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The Lifeline Scholarship Program Would Undermine Public Education

By Blog Post, Remarks

My name is Marc Stier. I’m the executive director of the Pennsylvania Policy Center. 

I’m here today with my fellow advocates for education—including the leaders of unions of teachers, who have dedicated their lives to our children—to speak against the Lifeline scholarship program put forward by Senate Republicans. 

The advocates for that program say that it will not take money from our public schools. This argument is thoroughly disingenuous. While money for the program comes from the General Fund and not from individual school districts, Republicans keep reminding us that General Fund revenues are not unlimited. The accumulated surplus that is supporting the operating budget this year—and is projected to support it for the next five years—will eventually run out. Any funding that goes to the Lifeline scholarship program will come from revenues that are needed to meet our constitutional and moral responsibility to provide fair and full funding of our public schools and that also help to keep local property taxes from rising too fast.  

Republicans who oppose adding more funding for public schools keep warning us about a future state spending crunch. Yet when it comes to their priorities—such as Lifeline scholarships and corporate tax cuts—as well as the huge $340-million subsidy for private schools in the EITC and OSTC program that already exist—they forget those warnings. And, not to anyone’s surprise, their priorities mainly benefit the richest Pennsylvanians. That’s obviously true for corporate tax cuts. But it’s also true for the EITC and OSTC programs and vouchers as well, for the simple reason that in addition to the vouchers individual parents will have to spend their own funds to afford the best private schools in the state.  

The evidence we have from other states that have enacted proposals like Lifeline scholarships shows they have failed in multiple ways. The comprehensive and recent analysisof voucher programs in a number of US cities and states shows they do not significantly improve student achievement. Moreover, this research demonstrates that improvement in education in the states that have enacted vouchers came from accountability programs that were adopted for all schools, both public and private. Yet private and charter school accountability has long been missing in Pennsylvania and is nowhere to be found in the Lifeline scholarship legislation.  

The lack of accountability in voucher programs has led to schools that not only do not provide a superior education but too often discriminate based on race, religion, and disability status. They fail to teach the basics of civic education. And they often teach sectarian ideas contrary to our Constitution. And voucher-funded schools with little or no accountability have a long history of malfeasance, misspending of state funds, and outright corruption. This has been found in voucher programs enacted in Arizona,Florida,Louisiana,Oklahoma,Wisconsin, andWashington, DC.  

I understand the appeal of helping students afford a private school they can attend for whom the public schools do not work. And I could support a limited program along those lines. But the advocates for this program intend much more. Their expressed goal is to replace public schools with private ones. Our recent poll shows that 57% of Pennsylvania voters overwhelmingly oppose this idea. And it would violate the constitutional mandate to provide a system of thorough and efficient public education.  

The people of Pennsylvania support public schools for very good reasons. They know that public schools bring diverse groups of students together so they can learn to live and work together. They know that public schools try to bring all our kids, no matter what they look like or how much they have, to the level that allows them to thrive no matter what further education they get or work they do. And they know that public schools teach the civic ideals that most of us cherish. They have been doing that in Pennsylvania since Thaddeus Stevens, the greatest Republican legislator in our history and a great educator before he became the great liberator, led the General Assembly to create public schools in 1834. We need to rededicate ourselves to Stevens’s firm belief that a great public education will give every child in our state an equal opportunity—not just to make the best of their own lives but to contribute mightily to the lives of their fellow Pennsylvanians. 

 

The Time Is Right for PA to Finally Raise its Minimum Wage | OPINION

By Blog Post, Op-Ed

Originally published in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star

By Marc Stier

House Bill 1500, co-sponsored by Democratic Reps. Jason Dawkins of Philadelphia and Patty Kim of Dauphin County, would increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour over three years and then create annual increases in the future based on the cost of living. While the bill, which is now before the House Appropriations Committee, is not perfect, it would provide enormous benefits to Pennsylvania workers and Pennsylvania’s economy.

The legislation has faced the usual arguments made against raising the minimum wage. But what the critics seem not to have noticed is that those arguments make little sense under current economic conditions, if they ever did.

Indeed, it’s hard not to conclude that this is the best possible time to raise the minimum wage for both workers and businesses.

Raising the minimum wage is almost certain to lead to the creation—not elimination—of jobs and a better environment for businesses.

Businesses all over the state are frustrated by their inability to hire enough workers in the post-pandemic economy. Many of them have already raised wages. Many more would do so if they didn’t fear it would put them at a competitive disadvantage. By creating a higher floor for wages, a higher minimum wage allows businesses to pay more without fear of losing business to their competitors. And higher wages bring more potential workers back into the job market.

Higher wages—and the new jobs created when more people enter the workforce—would also generate more consumption of goods, which would lead to more economic activity and even more new jobs. Using recent Keystone Research Center projections, I estimate that 1.3 million to 1.5 million workers—or as much as 25% of the state’s work force—would get a raise when the minimum wage reached $15 and that at least $5 billion to $6 billion in wages would be added to the state’s economy. And the KRC projection does not account for the multiplier effect of new job creation.

I’ve adapted KRC projections because they assume the minimum wage reaches $15 in January 2014, not 2016 as it is in HB 1500.

Having grown up in a small, family-owned business, I understand that small business owners worry about how to afford paying higher wages. But what my family discovered is paying higher wages brought us workers who were better motivated and less likely to quit, reducing the cost of finding and training employees. Higher wages for all brought us more customers, too. We couldn’t pay more if we were the only business doing so. But when our competitors also had to pay more, we all benefited.

Raising wages is especially important to protecting workers at a time of high, if recently declining, inflation. The workers who would see higher wages because of a higher minimum wage are not just those making below $15. As businesses adjust their wage scales to prevent employees from leaving, a higher minimum wage would boost wages for those making more than that new minimum wage. And, no, it wouldn’t lead to higher inflation because wages are not the sole, or in many cases, the main cost of doing business.

