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Testimony to the Philadelphia Tax Reform Commission

By Blog Post, Policy Statement

Our executive director, Marc Stier, presented this testimony at the first public hearing of the Philadelphia Tax Reform Commission on June 17, 2021. Stier is also the senior advisor to the advisory committee to the Commission.

This testimony sets out a range of questions that we believe the Tax Reform Commission should answer in its work.

Click here to read full screen, print or download.

Tax Commission Testimony

Press Release: New Penn Policy Center Report on Ballot Drop Boxes

By Press Statements



CONTACT: Kirstin Snow,


NEW REPORT: The Case for More Voting Drop Boxes

Harrisburg, PA—Today the Pennsylvania Policy Center released a new paper, ‘Ballot Drop Boxes Make Voting Better’, by senior advisor Susan Gobreski.

Effective voter reforms are ones that make it easier for every eligible voter to securely cast their ballot. Ballot drop boxes have proven to be an effective, secure, and desired method for collecting ballots, increasing voter convenience, and ensuring the integrity of the electoral process. Furthermore, Pennsylvanians are “voting with their feet” — across Pennsylvania, voters are using drop boxes, demonstrating that they are a positive contribution to the voting environment.

“Expanding the use of drop boxes for voting in Pennsylvania is a no-brainer,” said author Gobreski. She added, “Drop boxes increase turnout, decrease barriers to those who may need accommodations, and provide flexibility for those on tight schedules. There are zero downsides to increasing the use of drop boxes.”

Based on the review of the evidence on ballot drop boxes, Pennsylvania Policy Center makes the following recommendations:

  • Pennsylvania should continue to improve the voting process and experience for voters by expanding the use of ballot drop boxes with funding for counties and through policy — this means more options that allow people to vote securely at a time and place that are convenient.
  • Pennsylvania should adopt legislation to set a baseline minimum standard for the use of drop boxes and encourage expansion to bring more options to more communities throughout the Commonwealth.

The widespread adoption of ballot drop boxes is a practical and effective strategy for improving access to voting, increasing voter turnout, and ensuring the integrity of the electoral process. By following best practices in implementing these drop box programs, policymakers can create a more inclusive and robust electoral system that empowers citizens to exercise their democratic rights while saving taxpayer dollars and building public trust in elections.


Photo of PA capitol building, shot from far above with a slight fish eye effect. Sunny and warm colors.

Create a State Earned Income Tax Credit in 2024!

By Blog Post

In our first post in this series, we argued that if the Pennsylvania General Assembly chooses to cut taxes in the budget that begins on July 1st, it should limit the cut to less than $1 billion per year and focus the benefits of the cut on low- and moderate-income Pennsylvanians.

There is one plan that meets both of these criteria perfectly: a state earned income tax credit.

The federal earned income tax credit (EITC) is a program that puts more money into the pockets of low- and middle-income families by giving them a credit against the taxes they pay. It was a program created by the Nixon administration and expanded under subsequent Republican presidents. It has traditionally been supported by Republicans who believe, correctly, that it encourages and makes it possible for people with low incomes to enter and stay in the job market.

No federal program, other than Social Security, reduces poverty as much. Twenty-nine other states have expanded the benefits of a federal EITC by enacting a state EITC. Pennsylvania should follow their lead. A state EITC is a relatively inexpensive program. And it is a program that would be easy to implement.

The federal earned income tax credit gives workers a credit against their taxes. And the credit is refundable, which means that even if they pay no taxes they can still receive the benefit. The tax credit begins when workers earn their first dollar and increases to a maximum income of about $12,000 for a one-worker family with one child and about $17,000 for a married couple with three children. Then it gradually declines when families hit a higher threshold, so there is no benefit cliff.

The state tax credit is simple to claim and administer. We propose that Pennsylvania’s earned income tax credit be set at 30% of the federal credit. Claiming it would require taxpayers to simply enter their federal tax credit on one line on the PA-40 tax form, which would be done automatically by tax software.

The program would benefit 1.45 million families in the state. The average tax cut for those who receive it would be $773. Almost all of EITC benefits—88.5%—would go to Pennsylvania families earning less than $52,100 (and those above that level who received any benefit typically have three or more children). The average income of those who receive EITC benefits is $27,500.  Roughly 40% of the families who would benefit from a state EITC do not currently benefit from the state’s tax forgiveness program.

While it would be a good idea to increase the benefits and lift the income limits on the state’s Tax Forgiveness program, the state EITC would provide greater benefits to families with lower incomes because it is refundable.

We estimate that a Pennsylvania earned income tax credit would cost the state $775 million.

An additional benefit of the state earned income tax credit is that it would encourage more families who are eligible for the federal EITC to claim it—right now, about 15% of those who are eligible fail to do so. An added incentive to claim the federal credit could bring about $43 million federal dollars into the state that are now left on the table.

a bar chart showing what different income levels pay in state and local taxes

Should we cut taxes in 2024–25, and if so—how?

By Blog Post

In response to a Senate vote in favor of a small reduction in the personal income tax rate and the gross receipts tax on electricity, we pointed out that this is not the right time to be reducing taxes in Pennsylvania.

At the moment, the state has a substantial budget surplus of more than $13 billion—but we need that surplus for two purposes. First, we are currently using it to pay the state’s operating expenses and will continue to do so because annual expenditures exceed annual revenues by more than $3 billion.

Second, the state has serious needs that require additional investment. To start with, we will eventually need an additional $6–$7 billion per year to meet the constitutional and moral responsibility to adequately and equitably fund K-12 education. And then there are critical needs in both pre-K and higher education and workforce training, transportation infrastructure (including public transit), and environmental protection.

So, we believe that the best fiscal policy right now is to add modest new tax revenues as we gradually run down the accumulated $14 billion surplus. Adding sources of revenue now will extend the life of the surplus, putting off the day when even more tax revenue is needed. And, with continued economic growth, it is possible that higher revenues generated by existing and new taxes would enable us to avoid a moment of crisis when we would have to choose between large substantial budget cuts or substantial new revenues.

