Charles Mitchell Heritage Honor— Charles Mitchell, who is president and CEO of Commonwealth Foundation, is a recipient of the prestigious Heritage Foundation Distinguished Alumni Award, old friend Jen Stefano tells us.
Jen is vice president of Commonwealth Foundation, which is a Pennsylvania-based think tank dedicated to preserving economic and civil liberty, and opposing government corruption and waste.
Wolf Attack On Popular Charter SchoolsBy Nate Benefield
I watched, Sept. 16, as hundreds of charter school students flooded the Capitol and dozens of parents spoke out against Gov. Wolf’s attacks on charter school families. After they rallied in the Capitol rotunda, 1,700 letters were delivered to Gov. Wolf—letters from parents and students fearful of losing this critical educational opportunity.
The event was organized by our friends at the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools and comes at a desperate time. Gov. Wolf is taking unilateral executive action that would seriously threaten these public schools of choice as an educational option for parents.
In August, Gov. Tom Wolf proposed cutting funding for Pennsylvania charter schools, capping charter enrollment, and banning new cyber charter schools. Then, Gov. Wolf—without legislative authority—imposed new fees on charter schools.
At the rally, the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools again asked the governor to visit a charter school. While touting his “Schools that Teach Tour” since he entered office, nearly 5 years later, his tour has visited 167 schools across the state, but not a single one was a private or charter school.
Yet he seems to think he singularly knows best how their students should be treated.
By ignoring the 140,000 students attending public charter schools and 240,000 enrolled in private schools, Wolf is treating nearly 25 percent of Pennsylvania students as second-class citizens.
We need your help protecting educational opportunity for these kids. Legislation that would address charter school transparency and financial accountability has already passed the Pa. House, while legislation to create a commission on charter school funding has passed the Senate. These bills would address problems in the charter school law without taking educational opportunity away from students.
For reasons he alone knows, Gov. Wolf has chosen to ignore these legislative solutions and go his own way.
Commonwealth Foundation will continue our intellectual leadership on all types of educational opportunity, be it charter schools, tax credit scholarships, or public school funding. And we’ll keep sharing our message across the state via TV, radio, social media, and print.
Please reach out to your lawmakers to ask them to stand up for charter schools, and against Wolf’s unilateral action, by taking action on these positive steps.
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.
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.
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 here. Thank 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.