The claim that raising the minimum wage helps businesses and creates jobs may sound counter-intuitive to some who have studied abstract economic theory. But as contemporary research shows, abstract theory ignores an important contemporary reality—giant, wealthy corporations dominate our economic life. A large share of workers is employed by huge corporations. A large share of small businesses buys goods and services from those same corporations.

Lack of competition in most industries gives those corporations economic power. The wages huge corporations pay are below what they would be if they had real competition. And the goods and services they sell are priced higher than they would be in a truly competitive market.

A higher minimum wage—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—are a necessary counter to the near-monopoly-level power of corporate giants. It doesn’t raise wages above what they would be in truly competitive market but ensures that they reach that level.

Higher wages shift income from the wealthy people, who own corporations and save much of what they earn, to working people who spend what they earn. That creates more economic activity and jobs. By protecting workers, a higher minimum wage ultimately helps small businesses, too.

Pro-business advocacy groups often fight the minimum wage in the name of small businesses. But the truth is that they are fighting for those who support them: large corporations, which have far too much power in our economic life, and through their campaign contributions, our political life as well.

There has never been a better time for Pennsylvania, and our country, to counter their power and work together to create a political economy that works for all of us.

 

We Need To Let Local Communities Set Their Own Minimum Wage

By Blog Post, Policy Briefs

The state of Pennsylvania does not allow local governments—whether counties or municipalities—to set a higher minimum wage than that set by the state. It should do so.

The reason it should is obvious: Pennsylvania is a large, diverse state in which local economies differ from one county and city to another.

Some of our counties have a much higher cost of living than others, which means that the single statewide minimum is less valuable to working people in some counties than others.

Some of our counties have much higher average wages than others, which means that they can support a higher minimum wage without any job loss. (And it’s pretty clear that, under current economic conditions, it would take a much higher minimum wage to cause job loss than anything being discussed in the General Assembly.)

Some of our counties have lower unemployment or more employers looking to hire people than others which also means they’re able to sustain a higher minimum wage with no job loss.

All these factors would  justify a higher local minimum wage than that set by the state.

County and municipal governments will, no doubt, be cautious in raising the minimum wage too high. While we have repeatedly argued that, at the rates being considered statewide, a higher minimum wage will not lead to the loss of jobs, there is no doubt some point at which a higher minimum wage might cost some jobs. And if one county raises its wages too high, relative to those immediately around it, the difference in wages could lead to differential in prices from one side of the county line to another.

So, counties are likely to be very careful about raising the minimum wage above the state level, and some may choose to only raise their wage in concert with some of the surrounding counties. Local option in setting the minimum wage may lead to regional as well as county minimum wage rates.

You can see the extent to which the wage now varies in the following chart, drawn from Glasmeier, Amy K., Living Wage Calculator, 2023, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. https://livingwage.mit.edu. 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 living wage includes eight typical expenses or basic needs – food, childcare, health care, housing, transportation, civic engagement, broadband access, and other necessities. In addition to these basic needs, the Calculator also accounts for the additional cost to families associated with income and payroll taxes. (See the FAQ page. Click here for detailed information about the methodology of the Living Wage.

