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Tax policy? It depends.

Published by Matt Nussbaum on .

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The details of tax policy, more than almost anything else in politics, make people’s eyes glaze over.

It’s a shame that the nitty-gritty of taxes is so often ignored, because terms like “job killing tax hikes” remain ubiquitous – and virtually meaningless.

So here’s an attempt to have an honest look at the income tax in Pennsylvania.

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Education cuts? It depends

Published by Matt Nussbaum on .

So, did Governor Corbett cut state spending on education? Or did he increase it? Well, it depends.

Education is the most important issue for voters in Pennsylvania’s upcoming gubernatorial election, according to polls. Democrats have spent years attacking Gov. Tom Corbett for cutting education spending, and it seems that the message has resonated with voters. Gov. Corbett has, they claim, cut education spending by a billion dollars.

Gov. Corbett, on the other hand, says the exact opposite. According to his campaign website: “Education funding for Pennsylvania’s kids has increased by more than $1 billion since Gov. Corbett took office.”

Wait, what?

Someone must be lying, right? Well, actually, no not really. It just depends how you look at it. So here’s the story, and it’s up to the voters of Pennsylvania to decide which version they prefer.

When the Great Recession hit in 2008, everyone’s finances were devastated, and that included states. Falling incomes and failing businesses means declining tax returns – that, in turn, leads to tighter budgets.

In the face of such a disaster, the newly inaugurated Obama Administration took an FDR/New Deal-style approach with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – popularly known as the stimulus, or ARRA. The idea was that an infusion of federal dollars, to the tune of around $800 billion, would help make up for the overall decline in demand in the economy. A good chunk of the money went to states to help them fill their budget shortfalls caused by the recession.

Facing falling revenues, Governor Ed Rendell reduced the state contribution to public education funding but more than made up for it with federal stimulus dollars. The Corbett campaign has treated this as some kind of pseudo-scandal, with an administration briefing document saying stimulus money “should never have been used in school operating budgets.”

But the stimulus was intended to do exactly what Gov. Rendell used it for – to help cushion the recession’s blow to the state. This was not unique to Pennsylvania.

A 2012 report from the Center on Education Policy states: “ARRA funding helped to blunt the effects of the budget cuts in k-12 education faced by most school districts and many states.”

Because of Gov. Rendell’s use of the stimulus money, education funding in Pennsylvania increased in the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 budgets.

Without remaining stimulus funds, that state would have had to significantly increase its contribution to education in 2011-2012. It did not, and education funding fell in the 2011-2012 budget, and then increased from that level in the 2012-2013, 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 budgets, but only just reached the stimulus-aided level of 2009-2010, which itself was lower than the stimulus-aided level in 2010-2011.

Here you have it, in chart form:

YEAR

Basic Education Funding in Pennsylvania

2007-2008 (Rendell)

$4.95 billion

2008-2009 (Rendell)

$5.23 billion

2009-2010 (Rendell)

$5.52 billion*

2010-2011 (Rendell)

$5.77 billion**

2011-2012 (Corbett)

$5.35 billion

2012-2013 (Corbett)

$5.40 billion

2013-2014 (Corbett)

$5.52 billion

2014-2015 (Corbett)

$5.53 billion

*$4.87 billion from the state, with additional $654 million in federal stimulus.

**$4.73 billion from the state, with additional $1.04 billion in federal stimulus.

So, where do both sides get their numbers?

The Democrats are using the 2010-2011 stimulus-aided $5.77 billion as the base-line. With that as the starting point, you get a $420 million cut in ’11-’12, a $370 million cut in ’12-’13, a $250 million cut in ’13-’14 and a $240 million cut in ’14-15. That adds up to $1.28 billion in funding over four years that would have been there had the number been kept at $5.77 billion. It was not, and the Democrats can thus claim, credibly, that education has been cut by over a billion dollars.

Now, to Gov. Corbett’s claim that he has increased education funding by a billion dollars. For his base-line he uses the state’s $4.73 billion contribution in 2010-2011, and ignores all of the federal stimulus dollars that went to education. With $4.73 billion as the base-line, state aid to education went up by $620 million in ’11-’12, then another $50 million in ’12-’13, $120 million in ’13-’14 and $10 million in ’14-’15.

The question then, for voters, is basically how they want to count.

Also, here are some graphs, specifically tailored to your political viewpoint. And yes, I used a website called “Kids’ Zone” to make these, because excel is too complicated.

For you non-partisans:

pabasicedfunding graphicA

For Democrats:

demeducationfunding graphicB

For Republicans:

gopeducationfunding graphicC

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A rival for Clinton?

Published by James O'Toole on .

                                                    By James M. Perry

If Hillary Rodham Clinton stumbles badly in her unannounced campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, we now have a lady in waiting. Her name is Elizabeth Warren.  

The 65-year-old Warren is the senior U.S. senator from Massachusetts, but spent most of her career as a college professor, most recently at the Harvard Law School 

What's her secret? First of all, she's a fresh face at a time when most Americans probably believe we need a new start. Second of all, she's outspoken. She's part Populist, part liberal, and entirely committed. By all accounts, she was a wildly popular teacher, and she takes those classrooms skills to the hustings. 

