers’ rights, roll back environmental protections, and create a tax system that benefits primarily those at the very top level of income. (See the full report here: http://tinyurl.com/CommFound)

The Keystone Progress report is one of twelve new reports released today exposing the State Policy Network (SPN), an $83 million web of right-wing “think tanks” in every state across the country. Although SPN’s member organizations claim to be nonpartisan and independent, an in-depth investigation reveals that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-backed corporate agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders. The reports reveal some members abusing tax laws and masquerading as “think tanks” while really orchestrating extensive lobbying and political operations to peddle their legislative agenda to state legislators, all while reporting little or no lobbying activities.

Some of the highlights of the report:

 While nominally nonpartisan, nonprofit organizations established to do research, both organizations appear to be taking their cues from right wing funders, the Republican Party and the agenda established by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

·         Both organizations rely heavily on right-wing billionaires for the bulk of their funding.

·         Both organizations are registered with the IRS as 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable organizations, but both advocate openly for legislative changes, acting more like 501(c)(4) advocacy groups.

·         Despite their legislative advocacy, neither organization has registered as a lobbying organization with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and no staff, board members or other agents have filed any lobbying expense reports with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

"The bottom line is these organizations of the rich, by the rich and for the rich are representing themselves as groups that are looking out for the best interests of everyday, working class Americans and it's just a blatant lie,” said a statement from the Center for Media and Democracy.  “What we're doing is trying bring some transparency to the damaging work they're doing on a daily basis.  From policies that promote polluting the air and water to the destruction of our public education system and a tax system that benefits their rich donors, what these organizations are doing is shameful and it's time that someone brought this to light."

The full report is available here: http://tinyurl.com/CommFound

To view similar reports from other states, go to www.stinktanks.org

Zero Tolerance in PA Leaves Many on the Outside Looking In

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA
HARRISBURG, Pa. - What began as a way to handle safety issues in schools is now being applied to many other forms of school discipline problems, and a new report shows, that in Pennsylvania, it's leaving many pupils on the outside looking in.

According to Harold Jordan of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, author of the study titled, "Beyond Zero Tolerance: Discipline and Policing in Pennsylvania Public Schools," so-called zero tolerance is now being used against a wide range of behaviors, from dress code violations to talking back. He said black students take the hardest hit, but they're not alone.

"They make up just under 14 percent of Pennsylvania public school students, but about half of the out-of-school suspensions. Students with disabilities are twice as likely to receive out-of-school suspension as students that are not classified as students with disability."

Jordan said the report shows that removing kids from the classroom comes at a high price, for both the pupils and the school.

"They tend to become disengaged from school, even when they return to school, or they tend to drop out more than other students," he warned. "And, it's pretty clear that those schools don't necessarily become more peaceful places, and less violent places, just because you're suspending a lot of kids."

Jordan said reviewing the effects of zero-tolerance policies, including situations in which they lead to pupil interaction with police, is a key to finding better alternatives.

"You need to address on the policy level, you need to give good guidance to principals, and you need to support other ways of resolving the problems that are strictly discipline problems but don't pose a physical threat of violence to the school community," Jordan said.

He said the study reveals one out of every ten Latino students in Pennsylvania was suspended at least once in the 2011-2012 academic year.

Jordan declared that the goal of the report is not to point fingers, but to start a dialogue about the best ways to promote a safe and healthy climate in schools.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Wearing Your Smartphone - Not Too Smart?

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

 HARRISBURG, Pa. – Wearable phones and computers are on loads of shopping lists as the holiday season approaches, but scientists are warning that research indicates the devices present likely health risks. 

Of particular concern is cell phone radiation.

Dr. Hugh Taylor, chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Yale School of Medicine, exposed pregnant mice to close-up cell phone signals and observed the offspring behaving like children with attention deficit disorder.

"I think all these radiation emitting technologies deserve a proper evaluation that includes not only exposure to adults, but what happens to the fetus, the most vulnerable stage of life," he says.

Many scientists question the accuracy of industry-funded research. They say money for government and foundation-funded research is scarce. And, they say, when they report on the evidence of risk, the mainstream media – like those lab mice – have a short attention span.

Martin Blank, a DNA expert at Columbia University, says the current research is more than enough to prompt action.