However, neither party appears ready to start dealing with the coming fiscal crisis this year. And Senate Republicans might insist on some tax reduction in exchange for supporting the critical education funding we must pass this year.

If we do cut taxes, should we adopt the Senate Republican plan?

We do not think the Senate Republican plan is a good idea for two reasons.

First, we believe that any tax cut should provide far more relief for low- and moderate-income Pennsylvanians than wealthier Pennsylvanians. As we have shown before, Pennsylvania’s state and local taxes are upside-down, with the fourth most regressive tax system of any state. The top 1% of Pennsylvania households, with an averagea income of $1.9 million, pay 6% of their income in state and local taxes, while families in the middle of the income distribution, with incomes between $47,800 and $81,899, pay 11.4% of their income. Meanwhile, families in the bottom 20% of the income distribution, with incomes below $22,100, pay 15.1% of their income in state and local taxes, the highest rate for that group in any state in the country.

Figure 1

Source: Carl Davis, et. al., Who Pays? A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in All 50 States, 7th Edition, Institute on Tax and Economic Policy, January 2024,

Because of our flat tax, a half-point reduction of the PIT would reduce taxes for the top 1% of taxpayers by $5,435 per year. It would reduce taxes for the middle 20% of families by only $181 per year. And because of the tax forgiveness program, it would most likely not reduce taxes for people in the bottom 20% by more than $20 per year.

Second, for the reasons mentioned above, tax reduction should be limited.

The Republican tax plan to cut the personal income tax rate by half a point and eliminate the Gross Receipts Tax on electricity reduces state revenues by $2.711 in fiscal year 2025–26. We believe this should be upper limit for any combination of new spending and tax reductions in that year. And, since carrying out the seven-year education funding plan would itself cost $2 billion per year by the second year of the plan (2025–26), any tax reduction should be limited to about $700 million per year.

Some Republicans have suggested that cutting taxes does not harm the long-term fiscal prospects of the state. This is untrue. The impact of a recurring reduction in taxes on the state’s fiscal condition is no different than a recurring increase in spending. A reduction in revenues and an increase in expenditures of the same magnitude reduce a budget surplus or increase a budget deficit to the same extent.

Comparing the Impact of Tax Cuts and New Spending (a little wonky!)

It is true that a tax cut can have a positive, short-term impact on economic growth because households would have more money to spend and thus would consume more. But an increase in education spending of the same magnitude would also lead directly to greater consumption. And since some portion of a tax cut for wealthy families is saved not spent, additional state spending will lead to more consumption than a tax cut for the wealthy of the same magnitude.

There is also some long-term benefit from cutting personal income taxes as it may lead some people or businesses to move into the state. But the effect of a small change in income tax rates is likely to be minimal. A large body of evidence suggests that small differences in tax rates have little impact on where individuals or businesses locate, especially when we are considering moves across state lines. And spending more on K-12 education has been shown to increase long-term economic growth in two ways. Higher K-12 spending leads to better educational outcomes which in turn leads to higher wages. And better educated workers attract business development.

Given the current state of economic research, we think that the long-term benefits of increased spending on education are likely to be greater than that of a small reduction in the personal income tax rate. But the evidence at this point is certainly not conclusive.

One thing is fairly clear, however: the direct, long-term economic benefits of increased spending on education are likely to benefit current Pennsylvania children, whose long-term prospects are raised by securing a better education. And improvements in K-12 education might also lead businesses attracted by our better educated workforce to move into the state and they might bring newcomers as well. If reducing taxes leads to people and businesses moving into the state new Pennsylvanians, not current residents would receive the direct, long-term benefits. And people moving into the state to take new jobs are likely to be better off economically than low-income Pennsylvania kids who suffer from inadequately funded schools. (Of course, the indirect multiplier effects of both tax cuts and educational improvements would benefit existing and new Pennsylvanians.)

So, from the point of view of economic justice, there is no question that meeting our constitutional responsibility to adequately and equitably fund our education system is more desirable than a tax cut that does not fix our regressive tax system.

And similarly, a tax cut that disproportionately benefits low-income Pennsylvanians would be better than one that benefits high-income Pennsylvanians.

Our next two blog posts consider tax proposals that provide greater benefits to low-income Pennsylvanians. The first examines a state earned income tax cut. The second looks at two other ideas: an extension of the property tax and rent rebate program to those under the age of 65 and state

Statement on House Passage of HB 2370

By Blog Post, Press Statements

For Immediate Release

Contact: Erica Freeman, Deputy Director of Communications, Pennsylvania Policy Center (267) 496-5253

Marc Stier, executive director of the Pennsylvania Policy Center, released the following statement on the passage of HB 2370:

“The children of Pennsylvania, and especially those who live in poor, Black, and brown communities, have waited decades for the Pennsylvania General Assembly to meet its moral and constitutional responsibility to fully and fairly fund K-12 education.

With the passage of HB 2370 with bipartisan support today, the Pennsylvania House passed a seven-year plan to attain that goal. We call on the Senate to follow the lead of the House and pass this bill as well and send it to Governor Shapiro for his approval.”


By Press Release


CONTACT: Kirstin Snow,



Pennsylvanians Together, Partners Hold Rally to Demand Tax Justice in PA NOW!

12-Foot Inflatable Corporate Fat Cat, ‘Mr. Riggs’ Made Appearance in Capitol

Harrisburg, PA—Today in the Capitol Rotunda, Pennsylvania Policy Center’s Pennsylvanians Together campaign and partners, including SEIU, CASA, Action Together NEPA, Make the Road, and others from across the Commonwealth joined together for a rally to call upon lawmakers to right the state’s upside-down tax system and demand tax justice NOW!

Pennsylvania has THE MOST unfair tax structure in the country. And now—budget season—is the time to demand a fair share tax plan to pay for the things working families need to not just survive but thrive—things like a fully and equitably funded education for our kids, affordable housing, and a livable minimum wage.

