Gutting Charter Schools Is Wolf’s Plan

Gutting Charter Schools Is Wolf’s Plan

By Nathan Benefield

Gov. Tom Wolf, Aug. 13, unveiled a “reform” plan that has the potential to drastically reduce the ability of Pennsylvania families to send their kids to charter schools. He’s telling the students, families, teachers, and administrators of charter schools that they don’t matter.

Gutting Charter Schools Is Wolf's Plan
Any resident of Philadelphia who supports this guy’s party is cutting his wrist.

Ironically, he is constructing this wall to prevent students from leaving their current school for a better opportunity on the anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall.

But we aren’t fooled. This overhaul, some of which he is planning to implement via executive action, would cut funding for charters, cap enrollment, and place a moratorium on new cyber charter schools, even as tens of thousands of students are on waiting lists for charter schools across the state. In short, it would deny families the schooling options they seek.

Wolf’s charter strategy, along with his June veto of tax credit scholarship expansion legislation, makes it clear his administration is treating the 350,000 students in charter and private schools like second class citizens. Because of that mindset he is unafraid of treating them with a dubious double standard.

For underperforming district-run schools, his solutions are to move away from standardized testing, water down tests, and increase funding. But for charter schools, Gov. Wolf proposes funding cuts and halting growth through the heavy hand of the law, regardless of performance or what families desire.

The governor’s motivation is clear: He wants to appease teachers’ union leaders. Unlike most charters and private schools, district schools are unionized. Under contracts with the AFT and NEA/PSEA, school districts collect campaign contributions for teachers’ union PACs. Since 2013, Wolf received $4 million from teachers’ unions.

This is a politically shrewd announcement from our governor, but disastrous for families and children.

Pennsylvania’s families deserve better. That’s why we won’t stop fighting until every child can attend the best school possible, no matter what Gov. Wolf’s campaign donors prefer.

Mr. Benefield is vice president and chief operating officer of Commonwealth Foundation.

Gutting Charter Schools Is Wolf’s Plan

School Choice Expansion Clears Committee

School Choice Expansion Clears Committee

By Nathan Benefield

The Pennsylvania House Education Committee passed HB 800, April 29, which represents the most significant expansion of the state’s popular Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) school choice scholarship program since its inception.

The EITC program is funded by business donations (businesses earn tax credits in return) and allows Pa. kids to attend a school they otherwise may not be able to afford. But arbitrary limits on the program prevent tens of thousands of kids from attending a school of choice.

HB 800, sponsored House Speaker Mike Turzai along with 59 other members, including several Democrats, would increase the tax credit cap for EITC K-12 scholarships by $100 million next year and further raise the cap by 10 percent when 90 percent of tax credits are used in the prior year. 

I cannot stress enough: This bill is a huge step toward helping families access the education choices they deserve. Tax credit scholarships are so popular the programs could double in size and still not meet demand. 

The bill passed along party lines, you can see the roll call hereThank you to the representatives that voted to expand opportunity for thousands of Pa. kids!

An EITC scholarship may be a family’s only lifeline to provide their child with a chance at a brighter future. It’s time to raise the limits so kids can reach their dreams. We’re excited to see HB 800 progress in the legislature, and will keep you posted as key votes occur.

School Choice Expansion Clears Committee
School Choice Expansion Clears Committee

Paycheck Protection Vote Advanced Cause

Paycheck Protection Vote Advanced Cause

By Jennifer Stefano

Last week’s paycheck protection vote was not disappointing or a defeat. It was a victory! And a significant one at that!

Let me explain, lest you think a government union leader hijacked Commonwealth Foundation’s email.

The government unions paid 82 lobbyists to live in the Capitol for the last three weeks—and the vote on paycheck protection not only got out of committee but got to a full floor vote AND came within 12 (12!!!!) votes of ending this immoral, unethical and unfair privilege.

Another thing: House Leadership lived up to its name. It is no easy feat to bring up a vote when your party is in power and you could lose. It takes a strong leader to have the willingness to advance a reform as significant as paycheck protection. Good for them!

Paycheck protection is ON THE AGENDA. The House is not a “safe space” for the unions. It’s territory we can advance essential policies and it’s thanks to your work.

We must always remember who and what we fight for—the people who need our voices the most—we cannot spend a moment feeling bad!

To paraphrase one of my greatest heroes, General George S. Patton: It’s not about how high we climb, it’s about how high we bounce back.