MIT Living Wage Calculation for Pennsylvania Counties
The living wage shown is the hourly rate that an individual in a household must earn to support his or herself and their family. In the case of households with two working adults, all values are per working adult, single or in a family unless otherwise noted.
County One Adult Working 2 Adults (One Working) 2 Adults (Both Working
0 Children 1 Child 2 Children 3 Children 0 Children 1 Child 2 Children 3 Children 0 Children 1 Child 2 Children 3 Children
Adams $15.77 $32.98 $41.74 $54.58 $26.26 $32.48 $37.28 $41.75 $13.13 $18.49 $23.14 $27.62
Allegheny $16.24 $33.64 $43.45 $56.92 $25.91 $32.11 $36.91 $40.82 $12.96 $18.82 $23.98 $28.70
Armstrong $14.59 $31.55 $40.51 $52.24 $24.62 $30.85 $35.64 $38.98 $12.31 $17.78 $22.52 $26.54
Beaver $16.24 $34.65 $45.63 $60.19 $25.91 $32.11 $36.91 $40.82 $12.96 $19.33 $24.99 $30.22
Bedford $14.98 $30.96 $39.69 $51.40 $24.48 $30.49 $35.28 $38.88 $12.24 $17.48 $22.12 $26.15
Berks $15.71 $34.30 $44.43 $57.99 $25.94 $32.53 $37.32 $41.07 $12.97 $19.15 $24.44 $29.20
Blair $14.71 $30.59 $38.43 $48.82 $24.98 $31.01 $35.80 $39.17 $12.49 $17.30 $21.48 $24.96
Bradford $15.42 $31.16 $39.81 $51.63 $24.87 $30.78 $35.57 $39.35 $12.43 $17.58 $22.17 $26.26
Bucks $17.53 $36.83 $47.85 $62.56 $27.83 $34.42 $39.21 $43.39 $13.92 $20.41 $26.02 $31.31
Butler $16.24 $33.57 $43.30 $56.70 $25.91 $32.11 $36.91 $40.82 $12.96 $18.79 $23.92 $28.61
Cambria $14.96 $30.94 $39.65 $51.22 $24.37 $30.49 $35.28 $38.77 $12.18 $17.47 $22.10 $26.07
Cameron $14.74 $31.01 $39.78 $51.17 $24.25 $30.49 $35.28 $38.53 $12.13 $17.50 $22.16 $26.05
Carbon $16.76 $34.61 $43.85 $57.27 $26.87 $33.68 $38.47 $42.93 $13.44 $19.31 $24.17 $28.87
Centre $18.25 $34.36 $43.18 $56.12 $27.72 $33.79 $38.59 $42.97 $13.86 $19.18 $23.86 $28.34
Chester $17.53 $37.51 $49.33 $64.79 $27.83 $34.42 $39.21 $43.39 $13.92 $20.76 $26.70 $32.41
Clarion $15.32 $31.32 $40.41 $52.18 $24.72 $30.49 $35.28 $38.53 $12.36 $17.66 $22.47 $26.51
Clearfield $14.63 $30.51 $38.80 $50.05 $24.51 $30.49 $35.28 $38.97 $12.25 $17.26 $21.67 $25.53
Clinton $14.77 $30.70 $38.54 $49.30 $24.72 $31.12 $35.91 $39.62 $12.36 $17.35 $21.54 $25.18
Columbia $15.95 $32.82 $42.67 $55.64 $25.40 $31.23 $36.02 $39.44 $12.70 $18.41 $23.61 $28.12
Crawford $14.43 $30.96 $39.69 $51.11 $24.35 $30.49 $35.28 $38.61 $12.18 $17.48 $22.12 $26.02
Cumberland $14.43 $30.96 $39.69 $51.11 $24.35 $30.49 $35.28 $38.61 $12.18 $17.48 $22.12 $26.02
Dauphin $16.01 $34.12 $43.74 $57.15 $26.18 $32.79 $37.59 $41.64 $13.09 $19.06 $24.12 $28.81
Delaware $17.53 $36.64 $47.44 $61.95 $27.83 $34.42 $39.21 $43.39 $13.92 $20.32 $25.83 $31.03
Elk $14.35 $31.43 $40.63 $53.18 $24.46 $30.49 $35.28 $39.12 $12.23 $17.72 $22.59 $26.98
Erie $14.35 $31.43 $40.63 $53.18 $24.46 $30.49 $35.28 $39.12 $12.23 $17.72 $22.59 $26.98
Fayette $16.24 $33.66 $43.50 $56.99 $25.91 $32.11 $36.91 $40.82 $12.96 $18.83 $24.01 $28.74
Forest $15.05 $31.42 $40.21 $51.73 $24.57 $30.90 $35.70 $39.04 $12.28 $17.71 $22.37 $26.31
Franklin $15.85 $32.24 $40.93 $53.49 $25.25 $31.81 $36.60 $40.95 $12.62 $18.12 $22.73 $27.12
Fulton $14.74 $30.24 $38.26 $49.23 $24.89 $30.49 $35.28 $39.02 $12.44 $17.12 $21.40 $25.15
Greene $15.53 $32.41 $42.48 $55.51 $24.90 $30.59 $35.38 $38.65 $12.45 $18.20 $23.51 $28.06
Huntingdon $14.95 $30.96 $39.69 $51.51 $24.77 $30.49 $35.28 $38.98 $12.39 $17.48 $22.12 $26.20
Indiana $14.92 $31.60 $40.74 $52.70 $24.85 $30.73 $35.52 $38.87 $12.43 $17.80 $22.64 $26.75
Jefferson $14.75 $31.30 $40.32 $52.03 $24.42 $30.54 $35.34 $38.60 $12.21 $17.65 $22.43 $26.44
Juniata $14.35 $30.15 $38.08 $48.41 $24.28 $30.49 $35.28 $38.53 $12.14 $17.08 $21.31 $24.77
Lackawanna $15.16 $32.73 $42.36 $55.47 $25.25 $31.36 $36.15 $39.95 $12.62 $18.37 $23.45 $28.03
Lancaster $16.39 $34.34 $43.65 $56.81 $26.68 $33.33 $38.12 $42.26 $13.34 $19.17 $24.08 $28.65
Lawrence $14.51 $32.59 $42.71 $56.06 $24.43 $30.73 $35.52 $39.02 $12.22 $18.30 $23.63 $28.31
Lebanon $16.05 $33.39 $42.86 $56.04 $25.57 $32.17 $36.97 $40.95 $12.78 $18.69 $23.70 $28.30
Lehigh $16.76 $34.92 $44.53 $58.29 $26.87 $33.68 $38.47 $42.93 $13.44 $19.46 $24.49 $29.34
Luzerne $15.16 $32.06 $41.01 $53.29 $25.25 $31.36 $36.15 $39.95 $12.62 $18.03 $22.78 $27.03
Lycoming $15.85 $32.07 $40.98 $53.18 $25.24 $31.42 $36.21 $39.99 $12.62 $18.04 $22.76 $26.98
Mckean $14.85 $30.58 $38.93 $49.88 $24.26 $30.49 $35.28 $38.61 $12.13 $17.29 $21.74 $25.45
Mercer $14.90 $32.39 $42.56 $56.24 $24.31 $30.49 $35.28 $39.06 $12.15 $18.20 $23.55 $28.39
Mifflin $14.55 $30.96 $39.69 $51.62 $24.67 $30.49 $35.28 $39.08 $12.33 $17.48 $22.12 $26.26
Monroe $17.02 $34.96 $44.95 $59.91 $26.42 $33.36 $38.16 $43.39 $13.21 $19.48 $24.68 $30.09
Montgomery $17.53 $37.31 $48.89 $64.13 $27.83 $34.42 $39.21 $43.39 $13.92 $20.66 $26.50 $32.09
Montour $15.76 $32.63 $42.26 $55.74 $25.40 $31.26 $36.06 $40.21 $12.70 $18.32 $23.40 $28.16
Northampton $16.76 $35.00 $44.70 $58.55 $26.87 $33.68 $38.47 $42.93 $13.44 $19.50 $24.56 $29.46
Northumberland $16.76 $35.00 $44.70 $58.55 $26.87 $33.68 $38.47 $42.93 $13.44 $19.50 $24.56 $29.46
Perry $16.01 $32.82 $41.10 $52.93 $26.18 $32.79 $37.59 $41.64 $13.09 $18.41 $22.82 $26.86
Philadelphia $17.53 $36.94 $48.10 $62.94 $27.83 $34.42 $39.21 $43.39 $13.92 $20.47 $26.14 $31.49
Pike $18.31 $36.70 $47.02 $62.52 $27.72 $34.93 $39.72 $45.26 $13.86 $20.35 $25.64 $31.30
Potter $14.74 $30.71 $39.20 $50.77 $24.37 $30.49 $35.28 $39.04 $12.19 $17.36 $21.87 $25.86
Schuylkill $14.97 $31.14 $40.01 $51.97 $24.37 $30.53 $35.32 $39.00 $12.18 $17.57 $22.27 $26.42
Snyder $15.46 $30.77 $39.04 $50.38 $24.93 $30.77 $35.56 $39.34 $12.47 $17.39 $21.79 $25.68
Somerset $15.27 $30.71 $39.20 $50.84 $24.67 $30.49 $35.28 $39.10 $12.33 $17.36 $21.87 $25.90
Sullivan $14.74 $30.92 $39.61 $51.97 $24.72 $30.49 $35.28 $39.54 $12.36 $17.46 $22.07 $26.42
Susquehanna $14.80 $31.36 $40.16 $52.14 $24.54 $30.82 $35.62 $39.36 $12.27 $17.68 $22.35 $26.50
Tioga $14.68 $31.59 $40.45 $52.48 $24.63 $30.99 $35.78 $39.50 $12.32 $17.80 $22.49 $26.65
Union $15.15 $31.16 $39.53 $51.35 $25.37 $31.04 $35.83 $39.90 $12.68 $17.58 $22.04 $26.13
Venango $14.58 $31.32 $40.41 $52.18 $24.44 $30.49 $35.28 $38.53 $12.22 $17.66 $22.47 $26.51
Warren $15.08 $30.80 $39.38 $50.82 $24.48 $30.49 $35.28 $38.81 $12.24 $17.40 $21.96 $25.89
Washington $15.43 $32.97 $42.77 $55.98 $25.36 $31.42 $36.21 $39.89 $12.68 $18.48 $23.66 $28.27
Wayne $15.43 $32.97 $42.77 $55.98 $25.36 $31.42 $36.21 $39.89 $12.68 $18.48 $23.66 $28.27
Westmoreland $16.24 $33.26 $42.67 $55.69 $25.91 $32.11 $36.91 $40.82 $12.96 $18.63 $23.60 $28.14
Wyoming $15.16 $33.44 $43.84 $57.79 $25.25 $31.36 $36.15 $39.95 $12.62 $18.72 $24.17 $29.11
York $15.72 $33.41 $42.65 $55.52 $25.75 $32.43 $37.22 $41.17 $12.88 $18.70 $23.59 $28.06