"When you get a situation when a problem arises, you invoke what's known as the precautionary principle,” he explains. “You take a certain amount of precaution as a result of a risk that has been identified."

David Gultekin, a research physicist at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, showed that cell phone radiation creates hot spots in human brains. He maintains that wearable gadgets are brought to the marketplace with little concern for safety.

"When they're designing and developing a new product and introducing it, very rarely the health aspect of it is mentioned, or not mentioned at all," he says.

The recommendations are to keep cell phones and other devices away from sensitive body parts, and especially, pregnant women are cautioned not to hold cell phones near their abdomens, or in handbags carried near their bodies.

Keystone Progress Executive Director Michael Morrill talks about "Stink Tanks" on The Union Edge radio show



Thursday, November 14, 2013

Report Raises Concerns, Offers Solutions for PA Big-Game Populations

by Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA
HARRISBURG, PA - The deer and bears that call Pennsylvania home are finding themselves under attack, not by predators, but by a changing climate that's putting their well-being at risk. The problem is covered in detail in a new National Wildlife Federation report titled, "Nowhere to Run: Big Game Wildlife in a Warming World."

According to NWF Senior Scientist Doug Inkley, heat waves, drought, floods and other extreme weather are starting to chip away at gains made in protecting species such as white-tailed deer in Pennsylvania, which affects not only the animals but sportsmen in the state.

"Pennsylvania has some 750,000 big-game hunters, and the number of big-game watchers in Pennsylvania is 1.6 million," he pointed out. "So there's a lot of interest for this in Pennsylvania."

Big game in Pennsylvania has benefited from the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, which was passed in 1938 and raises revenue for conservation and hunter education through a tax on hunting equipment.

"Some $300 million has come to the state of Pennsylvania for wildlife conservation purposes," the NWF scientist said. "Now, this success story is being put at risk by climate change."

Inkley said the scope of the problem isn't lost on those who seek out big game in Pennsylvania, as an NWF survey conducted last year found out.

"Sixty-nine percent of sportsmen agree that the United States needs to reduce its carbon emissions that is threatening fish and wildlife habitat, and fish and wildlife directly themselves."

Inkley said the good news is that solutions to the problem could be found by cutting carbon pollution in half by 2030 and taking advantage of cleaner sources of energy. Other measures include promoting climate-smart approaches to conservation and factoring climate change into big-game plans and management.

The report is at NWF.org..

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Use Mix of Cash and Debt Financing to Fund PA Transportation Projects


Capital stock and franchise tax could pay debt service, PBPC Director Sharon Ward testifies

HARRISBURG, PA  — Pennsylvania could significantly increase its long-term investment in roads, bridges, and public transit with a mix of cash and debt financing, testified Sharon Ward, Director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, before a state House committee today.

Ward said the commonwealth could float $2.5 billion in new debt to fund transportation projects, with the annual debt costs paid for by keeping the capital stock and franchise tax at its current low rate, rather than phasing it out. Alternatively, lawmakers could put a minimum corporate tax in place with revenue dedicated to paying down the debt, she said.

“Repairing our transportation infrastructure, including roads, bridges, transit, rail, and airports, is a core function of government and a high priority in 2013,” Ward testified before the House Finance Committee. “Funding this infrastructure will create jobs, strengthen Pennsylvania’s economy, and prevent dangerous and costly bridge failures, potentially saving lives.”

Most states use a balance of borrowing and cash to fund transportation projects, but Pennsylvania is among a handful of states that largely funds transportation projects on a pay-as-you-go basis. Roads typically last 30 years, while rail infrastructure can remain functional for up to a century – making these types of projects good candidates for long-term financing, much like purchasing a home.

“Financing long-term road improvements with long-term bonds means that drivers, long distance truckers, and all businesses that profit from a good transportation system will contribute to the roads they are using now and 15 years from now,” Ward said.

Pennsylvania is in good fiscal shape to take on new borrowing. By several measures, the commonwealth’s debt levels are low and declining in the years ahead. Interest rates are also low, reducing the long-term costs of borrowing and allowing Pennsylvania to step up its investment in transportation with less of an increase in the gas tax or other user fees.