She appeared the other day in Shepherdstown, W. Va., to campaign for Senate candidate Natalie Tennant, a long shot to succeed retiring Democrat Jay Rockefeller. She was greeted like a rock star, one observer said. The crowd "openly embraced" her standard attacks on the super-wealthy and Wall Street, "Citibank and Goldman Sachs and all those other guys on Wall Street," she said, "they've got plenty of folks in the U.S. Senate willing to work on their side. We need some people willing to work on this side of America's families. Natalie's that fighter."

Probably too simplistic for one of her Harvard classrooms, but effective, nonetheless. 

The most recent Gallup poll reports that 91 per cent of American voters know who Mrs. Clinton is (who in the world are those other nine per cent?) and 55 per cent of those who know who she is have a favorable opinion of her. Only 38 per cent of the voters know who Senator Warren is, and 21 per cent of them have a favorable opinion of her.

So, of course, it makes no sense to write Mrs. Clinton off. She is still the favorite. But, in the last few months, there have been disturbing stories. Her interview with ABC News's Diane Sawyer was something of a disaster. 



Diane Sawyer: It has been reported you've made $5 million making speeches, the president's made more than $100 million. 

Hillary Clinton: Well, if you -- you have no reason to remember, but we came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt. We had no money when we got there and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages for houses, for Chelsea's education, you know, it was not easy.  

Left unsaid was the fact they knew they would soon be raking in the cash with book deals and lecture fees. 

Surely many Americans were startled to learn that Mrs. Clinton was paid $275,000 to give a speech Oct. 23, 2013 at the University of Buffalo, a state school with a piddling endowment. She explained later that the money ended up with the family's charitable foundation.

Several observers have expressed concern that Mrs. Clinton's book, "Hard Choices,'' for which Simon & Schuster reportedly paid her $14 million, has sold only 177,000 copies (a number most of us scribblers would die for). Her husband's last book sold more than two million copies. But there's a difference, I think, between an ex-president's memoirs, and an ex-secretary of state's, even if her name is Clinton. 

Senator Warren is no elitist. She grew up in tough times in Oklahoma City (her family sold the car at one time to pay the bills). She didn't go to Harvard or Yale law schools. She went to Rutgers in Newark, N.J. But she's come a long way since then. She made about $350,000 a year at Harvard and made even more with her books and lectures. She and her husband, Bruce Mann, are worth as much as $14 million. 

Mrs. Clinton needs to pull her rambling unofficial campaign together to avoid more talk about Senator Warren. It's time to stop this cat-and-mouse routine. Come on, Hillary, step right up and tell us you are running for president in 2016.

James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, is contributing regular observations for post-gazette.com.  Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of the The Wall Street Journal until his retirement.  Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.

 

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An olive branch from Scarnati

Published by James O'Toole on .

Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati was among the GOP leaders who faulted Gov. Tom Corbett's leadership last week in response to the governor's decision to veto some legislative funding while complaining of lawmakers' inaction on pension issues.

Mr. Scarnati appeared more conciliatory Thursday as he said he had reached out to the governor's office to set up a meeting with GOP leaders and the governor to seek a way forward on stalled pension legislation.

"I have reached out to the governor's office just today, asked for meeting with Republican leaders and the governor in order to bring some civility back to a debate over pensions,'' he said.

He seemed to shrug off the veto message that drew his ire previously. "The governor used the tools at his hands to get everyone's attention,'' he said.  "An eye for an eye just makes the while world go blind.''

"I'm not angry at the governor; [I'm] no speaking ill of anything he's done,'' he added.  "What we need to do is sit down.''

Mr. Scarnati said he had not yet received a response from the governor's office.

Jay Pagni, Mr. Corbett's press secretary, said the administration welcomed the outreach but added that he was not aware of that any meeting or any other response had been scheduled on the issue.

"The governor would welcome continued discussion with the Senate and the House leadership on this very important issue,'' he said  "Working together, we can address this pension crisis that is such a problem for the state and every school district.''

 

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Tweet early, tweet often

Published by James O'Toole on .

 

                                                By Matt Nussbaum

Democrat Tom Wolf may be far ahead of Gov. Tom Corbett in the polls, but how are they both faring on social media?
 
On Twitter, Gov. Corbett's campaign comes out on top. @CorbettforGov has 5,318 followers, with @WolfForPA posting 4,875. Gov. Corbett's official twitter account -- @GovernorCorbett -- swamps them both with 17,376 followers. The off-shoot pro-Wolf group, Fresh Start PA, is struggling to attract much of an online following. After joining Twitter in late June, @FreshStartPA has only 385 Twitter followers. To put that in perspective, the statewide political group has about one-third the followers of Post-Gazette food writer Gretchen McKay. In fairness, @gtmckay does post a lot of tantalizing photos of food.
 
On Facebook, though, Mr. Wolf has a big edge over Gov. Corbett. The Wolf for PA Facebook group has over 67,000 likes, while Gov. Corbett's campaign page has about 26,800.
 
Finally, let's take a look at YouTube. Fresh Start PA posted its first anti-Corbett ad, titled "Shame," on Tuesday. So far, it has been viewed fewer than 2,000 times. A Corbett campaign ad, "Missing," posted on July 10, has been viewed just over 800 times. For some perspective: "50 Viral Cat Videos in Four Minutes" was posted on July 8 and, as of this morning, had 1,130,893 views. 
 
Democrat or Republican, apparently it is hard to compete with cute cats.

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