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September 08, 2004

A Labor/Jobs Agenda for PA

How have the Bush years treated working families in the swing state of Pennsylvania? According to The State of Working Pennsylvania 2004 , a report by the Keystone Research Center, it's been a rough ride:

In July 2004 Pennsylvania had 81,300, or 1.4%, fewer jobs than when the recession began in March of 2001.... employment in the state’s high-wage industries has fallen by 5.6% while employment in low-wage industries has grown by 2.9%

Manufacturing in particular has gotten creamed, "losing 151,600 jobs since March 2001, a loss of 17.9 percent." This is why an August poll "found that 48% of respondents identified economic issues as the most important problem facing the state."

But this report isn't all doom and gloom. It ends with a great list of recommendations for how to rebuild Pennsylvania. If you feel a bit irritated every time you hear Kerry give his wimpy economic solutions, here's a list that might be more to your liking -- and a good example of what labor can aim for when we fight at the state level after November:

  • Raise the wages of Pennsylvania’s lowest-paid workers by... raising its minimum wage above the federal level of $5.15 per hour. If the state does not act, local governments should enact their own minimum wages, as San Francisco, California; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Madison, Wisconsin have done.
  • Help retain Pennsylvania jobs by strengthening preferences for Pennsylvania- and other U.S.-made goods and services.
  • Establish rules to ensure that economic development dollars create good jobs in the places that most need them.
  • Require disclosure of job quality, financial assistance per job (from all sources of state and local assistance), the site of the location where business assistance will be used, and the land-use characteristics of the site.
  • Establish standards for wages and benefits that ensure that the companies receiving assistance pay well above the minimum wage and decently by the standards of their respective industries. The state should also limit total assistance per job and strengthen provisions that require companies to pay back money when they fail to deliver on job and wage promises.
  • Direct economic stimulus, other state and local economic development subsidies, and tax breaks to older, higher-unemployment communities. For example, the General Assembly intended tax increment financing (TIF) districts to attract new businesses into blighted urban areas by giving generous tax breaks. Too often TIFs are now misused to promote development in upscale outlying areas, on farmland, even on trout streams. TIFs should be restricted to redeveloping, reusing, or revitalizing previously developed industrial or commercial property. Similarly, business subsidies and capital budget outlays should strengthen incentives for “infill” projects in abandoned industrial space and shopping centers.
  • Increase state investment in the formation of multi-employer industry partnerships that bring together employers, unions, local governments, and community organizations, usually within a local area, to solve important problems facing employers and workers within an industry.8 Multi-employer partnerships can address common skill, marketing, and employee benefit needs. Partnerships can also promote learning about job retention, organizational practices, and innovation in ways that benefit every member in circumstances where individual employers may lack the economic incentive or knowledge to acquire such information on their own. Just two of the many such partnerships already operating in Pennsylvania are: the Southwestern Pennsylvania Partnership on Aging (SWPPA) which promotes high-quality care and better jobs in long-term care; the Building Trades Apprenticeship Initiative in Reading which helps urban youth to obtain the academic and practical skill needed to enter building trades apprenticeship programs.
  • Enact personal exemptions that eliminate state and local income and wage taxes on the first part of income. Modifying the state constitution to permit personal exemptions was part of a comprehensive state tax reform package put forward by a “PA21” business-labor tax project in a report released in April. With no change in total tax revenue, personal exemptions combined with a higher flat income tax rate would make it possible to reduce the taxes paid by Pennsylvania’s low- and middle-income households. Such a shift would also increase federal income tax deductions claimed by higher-income taxpayers who itemize federal deductions. Both shifting the tax burden away from low- and middle-income taxpayers and increasing federal income tax deductions claimed by Pennsylvanians would stimulate the Pennsylvania economy.

Posted by RT at September 8, 2004 12:03 PM