#BOOM

P.S. Want to hear something else exciting that happened this month? CF President & CEO Charles Mitchell was named as one of City & State PA’s 40 Under 40 Rising Stars. You can read his profile here. What an honor! We are so happy that readers around the state can see what we already know to be true about our fearless leader. Congratulations, Charles!

Ms. Stefano is vice president of Commonwealth Foundation.

 

Paycheck Protection Vote Advanced Cause

Paycheck Protection Vote Advanced Cause

Pennsylvania Budget 2017 Explained

Pennsylvania Budget 2017 Explained

By Nathan Benefield

If Gov. Wolf is looking to leave a legacy of unusual—and unconstitutional—budget happenings, he remains on track.

Here’s a quick run-down of what’s going on with the state budget:

As you know, last Friday the House and Senate sent the governor a $32 billion budget (a spending increase of $500 million) with no plan to pay for it.

Gov. Wolf had 10 days to sign, veto, or line-item veto the budget. The state constitution requires a balanced budget and the state Administrative Code mandates that the governor line-item veto any spending above existing revenue. The deadline was Monday. Gov. Wolf took no action and the budget became law. Gov. Wolf has yet to sign a Pennsylvania budget in his tenure.

Now, the focus remains on a revenue package. GOP leaders have expressed frustration with Gov. Wolf’s rejection of their revenue plans that included borrowing and no tax hikes. According to reports, Gov. Wolf wants more tax hikes.

Multiple tax hikes have been rumored:

  • A drink tax on bar and restaurant patrons
  • A new tax on families’ cable TV bill
  • A new tax on homeowners’ gas heating bill
  • An additional tax on energy jobs

Additionally, borrowing gimmicks continue to be discussed as a way to bridge the budget gap.

It’s important to continue to reach out to your lawmakers so they know that Pennsylvanians cannot afford more tax hikes.

But here’s good news: Lawmakers are also discussing substantive changes in government to balance the budget without higher taxes—including letting grocery stores and other private retailers sell liquor and reducing government subsidies for horse race prizes. And yesterday, the House passed meaningful welfare reforms that will help improve our state’s safety net.

Click here to send a message to your lawmakers now.

You can get the latest on the state budget from the CF team on our PolicyBlog, Facebook, and Twitter.

Mr. Benefield is vice president and chief operating officer of Commonwealth Foundation.

Pennsylvania Budget 2017 Explained

Pennsylvania Budget 2017 Explained

 

New Wolf Budget Also Burdens Little Guy

New Wolf Budget Also Burdens Little Guy By Matthew J. Brouillette

Yesterday, Feb. 9, Gov. Wolf doubled down on his tax-and-spend agenda. Here are five facts you need to know about how Gov. Wolf’s budget would affect your family and our state:

1. It’s more of the same. Wolf’s proposed budget mirrors what he repeatedly offered—and lawmakers repeatedly rejected—last year: Massive tax hikes and record spending increases. Wolf New Budget Also Burdens Little Guy

2. It’s the biggest spending increase in 25 years. Wolf’s $33.3 billion General Fund budget (including pension payments) represents a 10% increase over the budget passed by the legislature in December and is the bgigest spending increase since 1991-92.

3. Wolf’s tax hike = $850 more per family four annually.

4. Wolf’s budget includes $1.1 billion more for public schools, on top of the record-high level of funding passed by the legislature in December. This comes with no accountability measures and with punitive cuts to public charter schools.

5. At least eight different tax hikes are in the budget. This includes an 11% personal income tax hike—retroactive to January 2016 (in other words, you already owe the state more taxes).

Wolf talked about ‘saving’ the taxpayers of Pennsylvania. Instead, he’s taxing us backwards and forwards.

Join us in telling Gov. Wolf, “Please, no more taxes!” Get all the budget facts—and a catchy decal—over on our site at Commonwealth Foundation.

Matthew J. Brouillette is president and CEO of Commonwealth Foundation.

Wolf New Budget Also Burdens Little Guy

WAMS Back In Senate Budget

WAMS Back In Senate BudgetBy Matthew Brouillette

Yesterday, Dec. 7,  the Pennsylvania Senate passed budget-related legislation: SB 1073 and SB 1082. Now, taxpayers can finally see what’s in Gov. Wolf’s “framework” for a new budget. Here are five things we know:

1. Excessive Spending Growth. The $30.8 billion budget represents record spending and a 5.4 percent increase over last year’s budget. Even including items shifted off budget last year, this amounts to an increase of $500 million more than inflation and population growth.

