How state governments touch on nearly every aspect of public policy

This week in North Philly Notes, Michelle Atherton, co-editor of Pennsylvania Politics and Policywrites about what states do and how much power they have within modern politics and policy.

In the midst of the modern 24/7 news cycle, and the focus on the tweet of the moment from our president, it’s easy to forget that politics in our federal system runs much deeper than the national level. Americans in general are woefully unaware of what states do and how much power they have within modern politics and policy. Statewide and local elections have much lower voter turnout than presidential years, as if the composition of state legislatures and governors’ offices barely matters compared to who occupies the White House. Many would argue these governing bodies matter even more to the lives of the average citizen, as state governments touch nearly every aspect of public policy.

Pennsylvania Politics and Policy_smRepublicans in control in Washington, DC did not manage to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), but it was originally up to the states to create their own healthcare exchanges, and whether to expand Medicaid. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in 2017 lowered federal taxes for most individuals—and especially corporations—but it also capped the state and local tax (SALT) deduction at $10,000, greatly effecting the calculus of state and local governments’ approaches to maintaining revenues.

Pennsylvania, for example, is one of the states most highly dependent upon property taxes for the support of public schools, collected locally, as opposed to relying on state taxes. Will the wealthy Philadelphia suburbs revolt come November’s general election as higher income households lose thousands of dollars in tax deductions? Perhaps the results will strengthen the case among many voters for doing away with the property tax altogether as a source of funding for public schools in the Commonwealth.

This issue and many others are explored in the first publication of Pennsylvania Politics and Policy: A Commonwealth Reader. Further topics include:

  • What would it mean for Pennsylvania to adopt direct democracy such as the citizen-initiated referendum and recall like other states? Would politicians be more responsive and less prone to corruption?
  • Why doesn’t the state of Pennsylvania place a severance tax on natural gas production? Every other state does. Alaskans each receive a dividend from fossil fuel extraction, yet Pennsylvania’s legislature refuses to move the issue forward even in the face of severe budget woes.
  • Why doesn’t the state fund education based on the number of students in schools? Every other state in the nation bases funding on real student counts. In Pennsylvania, the politics of party and leadership control in the legislature dictates funding.
  • Why does Pennsylvania not tax any form of retirement income, one of just a handful of states to do so? And, what does the rapid aging of the state mean for the bottom line of funding services both for the elderly and younger individuals and families?
  • Why did it take so long to be able to buy wine and beer at the local supermarket? Pennsylvania took a unique approach to policing vice.

Another election for the governor, the entire House, and half the Senate of Pennsylvania is just around the corner. Here’s hoping Pennsylvanians find their way to the polling place to vote in proportion to the gravity of the election’s policy implications.

 

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Commonwealth: A Journal of Pennsylvania Politics and Policy

This week in North Philly Notes, we promote our new online-only journal, Commonwealth.

Commonwealth_sm.jpgA peer-reviewed, online-only journal that publishes original research across a broad range of topics related to the politics, policy, and political history of Pennsylvania, Commonwealth is interdisciplinary in nature and appeals to scholars and practitioners across political science, public administration, public policy, and history fields.

Issues will cover general interest pieces, applied research, practitioners’ or experts’ analyses, research notes, essays, and book reviews. The first annual “special policy issue” of Commonwealth highlighted educational policies in Pennsylvania. The next special policy issue, which will focus on the environment, will be assembled by a guest editor selected in consultation with the journal’s editor and editorial board. The print “Year in Review” issue will be a compendium of the best articles of the year.

Commonwealth collaborates with the Pennsylvania Policy Forum to plan special issues… The Forum is a consortium of faculty members and academic and policy institute leaders… who share an interest in generating ideas, analyses, and symposiums that might prove useful… in addressing major issues confronting the Commonwealth and its government.

Highlights from  the journal’s Special Issue on Education Policy include:

Commonwealth invited Senator Argall… and Jon Hopcraft… to summarize the argument that the (property) tax is an antiquated and unfair levy and should be abolished. We invited Dartmouth College economist William A. Fischel… to summarize his argument that, compared to statewide taxes, the local levy provides voters – even in households without school children – with stronger incentives to support high quality public schools.

A paper that outlines the rationale behind Student-Based Allocations for Pennsylvania School Districts, and investigates the extent to which the (Basic Education Funding Commission) proposal would allocate funds on the basis of students.

An evaluation of Pennsylvania’s Keystone exams that finds that race, socioeconomic status, and a schools English Language Learner and special education populations drive performance.

Subscribe at: https://tupjournals.temple.edu/index.php/commonwealth/index

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