Thursday, February 25, 2016

Study: Immigration Actions Would Net Tax Revenue for PA

Andrea Sears, Public News Service

Implementing the president's actions on immigration could bring Pennsylvania $18 million in tax revenue. (Jack Georges/Wikimedia Commons)
Implementing the president's actions on immigration could bring Pennsylvania $18 million in tax revenue. (Jack Georges/Wikimedia Commons)
HARRISBURG, Pa. – The 26 states suing to block President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration may be wrong about the potential drain on their budgets.

A new 50 state analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy and the Fiscal Policy Institute says full implementation of the actions would contribute $800 million to state and local treasuries nationally.

David Dyssegaard Kallick, director of immigration research at FPI, says that's because undocumented immigrants would be free to get better paying jobs.

"And then at the same time there'd be a very high likelihood of full compliance with tax payments because people are going to be willing to get their status renewed," he states.

Nationally, undocumented immigrants already contribute more than $11 billion in state and local tax revenue, but only about half file tax returns.

With budget debates dominating politics in Harrisburg, Kallick says the added revenues could help.

"For Pennsylvania, the positive impact is about $18 million in increased tax revenue as they increase earnings and spend more in the local economy, and so increase the sales taxes that they pay," he points out.

The states seeking to stop the executive actions from going into effect say they have standing to sue because they would be harmed by the cost of issuing drivers' licenses to undocumented immigrants.

Kallick points out that is one of the issues the U.S. Supreme Court will consider when it hears the case but not the increased tax revenues.

"This isn't going to change that lawsuit, in my opinion,” he states. “But it does point out how disingenuous it is and how, really, at least from a financial perspective, it's good for a state."

The study says enacting comprehensive immigration reform would increase tax revenue in Pennsylvania by more than $51 million.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Josh Shapiro wins straw poll of Keystone Progress activists

Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro won a straw poll of progressive activists at the Keystone Progress Summit (www.keystoneprogresssummit.org) this weekend.  

Shapiro dominated the Attorney General poll, garnering 64.5% of the vote, with Stephen Zappala receiving 26.4% and John Morganelli getting 8.0%.  Other canadiates or “none of the above” took less than 1%.

Questions were posed by members of the audience of Keystone Progress members and by representatives of progressive organizations including labor unions, environmental, women’s and civil rights groups.

The debate was part of the annual Keystone Progress Summit, Pennsylvania’s largest gathering of progressive activists.  This year’s Summit attracted 700 hundred activists for inspirational speakers, educational workshops, trainings, parties and other events.

“The results of the poll do not indicate an endorsement by Keystone Progress,” said Michael Morrill, executive director of Keystone Progress.  “Our straw poll is simply a snapshot of the views of Pennsylvania’s most active and passionate progressive activists. Keystone Progress will begin its endorsement process this week.”


Joe Sestak wins Keystone Progress Summit straw poll


Retired Admiral Joe Sestak won a straw poll of progressive activists at the Keystone Progress Summit (www.keystoneprogresssummit.org) this weekend.  Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro won the support of the majority in the straw poll for Attorney General.

In the U.S. Senate poll, Sestak received 41.9% of the vote.  Braddock Mayor John Fetterman came in second with 30.9%, followed by former DEP Secretary Katie McGinty with 27.2%.  Pat Toomey and Joseph Vodvarka were also on the ballot but didn’t receive any votes.

Questions were posed by members of the audience of Keystone Progress members and by representatives of progressive organizations including labor unions, environmental, women’s and civil rights groups.

The debate was part of the annual Keystone Progress Summit, Pennsylvania’s largest gathering of progressive activists.  This year’s Summit attracted 700 hundred activists for inspirational speakers, educational workshops, trainings, parties and other events.

“The results of the poll do not indicate an endorsement by Keystone Progress,” said Michael Morrill, executive director of Keystone Progress.  “Our straw poll is simply a snapshot of the views of Pennsylvania’s most active and passionate progressive activists. Keystone Progress will begin its endorsement process this week.”

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Environmentalists Concerned by DEP Response to Coal Mine Damage

Andrea Sears, Public News Service

Longwall coal mines can cause significant surface damage. (Helen Simonsson/Flickr)
Longwall coal mines can cause significant surface damage. (Helen Simonsson/Flickr)
WASHINGTON, Pa. - Environmental groups say Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) isn't up to the job of preventing and restoring damage from underground coal mining.

The DEP's response to a University of Pittsburgh report that found gaps and errors in the agency's data was the subject of a recent meeting of the citizen's advisory council.

Patrick Grenter, executive director of the Center for Coalfield Justice, says with dozens of staff vacancies, the DEP coal-mining department just doesn't have the staff to do its job.

"They are just buried in paperwork," says Grenter. "And they're struggling to keep up with their day-to-day responsibilities, let alone taking any sort of comprehensive view of the program."

The DEP says it is taking steps to improve data handling and information systems. But Grenter points to one mine in Green County that had violated the Clean Water Act more than 800 times in five years, without a single notice of violation or penalty.

"And quite frankly, it seemed to us that DEP hadn't even reviewed these files," says Grenter. "They didn't seem to even understand just how negligent this operator was."