2. WAMs are back. The Senate budget includes a $103 million increase in Community and Economic Development spending. This includes several line-items identified as WAMs (or “walking around money”)—slush funds used for special projects. In the past, they’ve been used to buy votes and foster rampant corruption.

3. Problematic pension reform. The revised pension bill includes a side-by-side hybrid, with a smaller defined benefit pension and a defined contribution component. While a step in the right direction, it doesn’t get the politics out of pensions.

The proposal further underfunds teachers’ and state workers’ pensions and lacks transparency. It suspends a provision that requires pension bills to have an actuarial note explaining long-term impact before a vote.

4. No privatization in “liquor privatization.” The Senate liquor plan—which has been reported on but not yet passed—would retain the government monopoly over wholesale distribution. That means every retailer would continue to buy wine and spirits from the PLCB. There would be a “study” to recommend whether the state should privatize. On the retail side, state stores would remain open in perpetuity.

5. Higher Taxes. The Senate plan requires higher taxes. We know this will include some broad-based tax increase to generate the $600-$700 million needed to pay for the spending.

We don’t know what taxes will go up. There is no agreement on a tax plan; that is, the Senate passed a budget without the revenues to pay for it. It’s unclear if there is support in the Senate to pass a tax hike, but there are very clear signs there isn’t support in the House for a tax hike of this magnitude.

To see how your senator voted, here is the roll call for SB 1073 and SB 1082.

It’s not over yet. To voice your concern to your Senate and House members, email them today.

Mr. Brouillette is president and CEO of Commonwealth Foundation.

WAMS Back In Senate Budget

Sales Tax Hike Problem For Pa.

By Nathan Benefield Sales Tax Hike Problem For Pa.

After nearly five months of gridlock, a new state budget framework has been announced. The plan would raise the sales tax rate to the second-highest in the nation while promising property tax relief for homeowners in return.

At this point, it’s tempting to call any progress on budget agreement a victory, but is this tentative framework truly a “win” for Pennsylvanians?

Let’s start with the good: It appears taxpayers will be spared a personal income tax hike. A spike in utility bills caused by a new severance tax is also off the table. Additionally, Governor Wolf’s plan to expand the sales tax to 45 items like nursing homes, day care, funerals, and college textbooks has reportedly been dropped.

That’s great news, given Pennsylvanians already face the 10th-highest tax burden in the nation, but not everything is so rosy.

Under this budget plan, Pennsylvania would see the first sales tax hike in nearly 50 years and would have the second-highest rate in America. At 7.25 percent, the new rate would be 21 percent higher than the state’s current 6 percent rate.

It gets even worse for Pittsburgh residents who would pay a crushing 8.25 percent, and Philadelphia’s sales tax would spike to 9.25 percent. Delaware retailers, which benefit from no sales tax, should cheer, but business in the Keystone State would suffer.

The sales tax hike would collect about $2.1 billion more from consumers, while providing only $1.5 billion in property tax relief.

What about the leftover money? It will be used to replace $600 million in gambling funds formerly allocated to property tax relief that would now be redirected to additional spending.

Most homeowners would benefit from this tax shift, but businesses—which pay an estimated 40 percent of all sales taxes—and renters would lose. They would pay the higher sales tax but see no reduction in property taxes or rents under the current proposal.

In one sense, progress has been made. Wolf’s initial budget proposal in March called for the largest tax increase in the nation, costing an astonishing $1,400 per Pennsylvania family of four. While this sales tax is far lower, taxpayers should be asking what they’ll get in return for any increase.

Much is still being worked out behind the scenes, and there’s still an opportunity to act on crucial issues like pension reform, liquor privatization, and corporate welfare reform.

First, true liquor privatization—allowing private retailers to sell wine and spirits and ending the government monopoly over distribution—must be part of any deal. This would give consumers greater selection and convenience, generate recurring revenue, and end the state’s conflict of interest as both alcohol salesman and liquor law enforcer.

Though Wolf vetoed privatization this summer, Pennsylvanians still strongly support the measure because it makes fiscal sense and common sense.

In any serious discussion of property tax relief, lawmakers must first address the primary cause of property tax increases: unsustainable public pension costs. Only by moving to a defined-contribution plan, like a 401(k), will we stop the bleeding and end the political manipulation that created a $53 billion unfunded pension debt.

Moreover, any property tax shift should include strict controls over future school tax increases. Pennsylvania ranks near the top on education spending, while residents face some of the highest property taxes. To give taxpayers more control, lawmakers should give voters the chance to approve any school tax increase—a right residents of other states, like our neighbors in Ohio, already have.

