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PA Budget Blahs

CapitolGov. Tom Corbett promised to deny Philadelphia the ability to raise its own cigarette taxes if he didn’t get his hybrid pension reform bill. No one in the Senate Democratic Caucus liked that, but clearer heads prevailed and Senate Republican leaders finally allowed Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams to add his $2/pack cigarette tax to House Bill 1177 as an amendment.

The Senate adopted HB 1177 and we, in turn, unanimously adopted his desired pension reform bill … a measure I continue to liken as a drop of water in the Atlantic Ocean.

The House approved the budget bill and House Republicans then played games with HB 1177, stripping the cigarette tax amendment and kicking the pension reform bill to an unfriendly committee.

Following some last-minute rules debate Wednesday evening, that committee quickly reported out the bill but the House then amended it on the floor, restored the cigarette tax proposal, and returned the bill to the Senate.

As of this writing, however, the governor still has not signed the 2014-15 budget it into law.

The lack of leadership and GOP infighting is breathtakingly remarkable, yet it reflects the bad that has happened in the commonwealth since the governor took office.

This is the fourth year in a row that the governor has attempted to balance Pennsylvania’s budget on the backs of school children, teachers, social safety net participants, and neighborhoods. It will probably be the fourth year in a row that he fails to finish the fiscal year in the black.

This new spending plan, if it ever is signed into practice, relies too much on hoping, praying and pulling rabbits out of Republican hats.

Pennsylvania taxpayers must hold on because the fear is the commonwealth’s economy will be worse this time next year. Some think we could be trying to figure out how to pay for a $2.5 billion deficit.

The governor owns this budget and its current $1.5 billion-plus revenue deficit. It is not Gov. Ed Rendell’s fault and he can’t pin this spending plan on the president. Gov. Corbett is responsible, and he must be held accountable for this budget fiasco.

County Unemployment Look

Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor & Industry released county unemployment rates for May this week. Its report indicated 20 county unemployment rates are better than the state’s 5.6 percent jobless figure and six counties have that same rate. Of course it also means 31 counties are dealing with higher jobless percentages.

Improvement, yes, but if you dig deeper into the employment numbers from the start of the recession in December 2007 until this past May, you will mine the answer as to why most people are not comfortable in saying Pennsylvania “is back,” as one prominent Republican likes to insist.

Forty-six of the state’s 67 counties have employment totals that are less than what they were at the start of the recession.

The state, as a whole, is counting 20,000 fewer employed workers now compared to seven years ago.

And, only three counties – Elk, Fulton, and Greene – have better unemployment rates now compared to December 2007, according to the Corbett administration.

Elk County’s jobless rate was 5.1 percent at the start of the fiscal dive; it’s 5.0 percent now. Greene County has gone from 6.9 percent to 6.7 percent; and Greene County’s jobless figure has dropped from 5.6 percent to 4.8 percent. Only Greene County is counting more employed workers now than in 2007.

New nationwide statistics indicate the economy is improving. I just continue to believe that Pennsylvania is not significantly contributing to this positive trend.

Bad SCOTUS Ruling for Unions?

Time will tell, but some are thinking that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this week that said home healthcare aides are not state employees and cannot be required to pay union dues will be bad for unions.

The Christian Science Monitor is one such believer in this possibility:

“The court’s decision could affect 500,000 U.S. workers in 10 states and hurt the labor unions that seek to bargain on their behalf. It’s a setback for organized labor at a time when unions are struggling to gain new momentum,” the newspaper declared.

Service Employees International Union – SEIU to most people – and the AFL-CIO were mentioned in the article. Give the Monitor’s story a read, or browse the court’s opinion, and tell me what you think.

Made in PA

Calling all unions and companies that are proud of their union workforce! Let us know who you are and where you work and we will spotlight you in this section of the Labor Report. Email me the details at

Independence Day

July 4thWe celebrate the 238th birthday of the United States of America tomorrow. I hope you have time to mark the day with good friends and neighbors and appreciate the diversity and strength that make up this country – and make it better than any other in the world.

We have our differences, but we work through them and improve. It might not always seem like this is happening. It does.

As Thomas Paine said, “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”

Happy July 4th!