Mr. Riggs, the 12-foot inflatable corporate fat cat, was in attendance, joined by partners and scores of activists from across the state, along with speakers:

  • Marc Stier, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Policy Center
  • Dwayne Heisler, Campaigns Director, Pennsylvanians Together
  • Jody Weinrich, SEIU / PA Joint Board
  • Senator Art Haywood (D)
  • Angelo Ortega, Make the Road PA
  • Hillary Rothrock, SEIU HCPA, United Home Care Workers
  • Daniel Alvalle, CASA
  • Jessica Britain, Action Together, NEPA


Marc Stier: “Pennsylvanians Together is here at the state Capitol today to call for economic justice now and in the future. In the short term, we call for using the $14 billion state surplus to fund the first few years of the seven-year plan to fund k-12 education fully and fairly. In the long term, we call for ensuring that wealthy individuals and multinational corporations pay their fair share of taxes. That would give us the revenue we need to fund the whole K-12 plan as well as make the investments in workforce training and higher education we need to create opportunity and prosperity for all.”

Senator Haywood: “Our tax system is rigged against us. Reducing taxation on everyday people and making the rich pay their fair share is the first step toward fairness.”

Dwayne Heisler: “The Pennsylvanians Together campaign works to ensure that all Pennsylvanians can thrive—not just survive. For too long, we’ve let politicians, who serve the interests of corporations, and the rich divide us based on what we look like, where we come from, where we worship, how much money we have or whether we are native-born or immigrants. By dividing us, they have given us public policies that do too little to help most Pennsylvanians while making the rich and corporations even wealthier. That’s why we demand tax justice now!”

Angelo Ortega: “Whether the problem is storm damage or neglect by previous owners many families in Pennsylvania live in houses that could be wonderful places to live if only they had some care. They might need a major improvement or minor ones. But the costs for these repairs are often beyond the means of the families that own these homes.”

“Fortunately, the Whole-Home Repairs program provides the funds. And when the repairs are made, it benefits not just the family that lives in the home but their neighbors and the local community. But the initial money for the program has run out in most counties in Pennsylvania, so now is the time to add new funding. More money for the Whole-Home Repairs program means we can help more families who need it.”

Hillary Rothrock: “Every month is a struggle to pay my rent, my bills, put food on the table, and pay for medical care. I have medical bills that I make payments on to afford them…” “I have no benefits, no health insurance, no paid sick or vacation time, no 401K or pension. I don’t even get overtime pay or holiday pay.”

“I’m proud to pay my fair share in taxes. But it isn’t fair that my rate is more than double the rate paid by the top 1% of families whose incomes average $1.9 million a year!”

Jody Weinrich: “I believe people … shouldn’t have to live with relatives because they can’t afford housing on minimum wage. And how can anyone think about retirement when they’re making so little?”

“I believe people should be able to take their kids to the park, out to a restaurant, or to see a movie without worrying about money. We deserve a livable wage so we can have dignity in our work. Pennsylvania should be a place where working people can thrive, not just survive.”

Jessica Britain: “I’m here to say that I’m not interested in what we can’t do…what we can do is make a historic, constitutionally and Commonwealth Court-mandated investment in ALL public schools around the Commonwealth.”

“Every student deserves…a safe, healthy learning environment so they can thrive and succeed in school today and live productive, fulfilling lives after graduation.”



Speech by Marc Stier — Education Funding Rally at the Capitol

By Blog Post

The data is clear. The Courts have ruled. The defendants in the case didn’t appeal the decision.

This Commonwealth has systematically discriminated against kids in low-income, Black and brown communities for decades.

How can anyone look the kids and parents of this commonwealth in the eye and say, “I oppose fully and fairly funding your education?”

The only answer the opponents have given is that “we can’t afford it.”

Yet there is $14 billion in the state’s bank accounts that would cover at least the first four years of the program, while leaving billions in the rainy day fund.

To that, the opponents say we can’t use that money for recurring expenses.

Yet yesterday they voted for a proposal that would create a 2.7 billion reduction in recurring revenues and soon use up the entire surplus.

So now there is no debate about whether we have the money to fund the seven year plan fully and fairly fund our schools.

We do. Everyone, Democrat and Republican, now agree. We have the money.

The only question is whether we want to spend the money we already have on meeting our constitutional and moral obligation to fund our schools. Or whether we want to give more tax cuts to the richest Pennsylvanians.

To those who say we need tax cuts to secure economic growth, let me just point out we have reduced corporate taxes by $5 billion per year over the last 30 years–revenues that could pay for almost the entire 7 year plan. Yet those tax cuts have left us with the slow growth and declining population about which Republicans complain.

What will create economic and population growth is investing in our kids, the future workers of Pennsylvania. Educate our kids, give them the tools to succeed, and then you will see people and businesses flock to the state and our economy grow faster than ever.

This is the choice before us. We either fix our schools and give our kids and our economy a bright future. Or we continue down the path we have been on for 30 years and see our kids and our economy struggle in darkness.

Tell our legislators:

Choose light over darkness. Choose our kids.

Republicans Choose Tax Cuts for the Rich over Funding Education

By Blog Post, Press Statements

Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R-41) introduced legislation to cut Pennsylvania’s personal income tax rate from the current 3.07% to 2.8%.

This legislation is both deeply cynical and totally revealing of the unfortunate priorities of Republicans in Harrisburg. For it shows us that, once again, they have chosen to cut taxes for the rich rather than fund education fully and fairly.

Ever since a majority of the Basic Education Funding Commission (BEFC), with the support of Governor Shapiro, embraced a seven-year plan to meet the constitutional obligation to fund our schools, the Republicans have had only one response: “We can’t afford it.” They did not appeal the Commonwealth Court decision, which declares that the current system of funding schools is unconstitutional. They did not propose an alternative to the BEFC plan. They just said, “We can’t afford it,” even though the state has more than a $14 billion surplus.

But while they say we can’t afford to fund our schools, it appears they believe we can afford to cut the state’s personal income tax (PIT) by almost $450 million per year by fiscal year 2028. And because the PIT is a flat tax, most of the benefit of the tax cut would flow to the richest Pennsylvanians. Our analysis shows that Pittman’s bill would, on average, reduce taxes for the top 1% of taxpayers, with an average income of $1.9 million, by $5,435 per year. It would reduce taxes for the middle 20% of families, with an average income of $67,100, by $181. And because of the tax forgiveness program, it would most likely not reduce taxes for people in the bottom 20% by more than $20 per year.