For anyone looking to cut budget waste, this one’s hard to miss: Pennsylvania hands out nearly $700 million in corporate welfare subsidies through grant and loan programs. These subsidies provide businesses an unfair advantage at taxpayer expense and should be eliminated.

Finally, any budget agreement should include a long-term pledge that government will not recklessly overspend our hard-earned dollars. The Taxpayer Protection Act, supported by 64 percent of Pennsylvania voters according to a recent poll, would limit spending growth to the rate of inflation plus population growth.

Pennsylvanians need a state budget, but they don’t want promises of relief that hide higher taxes.  Before we ask taxpayers for more, the governor and lawmakers should ensure tax dollars are spent well. True reforms that will set our state—and our families—on the path toward lasting prosperity should be part of any budget deal.

Nathan A. Benefield is vice president of policy analysis for the Commonwealth Foundation

Sales Tax Hike Problem For Pa.

Wolf Budget Costs Family Of Four $1419

Wolf Budget Costs Family Of Four $1419
Wolf Budget Costs Family Of Four $1419

By Bob Dick

Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal expands the size of government and shrinks the size of your wallet.

The governor argues that his property tax relief plan would offset the brunt of these tax hikes, but this relief is delayed until 2016-17. In the meantime, the state will collect higher taxes and retain those funds.

Should Gov. Wolf’s property tax plan pass the General Assembly, there’s no guarantee school districts will stop raising property taxes. Even if local governments did manage to hold the line on property taxes, Pennsylvanians would suffer a net tax increase of $4.3 billion in the 2016-2017 budget.

These tax hikes will grease the wheels for record levels of spending. Under Gov. Wolf’s plan, true General Fund spending in 2015-16 would reach $31.6 billion (Governor Wolf moves $1.75 billion in school pension payments to a new fund, which makes the General Fund increase appear smaller). This amounts to the largest spending increase in 25 years.

Of course, the General Fund is only a portion of Pennsylvania’s total operating budget. If each of Gov. Wolf’s proposals were enacted, Pennsylvania’s total operating budget would surpass $78.6 billion—the highest spending level in the commonwealth’s history.

Unsustainable spending growth and tax increases have been the prevailing trend in Pennsylvania since the 1970s. As a result, Pennsylvania ranks near the bottom in job, income and population growth. Governor Wolf’s proposals would accelerate this trend despite evidence of its harmful consequences.

There is a better alternative.

We need to grow the economy by limiting government. This means unleashing innovators and protecting working families—not weighing them down with higher taxes.

For a detailed look at the budget visit here.

Bob Dick is a Policy Analyst for the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives.

Wolf Budget Costs Family Of Four $1419

Five Facts Concerning 2014 Pa Budget

 Commonwealth Foundation has published these five facts concerning 2014 Pa Budget.

By Bob Dick

On June 30, the General Assembly passed a $29.1 billion budget, sending it to Gov. Corbett for his approval. While Gov. Corbett is taking time to review it, here are five facts you should know.

1. Limited spending growth: The General Assembly’s budget represents a spending increase of 2 percent over the prior year’s budget. This is consistent with Taxpayer Protection Act, which calls for limiting increases in state government spending to inflation and population growth.

If fact, the budgets over the past four years have limited spending, with an average growth of less than 1 percent. In contrast, spending increased at double the rate of inflation over the previous 8 years, and has increased by an average of 6.2 percent per year since 1970.

2. No new taxes: Lawmakers did not include any new taxes in this year’s budget, despite pressure from outside groups pushing to increase the tax burden on working Pennsylvanians.

Not only did lawmakers resist calls for a unfair severance tax, which would have hurt farmers like Shawn Georgetti, but they also moved forward with the phase out of the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax after years of delaying its elimination.

3. State spending exceeds state revenues: For the seventh consecutive year, state spending will exceed state revenue collections. This is possible due to one-time transfers from other funds and one-time revenue collections.

While the state revenue sheet appears balanced, lawmakers will still have to make tough decisions to deal with our long-term fiscal challenges, which threaten the state’s fiscal health and economic growth.

4. Overall spending, including education spending, is at an all-time high:  Despite the myth being touted by government union executuves, Gov. Corbett and Republican lawmakers did not cut $1 billion from public schools.

In fact, state spending on education will be at the highest level ever this fiscal year. Of course, more education spending does not automatically translate into better student outcomes, absent reform.

