City To Receive Installments of Gaming Money This Week

We wrote about the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the host fee in the gaming law and how several municipalities and counties had reached agreement with the casinos located in their borders for voluntary payments (the City of Pittsburgh is one of them).  We also have written about the legal requirement that the host fee for the City of Pittsburgh is intercepted by the oversight board and restricted for specific purposes.

This week Pittsburgh City Council expects to take action to receive host fee money from the second and third quarters of 2016 and deposit the funds into account for capital needs.  The total amount is close to $2.8 million for the two quarters.  Legislation in 2016 places new requirements on the oversight board as it pertains to the host fee money for the City.  The 2016 audit that we wrote about last week notes that in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016 the oversight board allocated $9.5 million in host fee money to the City.

Sunshine & subsidies

The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and the union representing PSSHE faculty have reached a tentative new contract. It comes a year after faculty went on strike protesting the lack of a deal. It was the first such strike in the 14-school system’s history.


But details of the deal are not being released – at least until union membership ratifies it and the State System’s board of governors approves the new contract.


Sorry, but the public pays a premium for this badly broken conglomeration and it has every right to details of this accord before it is signed, sealed and delivered.


The PSSHE’s problems – tanking enrollment (down nearly 2.4 percent from last year and 14.4 percent since 2010) and too many faculty, among two — will fester and grow worse “with more inter-institutional rancor and more calls for tax dollars without reforms,” noted Jake Haulk, president of the Allegheny Institute (in Policy Brief Vol. 17, No. 39).


And that should include making public tentative faculty contracts. After all, that public has every right to see what it is expected to underwrite before such contracts are in full force.


The Beaver County Times reports that during Royal Dutch Shell’s hour-long presentation this month to investors in London, a high-ranking officials touted the robustness of the petrochemical industry.


It has “strong market fundamentals, high growth rates and attractive returns,” John Abbott, Shell’s “downstream director” is reported to have said.


Global demand for petrochemicals is expected to grow by about 50 percent by the end of this decade, he also said.


And, as The Times reports, “In addition, Shell predicted in can nearly double its earnings in the chemical business to $3.5 billion (or) $4 billion by the end of the decade as (its) new petrochemical projects come online.”


Shell, of course, is building a massive ethane “cracker” plant in Beaver County’s Potter Township. It’s also planning new facilities in Louisiana and in China.


The bottom line is that Shell is a very wealthy corporation that, thanks to shale gas, stands to make uber-profits from these new facilities and grow by leaps and bounds.
So, why are taxpayers ponying up $1.6 billion in “incentives” for the Pennsylvania plant?


The very same question should be asked about Amazon. Cities from around the nation submitted their bids to the Seattle Internet retailing giant on Oct. 19, hoping to lure its second headquarters to their respective areas.


Pittsburgh was among those to submit bids, smitten by Amazon’s promise of $5 billion in investment and 50,000 jobs. That bid alone is reported to have cost between $300,000 and $400,000 to prepare.


While specifics of the local proposal are not known, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that state officials have pledged more than $1 billion in unspecified incentives should Amazon locate in Pennsylvania.


But, like Shell, Amazon is no pauper organization. Revenue was $136 billion in 2016. It had operating income of $4.2 billion. Net income last year was $2.4 billion. Amazon had $83.4 billion in assets and total equity of $19.3 billion as well.


Simply put, it can afford its own capital expansion. And more directly put, the public has every right to know – now – what elected leaders have pledged to Amazon in the way of “incentives.”


Public officials cite “non-disclosure” agreements; such agreements should be barred in such dealings.


Which prompts this age-old question: What should government do to facilitate private-sector development? Get out of the way. How’s that done? Offer a regimen of fair and equitable taxation to all comers and a predictable regulatory climate that is not oppressively burdensome.


It’s that fundamental. Government has no warrant to constantly keep turning taxpayers into venture capitalists.


Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (

Weekend essay: The magic of Dad’s tea

“Would you care to sit with me
For a cup of English tea
Very twee, very me
Any sunny morning … “
 Paul McCartney, “English Tea” (2005)


It was the old man who introduced me to “English tea” in the 1970s. Long an instant coffee aficionado – for more than 20 years, a pot of Sanka simmered on the electric stove from morning until bedtime – for some unknown reason, he switched to tea.


But Dad’s use of the term “English tea” was most misleading. It wasn’t the traditional black tea mix of which the Brits remain so fond – Dad used either instant Nestea or whatever brand of tea bags could be had at the grocer – but how he “doctored” it.


As with his coffee, he tea was loaded with plenty of sugar and ample milk, “just the way the English like it,” he once told me. Never mind that it’s not necessarily the case, it sounded good to an impressionable teenager with a very Celtic name.


All that said, Dad’s “English tea” habit stuck. With good reason. For, to this day, there’s nothing better than a freshly brewed cup of Dad-doctored tea.


Yes, that sweet and creamy elixir has so many practical applications – from helping to plan a difficult day at dawn’s first light, to warming the hands (and the soul) working outside on a cool autumn afternoon, to helping trigger all those drunk-with-comfort, day-is-done feelings that, for some odd reason, won’t allow you to budge from the favorite chair in front of the mesmerizing fireplace.