This is not the first time Republicans have chosen cutting taxes for the wealthy over funding education. Just two years ago, they forced Governor Wolf to accept a 60% reduction in the Corporate Net Income Tax (CNIT) to secure a small increase in school funding. That nearly $2 billion-per-year reduction in corporate tax revenues was in addition to the more than $4-billion-per-year reduction in corporate taxes over the last 20 years as a result of phasing out the Capital Stock and Transfer Tax and reducing the CNIT base under Governor Corbett.

These corporate tax cuts, along with our flat tax and overreliance on sales and property taxes, is why Pennsylvania has the fourth most regressive tax system of any state, in which the top 1% pay less than half the share of state and local taxes as families in the middle or bottom of the income distribution.

Moreover, if we compare the decline in share of tax revenues that comes from corporate taxes to the decline in the state share of funding for schools—the primary source of the deep and persistent inequity in school funding—you can see that these data series track one another almost perfectly.

The Republican insistence—sometimes with Democratic connivance—on cutting corporate and other taxes is the prime cause of the current education funding crisis.

Pittman’s bill is just one more instance of these same distorted priorities. And, they are especially problematic because there is no evidence that tax cuts for the rich have in the past, or would in the future, spur our economy or create more jobs at any reasonable cost. There is also a great deal of evidence that fairly funding our schools would lead to greater educational achievement for Pennsylvanians and both economic growth and job creation.

If the General Assembly wants to cut taxes now, there is a far better way to do so than a reduction in our flat tax. The state could adopt a variant of the Fair Share Tax plan the Pennsylvania Policy Center has been putting forward over the last five years. That plan would cut the tax rate on two classes of income wages and interest while raising the tax rate on what we call income from wealth: dividends, capital gains, business profits, royalties, estates, and gambling winnings. Since most income from wealth is earned by those at the top of the income distribution, 54% of any increase in revenues would come from the top 1% and another 24% from the next 4%. More than 60% of families would get a tax cut, and another 22% would see no change in their taxes. Only about 17% of families would pay more.

If the members of the General Assembly just want to provide some tax relief for working people, they could cut the tax rate on income from work to 2.5% and increase the tax rate on income from wealth to about 4.25%, leaving overall revenues unchanged.

Or, if our representatives and senators want to begin to repair our tax system while raising more revenue for education they could set the tax rate on income from wealth at 6.5%, which would raise about $2 billion in new revenues for the state.

Either of these proposals would be a reasonable way to improve our tax system without reducing revenues we need to fully and fairly fund education or increase those revenues by adopting the second plan.

These are the proposals that state legislators would be putting forward if they were ready to fix the immoral and unconstitutional education funding system in Pennsylvania.

logo for Penn Policy: Pennsylvania Policy Center

Statement on PA House Passing the ‘Pre-canvassing Bill’ (HB 847)

By Press Statement


May 2, 2024

CONTACT: Kirstin Snow,

 STATEMENT on House Bill 847 – Marc Stier, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Policy Center

 Legislation would give counties 7 days to pre-canvass mail ballots ahead of Election Day

(Harrisburg, PA) — Pre-canvassing is the process by which county election officials prepare mail and absentee ballots for counting on Election Day. Pennsylvania’s voters have been waiting YEARS for approval for pre canvassing which would allow counties to manage the election process and deliver results to voters as quickly as possible. There are several reasons the Senate must pass this legislation now:

  • This legislation is not loaded with partisan wish lists; it is straightforward and supported by the County Commissioners Association, an organization with Republican leadership, and numerous organizations that support voting rights.
  • It helps address the challenges that election officials face in administering elections and getting results to people as quickly as possible, which helps provide assurance to voters that the system is working.
  • Pre-canvassing can also help protect the right to vote by providing a chance for voters to be notified if there is a technical problem with their ballot, helping to prevent voters from having their votes not counted due to small technical errors like a missing envelope or the wrong date.
  • It would avoid a replay of the 2020 presidential election, wherein it took PA election workers nearly a week to count and certify mail-in ballots, thus delaying the vote count on the national level.

The Senate must act to pass this bill — all the people who have said they have any concerns can do the one thing that local election officials from all parties have said they need. It is time for the Senate to do the commonsense thing, and that is to pass this legislation in a bipartisan fashion.


Join Us for Our Online Tax Justice Conversation!

By Blog Post

Dear Friends –

At Pennsylvania Policy Center we are continuing our call to reverse our upside-down tax system, and demand corporations and the ultra-wealthy to pay their fair share!

Please join the PA Megaphone team and our Pennsylvanians Together campaign for another conversation about tax justice leading up to Tax Day!

Pennsylvanians work hard, day in and day out, to take care of their families—but many of us are struggling to make ends meet while wealthy corporations and the 1% get richer and richer.

Join us at 12:30 PM on Friday, April 12 for a special Tax Day organizing event.

We’ll hear from some special guest speakers, including a Patriotic Millionaire and an SEIU home care worker to discuss why we must make our tax system more fair for working families. Then, PA Megaphone and Pennsylvanians United will share ways we can join together to advocate for tax justice online and offline.

This virtual event will take place as a Zoom webinar at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, April 12.
More details to be announced shortly! RSVP now to stay in the loop.

What is tax justice?

Tax justice means that ultra-rich individuals and wealthy corporations pay what they owe.

It means that their share of taxes enables us to provide the common goods we all need to create a growing, high-wage economy and a strong future for all of us.

And it means rejecting even more tax cuts for large corporations and the wealthy—tax cuts that create few jobs but undermine public education, the building and improvement of roads and bridges, and other public goods that create jobs.

Learn more about Pennsylvanians Together’s Tax Justice campaign here.

  • Dwayne Heisler, Campaign Director, Pennsylvanians Together

The Pennsylvania Policy Center aims, through its research and policy development, to create the tools that political officials, opinion leaders, grassroots organizations, and the people of PA need to expand our vibrant democracy, secure our freedom, and seek economic justice in Pennsylvania.