Grenter says part of the problem is funding. He thinks the state, from the governor on down, needs to give the DEP the resources it needs to get the job done.

But he maintains the agency itself has to overcome what has become normalized over the years.

"The destruction of streams, the absence of meaningful enforcement actions, and really, acquiescence of all operations to the will of the coal industry," Grenter says.

The University of Pittsburgh report, which covers the years 2008 to 2013, is the fourth in a series of five-year reviews mandated by a state law known as Act 54.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Proposed Budget Lacks Clean Water Funds

Andrea Sears, Public News Service 

Agriculture is the major source of nitrogen and sediment pollution.  (Lynn Betts/Wikimedia Commons)
Agriculture is the major source of nitrogen and sediment pollution. (Lynn Betts/Wikimedia Commons)
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Environmentalists are concerned that the budget proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday is short of the resources needed to meet the state's clean water obligations.

Harry Campbell, director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Pennsylvania office says it will take almost $380 million a year just to implement the agricultural practices needed to meet 2025 clean water goals.

"The budget that Gov. Wolf actually proposed overall, we believe needs further investments in some key programs in order to successfully implement Pennsylvania's new Clean Water Plan," says Campbell.

Pennsylvania is far behind in its obligation to reduce nitrogen and sediment pollution in its waterways under a 2010 agreement with the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

A reboot plan was just announced last month. Failure to meet those obligations could result in the imposition of new regulatory requirements and increased costs to Pennsylvania taxpayers. But beyond that Campbell points out cleaning up the water has many benefits.

"It pays dividends in increased economic activity, both directly and indirectly," he says. "But then of course through things like improved air which avoids asthma attacks."

Campbell says since 2002 the state has diverted about $2 billion of environmentally related funding to balance its budgets.

"We must reinvest in our communities, in our conservation programs," says Campbell. "So we have clean and healthy water, reduced flooding, increased economic activity and recreational opportunities."

A first step, he says, would be budgeting for a new generation of Growing Greener funding to support environmental efforts, an item not included in the governor's proposal.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Teachers Back Wolf's Education Budget

 Andrea Sears, Public News Service 

Governor Wolf is calling for a $377 million increase in K-12 funding for this year. (Gov. Tom Wolf/flickr.com)
Governor Wolf is calling for a $377 million increase in K-12 funding for this year. (Gov. Tom Wolf/flickr.com)
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Teachers are praising Gov. Tom Wolf's stand on education funding. In December the governor line-item vetoed all but six months of school funding in the budget passed by the Legislature. In his budget address next week he will ask lawmakers to include the $377 million increase for the current fiscal year that was part of the compromise budget passed by the Senate.

It's a move strongly supported by Jerry Oleksiak, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

"It's needed desperately," says Oleksiak. "If the governor had not signed the blue-lined budget that he did in December we would literally have schools that were closed. And that could still happen."

He says without additional funding now, some schools will be forced to close as early as next month.

House Republicans say the compromise budget of last year is no longer on the table. However Oleksiak points out that in December there was enough support in the House for the compromise to pass, but a vote was never taken.

"Whether or not the House Republicans and the governor can find some common ground remains to be seen," he says. "They did it once. Hopefully they can do it again."

The governor says he will be asking for an additional $200 million increase in education funding for coming fiscal year that begins July first.

Oleksiak says that's an important step toward restoring some of the funds cut under previous administrations.

"But it is not enough to do the things that we want do do for our kids," Oleksiak says. "I think that's sometimes what gets lost in all the discussion. This is about real kids in real classrooms."

Equally important, he says, is adoption of a formula for the equitable distribution of education funding throughout Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Advocates Call for a Fair State Budget

Andrea Sears, Public News Service

Organizations issue fair budget recommendations at the State Capitol on Tuesday. (Bestbudbrian/Wikimedia Commons)
Organizations issue fair budget recommendations at the State Capitol on Tuesday. (Bestbudbrian/Wikimedia Commons)
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Education advocates, environmentalists and human services organizations are calling on the governor and General Assembly to pass a "Budget for Pennsylvania's Future."

The groups are issuing a joint letter today saying the 2016 - 2017 budget needs to fairly raise taxes to adequately fund schools and human services, and protect the environment. According to Marc Stier, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, critical services are still receiving less funding than before the recession.

"We simply need new revenues, and we should raise them in a fair way," says Stier. "Given the problems caused by cuts in corporate taxes, we need to be raising money on corporations, and on those most able to pay."

The budget for the current fiscal year is still unfinished and the Budget and Policy Center points out that unless it is resolved, many schools will run out of money again next month.

The Center has released an analysis of the three competing budget proposals from last year - the governor's proposal, the compromise, and the Republican budget bill that passed the Legislature. According to Stier, only the governor's proposal raised taxes to balance the budget.

"We face a structural deficit in this year, even with the Republican proposal, of $318 million," he says. "And that grows to $2 billion next year."

The problem, he says, is not that state spending has increased. In fact, the budget is smaller compared to the state's overall economy than it was over the last 20 years.

"Had we not cut corporate taxes starting back in the Ridge administration, we would have about $2.5 billion more to spend in the coming year than we actually will have," says Stier.

The analysis found that returning corporate taxes to 2002 levels would help eliminate the deficit and restore funding that has been cut from education and human services.