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Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Will Supercharge Racial Wealth Divide, Finds First-Time Analysis

October 11, 2018 - 1:43pm

Pennsylvanians, even more than other Americans, strongly support fair taxation—because Pennsylvania’s tax system is one of the most unfair in the nation, taxing middle- and low-income families at much higher rates than the richest 1%. Yet when Congress passed huge tax cuts on a party line vote last year, it made the U.S. tax system much less fair, with most of the benefits going to the richest Americans—72% of the individual tax cuts go to the top 20% of families, with the corporate tax cuts also tilted towards the richest Americans.

new report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy released today highlights another way that the Tax Cut and Jobs Act increases economic inequality: it rewards existing White wealthy families at the expense of the economic security of households of color as well as at the expense of the middle class and poor. On average white households will receive over $2,000 in cuts compared to less than $1,000 for white Latino and Black households. The struggles families of color have accumulating wealth is one of the powerful ways that racial inequality in America gets transmitted across generations (because families cannot afford college, a house, retirement savings or to save enough to stop living paycheck to paycheck). In the future, the huge deficits resulting from this tax cut could also lead to reductions in spending that hurt middle- and lower-income families of all races and ethnicities, while also reducing economic growth.

Members of Congress who supported this tax cut revealed through their action a preference for an economy that works for the mostly-white 1% rather than an economy that works for all Americans. The PA representatives who voted for the tax cut  who are running for reelection or—in the case of Lou Barletta, for U.S. Senate—include Barletta, Brian Fitzpatrick, Mike Kelly, Tom Marino, Keith Rothfus, Lloyd Smucker, Scott Perry and Glenn Thompson.

Go here for more  information on the new ITEP report and here to access the social media toolkit so that you can help spread the word.

Speaker Turzai Offers Up A Fake Redistricting Reform Plan

September 21, 2018 - 4:48pm

Speaker Turzai has recently floated a proposal for legislation to delegate the process of drawing congressional district lines to a commission modeled after the process used for drawing legislative districts that is embedded in the PA Constitution. The legislative districting commission consists of one member appointed by the majority and minority caucuses and fifth member appointed by those four. If they cannot agree on a fifth member, according to the PA Constitution, the Supreme Court chooses that person.

We have various ideas about what real redistricting reform looks like. But we agree that this proposal is not it. We urge Speaker Turzai not to advance this proposal in the remaining days of the legislature this year. If he does, we urge the General Assembly to reject it for three reasons.

First, we note that there is absolutely no rush to advance a legislative proposal in the waning days of this General Assembly for a redistricting process that will not take place until 2021. This is not the time to be considering a major change in a critical process, especially when it might stand in the way of consideration of real reforms in the next year.

Second, advocates for redistricting reform have been critical of the heavily politicized process by which legislative districts are currently drawn. It is hardly redistricting reform to use the same process for congressional districts.

Third, we fear that if his proposal were to be considered this year, Speaker Turzai would pull a bait and switch and advance a proposal that gives the Commonwealth Court, not the Supreme Court, the power to appoint the fifth member of a congressional redistricting commission. Given that Republicans control the Commonwealth Court, this would give Republicans a 3-2 majority and the power to draw congressional districts gerrymandered in their favor.

In 2018, Speaker Turzai has stood in the way of redistricting reform, and he may be putting this proposal forward to portray himself as a reformer. For the reasons we have indicated, we do not find this plausible.

2017 Census Release: Health Care Coverage in Pennsylvania

September 18, 2018 - 10:36pm

By Shelley Aragoncillo and Diana Polson

The number of Pennsylvania’s uninsured hovers around 5.5% of the state’s population, nearly half of what it was in 2010 before the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid.

Despite every attempt to kill it, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) continues to keep the uninsured rate down in Pennsylvania. The year 2017 marks the lowest number of uninsured in Pennsylvania.   According to the newly released 2017 Census numbers, Pennsylvania’s uninsured are 5.5% of the population, or 692,000 individuals without insurance, significantly below the national average of 8.7% uninsured.   As the graph below shows, in 2010, prior to the passage and roll-out of the ACA, the uninsured rate was 10.2% of the population in Pennsylvania, or 1.3 million people. This uninsured rate was at its highest in 2010, two years after the 2008 recession. As the ACA began rolling out, the percentage of people without insurance began to drop. Pennsylvania’s participation in Medicaid expansion, which began in 2015, further reduced the percentage of people going without insurance.   States participating in Medicaid expansion have significantly fewer uninsured than states who have refused to participate, and that gap is growing. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities graph below shows, in 2017 Medicaid expansion states had an uninsured rate of 6.6%, compared to the 12.2% uninsured in those states not participating in expansion. Pennsylvania’s uninsured is lower than the average uninsured rate of all Medicaid expansion states: 5.5% compared to the national average of 6.6%.   Uninsured Rate Gap Between Medicaid Expansion States and Others Widening