End Local Minimum Wage Preemption

By Blog Post

By Marc Stier, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center

As I documented in a previous blog post, there is no question that the minimum wage is worth less than what it was at an earlier time in our history, even though we are a far more prosperous country today than in the past. And yet large numbers of people—more than 21% of all workers in Pennsylvania—earn less than $15 per hour or just above it.

And that’s why we need a minimum wage. It is one of the critical policies that, like the right to form unions, the social safety net, and a tax system that asks the rich to pay at a higher rate than the poor, ensures we have an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy owners of huge corporations.

We show respect for the dignity of work by ensuring all workers are paid a decent wage that allows them to support themselves and their families. Opponents of a higher minimum wage want people to do the work but don’t care about their dignity. And, thanks to our tax dollars, they get the work—for we pay to subsidize wealthy corporations that fail to pay their workers a living wage thus forcing them to supplement their low wages with social safety net programs.

But what is the proper level for the minimum wage? And where should it be set?

I’ve made the case for raising the minimum wage to at least $15 per hour in a previous blog post. Here I want to argue that at least in some parts of the state, it’s time to raise the minimum wage above $15. Doing that requires Pennsylvania to repeal the preemption law preventing local governments from raising their minimum wage above the statewide level.

The rationale for a minimum wage higher than $15 per hourin at least some parts of Pennsylvania can be seen by looking at the table below, which provides data from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Living Wage Calculator in 2023. According to the authors, “A living wage is what one full-time worker must earn on an hourly basis to help cover the cost of their family’s minimum basic needs where they live while still being self-sufficient. The Living Wage Calculator’s estimate of a living wage includes eight typical expenses or basic needs: food, child care, health care, housing, transportation, civic engagement, broadband access, and other necessities.

Due to differences in the cost of living and employment conditions, a living wage varies from one region and one county to another.

You can see from the table that while a $15 minimum wage provides a living wage for single workers without children in some counties in Pennsylvania, a higher wage would be necessary to provide a living wage in 43 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. It is above $16.00 in 17 counties, including Allegheny County, and above $17.00 in seven counties, including Philadelphia and all of its collar counties as well as Centre and Pike Counties. At $18.31, Pike County has the highest living wage level of all counties in our state.

When one factors in the cost of providing for children, a living wage far exceeds $15 per hour in every county in the state. For a single parent it is over $30 in every county in the state. And even with two working parents it is over $17 in every county in the state.

So, it is time not just to raise the statewide minimum wage to $15, along with an annual cost-of-living increase. It’s also time to allow counties to experiment with higher minimum wages adjusted for local conditions. While economic conditions may not currently allow for a minimum higher than $15 in every county in the state, it’s likely that some counties—or groups of counties in some areas like Southeast Pennsylvania—will raise would minimum wage above $15 soon if given the option to do so. And ending preemption of local choice with regard to the minimum wage would not just move us closer to a living wage in many places in the state, it would enable the kind of experimentation that helps us improve minimum wage policy statewide.

living wage

It’s Long Past Time to Raise the Minimum Wage

By Blog Post

By Marc Stier, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Policy Center

I took my first regular paid job as a hotel bellhop in 1966 when I was eleven. It was hard work—in many ways harder than anything I do today. People came to stay for a week or three and that meant a summer of schlepping heavy bags, sometimes up two flights of stairs. The tips were sometimes good and sometimes not.

The minimum wage in 1968 was $1.60. But when I got my first paycheck, I was astounded to see that my pay rate was only eighty cents per hour. This made no sense to me, so I went to speak to my boss.

I said, “Mom, why am I only getting paid half of the minimum wage?” She explained the tipped minimum wage to me that day and ever since I’ve opposed that policy, which makes employees dependent on the good will of customers for their sustenance.

However, the moral of this story is not just about the tipped minimum wage. It’s also about the relative value of the minimum wage over time.

After adjusting for inflation, a minimum wage of $1.60 in 1968 would be $14.18 today, which is far above our minimum wage of $7.25 in Pennsylvania. And adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage is now worth less than at any time since the mid-1950s.

Comparing the minimum wage in 1968 to the minimum wage today doesn’t just require an adjustment for inflation. Average labor productivity has increased by 176% since 1968—that is workers on average generate 176% more economic value today than in 1968. Working people, as well as the ultra-rich, should benefit from growing productivity, so we should adjust the minimum wage  to reflect both the increase in productivity increases and inflation. If we do that, an adjusted minimum wage of $1.60 in 1968 would be a minimum wage of $24.90 today.[1]

Here is another way to think about the decline in the value of the minimum wage. In 1968, a single person working full-time at the minimum wage would earn enough to lift a family of three above poverty.[2] Today, a single person working full time at Pennsylvania’s minimum wage of $7.25 barely keeps himself or herself above the poverty line.

And finally, one more way to think about the minimum wage in an historical context. When the minimum wage was created and set at 25 cents per hour in 1938, it was equal to 43% of the mean (average) wage in Pennsylvania. By 1968 when I took my first job, the minimum wage had reached 52% of the mean wage in Pennsylvania. Today it has fallen to about 25% of the mean wage. A $15 minimum wage would take us back to the level we reached in 1968, about 50% of the median wage.

It’s precisely because the national minimum wage of $7.25 is so inadequate that almost every state around us has raised its minimum wage far above it. The District of Columbia has a minimum wage of $17. Connecticut’s minimum wage is $15.69. New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts each have a $15 minimum wage. Delaware and Maryland will each have a $15 minimum wage by January 1, 2025. And Ohio’s minimum wage is $10.45. West Virginia’s is stuck at $8.75, but even that is still higher than Pennsylvania’s minimum wage of $7.25.

 Source: Keystone Research Center

Pennsylvania workers have fallen behind because the state hasn’t raised the minimum wage in more than 13 years.