 

 

 

Penn Policy Statement on House Passage of HB 1500, the Minimum Wage Bill

By Blog Post, Pennsylvania Policy Center, Press Statement

Marc Stier, executive director of the Pennsylvania Policy Center, released the following statement after the PA House passed HB 1500.

House passage of House Bill 1500 is a major step forward for all working people and businesses in the state of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvanians have been waiting for seventeen years for an increase in the minimum wage and for seven years for the state to embrace a path to a minimum wage of $15 per hour. This long overdue action comes at an ideal time. Employers all over the state are already raising wages to ensure they can find the employees they need. Raising the minimum wage would create a floor under wages that ensures businesses can raise their wages without being put at a competitive disadvantage. Workers making below, and just above, $15 per hour would see their wages go up, which would generate new consumption that would help businesses, create more jobs, and keep our economy growing.

The bill was not everything we hoped for. We expect the General Assembly to return to the issue next year to end the preemption on local governments setting a higher minimum wage than the state level and also to replace the tipped minimum wage with one fair wage.

Despite the limitation of HB 1500, it is a huge achievement. If senators are listening to their constituents, they will pass this bill as soon as possible.

Penn Policy Speaks in Support of House Budget on K-12 Education

By Blog Post, Press Statement

Remarks by Marc Stier, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Policy Center, at a PA School Work press conference in support of the House passed budget for 2023-2024

In March, Governor Shapiro put forward a proposed budget that many of us said had the right priorities but did not offer enough funding for critical needs, including K-12 education. Last week, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a budget—with the support of Governor Shapiro—that added funding in many of those critical areas.

The House budget adds the basic education fund to the governor’s proposal. It includes new funding for the Level Up program, which provides additional money for the 108 least-well-funded school districts and adds money for special education and for repairing toxic schools. The House budget, which Governor Shapiro embraced, is a good down payment on what the state ultimately must do to meet the constitutional and moral requirements to fully and fairly fund our schools.

The additional funding in the House budget for education and other needs is made possible by the new revenue budget estimates provided by the Independent Fiscal Office. The IFO projects that the state will have almost a billion dollars more for the current and next fiscal years than the governor projected in March. At end of this fiscal year, on June 30th, the state will have a $13 billion accumulated surplus including the Rainy Day Fund and the General Fund surplus. If the House budget is adopted, the state will still have a $10.5 billion surplus on June 30th next year.

Contrary to some critics’ opinions of the House-passed budget, it does not reduce Rainy Day Fund but adds a bit more than $500 million to it. The House budget, like the Governor’s budget and any other budget that will be enacted this year, does draw down the accumulated General Fund surplus. That is exactly what it should do. The General Fund surplus is a product of tight budgets during the pandemic, federal pandemic aid, and a faster-than-expected recovery from the recession created by the pandemic. It was created by our tax dollars, and it should be used to support the needs of the state as identified by the people of Pennsylvania.

And that is what the House budget proposal does, as shown by the result of a poll carried out by Data for Progress last week.

The poll shows that 64% of Pennsylvania voters believe we are facing a severe teacher shortage in the state, and 69% of them believe that there are significant differences in education quality provided by public schools across Pennsylvania because some schools do not receive enough funding.

That does not mean that Pennsylvanians oppose our public school system. By a 26-point margin, Pennsylvania voters don’t want to replace our existing public school system with private schools funded by vouchers. Rather, they understand that our schools are not, but should be, fairly and adequately funded: 67% believe state government should be doing more to ensure that public schools are sufficiently funded, and 66% think that state government should be doing more to ensure that public schools are equally funded.

The Pennsylvania House budget passed last week does exactly what voters want— it takes a critical step forward in fully and fairly funding our schools.

Why We Should Raise the Minimum Wage in Pennsylvania to $15 Per Hour

By Blog Post, Policy Briefs, Press Statement

 

Click here to read a full-screen version, download, and print.