Keeping the capital stock and franchise tax at its current low rate could fund most of the debt costs of borrowing $2.5 billion for transportation projects – just under $200 million annually. The capital stock and franchise tax rate has already been cut by nearly 93 percent since 1998 and, under current law, will be eliminated in 2016.
Ward presented the transportation funding idea as an alternative to legislation that would redirect about $1.2 billion in sales taxes paid on motor vehicle purchases out of the state’s General Fund and into the Motor License Fund to fund transportation projects.

Ward testified before the House Finance Committee that two bills on this subject, HB 1630 and HB 962, would create a permanent fiscal crisis for the commonwealth, forcing funding cuts to hospitals, schools, early childhood programs, nursing homes, and other services as important as transportation.

“While some may think this is a ‘pain free’ way to dedicate more funding to roads and bridges, in reality this is a classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Ward said.


The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center is a non-partisan policy research project that provides independent, credible analysis on state tax, budget and related policy matters, with attention to the impact of current or proposed policies on working families.

Right-Wing Pennsylvania Pressure Groups Skirting Tax Laws and Masquerading as Think Tanks


New report by Keystone Progress unveils Commonwealth Foundation and Allegheny Institute as part of web of groups pushing national corporate agenda at the expense of Pennsylvania’s middle class

(HARRISBURG, PA)— Keystone Progress and the Center for Media and Democracy released a new report today that exposes how two nominally independent tanks—the Commonwealth Foundation and the Allegheny Institute—are taking their cues from right wing funders, the Republican Party and the agenda established by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The report, entitled “The Commonwealth Foundation and the Allegheny Institute: Think tanks or corporate lobbyist propaganda mills?” exposes the relationship of far-right State Policy Network (SPN) to both groups.  SPN is a web of conservative state-based think tanks across the United States. In addition to its state think tank affiliates, many other national right-wing organizations are associate members of SPN, including the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Cato Institute, the Franklin Center, the Heritage Foundation, the Heartland Institute, and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

SPN and many of its affiliates are some of the most active members and largest sponsors of ALEC, where special interest groups and state politicians vote behind closed doors on “model” legislation to change Americans’ rights, through ALEC’s task forces.  SPN has close ties to, and works with, other national right-wing organizations like the Franklin Center and David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity.

The report shows how these organizations take advantage of tax laws to push an extreme right-wing agenda that aims to privatize education, block healthcare reform, restrict workers’ rights, roll back environmental protections, and create a tax system that benefits primarily those at the very top level of income. (See the full report here: http://tinyurl.com/CommFound)

The Keystone Progress report is one of twelve new reports released today exposing the State Policy Network (SPN), an $83 million web of right-wing “think tanks” in every state across the country. Although SPN’s member organizations claim to be nonpartisan and independent, an in-depth investigation reveals that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-backed corporate agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders. The reports reveal some members abusing tax laws and masquerading as “think tanks” while really orchestrating extensive lobbying and political operations to peddle their legislative agenda to state legislators, all while reporting little or no lobbying activities.
Some of the highlights of the report:
  • While nominally nonpartisan, nonprofit organizations established to do research, both organizations appear to be taking their cues from right wing funders, the Republican Party and the agenda established by the American Legislative Exchange Council.
  • Both organizations rely heavily on right-wing billionaires for the bulk of their funding.
  • Both organizations are registered with the IRS as 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable organizations, but both advocate openly for legislative changes, acting more like 501(c)(4) advocacy groups.
  • Despite their legislative advocacy, neither organization has registered as a lobbying organization with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and no staff, board members or other agents have filed any lobbying expense reports with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
"The bottom line is these organizations of the rich, by the rich and for the rich are representing themselves as groups that are looking out for the best interests of everyday, working class Americans and it's just a blatant lie,” said a statement from the Center for Media and Democracy.  “What we're doing is trying bring some transparency to the damaging work they're doing on a daily basis.  From policies that promote polluting the air and water to the destruction of our public education system and a tax system that benefits their rich donors, what these organizations are doing is shameful and it's time that someone brought this to light."

The full report is available here: http://tinyurl.com/CommFound
To view similar reports from other states, go to www.stinktanks.org

Retirees Oppose Chained-CPI cuts to Veterans’ Benefits


Reading, PA—On Tuesday, November 12th the PA Alliance for Retired Americans showed our support for our nation’s Veterans by gathering in Reading at the VA clinic for an event to encourage our local Congressmen to prevent the Chained-CPI cut to Social Security and other benefits for our veterans.  This event was one of many held by Alliance chapters across the country. 

