Wealthy School Districts Saw No Change to State Aid From Corbett

Mikhail Zinshteyn says Tom Corbett made a choice to cut more aid to poor school districts than wealthy school districts:

After looking at budgeting priorities of various states, Baker noticed that more federal funding fed into short comes in dollar streams allocated to wealthier districts than poor districts. Once Pennsylvania’s share of the $48.3 billion states received in 2009 through the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) dried up, more money was cut from poorer districts while wealthier ones saw no change in state contributions to their education costs. “They’ve hammered the poor districts with [a] warped shell game,” he said.

By analogy, Baker offered this explanation to The American Independent:

For example, let’s say I have a family assistance program, where poor families get a total allocation of $800 per family per year for food assistance, and rich families still get $100 (even though they don’t need it.) Let’s say we’ve only got two families in the system, one rich and one poor. Because of a recession, my state funding is $200 short this year, but the feds give me a stimulus of $200 to replace it. I could use my $700 in state money for the poor family, and given $100 each in federal money to each family. I’ve still honored my formula which is intended to yield $800 for the poor family and $100 for the rich one.

But, what [Corbett] did was to say that the poor family got $200 in [federal] money and $600 in state money and the rich family got $100 in state money. So, when the fed money is gone, the rich family still gets $100 in state money and the poor family gets $600 in state money – but $200 less than the previous year.

The next twist was to give the rich family $102 in state money the next year, and give the poor family $612 the next year, so each got a 2% increase in state money, but the rich family actually gets a $2 increase and the poor family gets a $188 cut in total funding.

Will Corbett Support His Commissions’ Recommended Tax Increases?

This weekend we learned that Tom Corbett’s Marcellus Shale commission, despite its lopsided representation from the natural gas industry, will apparently be recommending some form of tax fee on fracking in addition to the odious practice of forced pooling. Here’s Angela Couloumbis and Laura Olson at the Inquirer:

Gov. Corbett’s advisory panel on drilling in the Marcellus Shale endorsed a long list of recommendations Friday on how to deal with the burgeoning industry, including imposing a local impact fee – not a tax – on the extraction of natural gas.

The 30-member commission also tacitly threw its weight behind the controversial practice of “pooling,” which effectively allows a drilling company to force holdout landowners to lease their below-ground gas rights under certain circumstances.

Today we learned that Corbett’s transportation funding panel recommends an increase in the gas tax, in addition to various fee increases:

The commission urged legislation to increase the cost of titles, inspections, driver’s licenses, and other documents in line with inflation. It said the move would raise $412 million in the first year and $574 million by the fifth year. The panel recommended increasing passenger-vehicle registration costs by $13 and four-year driver’s license fees by $4. Drivers would also be charged a $10 local registration fee.

The panel also suggested readjusting the wholesale gasoline tax, capped at $1.25 in 1993. That could bring in an extra $1.4 billion of revenue per year, according to the commission.

If properly adjusted for inflation, the tax would be increased by $1.43. The commission estimated that this would increase gas prices by about 22 cents per gallon this year.

An increase of 22 cents per gallon, around $36 a year, is a very smart way to raise $1.4 billion a year with minimal cost to economic growth. The state’s gas tax is already very low, and on balance, the gas tax policy should be encouraging less carbon-intensive ways of getting around. It’s a good thing if some people drive less as a result of the tax increase.

Likewise, taxing fracking is a very sensible way to raise revenue. I’m opposed to anything other than a statewide severance tax, but the fact that an industry-dominated panel recommended any kind of tax just goes to show how obvious a revenue source this is, and how extreme Corbett’s position is.

But Tom Corbett is unlikely to support any sensible suggestions for closing the state’s revenue shortfall, because his boss Grover Norquist has veto power over the majority Republicans, and Norquist doesn’t believe in “budgeting.”

How Mike Turzai Runs the State House

Mike Sturla calls out Turzai on the Republicans’ lack of transparency and intolerance for debate:

Under their Leader, House Republicans have “called the previous question” (a means to shut off debate) a record-setting 8 times in the past 6 months, eclipsing every YEAR since 1961. This procedure used to be employed sparingly, a total of 30 times between 1961 and 2010 — 30 times in 50 years. At the current rate, the House GOP will call the previous question 32 times in this 2 year session alone.

I dunno. Obviously I don’t like what Republicans are doing policy-wise in Harrisburg. In the short term it would be nice to be able to stop bad things from happening. But the voters gave the Republicans a clear majority, and they’re doing what they said they’d do. They campaigned on ultra right-wing views, and now they are enacting them. I think that’s as it should be.

Now, I think the Republicans’ policies are going to produce bad results for the economy, and this view is also held by large majorities of the voters, who say they would go back and elect Dan Onorato if they could.

I’m glad Mike Sturla cares about good policy more than politics, but he’s got to appreciate that this is likely to end up working in his favor. To be cold-blooded about it, it’s good for the Democrats if Republican policies create the big problems Sturla and I think they’re going to. What Democratic Party lawmakers and candidates need to do then is take every opportunity to create contrasts with the Republicans, and remind the public they are doing a bad job. The state Democratic Party is basically just an advocacy organization at this point, all the more so now that they can’t participate in the legislative process.  Two years of pain is going to suck, but there’s a political bonanza waiting for Democrats at the end of it.

What Tom Corbett Could Be Doing on Jobs

Me at Keystone Politics on what Tom Corbett could be doing on jobs:

Tom Corbett’s idea of job creation is probably “do whatever the state’s largest businesses are asking for.” But that’s just not how job creation works. Job creation comes overwhelmingly from small firms scaling up. The biggest players are rarely going to be the ones adding large numbers of new workers.

The real low-hanging fruit of job creation is to increase productivity in the high-performing metro regions. That’s Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, the Lehigh Valley, Scranton and Harrisburg:

Instead, the Republicans hit metros hard in the budget. This is the equivalent of destroying your car’s engine because you’re low on gas. Kneecapping metros is only going to make it harder to balance the budget by slowing economic growth and pushing down tax receipts.

What Shall Tom Corbett’s Dogs Be Named?

Tom Corbett wants Pennsylvania’s children to name his dogs. I recommend Fracky and Sludge…

Eating the Seed Corn

Michael Sokolove has a very good NYT piece on how Tom Corbett’s totally unnecessary budget cuts are going to roll back recent education gains in Levittown:

Fifty-one percent of Bristol Township’s students qualify for free or reduced lunch. When schools were first measured under the No Child Left Behind act, the district scored near the bottom of state rankings. Through smaller class sizes and more intense attention given to lagging students, it is now near the middle. “The knock on our schools was you couldn’t get a good education here,” James Moore, the principal at Truman High, told me one recent afternoon. “Nobody can say that anymore.”

It is that progress, though, that is threatened. In a preliminary budget passed by the school board, as many as 28 of the 125 teachers at Truman High could lose their jobs. Double periods for struggling math and English students — credited for the district’s better test scores — would no longer be possible. Advanced Placement courses might be combined with regular honors classes. Art and music at the elementary level would be cut back.

Buyer’s Remorse

(h/t Matt Yglesias)