A high minimum wage ensures we have an economy that works for all of us. It protects workers and provides a dignified life.
  • The minimum wage is a critical protection for workers—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. These policies ensure that our economy works for all of us, not just the wealthy owners of huge corporations.
  • We show respect for the dignity of work by ensuring all full-time workers are paid a decent wage that allows them to support themselves and their families. Opponents of a higher minimum wage want the work but won’t provide the dignity.
  • Since 1947, workers’ share of the benefits of the United States economy has shrunk drastically. But our economy is more productive than ever. If the minimum wage had gone up with productivity increases since 1968, it would be over $23 per hour today. Most of us struggle while the wealthy owners of corporations grow ever richer.
  • Our tax dollars subsidize wealthy corporations that fail to pay their workers a living wage by forcing workers to supplement their low wages with social safety net programs.
  • Pennsylvania workers have fallen behind because the state hasn’t raised the minimum wage in more than 13 years. It is worth 27% less than it was in 2009, the last time it was raised nationally. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage is now worth less than at any time since the mid-1950s.
  • We need a higher minimum wage to protect workers whose incomes have fallen further behind as inflation has increased, in part, because corporations have ratcheted up prices to make record profits.

Every state around us is raising the minimum wage!

  • Since 2014, 30 states and Washington, DC, have increased their minimum wage, including every state that borders Pennsylvania.

Raising the minimum wage dignifies the work of adults who head families.

  • Raising the minimum wage benefits low-income workers, who now make below the proposed minimum wage, and those who make just above it because businesses typically raise the wages of workers making just above the new minimum wage so as not to lose them to competitors.
  • KRC’s analysis of $15-per-hour minimum wage proposals shows that more than 80% of the workers who would see a pay raise are over age 18. These workers are disproportionately women and people of color, and many were “essential” workers during the height of the pandemic.

A higher minimum wage will create new jobs.

  • Recent research by the NY Federal Reserve, KRC, and UC Berkeley economists 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.

Raising the minimum wage is good for local businesses and the economy—and this is the best possible time to do it.

  • Higher wages for workers mean that they and their families will be spending more in their communities, boosting the local economy and helping Pennsylvania businesses. That is why dozens of economists have endorsed a minimum wage increase.
  • Many small businesses can’t hire enough workers right now. They want to pay their employees more but are worried about being at a competitive disadvantage to businesses that pay less. Raising the minimum wage would create a higher wage floor, enabling all businesses to find the workers they need.
  • Higher wages increase worker morale and productivity. They also reduce turnover and training costs, benefiting local businesses that are being pressed by the higher wholesale costs charged by large corporations.

Would raising the minimum wage increase prices?

Some prices may go up, but wages will increase faster than prices for a number of reasons.

  • For example, the cost of a 12-inch, hand-tossed Domino’s pizza averages 1.5% more in the states around PA, even though the minimum wage averages 69% more.
  • Wages are only part of the cost of doing business.
  • Increased productivity and reduced training costs for employers hold price increases down.

The Impact of the Minimum Wage on the Price of Pizza

Price of 12-inch,  hand-tossed or thin-crust Domino’s Pizza Price relative to Harrisburg State minimum wage as of January 1, 2023 Minimum wage relative to Pennsylvania
Harrisburg, PA $10.99 $7.25
Annapolis, MD $11.99 9.10% $13.25 82.76%
Albany, NY $11.49 4.55% $14.20 95.86%
Trenton, NJ $10.99 0.00% $14.13 94.90%
Wilmington, DE $10.99 0.00% $13.25 82.76%
Charleston, WV $10.99 0.00% $8.75 20.69%
Columbus, Ohio $10.49 -4.55% $10.10 39.31%
Average difference between PA and surrounding states 1.52% 69.38%

Pennsylvanians support a higher minimum wage.

  • 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.

Ending state preemption that prevents local communities from raising their minimum wage is needed to protect workers.

  • The cost of living in many Pennsylvania counties—Philadelphia, Allegheny, Pike, and others—is far higher than the state average. Counties should have the option to account for these variations.

“One fair wage,” an end to the tipped minimum wage, is also needed to protect workers.

  • In Pennsylvania, employers of workers who customarily receive tips are only required to pay their tipped workers a base wage of $2.83 per hour.
  • Forcing workers to rely on tips also encourages sexual harassment in the workplace. One fair wage would protect all workers, especially women, from being abused by customers and employers.

For more information, contact: Marc Stier, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Policy Center; stier@pennpolicy.org, (215) 880-6142.

PA House Passes Proposals to Reduce Taxes for Working People

By Blog Post

Four Major Proposals Will Make Pennsylvania Taxes Fairer

The Pennsylvania House today passed the second and third of four major tax proposals: an expansion of the Child and Dependent Care Enhancement Tax Credit (HB 1259) and the creation of a state Earned Income Tax (HB 1272). These actions follow on House passage of an expansion of the Property Tax / Rent Rebate Program (HB 1110) on January 6. The House is expected to act soon to pass the repeal of the gross receipts tax and sales and use tax on wireless cell phone services (HB 1138).

Taken together, the four bills that have been, or will soon be, passed by the House of Representatives will reduce taxes for working people in Pennsylvania and make our state’s tax system fairer. While there is more to be done to fix our upside-down tax system in which the wealthiest Pennsylvania families pay taxes at lower rate than low- and moderate-income families, these proposals are a big step in the right direction. We are grateful to the Democratic House leadership for moving these proposals to the floor and to both the Democrats and Republicans who voted for them.

The first proposal passed today was an expansion of the Child Tax Credit, first enacted last June, in the budget for the current fiscal year. The Pennsylvania Child Tax Credit piggybacks on the federal child and dependent tax credit. The initial version of the tax passed last year gave Pennsylvania taxpayers with children a tax credit equal to 30% of the employment-related child and dependent care expenses claimed on a family’s federal tax return of up to $3,000 for one dependent or $6,000 for two or more dependents. The new bill gradually expands the credit to 50% of the child and dependent expenses with a cap of $5,000 for one dependent and $10,000 for two or more. The child and dependent tax credit benefits all families who pay for child and dependent care, but because those costs are a bigger burden on low- and moderate-income families, and because of the cap on allowable costs, the tax credit provides extra help for families at the bottom and middle of the income scale. Representative Tina Davis (D-Bucks) was the prime sponsor of the legislation, which has also been championed by Representative Melissa Shusterman (D-Chester) in recent years.