“After putting their lives on the line, the men and women who served our Country do not deserve cuts to their earned benefits,” said Wayne Burton, President of the Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans.  “Budget-cutters and deficit hawks should look elsewhere for pennies to save, instead of in our Veterans’ pockets.”

Irv Weinreich of Allentown and Dave McLimans of Parkesburg, both Vietnam-era Veterans and retiree activists, spoke at the event in downtown Reading.  Click here for a video of a portion of Irv’s remarks.  “Currently, as politicians in Washington consider their ‘Grand Bargain’ to fix the deficit, they are considering adopting the chained-CPI, a reduced cost-of-living-adjustment that would affect Social Security as well as those who receive Military Retirement pensions, Veterans Pension benefits, Veterans Disability Compensation and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation,” Weinreich said.  “Because of the number of programs that would be subject to the chained CPI, veterans would receive double, triple or more hits from the chained-CPI. 

“We must not balance the budget on the backs of disabled veterans, many who lost their limbs defending our country,” Weinreich continued.  “These heroes would be hardest hit by the chained-CPI because they receive benefits from the most programs. We must not balance the budget on the backs of American soldiers who already sacrificed for us in Iraq, Afghanistan and countless other wars, nor the widows, widowers and children who have lost their family members defending our country.”

According to Social Security Works, a Washington-based advocacy group and partner to the Alliance for Retired Americans, the average Veteran in Pennsylvania would see a Social Security benefit that is $530 lower than what it would have been at age 75, $924 lower at age 85 and $1,306 lower at age 95!  These are just one-year snapshots.  Cumulatively, a Veteran would lose $3,729 by age 75, $11,201 by age 85 and $22,550 by age 95!  And just in case these numbers don’t sound terrible egregious enough, these are calculated on a Veteran that is currently nearing retirement age.  For our younger Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, the money lost will be significantly higher, because their benefits will endure decades of cuts before they even begin to collect!  (Click here to learn more.) “This is a significant amount of money for people who live on a strict budget,” said Burton.  “The Alliance for Retired Americans will stand by our nation’s Veterans by protesting loudly about any reduction in their benefits.”

The Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans, led by President Wayne Burton of Chester County, has over 300,000 members and 149 local affiliates across the Commonwealth.  PARA’s mission is to educate seniors and the public about retiree issues, and organize seniors to advocate for their interests in Harrisburg and Washington.  To learn more, visitwww.pennretiredamericans.org

Monday, November 11, 2013

New Polls Show Majority of Americans Will Hold Elected Official Accountable if they Oppose Immigration Reform

With 2014 Elections in Focus, New Polls Show Majority of Americans Will Hold Elected Official Accountable if they Oppose Immigration Reform

