Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Return to Texas

One silver lining to the GOP presidential debates inundating the airwaves is that we get to hear politicians and pundits distinguish fact from fiction in regards to the business friendly, economic boomtown and supposed utopia Gov. Corbett refers to as Texas.

Gov. Corbett has modeled many of his overdue and inadequate policies on the Lone Star state and gushs over it as a policy paradise. But as is often the case, the claims coming from the Corbett (and Perry) camp need some fact checking.

Marcellus matters

The Governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission chief, Lt.  Gov.  Jim Cawley made it clear from day one that the extraction tax that 70% of Pennsylvanians support and that every other state has was “off the table.” After the group issued its report, Cawley explained that the Commonwealth’s business climate simply is not as “friendly as Texas,” therefore we can’t implement a tax on natural gas drilling similar to theirs.

What Cawley didn’t consider is that Texas, unlike Pennsylvania has closed the Delaware Loophole. PA’s failure to do so allows 70% of C corporations to operate here tax free. It further demonstrates the Administration’s focus on corporate rather than Commonwealth interests.  In Pennsylvania, a family earning $33,000 a year pays more income tax than 85% of all registered C-Corporations, many of which are multi-state and multi-national corporations that pay taxes everywhere else.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs?

The Corbett Administration and PA GOP leaders have sought to emulate Texas by repeating their mantra: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs.  And while it is true, Gov. Perry’s Texas did grow jobs in Texas, nearly a quarter of those are public sector jobs like those that the GOP is seeking to slash through Leader Turzai’s liquor privatization plan and Corbett’s historic cuts to public education, which resulted in over 14,000 jobs lost.  In addition to job creation, Texas also is tied for #1 the country in the number of low wage workers.

Healthy Texans

And despite all those jobs, only 48% of Texans have private health insurance, and more than a quarter have no insurance at all. Texas’ GOP leaders have been slashing the eligibility for government-sponsored insurance like CHIP over the past decade leading to nearly 6.5 million people without health care, a majority of which are employed fulltime. Now it’s easy to see why Gov. Corbett decided to eliminate adultBasic for 41,000 working Pennsylvanians last spring.

Women’s Health

Pennsylvania’s conservatives have also set their sights on making PA hostile to women’s health like Texas, where the 71 family planning clinics receiving government funding are often referred to as abortion clinics even though NONE of them actually perform abortions. The result of failing to fund prevention methods, like basic contraceptives, means Texas spends more than any other state on teen pregnancies. So while the legislature debates the regulating of women’s health clinics right out-of-business, less of Pennsylvania’s women will have access to mammograms, cervical cancer and blood pressure screenings, and HIV testing.

Maybe the American public will get the opportunity to judge the Texas miracle for themselves, maybe not. I’m confident Texas’s formula is not as good for Pennsylvania’s communities as it is for the multi-state corporations working here. One thing is certain for the Corbett and his GOP partners, as the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” In this case, the facts just don’t support the misguided opnion.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Gas and Gaming

Imagine an industry wants to move into your state. It has incredible potential for revenue generation and job creation plus ancillary benefits like increased hotel occupancy and small business opportunities. But with the good comes the bad, the industry will fuel additional costs, like overloading public safety. But some of those costs can be mitigated through preparation and smart regulation.

Pennsylvania has had two such opportunities in the past decade, but GOP leaders insist on treating them differently.

Early in the last decade when the gaming industry came knocking on PA’s door they could have gone to other states, but they decided on the Commonwealth. And since then households ACROSS Pennsylvania are benefitting, not just homeowners in a casino host municipality or county.

In the 5 years since Pennsylvania’s first slots parlor opened, the gaming industry has paid more than $1.3 billion annually in taxes, has directly created 15,000 Pennsylvanian jobs, and has actually surpassed New Jersey, Nevada and every other state in gaming revenue. The gaming industry also pays for gambling treatment, extra police services, a local revenue share and have spurred the rejuvenation of another entire industry, horse breeding.

Anecdotally, gaming enthusiasts have noted Jersey tour buses parked in Commonwealth casino lots.

And get this: PA taxes gaming at the highest rate in the nation. Interestingly enough political contributions from the gaming industry are banned in Pennsylvania.

So when you hear the Gov. Corbett and others argue that if we tax the natural gas industry (like EVERY other natural gas state does), they’ll pack up and leave, know that it is inaccurate and misleading.

Unlike the gaming industry, natural gas drillers have limited options on where they can locate. Pennsylvania is situated upon what is estimated to be the largest natural gas deposit in the world and alone could fuel the nation’s energy needs for a decade. The gas industry is here to stay even if there is a severance tax…they have said so publicly.

Natural gas is an abundant source of domestic clean energy, and the industry has created jobs and stimulated some local economies, but it has escaped paying its fair share (as it does in other states) for the negative effects of drilling including the increased burden on local emergency responders, the deterioration of our roadways and the degradation of the state’s water ways.

Senate GOP leaders have made implementing an impact fee they’re autumn priority, but their plan is limited, insufficient and would operate differently than other taxes levied by the state, and the governor’s “parameters” are designed for counties, not state government.

Why should an extraction fee favor one Pennsylvanian over another when all residents’ water supply is being polluted?

Why shouldn’t a portion of the tax levied on drillers go to serving the entire state, the same way a portion of the state’s gaming tax benefits people across the Commonwealth or tolls from the turnpike, or sales tax levied at large malls? And why are some GOP leaders still apprehensive to levy a tax that exists in every other state, and that even industry executives say are reasonable and expected?

Why does the GOP insist on treating the gas industry differently?

Could it be that we have not yet banned political contributions from this industry, or maybe we just need to banish Grover Norquist from the state?