According to the Keystone Research Center, only about 60,000 Pennsylvania workers earn an hourly wage that is at or below the minimum wage of $7.25. But 1.34 million additional Pennsylvania workers would see their wages rise with a $15 per hour minimum wage by January 2026. Almost 776,000 who make less than $15 per hour (including 60,000 making below $7.25 and hour and 716,000 making between $7.25 and $15 per hour) would see their wages go up to $15. Another 568,000 who make just above $15 an hour would see a wage increase as pay scales are adjusted upward in response to a higher minimum wage. A total of more than 21% of Pennsylvania’s workforce would see their wages go up.[3]

That kind of increase in buying power would not only help low-income workers but it would give our economy a boost, especially for local small businesses.

It’s long past time for Pennsylvania to join the rest of the region—and much of the country—in setting a minimum wage that works for today, not long ago.

[1] Data on the growth in labor productivity can be found here: Joni Sweet, “How Labor Productivity Has Changed Since 1950,” Stacker, March 20, 2024, We relied on the full data set found here: FRED: Federal Reserve Economic Data, “Nonfarm Business Sector: Labor Productivity (Output per Hour),

[2] Stephen Herzenberg, Claire Kovach, and Maisum Murtaza, “2023 State of Working Pennsylvania,” Keystone Research Center, August 30, 2023.

[3] Claire Kovach, “Who Benefits? The Demographic Impact of a Minimum Wage Increase in Pennsylvania,” Keystone Research Center, February 1, 2024,

Seven Myths About Raising the Minimum Wage—Debunked (2024 update)

By Blog Post

Note This is an updated version of a piece I wrote while I was director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. It was published in the Penn Capital–Star on October 3, 2019. A few things have changed since then—and I’ve added a sixth and seventh myth to supplement the original five—but most of the arguments I made at that time not only remain true but are supported by new evidence.

Raising the minimum wage in Pennsylvania is long overdue. Yet even though the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a good minimum wage bill in 2023 that was actually modeled on one introduced in the Senate, Pennsylvania’s Senate Republican leadership continues to refuse to hold a hearing or bring it up for a vote where, we believe, it would almost certainly pass.

Some legislators remain apprehensive about raising the minimum wage because they believe some of the myths about its economic consequences are doing so. Others are using these myths as an excuse for opposing the minimum wage. They need an excuse because the Chamber of Commerce and other pro-business groups that give them campaign contributions oppose the minimum wage.

Why do these business groups oppose raising the minimum wage? It’s because they understand what this issue is about. It’s not just about more money going into the pockets of working people, although that is critical. The minimum wage is part of the effort to change the rules of our economy so that working people do better. In addition to raising the minimum wage his also means strengthening the right to organize unions and fixing a tax system that takes a higher percentage of the income of the poor than the rich. Raising the minimum wage is one step toward reversing the trends of the last 40 years in which a greater share of our income and wealth has gone to the very rich. A minimum wage increase would help benefit all working people and help expand the middle class.

We aren’t going to convince those who believe the rules of our economy should be tilted in favor of the ultra-rich and wealthy corporations that the minimum wage is no threat to them. It is such a threat. But we can show that it’s not a threat to anyone else by refuting the myths about the so-called “dangers of raising the minimum wage.”

MYTH ONE: “The minimum wage was never meant to be a living wage. It’s primarily for young people starting out.” FALSE.

The minimum wage was established to ensure that jobs pay enough to support families. At its inception in 1938 it was set at about 50% of the wage paid to a typical (median) worker. But both the national minimum wage and Pennsylvania’s have fallen so low that they pay only 25% of a typical worker’s hourly earnings.

Today, more than 12% of the Pennsylvania workforce makes less than $15 per hour—that’s about 776,000 workers. That’s too many jobs to all be training jobs held by teenagers. In Pennsylvania, 1.34 million workers—21% of all workers—would have higher wages because of a $15-per-hour minimum wage. This includes the 776,000 who currently make less than $15 per hour and the 568,000 who currently make $15 or slightly more now and would see their wages rise because businesses don’t want to lose experienced workers About 84% of them are adults, 69% are white, more than 60% are women, 25.6% have some college education, 28% have children living with them, and a majority work full time.[1]

All these workers are critical to Pennsylvania businesses which in turn provide the goods and services we need. We owe essential workers a decent life and to get it we must adjust the minimum wage back to about half of a typical worker’s wage—around $15.

MYTH TWO: “Raising the minimum wage just increases the price of goods across the board.” FALSE.

An increase in the minimum wage may lead to a small increase in prices, but it would be far less than the increase in wages for three reasons: (1) Labor is only part of the cost of producing goods and services. (2) A higher wage reduces turnover and training costs for businesses, which saves them money. (3) A higher wage improves worker morale and productivity, which also saves them money.

A recent study in California found that a 25% minimum wage increase raised restaurant prices by only 1.45% in a state where tipped workers (waitresses, servers, etc.) get the same minimum wage as other workers.

State legislators who oppose the minimum wage are fond of talking about their friends who own pizza shops who say that they would have to drastically raise prices if the minimum wage were $15, which would force them to go out of business. Many even claim that the benefits of an increase in the minimum wage would be wiped out by the higher cost of pizza.

These pizza shop owners forget two things. First, even if they have to raise their prices a bit, other pizza shop owners—as well as the owners of other competing businesses—would have to as well, so they wouldn’t be at a competitive disadvantage. And second, they forget that wages are only part of the cost of doing business. There is also the cost of pizza boxes, ovens and the electricity to run them, and the raw materials of pizza. So, the increase in prices would be far less than the increase in wages.

We have tested this hypothesis. Every state around us has a higher minimum wage than Pennsylvania. Yet as we can see from the table below, though the average minimum wage in those states is 84% higher than Pennsylvania’s minimum wage, the price of a standard Domino’s pizza in those states’ capital cities averages only 8% higher than the price in Harrisburg. As of January 1 of this year, New York and New Jersey already have a $15.00 minimum wage, and Washington, DC’s minimum wage is $17.00. Yet the same Domino’s pizza is no more expensive in New Jersey and is only a dollar (or 9%) more in Washington, DC. It is $2 or 18% more in Albany, New York, than in Harrisburg. But New York’s minimum wage is 107% higher than Pennsylvania’s. Low-income New Yorkers are clearly ahead of those in Pennsylvania.

pizza 2024

This evidence also shows that other factors besides the minimum wage affect pizza prices. A Domino’s pizza cost the same in Trenton, New Jersey, as it does in Harrisburg despite New Jersey’s much higher minimum wage. And it’s 18% less than the cost of pizza in Albany, New York, despite the two states having the same minimum wage.