WIRTTEN BY: PNAE | NOVEMBER 7, 2013
Americans Nationally and in 12 Key Battleground States Are Three Times More Likely to Penalize Than to Support Opponents of Reform
71 Percent of Americans Favor Immigration Reform
With the focus of the political world now shifted toward the 2014 elections, new polls released Thursday show that a majority of voters across the country – including in 12 key battleground states – will hold elected officials accountable at the ballot box if they do not support immigration reform. More than half of Americans – 54 percent – said they were less likely to support an elected official who opposed reform, compared with just 17 percent who were more likely to support a reform opponent. In battleground states, the margin was 53-16 percent.
At the outset of the midterm elections, these new results demonstrate that a vast majority of voters nationwide – 71 percent – are in favor of immigration reform and will vote for their elected officials accordingly. The survey was sponsored by the Partnership for a New American Economy, Republicans for Immigration Reform, and Compete America. A summary of the poll results can be found here.
“Americans across the country want their leaders to support smart immigration reform, because they know it will drive economic growth, create jobs, and keep our nation’s future bright,” said Partnership for a New American Economy Co-Chair and New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
“Support for immigration reform is broad and especially strong among persuadable independents that Republicans need to win elections,” said Charlie Spies, co-founder of Republicans for Immigration Reform. “There is no question that Republicans have significantly more risk in opposing immigration reform than they do in supporting it. If we want Republican majorities in the future and a shot at taking back the White House in 2016, Republicans had better find a way to support the immigration reform that likely voters are calling for.”
“This polling supports what we have always believed: that immigration reform makes sense to the American people and is good for the economy,” Scott Corley, Executive Director of Compete America. “We need more job-creators and innovators in America. The American people understand this. Now is the time for Congress to act.”
The survey also polled voters in 12 traditional battleground states (Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin), which represent 156 electoral votes and were decided by an average margin of 2.35 percent in the past four presidential elections. The survey concluded that there is little risk for Republicans in these states to support reform. In these states, less than one quarter of Republicans, and less than 1-in-5 independents, say they are less likely to vote for elected officials who back immigration reform.
Highlights of the survey’s findings include:
  • More than half of Americans – 54 percent – said they were less likely to support an elected official who opposed reform, compared with just 17 percent who were more likely to support a reform opponent. In battleground states, the margin was 53-16 percent.
  • Americans overwhelmingly support immigration reform by a 71-25 percent margin – nearly 3-to-1.
  • 73 percent of those polled said they strongly or somewhat support an immigration reform plan that ensures undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. pay a penalty, learn English, pass a criminal background check, pay taxes, and wait a minimum of 13 years before they can be eligible for citizenship.
The sample size for the national survey is 900 likely voters and the margin of error is +/-3.27 percent. The Interactive Voice Response (IVR) automated telephone survey was conducted October 19-20, 2013 by Harper Polling. The total percentages for responses may not equal 100 percent due to rounding.
The sample size for each of the state surveys ranges from 501 to 870 likely voters, with the margins of error ranging from +/-3.32 percent to +/-4.35 percent.
nov-poll


Friday, November 8, 2013

Endangered-Species Bill May Leave Plants, Animals in PA In Jeopardy

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA
 HARRISBURG, Pa. – A bill on the table at the state Capitol claiming to balance economic growth and environmental protection is being taken to task by some Democrats and state officials in Harrisburg. 

House Bill 1576 would remove requirements that developers need to look for endangered species on a parcel of land unless some have been found there previously.

Democratic state Rep. Greg Vitali says the bill also adds layers of bureaucracy by having both an independent panel and the Legislature review definitions for endangered and threatened species.

"It will do more harm than good because the new process would add unnecessary delay to the designation process, thus putting endangered species at risk by not being designated quickly enough," Vitali says.

The bill also calls for species on the current endangered list in the state to be justified within two years, and those that aren't would be dropped.

Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Executive Director John Arway says the task of doing that with 62 current species would be virtually impossible.

Sponsors of the measure say it makes the state, not developers, prove that endangered species are where they are supposed to be.

State Rep. Rick Mirabito, a Democrat, says H.B. 1576 raises a simple question surrounding a complex issue.

"Whether or not in 20 years, the animals and the plants that we see today are going to be there,” he explains. “And as elected officials we have an obligation to protect the environment. "

Thursday, November 7, 2013

PA's Natural Gas Subsidies May Hit Renewables Where It Hurts

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

 PHILADELPHIA - Pennsylvania is offering up substantial subsidies for natural gas production, and Gov. Corbett is leading the charge. Corbett sees natural gas, including the controversial practice of fracking, as a way the state can become an industrial powerhouse again. State subsidies to energy developers could top $1 billion in the next decade. 

However, that money may be better invested elsewhere, according to Christina Simeone, director, PennFuture Energy Center.

"I think when you're talking about subsidizing mature, profitable industries and companies, it really, from the taxpayer's perspective, might not make sense," Simeone said. "If you're trying to support newer technologies, cleaner technologies that don't have a foothold in the market, I think that's where subsidies may be more appropriate."

There may not be a dollar-to-dollar correlation between subsidies given to natural gas and money not invested in renewable energy, but Simeone pointed out that the end result still changes the playing field.

"Whether subsidies are in the form of preferential tax treatment, grants or relaxed regulation, those all add to or subtract from the bottom line, making that resource more or less competitive," she explained.

Taxpayers may not realize that their money is being spent on both production and pollution control in getting natural gas to market, Simeone added.

"It's somewhat ironic that we're subsidizing the use of fossil fuels on one end, and then the taxpayer's also subsidizing to clean up," she said.

A study her group conducted just two years ago revealed subsidies for all fossil fuels in Pennsylvania totalled almost $3 billion dollars, Simeone said. Subsidies can sometimes result in lower costs to consumers, she noted, but if they are doled out as tax exemptions, they mean more money out of taxpayers' pockets.

