And now for yet another national survey – released Tuesday on “Tax Day” – showing Pennsylvania rates badly on economic issues.
This one comes from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a Virginia-based, limited-government, free-market group that includes 2,000 state legislators from around the country.
ALEC calls itself nonpartisan, since it has members from both parties, but it’s known for pushing conservative causes such as tough voter ID laws, deregulation, school vouchers, and right-to-work legislation.
And, in terms of economic policy, its findings suggest conservative states are more prosperous than liberal states.
Top states (Utah, Idaho, Indiana, North Dakota, Arizona) all voted Trump in 2016. Bottom states (New York, Vermont, Illinois, California, New Jersey) voted Clinton.
Yet its 2018 “Rich States/Poor States” annual report ranks Pennsylvania 38th in “economic outlook,” calling the state one of the nation’s five “biggest losers.”
Maybe you’re thinking, wait, didn’t Pennsylvania vote Trump, and isn’t it run by an increasingly conservative Republican legislature?
Why, yes. Yes, it did. And yes, it is.
Then why such a low ranking?
Nathan Benefield, vice president of the right-leaning Commonwealth Foundation, offers this: “There’s a difference between being Republican and being for principled free-market policies.”
He says the state fares badly with ALEC because of tax, spending, and labor issues.
He agrees the legislature has gotten more conservative, but says, “This is a long-term thing. It’s not about this legislature or Gov. Wolf. It’s that, historically, policy is very slow to change. There’s a mentality in Pennsylvania that we’ve always done it this way.”
ALEC’s Jonathan Williams, one of the writers of the annual report, agrees. He says the state’s problems stem from “policy fundamentals, regardless of political majorities in Harrisburg.”
Pennsylvania consistently ranks low, he says, due to high tax rates, especially corporate, and overall personal tax burden, which is calculated with (and increased by) Philadelphia tax rates.
Marc Stier, director of the left-leaning Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, takes a decidedly different view of ALEC’s findings: “They should call their report `the economic outlook for oligarchs.’”
Stier says states doing best with ALEC are “the states that do the most to help the rich.”
He says Pennsylvania’s economic problems are tied to our “two-state economy” (rural and urban), 20 years of moving the state “in a right-wing direction,” and ongoing failure to invest in higher education.
He adds the only thing ALEC gives Pennsylvania credit for is not raising the minimum wage, “as all our neighboring states have done, which leads to better job growth.”
So, it seems, nobody on the ideological scale is happy. And, if you think about it, nobody on any scale has much reason to rejoice.
This isn’t the only 2018 report in which Pennsylvania shows poorly.
In January, the Volcker Alliance, headed by former Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker, issued state report cards on budget issues. Pa. got “the lowest possible grade, D-minus.”
In March, USA Today reported on best states/worst states for business. Pennsylvania ranked 40th.
The state currently ranks 44th in the unemployment rate, highest in the northeast.
And all this comes on the heels of a 2017 year-end best states/worst states ranking from the financial website 24/7 Wall St. that put Pennsylvania 46th in the nation, after declines in five straight years.
That way we can look forward to further national comparative studies to verify an earned reputation as a place where bad politics produces bad policy.
And I can keep referring to the Keystone State with a moniker I gave it years ago – the Land of Low Expectations.