For Some, Reading Is Hard

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

Recent commentaries by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s editorial board and the Allegheny Institute in Pittsburgh offer a good lesson for why you should really try to read all the way to the end.

Both offer up critiques of the Keystone Research Center’s recent policy brief detailing the economic impact of public-sector job cuts in Pennsylvania. Here is the Tribune-Review:

What the Keystone researchers don’t say in their report, ‘Public-sector Job Losses Put Brakes on Pennsylvania’s Recovery,’ is that to increase government hiring, the state, school districts and municipalities would have to raise taxes.

The editorial above appears to be based on commentary by the Allegheny Institute which begins:

How to speed job growth in Pennsylvania? According to the latest offering from the Keystone Research Center (KRC), the Commonwealth and local tax levying bodies should raise taxes and hire more employees.

They don’t directly say ‘raise taxes’ but how else can the state, school districts and municipalities already facing budget deficits afford to keep all their employees-never mind hiring more?

Both of these quotes got one small thing correct: we don’t, in fact, call for school districts or municipalities to raise property or income taxes. Our main recommendation is that state policymakers spend more of the state’s revenue surplus. As we explain:

Pennsylvania’s 2011-12 General Fund budget made deep cuts to education and health care while leaving unspent $620 million from a revenue surplus last year and other unused funds. Our best estimate is that the failure to spend that revenue will by itself translate into the loss of 17,714 jobs (including private jobs lost due to the ripple effects of public job cuts) over the course of the 2011-12 fiscal year …

In the last year, Pennsylvania lost 21,000 jobs in the public sector. Some 13,000 of those losses were education-related jobs. Among the 50 states, Pennsylvania experienced the sixth-largest decline in state and local jobs in the last year. The concentration of public-sector job losses in Pennsylvania helps explain why Pennsylvania job growth recently has stalled relative to other states.

Seems the Tribune-Review and the Allegheny Institute missed that. In their defense, we did bury those details on page 3 of the brief.

Read to the end before unleashing your criticism, you say? Who has time for that?

On a serious note, I should add that the best way to limit further local property taxes increases and public-sector layoffs is for Congress to pass a jobs bill that includes additional aid to state and local governments. 

As a special favor to the Tribune-Review and the Allegheny Institute, the CliffsNotes version of our policy recommendations:

Pennsylvania needs a jobs policy that will strengthen the private and public sectors. There is no shortage of practical ideas for how to create jobs. Options include:

• Spending more of the state’s revenue surplus;

• Enacting a natural gas drilling tax that supports shared statewide priorities like education as well as the environment and local communities;

• Maximizing the potential for Marcellus Shale development to create jobs for Pennsylvania workers; and

• Bond-financing infrastructure, school construction and energy efficiency investments at a time when borrowing and construction costs are both low.

What is missing in Harrisburg (as well as Washington, D.C.) is the political will needed to enact effective policies to create jobs. How many more months of failed austerity economics must Pennsylvanians suffer through before we get a needed change in direction?