The PennFuture report on fossil fuel subsidies is online at www.pennfuture.org.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Insurance cancelled? Don't blame Obama or the ACA, blame America's insurance companies



http://global.fncstatic.com/static/managed/img/fn2/video/110413_dlc_biasbash2_640.jpg
Liar! Pinocchio! Deceiver!

With all the charges flying against President Obama in the on-going effort to stop ObamaCare it’s time for a reality check.

Having failed to kill the Affordable Care Act in Congress by shutting down the government the opposition is currently taking delight in charging the president with lying to the public when he said anyone who likes their current healthcare plan will be able to keep it under the new law.

If you are one of the estimated 2 million Americans whose health insurance plans may have been cancelled this month, you should not be blaming President Obama or the Affordable Care Act.

It turns out that some people in the individual care market – about 5 percent of the overall insurance market -- are having their insurance policies cancelled. 

It is estimated that half of those folks will get better coverage for a lower price. Some people will even get subsidies to help them pay the lower price.

But some people losing their current policies [and being offered better coverage] are going to have to pay a higher price. Taking crocodile tears to a new level, ObamaCare opponents are now rushing to their defense and calling the president a liar.

These critics include Republican politicians who did not vote for ObamaCare; these are Republican governors who refuse to set up exchanges to reach their own citizens; these are people oppose expanding Medicaid to help poor people getting better health care; these are people who have never put any proposal on the table as an alternative fix for the nation’s costly health care system that leaves tens of millions with inadequate medical coverage and tens of millions more totally uninsured. 

The fact is if you are one of the estimated 2 million Americans whose health insurance plans may have been cancelled this month, you should not be blaming President Obama or the Affordable Care Act. 

You should be blaming your insurance company because they have not been providing you with coverage that meets the minimum basic standards for health care.

Let me put it more bluntly: your insurance companies have been taking advantage of you and the Affordable Care Act puts in place consumer protection and tells them to stop abusing people.

The government did not “force” insurance companies to cancel their own substandard policies. The insurance companies chose to do that rather than do what is right and bring the policies up to code. 

This would be like saying the government “forces” chemical companies to dispose of toxic waste safely rather than dumping it in the river. 

Or the government “forces” people to drive with intact windshields and working brake lights.

How dare they “force” drivers to pay money to get those things fixed if they are broken?

One of the most popular and important provisions of the Affordable Care Act is setting basic minimum standards of medical insurance coverage. Here are some of those standards:

- Your insurance company is no longer allowed to cancel your policy if you get sick
- Your insurance company cannot deny you coverage or charge you more if you have a pre-existing health condition
- Your insurance company must allow you to keep your children on your plan until they turn 26 years old or get a job that provides health insurance.
- Your insurance company cannot impose lifetime caps on you health coverage.
- And perhaps most relevant to current discussion about insurance companies canceling substandard policies, your insurance company must cover what are called “essential health benefits.”

What are “essential health benefits?”

“Essential health benefits must include items and services within at least the following 10 categories: ambulatory patient services; emergency services; hospitalization; maternity and newborn care; mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment; prescription drugs; rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices; laboratory services; preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management; and pediatric services, including oral and vision care.”

That’s right.

If you are rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, the ACA says your insurance company has to pay for the ambulance ride. 

If your son or daughter has a bout with depression or suffers from panic attacks, the ACA says your insurance company needs to pay for their medicine and treatment from a mental health professional.

People should be angry that their insurance companies were not paying for these humane, common sense benefits all along. 

It baffles me that people are directing their anger at the ACA which rights these terrible wrongs.

The Hartford Courant newspaper reports that the CEO of Aetna insurance made $36 million last year plus several millions more in stock options. 

They also report that the CEO of Cigna cleared a cool $12.5 Million plus stock options. 

The American health insurance industry is one of the most profitable in the history of the world. Before the ACA, they made money by finding any excuse, any loophole to deny coverage to the sickest and most vulnerable people in our society.

Rather than being vindictive and canceling policies under the pretext of ObamaCare, the insurance companies should be thanking their lucky stars that they do not have to contend with a public option or a single payer system. That is what the law allows in every other modern industrialized democracy.