There is also no evidence that the minimum wage has led to a pizza shortage in New York, New Jersey or Washington, DC. No one is crossing the border from New York or New Jersey to Pennsylvania in search of pizza at a lower price. And you can still buy a slice of pizza in New York Cit for $1.

But many Pennsylvanians are crossing the border to New York and New Jersey in search of higher wages. And, no doubt, some of them are buying groceries or pizza before they return to our state.

Finally, while the minimum wage would increase wages for 21% of Pennsylvania workers the small increase in prices would be concentrated in industries that mostly employ low-wage workers. Other sectors may also increase prices slightly as the prices they pay for goods produced by minimum wage workers would increase a bit.  But since the increase in prices in industries that pay the minimum wage will be small, and the goods they produce are likely to be a small part of the costs of others businesses, the overall prices level would barely budge.

MYTH THREE: “Raising the minimum wage will hurt people earning $12, $15, $18 per hour right now.” FALSE

As I pointed out above, if the minimum wage goes up, those making just above the new minimum wage would see their salaries go up as well. So, those workers would also benefit from an increase in the minimum wage. And, ultimately, most other workers would too. In fact, an increase in the minimum wage would add a total of $5 billion to the wages of allPennsylvanians in the short term. And because all of those additional wages would result in new consumption, in the long term there would be a strong increase in business activity in the state. So, business activity would expand, unemployment would go down, and the wages of other workers would increase as well. Everyone would benefit, despite the slight increase in prices in limited sectors of the economy.

MYTH FOUR: “Raising the minimum wage will destroy small businesses.” FALSE.

Minimum wage workers work for big and small businesses, so a higher minimum wage in no way disadvantages small businesses—it establishes a level playing field.

A higher minimum wage can also benefit small businesses by reducing turnover and training costs and increasing worker productivity.

In addition, at a time when many small businesses can’t hire enough employees, raising the minimum wage would actually help not hurt them. When one business raises its wages to hire more workers, it might fear being put at a competitive disadvantage. However, if all businesses in a sector raise their wages, no one business would suffer, and they would all have a better chance of hiring more employees.

And finally, as the chair of the executive committee of the U.S. Chamber recently pointed out, when workers are paid more, they can spend more, which helps local small businesses.

And keep in mind that that small businesses, as well as workers, are harmed by the ability of the few wealthy corporations that dominate so many markets to hold down not just wages but what they pay small businesses. (Large corporations in concentrated industries are, to use the technical term, monopsonists Raising the minimum wage would thus help small businesses to counter the impact of the power larges businesses have over their prices. (And since that increase in prices comes out to the economic rents large corporations secure by means of their monopsony power, they will not be able to pass on the price increase to their own customers.) Again, this effect is small

MYTH FIVE: “Raising the minimum wage will lead to job loss.” FALSE.

There is no question that at some level, at, say, $30 or $40 per hour, raising the minimum wage would cost jobs. But no one is proposing such an increase. A great deal of recent research is consistent with earlier research showing that raising the minimum wage doesn’t reduce jobs—in fact, it often creates new ones by increasing consumption in local communities that in turn creates jobs.

A  new study (see also here) by UC Berkeley economists of more than 750 counties found that increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024 would likely boost incomes but would not lead to significant job losses. The radical economists (sic) at the N.Y. Federal Reserve found that when New York raised its minimum wage, but Pennsylvania did not, both wages and employment increased faster on the New York side of the state border than on the Pennsylvania side. The Keystone Research Center replicated that research for more recent years and found the same results.

Other studies and research analyzing data going back to 1979 have found a higher minimum wage has little or no impact on jobs. And, while some older studies and reports, such as those the Independent Fiscal Office relies on, reach different conclusions, a review by the Keystone Research Center points out that scholars’ consensus firmly supports the now large body of research that refutes these claims.

Given that a higher minimum wage doesn’t hurt businesses or lead to significantly higher prices, it’s no surprise that research shows a wage increase has little or no effect on employment.

Finally, we want to point out that the current low-unemployment economy, in which businesses are struggling to hire workers, is the best possible time to raise the minimum wage. Anyone who does lose a job would likely get another one quickly—and at higher pay.

MYTH SIX: Raising the minimum wage would push low-income workers off a benefit cliff leaving them even worse off. FALSE.

It’s a bit rich when the folks who have long fought against any program that helps working people or those with low incomes oppose raising the minimum wage on the grounds that it will make them worse off because their incomes would be too high to qualify for social safety net programs like SNAP (“food stamps”), Medicaid or Child Care Works. They never respond to that concern with the obvious answer: raise income limits.

Research by the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center in 2019 shows that very few families with low incomes would be worse off because an increase in the minimum wage would reduce their safety net benefits, and our recent update demonstrates that the obvious solution has been adopted. Recent changes to eligibility requirements for SNAP and Child Care Works have eliminated the benefit cliff problem. And of course, the expansion of those programs was enacted by supported of the minimum wage not opponents of it.

Here, as with the other five myths, the arguments of opponents of the minimum wage have become more implausible the more we learn about how the minimum wage works.

MYTH SEVEN: No one cares about the minimum wage any more. FALSE.

A May 2022 poll commissioned by the State Innovation Exchange found that 73% of Pennsylvanians support putting the state on a path to a $15-per-hour minimum wage. A majority of Pennsylvanians in every state House and Senate district, including the most Republican districts, agree.


Myths abound about the minimum wage because, like all myths, they serve the interests of the myth-makers. Unfortunately the influence of the vast majority of Pennsylvania workers are directly contrary to those of the myth makers.  For the sake of the vast majority of working people in Pennsylvania, it’s time for the Pennsylvania Senate to follow the House and put Pennsylvania on a both to a $15 minimum wage.