The Trump administration has made efforts to kill the ACA by creating barriers to enrollment: pulling sign-up info from the healthcare.gov website; cutting the advertising budget by 90 percent and sign-up assistance programs by 41 percent; and cutting the 2018 enrollment period in half.    In Pennsylvania, the Wolf administration has worked to combat the federal efforts to sabotage enrollment, and so far, it has had some success. During the 2018 open enrollment season, the Pennsylvania Insurance Department launched an outreach campaign to make up for the cuts in marketing on the federal level. The department also made coverage more affordable by mitigating the number of people subject to premium increases due to the fed’s elimination of cost-sharing reduction reimbursements. As a result, 396,725 individuals signed up for health insurance via the exchange in 2017—below last year’s sign-ups, but not as significant as it would have been without the state’s efforts at curbing federal changes.   Health insurance rates will also be more modest than what was feared. This summer, health insurers in Pennsylvania filed plans for 2019 and requested an increase in insurance rates of 4.9%, which is significantly below requested increases nationally and in neighboring states. In Pennsylvania’s neighboring states, insurers have requested 2019 rate increases of more than 20%.   Given the federal attacks on the ACA and ongoing attempts to stymie its success, Pennsylvania is doing pretty good comparatively, thanks to the Wolf administration’s deliberate acts to protect it. But, before we pat ourselves on the back, we cannot forget the nearly 700,000 people in our state that remain without any health care coverage at all. Far too many others may have “coverage,” but it is too expensive to actually get them the care needed. We need to continue to fight for a medical system that values people—health and healing for its own sake, not for profit.   For more information, see: https://www.media.pa.gov/Pages/Insurance-Details.aspx?newsid=313.  

On Redistricting Reform, Good Intentions Are Not Enough

July 15, 2018 - 4:04pm

The first rule of politics, like that of medicine, is do no harm.

And the intention to do no harm is not enough, you need a strategy to ensure that your actions actually avoid doing harm directly or indirectly.

Once again, Fair Districts PA (FDPA) and March on Harrisburg, in two separate ways, are potentially doing harm to our political system in Pennsylvania. 

FDPA and March on Harrisburg have been protesting Governor Wolf, demanding that he call the PA General Assembly back for a special session to pass a redistricting constitutional amendment before the clock runs out sometime this month. 

I will point out in a moment that the focus on Governor Wolf is misplaced and potentially dangerous. But the deeper problem is that calling the General Assembly back into session makes no sense if you don’t have a reasonable goal for them to accomplish and, importantly, a strategy to attain that goal. 

Here the reform groups differ, although the actions of both of them are problematic. 

March on Harrisburg says it wants to see the General Assembly pass the original versions of SB22 and HB722, also known in the House as the Samuelson bill (or the Samuelson amendment to the Folmer version of the Senate-passed SB22.)  

We support that goal. But we see no way to make it reality. A majority of the House – with far more Democrats than Republicans – have co-sponsored it. But the leadership of the House so far will not support it. And when Senate Democrats tried to pass it, all Senate Republicans voted against it. 

The lack of any strategy to pass the Samuelson bill is, we presume, why FDPA, after rightly and strongly supporting the Samuelson bill a few weeks ago, has changed course again. Yesterday FDPA released and praised a letter from Senators Scarnati and Corman to Speaker Turzai saying that the Senate would be willing to compromise on the Senate-passed SB22, which is not the Samuelson redistricting proposal, but the harmful Folmer redistricting proposal, by passing a version of the bill that removes the judicial redistricting provision (also known as the Aument amendment.)  

FDPA says this is progress, which we take to mean that the group would once again accept the Folmer redistricting plan rather than the original Samuelson plan.

But as we – and March on Harrisburg – have pointed out, the Folmer plan is faux reform. It would give the majority party, which for the foreseeable future will be the Republican Party, control over redistricting for both congressional and state legislative districts. Were it to pass this year and next and then be adopted by the voters – and they rarely vote no on a constitutional amendment – we would be stuck with this disastrous plan for generations. 

Why has FDPA retreated again from supporting real redistricting reform? We are loath to speculate about their motives. But it appears that they either still don’t understand why the Folmer plan is bad, despite their own consultants from the Brennan Center telling them to reject it, or they are desperate to claim victory. 

So, March on Harrisburg has no strategy for victory if the General Assembly returns. And FDPA has a strategy that could lead to a disaster if it returns. Thus, we question the wisdom of encouraging Governor Wolf to call them back to Harrisburg. We are also concerned about the General Assembly enacting other pernicious legislation if it returns to the Capitol. Nothing keeps them from running a regular legislative session once they return to Harrisburg at which they could pass destructive legislation like work requirements for SNAP and Medicaid.