5. Missed opportunites: The legislature will not pass meaningful pension reform and liquor privatization before the General Assembly breaks for summer recess. Moreover, they delayed action on paycheck protection for the time being.

But those issues aren’t going away just because lawmakers have recessed for a few months. The importance of addressing the state pension crisis, delivering the alcohol convenience most Pennsylvanians want, and ending the use of taxpayer resources to fund partisan politics will be just as great when lawmakers return in September.

 

Five Facts Concerning 2014 Pa Budget

 

Five Facts Concerning 2014 Pa Budget

Union Leaders Above Law

By Matthew J. Brouillette

Pennsylvania’s government union executives should be at the top of any list of political power players in Harrisburg. With the kind of influence that millions in campaign contributions and political ads can buy, shouldn’t they follow the same lobbying laws as other political organizations?

Wendell Young IV, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union Local 1776, says yes. He told the watchdog group Media Trackers, “We shouldn’t be held to a different standard than everyone else.”

But the fact is, they are – it’s just a much lower one. And a recent investigation reveals an above-the-law attitude that goes beyond mere political privilege.

Media Trackers reports that the heads of three major public unions are not – and haven’t ever – registered as lobbyists, as a 2006 state law requires. A Commonwealth Foundation search of the Pennsylvania Department of State’s lobbyist database confirms this. Yet these union executives maintain frequent contact with lawmakers and staff, in person and via phone and e-mail, on legislative issues.

Young and David Fillman, executive director of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 13, are required to report their lobbying to the federal government. According to public records filed with the U.S. Department of Labor and examined by Media Trackers, Young reported 8 percent of his time as being spent on “political activities and lobbying,” while Fillman claimed 15 percent. Pennsylvania AFL-CIO president Rick Bloomingdale, the third union leader mentioned in Media Trackers’ investigation, isn’t required to make the same reports.

None of the three is registered to lobby in Harrisburg, though other leaders of nonprofits – such as the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) president, Michael Crossey, and Gene Barr, president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, are.

When confronted about the lack of registration by a Pennsylvania Independent reporter, Young replied, “Clearly I do lobby, but it’s not my primary function as president of the union.” Young was paid $23,421 (8 percent of his $292,765 salary) for political activity and lobbying in 2013. Registration is required by the commonwealth if payment for lobbying exceeds $2,500 per quarter.

How can union leaders lobby against liquor privatization and pension reform for years without registering as lobbyists? No one’s been checking up on them – until now.

Such activities should be a wakeup call for union members who think their dues are separate from political activities. They aren’t.

Union members’ dues can legally be spent on political activity, whether in the form of political commercials, paid lobbyists, or get-out-the-vote efforts. Indeed, the PSEA told its members last year that as much as $7 million of their dues could be spent on “lobbying and political expenses” in 2013-2014.

In the case of the UFCW, even workers who have opted out of the union are forced to fund political activities.

Recently, some absurd ads vilifying the prospect of selling wine in grocery stores have blanketed the state. (They claim, “It only takes a little bit of greed to kill a child.”) Those ads were paid for by the UFCW, which funded a similarly over-the-top $1 million ad campaign last year.

But when the union reported last year’s campaign to the U.S. Department of Labor, it called the nakedly political ads a “representational activity” rather than a “political” one – and the difference matters.

Government workers, like teachers or liquor store clerks, who don’t wish to fund political ads can opt out of union membership. But in many cases, they still have to pay the union a “fair share” fee, which is supposed to only cover “representational activity,” like collective bargaining costs. That fee cannot be used for politics.

The union may view ad campaigns as “representational,” but lobbying on issues before the legislature is clearly “political.” Beyond the legal questions involved, the liquor store clerks and teachers who have jumped through hoops to keep their money from being spent on politics are still being forced to fund union political activity.

And this all happens courtesy of the taxpayers. Government union leaders use public resources to collect union dues, fees, and campaign contributions from workers’ checks and then spend that money on politics with impunity. In recent years, several elected state officials have been prosecuted for using public resources for partisan purposes.

If we can’t control the behavior of union leaders, we can at least stop using taxpayer resources to collect union political money. Tell your representatives in Harrisburg to support paycheck protection, which would prevent governments from deducting union dues from the checks of public employees – and force unions to play by the same political rules as everyone else.

Matthew J. Brouillette is president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation (CommonwealthFoundation.org), Pennsylvania’s free market think tank.

Union Leaders Above Law

Union Leaders Above Law