[1] These data are from Claire Kovach, Who Benefits? The Demographic Impact of a Higher Minimum Wage in Pennsylvania, Keystone Research Center, February 1, 2024,


STATEMENT: Celebrating the Landmark Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s 14 Years

By Press Statement


March 22, 2024

CONTACT: Kirstin Snow, Communications Director


The landmark Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law fourteen years ago on March 23, 2010, thanks to President Obama and the commitment of millions of advocates—including 25,000 in Pennsylvania—who worked for years, encouraging politicians to address the health insurance industry’s abuses and the needs of 50 million Americans who could not afford health insurance.

As its earlier incarnation, Pennsylvania Policy Center contributed to the victory as part of Health Care for America Now (HCAN), which was led in Pennsylvania by our executive director Marc Stier. Our deputy director, Levana Layendecker, served as the digital director of HCAN nationwide.

Fourteen years later, we celebrate a great deal of progress while recognizing that there is still much work to do. The ACA cut the rate of uninsurance in half nationwide and from 9.7% to 5.3% in Pennsylvania, bringing the number of uninsured people to a record low by making coverage in the ACA marketplaces more affordable and expanding coverage to low-income workers through the expansion of the Medicaid program.

A record number of Pennsylvanians—419,832—enrolled in ACA coverage this year a 13% increase over last year thanks to enhanced tax credits proposed by President Biden that make coverage more affordable and save enrollees an average of $800 annually.

Health disparities between white people and people in minority groups such as Native Americans, Blacks, Latinos, and immigrants have also shrunk because of the Affordable Care Act. These groups were the least likely to have insurance or to be able to afford coverage but have gained increased access thanks to the Medicaid expansion and reduced costs on the exchange.

The ACA didn’t just make coverage affordable and reduce the number of uninsured, it created new rules for insurance corporations that protect all of us from the worst insurance abuses and improve the quality of the coverage. For example, the ACA made it illegal for insurance to deny, drop or overcharge people with common pre-existing conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes or pregnancy. The ACA ended annual limits and caps on coverage. It ended discrimination in health insurance by making it illegal to charge women more than men for the same policy and by refusing coverage to someone because of their race, ethnicity or gender. In addition, the ACA created new standards for insurance policies that require all plans sold in the ACA marketplaces to include basic Essential Health Benefits like maternal and prenatal care, prescription drugs, and hospital care. The ACA also made preventive care like birth control, annual exams, mammograms, and colonoscopies free under all health plans, including Medicare.

The ACA has had a dramatic effect on the well-being of Pennsylvanians, reducing illness and medical bankruptcy. And, research shows that each year the ACA saves the lives of between 200 and 400 Pennsylvanians who would have otherwise died for lack of health insurance.

All of these features made the ACA the biggest achievement in healthcare since the 1960s passage of Medicare and Medicaid—but there’s still significant work to do to rein in insurance and drug corporations that continue to price gouge on premiums and medicines and to ensure that people in the states that have not expanded Medicaid get access to those benefits.

Moreover, there are some politicians, including former President Trump, who have not given up on repealing the law, and there continue to be court cases that try to dismantle the law piece by piece. Advocates must stay vigilant to protect and finish implementing the law.

Marc Stier, Pennsylvania Policy Center’s executive director and former state director of HCAN in Pennsylvania, said today, “The enactment of the ACA, thanks to the work of the HCAN campaign, remains a proud moment in my life as well as that of advocates throughout the state. And like any other Pennsylvanian, I can see the results close to home. My daughter has taken advantage of both the Medicaid expansion and health insurance in the ACA marketplace. And, two of our current staff members received what one called ‘unbelievably affordable’ coverage through the ACA marketplace that ‘saved me in the aftermath of the Great Recession” before joining us.”


There’s a Crucial Need for OSHA Regulations in Safeguarding Public Sector Workers

By Blog Post

In Pennsylvania, OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations apply to most private sector employers and employees. However, public sector employees, including those working for “Section (3)(5) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 specifically excludes Federal OSHA’s authority over employees of State and local government. The Act provides for States to assume responsibility for occupational safety and health programs under the state’s own plan, which must be approved by the U.S. Department of Labor.”

These protections implement lifesaving health and safety standards in the workplace as well as avenues to report violations and receive assistance. Amongst other protections, OSHA standards require private employers to: provide fall protection, ensure the safety of workers who are in confined spaces, provide protection against infectious diseases, and prevent exposure to harmful substances like asbestos or lead. Without regulation, all public employees are left vulnerable to dangers in their workplaces.

Public sector workers are essential to the functioning of society, providing vital services such as maintaining public infrastructure and ensuring public safety and health. Despite their crucial roles, these workers face myriad occupational hazards that can compromise their well-being. Public schools are a strong example of why health and safety regulations are necessary. Because school funding primarily relies on local taxes, lower-income communities are often left with severely underfunded public schools. Without OSHA protections, adequate funding to maintain building safety for employees and students is often overlooked in favor of other essential expenditures. Private school teachers can submit a complaint and request an OSHA inspection, but public school teachers cannot. That is wrong.

On the national level, state and local public sector employees are 64% more likely to be injured on the job than private sector employees.

Several workers’ unions have continued to push for legislative change via an OSHA-approved state plan that includes public employees and employers. Twenty-six U.S. states have already done so, including New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia. In the coming months, Pennsylvania state lawmakers will decide whether these valuable protections will be extended to public employees and employers.

In Pennsylvania, legislation passed the House (HB 299) with bipartisan support. Legislation has been introduced in the Senate but has not moved.

It is time for Pennsylvania to enact workplace safety legislation to protect all workers!

Read more:

Ockerman, Emma. “Worker injuries and deaths are still far too common: Americans are still dying from injuries on the job — but some workers are more impacted than others.” Market Watch. May 1, 2022.

Schmidt, Sophia. “Could PA finally extend OSHA protections to public school teachers and trash collectors?” April 21, 2022.

Website for Pennsylvania House Democrats. “House passes Harkins bill to bring OSHA safety protections to public workers,” by Rep. Patrick J. Harkins. May 2, 2023.

Henderson, David. “Every Pennsylvania worker deserves strong workplace safety protections.” Penn Capital-Star. May 3, 2023.