The second proposal passed today was a state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). This is a proposal that the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center has supported for a number of years. The state Earned Income Tax Credit piggybacks on the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit, which is one of the major programs that lift families out of poverty in the United States. The state EITC will give Pennsylvania families 25% of what they received under the federal credit. Families will have to choose between receiving this credit or the credit allowed under the existing tax forgiveness program. The Pennsylvania Policy Center (PPC) estimates that a new state EITC will benefit families with incomes roughly up to $22,000 in income more than the existing tax forgiveness program. (PPC will present a full analysis of the new proposal soon.) Representative Christina Sappey (D-Chester) was the prime sponsor of the legislation, which has been championed by Representative Sara Innamorato (D-Allegheny) in recent years.

Last week the House passed HB 1100, an expansion of the Property Tax / Rent Rebate Program, which reduces property taxes for seniors and people with disabilities. This legislation, which was proposed by Governor  Josh Shapiro in his budget address, raises the income limits for the Property Tax and Rent Rebate Program from $35,000 for homeowners and $15,000 for renters to $45,000 for both homeowners and renters. In addition, under the legislation, people eligible for the program will see the maximum rent rebate increase from $650 to $1,000 for taxpayers with incomes below $8,000 with smaller, but substantial, increases for taxpayers with higher incomes. The legislation also adds a cost of living adjustment that will allow the income limits and benefits to increase with inflation in the future. Based on an analysis prepared by the Institute for Tax and Economic Policy, PPC expects that 10.5% of taxpayers and 15.8% of taxpayers with incomes below $82,000 will see their taxes cut due to the expansion of the program. Less than 4% of taxpayers with incomes above $82,000 will receive a tax cut. This proposal was sponsored by Representative Steve Samuelson, (D-Northampton), Democratic chair of the House Finance Committee.

The House is also expected to pass HB 1138 to repeal the gross receipts tax and sales and use tax on wireless cell phone services (HB 1138). This proposal was also part of Governor Shapiro’s budget and is sponsored in the House by Representative Ben Waxman (D-Philadelphia). Like most other gross receipts and sales taxes, this one is regressive in nature in that it takes a larger share of income from those with low incomes than those with high incomes. That is especially true when one considers that owning a cell phone is no longer optional for most working people and those who care for dependents.

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www.pennpolicy.org

Pennsylvania Policy Center Announces Leadership Team

By Blog Post, Pennsylvania Policy Center

June 8, 2023
For Immediate Release
Contact: Kirstin Snow, snow@pennpolicy.org

Pennsylvania Policy Center Announces Leadership Team
PA’s State Affiliate to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Harrisburg, PA—Today, Pennsylvania Policy Center’s (PPC) executive director, Marc Stier, announced five progressive politics and organizing professionals joined the state’s affiliate to the national Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

In addressing the recent hires, Stier said, “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. I am confident the team we have built, and are continuing to build, will see that to fruition.”

New team members include:

Levana Layendecker, Deputy Director / Chief Operating Officer – Levana comes to the Pennsylvania Policy Center with more than twenty years of experience working with advocacy groups and campaigns. She worked for increased access to health care and housing for all, equality for the LGBTQ community, and against climate change. A graduate of the Fels School at Penn, she has a strong background in communications and organizing.

Kirstin Snow, PhD, Communications Director – After having served as the communications director for the PA Budget and Policy Center and the Keystone Research Center, Kirstin brings over 25 years of experience in marketing, advertising, public relations, and crisis communications in the public, private, corporate, political, and non-profit sectors. She was director of communications for Governor Ed Rendell’s administration; and a weekly columnist with a progressive perspective for the Patriot News. She’s worked with progressive and high-level leaders, including President Barack Obama, President Joe Biden, and President Bill Clinton.

Adrienne Standley, Deputy Design and Digital Director – Adrienne is a policy nerd with a fine art degree from Arcadia University, and has additional experience in small business operations, management, and e-commerce. In addition to their work with PPC, Adrienne is an LGBTQ+ rights activist and harm reductionist, working in Philadelphia to end the overdose crisis through education and direct supply distribution, as well as advocacy for safe consumption sites and better drug policy.

Jeff Garis, Outreach and Partnerships Director – Jeff is the outreach and partnerships director at the Pennsylvania Policy Center, drawing on his quarter-century of experience working with advocacy organizations in the state. For the decade prior to joining Penn Policy, Jeff worked for the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, coordinating advocacy campaigns focused on state and federal policy priorities.

Erica Freeman, Deputy Communications Director – Erica joins PPC with a long history of volunteering and advocacy with a particular interest in racial issues. Before working in public policy communications, she worked in nonprofit fundraising as a researcher and was a copy editor, who worked both independently and for The Philadelphia Tribune. She has a bachelor’s degree In English and creative writing and is a published academic author with a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

www.pennpolicy.org

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.

Pennsylvania Policy Center Statement on General Fund Budget Passed by PA House

By Blog Post, Press Statement

For Immediate Release
Contact: Kirstin Snow, Communications Director, snow@pennpolicy.org; 215-510-9336

Harrisburg, PA–Marc Stier, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Policy Center, today released the following statement after the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed HB 611, a 2023-24 General Fund Budget, on party line vote.

“In March, Governor Shapiro proposed a budget that had the right priorities but proposed too little spending in certain key areas, including K-12 education, workforce development, and housing. The budget passed by the House of Representatives today follows the governor’s priorities but adds spending in areas we believe deserved additional support. That spending is supported by additional revenue expected in both the current fiscal year and in years 2023-24.