We also question why FDPA and March on Harrisburg have been spending the last few weeks focused on asking Governor Wolf to call the General Assembly back into session to enact redistricting reform. This effort is wholly misguided. The governor’s action is neither necessary nor sufficient to enact redistricting reform. His commitment to redistricting reform is unquestionable, as was shown by the critical support he gave the effort to revise congressional districts this year. If anyone is to blame for the impasse on redistricting reform, it is the Republican leaders of the General Assembly. They have the power to call the House and Senate back into session at any time. And their unwillingness or inability to secure the Republican caucuses to coalesce in support of genuine redistricting reform is the major barrier to progress. All of us who support redistricting reform should be putting the onus on the Republican leadership of the General Assembly, not Governor Wolf. 

But FDPA and March on Harrisburg seem determined to be “nonpartisan” not matter what violence that stance does to the truth and good political strategy. We are a nonpartisan organization, as well. But being nonpartisan does not require advocates to ignore reality. And the reality is that the Republicans have controlled the General Assembly for years and have consistently sought to restrict our democracy by, for example, enacting Voter ID laws and by gerrymandering congressional and state legislative districts. 

Just this year, the Republicans have undermined the goal of redistricting reform multiple times. To begin with, most of the supporters of the good redistricting bills introduced earlier in the year in the House, HB722, and Senate, SB22, were Democrats, along with some Southeast PA Republicans. Then, Republican Chair Daryl Metcalfe with the support of Republican members of the House State Government Committee mangled HB 722 beyond recognition. Much the same thing happened in the Senate, where the Republican chair of the Senate State Government committee, Mike Folmer, led an effort to amend SB22 in ways that gave the General Assembly far too much control over the redistricting process. On a straight party line vote, all Republicans voted against an effort by Senator Vince Hughes to fix the Folmer plan. And then, adding insult to injury, the Republicans, in another straight party line vote, added an amendment by Senator Aument that would have enabled the majority party to gerrymander newly-created districts for the election of appellate court judges in the state. 

Democrats did develop an amendment strategy to kill the Senate-passed SB22 in the House. But that was the only way to kill a very bad bill – one that FDPA unconscionably supported. It was the right strategy and, should the General Assembly come back to Harrisburg, we would urge legislators to do the same thing again. 

That is the reality. When March on Harrisburg and FDPA blame “both sides” for the failure of redistricting reform, they are creating alternative facts that are far-removed from the reality we have seen this year. And all the good intentions can’t rescue a political strategy from creating disaster when it is based on a seemingly willful misreading of the political circumstances in which we live. 

KRC Files Affidavit in PA School Funding Lawsuit

July 10, 2018 - 1:43pm

Last week petitioners in Pennsylvania's school funding lawsuit filed a brief and affidavits refuting the claim made by the Republican leader of the PA Senate, Joe Scarnati, that the lawsuit was rendered moot because the state adopted a school funding formula in 2016.

The brief details how state funding increases have not kept pace with rising mandated costs, including pension expenses. Because of this, aggregate state funding available to school districts for classroom costs have effectively decreased by $155.3 million since 2013.

In addition, according to an affidavit filed by KRC Labor Economist Mark Price, funding gaps between low- and high-wealth districts have significantly increased since the case was filed. Four years ago, a typical high-wealth school district spent $3,058 more per student than a typical low-wealth school district. Today that difference has grown to $3,778/student.

In other words, four years ago, high-wealth districts spent $76,450 more for each classroom of 25 students than low-wealth districts. Today, they spend $94,450 more.

Read Mark Price's full affidavit here.

In a statement about the court filing, Maura McInerney, Education Law Center legal director, sums up the current state of school funding in PA, "Our affidavits from school districts, parents, and an economist make clear not only that the state has failed to fix a broken funding system, but conditions are actually getting worse, with painful consequences for school children. Petitioner school districts don't have sufficient funding to hire desperately needed teachers and support staff, repair crumbling facilities, or provide critical educational programming. This problem will not be fixed until additional money is added to the education budget."

A recent survey of school districts conducted by the Pennsylvania Association of School Superintendents and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials demonstrates that the harm caused to students by inadequate state funding extends far beyond the school districts that are part of the school funding lawsuit. This survey found that in the next school year:

  • 77 percent of school districts are planning to increase property taxes
  • 39 percent plan to increase class sizes
  • 47 percent do not intend to fill vacant positions as a result of retirements or resignations.
  • 24 percent plan to reduce or eliminate elective classes and 12 percent plan to reduce or eliminate summer school.

Every child deserves to go to a quality school need to pay attention to who supports Pennsylvania’s public schoolchildren and who doesn’t. As the lawsuit progresses, we need to continue holding individuals in positions of power accountable for fixing Pennsylvania’s broken system by providing funding and enacting policies that are sensible and fair to all.