Going beyond the governor’s budget proposal, the House budget includes:

·      An additional $100 million in basic education funding

·      A $225 million Level Up supplement to the 108 most underfunded school districts in the state.

·      An additional $50 million for Special Education.

·      An additional $250 million for school facilities maintenance and improvements.

·      An additional $30 million for job training programs and $14 million for career and technical education.

·      $200 million for an expansion of the Whole Home Repairs program.

·      An additional $52 million for general support, facilities support for PASSHE schools; and $24 for PHEAA grants for students.

·      An additional $66 million for community and economic assistance programs and $30 million for the Keystone Communities program.

·      An additional $45 million for childcare services and assistance.

The first five items in the list constitute a strong down payment on the spending that will be necessary to meet the constitutional requirement to provide an adequate education to every child in Pennsylvania. The sixth item—funding for job training—is, we believe, a critical investment for Pennsylvania workers and our economy. And the seventh item, the addition to the Whole Home Repairs program, will take an additional step forward in helping low- and moderate-income Pennsylvanians deal with the current crisis in affordable housing.

Despite these welcome additions to Governor Shapiro’s proposal, this is a fiscally responsible budget plan. The state remains on pace to have a more than $13 billion budget surplus at the end of the current fiscal year, including an $8 billion operating surplus and over $5 billion in the Rainy Day Fund. This is a far greater surplus than is necessary or reasonable to maintain. The House budget for 2023-24 expects an ending balance of $5.6 billion before additions to the Rainy Day Fund, essentially the ending balance the governor proposed in March. The additional funding proposed by the Appropriations Committee is supported by higher revenue expectations for the current fiscal year ($663 million) and Fiscal year 2023-24 ($461 million) compared to the governor’s March projections. These higher revenue expectations are based on the IFO’s recent projections and are in keeping with both recent revenues and consensus estimates for growth in the Pennsylvania economy over the next year.

In addition, the House passed proposes to add an additional $558.7 million to the Rainy Day Fund. The governor’s budget did not propose adding anything to the Rainy Day Fund. If this budget is adopted, at the end of the 2023-24 fiscal year, that is on June 30, 2024, the state will still have an accumulated surplus of over $10.5 billion, including a General Fund operating surplus of $5 billion and a $5.7 billion Rainy Day Fund.

Given the large surplus, the higher than expected revenues, and the urgent needs of Pennsylvanians—including the need to fully and fairly fund our schools—it would be irresponsible not to enact a budget along the lines passed by the House Appropriations Committee. We commend Chairman Harris and the Democrats who devised this proposal. We hope that the Republicans who opposed it will reconsider when the bill comes to the floor of the House and the Senate.”

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

www.pennpolicy.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Real Cost of Opening a Window for Sexual Abuse Lawsuits in Pennsylvania

By Blog Post, Policy Briefs

By Marc Stier

I was asked to testify about the claims made in a paper by the Susquehanna Valley Center for Public Policy that opening a two-year window for childhood victims of sexual abuse to bring lawsuits against their abusers might cost public schools in Pennsylvania between $10 billion and $32 billion. On its face, the claim sounds utterly absurd. (Not to mention irrelevant; if that is the cost of doing justice for those who have suffered from sexual abuse, then that is what we should be prepared to pay.) But as I delved into the details of the paper, I discovered that it was based on what, frankly, was a horror show of faulty research methods and statistical analyses. I was tempted to say—but in the setting of an official hearing in the Capitol, did not say—that this paper would have received no better than a D grade in the research methods or statistics courses I had taught at the University of North Carolina Charlotte or City College of New York. But that is, in fact, the truth.

Read the whole response here.  

[pdf-embedder url=”https://marcstier.com/blog2/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/The-Cost-of-Opening-a-Window-for-Sexual-Abuse-

Why We Need a Property Tax Circuit Breaker in Pennsylvania

By Policy Statement

Statement of Marc Stier at Senator Jimmy Dillon / Representative Robert Freeman press conference on establishing a property tax circuit breaker in Pennsylvania on April 25, 2023

I’m very pleased to stand with Senator Jimmy Dillon and Representative Robert Freeman in support of establishing a property tax circuit breaker in Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center first proposed such a plan in 2015 and our new organization, the Pennsylvania Policy Center, continues to support it. Representative Freeman has long championed it, and we are glad to see Senator Dillion become a champion of it as well.

Pennsylvania has long had a serious problem: our tax system is unfair. State and local taxes in our commonwealth place a much greater burden on families with low incomes and moderate incomes than those with high incomes.

Just to give you an idea of how unfair our tax system is, consider this:

The 20% of families with the lowest incomes in the state, who have incomes below $23,000 per year and an average income of only $13,000, pay 13.8% of their income in state and local taxes.

The 20% of families in the middle of the income scale, with an average income of $61,000 per year, pay 11.1% of their income in state and local taxes.

But the richest 1% of families, with an income of more than $667,000 and an average income of $1.75 million, pay only 6% of their income in state and local tax.

This is an upside-down, tax system that is fundamentally unfair. But it is neither necessary nor common. Every state surrounding Pennsylvania has a fairer tax system.

There are many reasons for the unfairness of our tax system. One is that our uniformity clause prohibits graduated income tax rates. Another is that we rely too heavily on property taxes to fund our schools. Pennsylvania provides only 38% of the funding for our schools, while national average for all states is 48%.

Property taxes tend to burden low- and middle-income people more than those who are wealthy. In Pennsylvania, the 20% of families with the lowest incomes in the state pay 4.6% of their income in property taxes. The middle 20% of families pay 2.7% of their income in property taxes. And the top 1% of families pay only 1.6% of their income in property taxes. (All data from Institute on Tax and Economic Policy, Who Pays, 6th edition, 2018, https://itep.org/whopays/pennsylvania/.)

Property taxes burden people with low and middle incomes more than those with high incomes because the lower a family’s income, the higher the cost of housing relative to their income. Rich people do tend to have bigger houses and sometimes have more than one. But the income of the very rich tends to be so high that the cost of their homes is relatively low compared to their income.

On the other hand, because their incomes are so much lower, whether they own or rent—and property taxes are included in rents—low- and middle-income Pennsylvanians must pay a larger share of their income for housing than those who are wealthier. And that shows up in the higher share of their income that goes to property taxes.

This problem is especially problematic for seniors, who may live for many years with relatively fixed incomes that don’t rise with the cost of both housing and property taxes.

The basic unfairness of property taxes is exacerbated because people with lower and moderate incomes tend live in communities with less wealth. And, as result, those communities have to tax themselves more to pay for schools and local government services.

The extent of the property tax problem varies from one region to another. It is an especially serious problem inside the arc of counties from York to Schuylkill to Carbon to Monroe. But it is a problem that afflicts families in every county in the state.

One solution to the problem is a property tax circuit breaker.

With the most common version of a property tax circuit breaker, the state gives taxpayers a credit or rebate for taxes above a certain percentage of their income. This credit could go to all taxpayers, it could be limited to those below a certain income threshold, or it could be gradually reduced as the taxpayer’s income increases. By giving taxpayers a credit for taxes they pay, the program protects both homeowners and the communities that must rely on property taxes to pay for schools and local government services. And because the program provides a credit or rebate, limiting it to taxpayers with low and moderate incomes taxpayers and / or giving a larger credit to seniors would be constitutional under the uniformity clause.

This is not a new or uncommon idea. New York instituted such a program in 2015. Sixteen other states and the District of Columbia have a property tax circuit breaker.

Pennsylvania currently has a limited version of this program, the Property Tax / Rent Rebate program. But this limited program only benefits Pennsylvanians 65 or older, widows and widowers 50 or older, and people with disabilities 18 and older. And only those with incomes below $35,000 for homeowners and $15,000 for renters benefit from the program. Governor Shapiro has called for expanding the program. However, what Representative Freeman and Senator Dillon are calling for today is a bolder program that would benefit far more Pennsylvanians.

We have long believed that Pennsylvania’s unfair taxes are one of the two largest public policy problems in our state. The other is, of course, our immoral and now unconstitutional system of funding K-12 education.

At base, however, the two problems are really one. Our over-reliance on property taxes to fund K-12 education is, as we’ve pointed out, one of the sources of tax unfairness. And raising the funds necessary to reform the way we fund K-12 education will require new tax laws that ask the richest Pennsylvanians to pay their fair share.

So, we believe that the legislation that Representative Freeman and Senator Dillon propose today is critical—and not only to solve the problem of unfair taxes. We believe that what they propose today is likely to be part of any comprehensive solution to the K-12 school funding issue.

Pennsylvania Policy Center to Launch in Effort to Improve State Policies and Strengthen Communities

By Press Statement

HARRISBURG, PA – The Pennsylvania Policy Center, a nonprofit conducting policy research and analysis, will launch next month with the goal of expanding opportunity and promoting equity throughout Pennsylvania. Led by Marc Stier, who has served in leadership roles at policy advocacy organizations for more than two decades, the Center will identify solutions to some of the most pressing problems facing Pennsylvanians from Erie to Philadelphia and Scranton to Pittsburgh. The Center will launch on May 3, 2023.

“Regardless of whether you live in rural, urban, or suburban Pennsylvania, most of us are facing the same challenges,” said Stier. “We will focus our research on policies that improve people’s day-to-day lives and strengthen our communities. Our goal is to ensure children get a quality education, working people get the training and support they need to build a better life, and all Pennsylvanians have access to high-quality public services and programs paid for by fair taxes.”

The Center will provide information, quantitative analysis, and case studies on issues people have raised in community conversations held across the state. Its research agenda will include housing affordability and homelessness, child care, education at all levels, senior care, and tax and fiscal issues. By the end of this year, the Center anticipates having a staff of up to 10 policy analysts, communications experts, and advocates who will seek to equip lawmakers, journalists, advocacy groups, nonprofit service providers, and the public with unassailable information and tools they need to advance public policies that work for all Pennsylvanians.

The Center will conduct research on local, state, and federal policies so that lawmakers at all levels of government understand the needs of Pennsylvanians. This will also allow the Center to identify promising programs and ideas operating locally that should be scaled statewide; provide practical recommendations to elected and senior agency officials; and analyze the impact of different federal programs on families’ health and well-being, such as the Child Tax Credit and the extension or expansion of public benefits initially put in place during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The new organization will represent Pennsylvania in the State Priorities Partnership, a network of more than 40 independent, nonprofit research and policy organizations coordinated by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The Partnership works to expand economic opportunity, reduce inequality, and fight poverty.

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Marc Stier

Marc Stier has had a long career as an activist, advocate, teacher, and writer. From 2015 to 2023, Marc was the director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center in Harrisburg, PA, where he wrote policy reports on many federal, state, and local issues, including tax fairness, K-12 and higher education funding, raising Pennsylvania’s minimum wage, health care, and child care, as well as on racial and gender-related justice. He was also the founder and chair of PBPC’s advocacy campaign We The People–PA.

Before joining PBPC, Marc served as the executive director of Penn Action, where he worked to protect funding for education and women’s health care and expand Social Security. He was also the Pennsylvania director of Health Care for America Now, which led the grassroots effort in support of what became the Affordable Care Act, and the Health Care campaign manager for SEIU Pennsylvania State Council. He began his career in activism as a leader and then president of West Mt. Airy Neighbors in Philadelphia and an advocate for transit funding.

Stier was an academic for 25 years before starting his career in public policy analysis and advocacy. He has a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University and a doctorate from Harvard University, both in political science. He has taught at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks; City College of New York; the University of North Carolina, Charlotte; and Temple University, where he was the associate director and internet coordinator of the Intellectual Heritage Program. Stier is the author of papers on political philosophy, the history of political thought, and American politics. He is the author of the book Grassroots Advocacy and Health Care Reform, published in 2013. He will be publishing two new books in the next few years, Liberalism and Communitarianism Revisited and Civilization and Its Contents: Reflections on Sex and the Culture Wars. He is also co-editor of Ambiguity in the Western Tradition.