Eighteenth-century British poet William Cowper once characterized tea as “cups that cheer but not inebriate.” He obviously knew not of what he wrote.


Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (

Teacher Layoffs Addressed in New Legislation

Back in 2012 the Pittsburgh School District when the issue of teacher furloughs came up the issue of conducting layoffs by means other than seniority was discussed (see this blog and its links).  The superintendent at the time had been directed by the school board to approach the teachers union with the proposal.  Two years ago the idea of applying measures related to performance and evaluations over seniority came up for discussion in the state House. and legislation that passed the General Assembly was vetoed by the Governor in May of 2016.

Earlier this week the House again passed legislation making changes to the state’s Public School Code that includes language regarding teacher layoffs. Presently, a decline in pupil enrollment, curtailment or alteration of educational programs, consolidation of schools, and new school districts created by reorganization are grounds for suspension of employees (under section 1124, causes for suspension, page 16, and also discussed in a Brief earlier this year).  The amended language would add “economic reasons that require a reduction in professional employees.”

The legislation would not permit employee compensation to be the determining factor, and a school board could layoff teachers only if they layoff the same percentage of administrative staff.  The exception to this rule would be if the district was granted a waiver by the Secretary of Education if all of the following were met: if the district’s administrative functions were already streamlined and reducing further would cause harm and the state Board of Education agrees with the Secretary’s determination.  Economic layoffs could occur only if a number of specific steps are carried out by a school board taking such an action, such as doing so at a public meeting, documenting the total cost savings from the layoffs, what other actions have been taken to save costs, and what district expenditures would look like with and without the suspensions.

The provisions for laying off teachers are contained in the section following the language on layoffs for economic reasons (beginning on page 20).  Teachers would be listed by their two most recent annual performance evaluations, with those with consecutive “unsatisfactory” evaluations being suspended first, then those with one “unsatisfactory” and one “satisfactory”, then those with two “proficient” or one “proficient” and one “distinguished” and then those with two “distinguished”.  If all teachers had the same ranking, the legislation allows for seniority within areas of certification to be the determining factor.  There would be an appeal process with the Secretary of Education and new collective bargaining agreements after the effective date of the legislation would have to incorporate the new language on suspensions into them.

State Department Consolidation Will Be a Functional One

The Governor’s office has announced a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Department of Corrections and the Board of Probation and Parole that will combine “…the agencies’ similar, shared and overlapping resources and functions”.  We wrote in February that as part of the FY 2017-18 budget the Governor proposed to combine the Department and the Board into a new Department of Criminal Justice, a Department that would have grown by 838 positions to 17,027 employees via transfers and reductions.

Based on the MOU, the entities “…will remain separate from each other; however, the community supervision of parolees and all other reentry services will be combined under a new, centralized chain of command that everyone in those areas will report to and follow.”  Some office functions, such as communications and business administration, will be combined and will follow the consolidation of other functions previously completed.

The other major departmental consolidation that was proposed earlier this year was a new Department of Health and Human Services, a proposal that seemingly ended when it was reported that the Governor had made appointments to the Departments slated to be involved in the consolidation earlier this month.

Oversight Board Votes on Budget, Receives Audit

Two issues related to the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority for Cities of the Second Class (oversight board).  One is that the board took action on the City’s 2018 operating and capital budgets and approved it 3-0, with two members of the board abstaining from the vote.  One member noted that there could possibly be a tax increase taken up by City Council, which would then require reconsideration by the board.  That’s not the real story–the fact that the board now has five functioning appointees and can carry out business is.

Consider that in December in 2015 there were only two appointees and the Mayor of Pittsburgh noted that there weren’t enough members to vote on matters before the board.  We suggested that the appointing officials responsible for filling those seats make the appointments and then “They could vote together to advance ICA business, even if it occurred on a series of 3 to 2 party line votes. A 3 to 2 partisan vote would release gaming money the City receives from hosting the Rivers Casino (a critical issue in the current dispute), approve operating budgets, and make City-overseer relations much more amicable.”  The appointments were made by March of 2016.

Two, not long after problems with the executive director of the oversight board surfaced, and in April of 2016 we wrote about the failure of the oversight board to comply with state law requirements on the audits for the entire history of the board’s existence.  this past April we updated the status of the audit for 2015 and 2016 which was delayed due to the involvement of the District Attorney’s office.  The audit has now been released and is available on the oversight board’s website.

The audit does discuss the details of the investigation and how it impacted the audit.  The financial position of the oversight board at the conclusion of Fiscal Year 2016 (June 30th) shows a net position of $19 million with most of the liabilities tied to restricted uses for the City via the board’s intercept agreement of the host fee money from the Rivers Casino.  That money is to be used for debt reduction, pensions, or any other purpose deemed to be in the best interest of the City per the gaming law.  For 2016 revenues and expenditures, the bulk of the $9.8 million in revenue received by the oversight board was from the gaming money, along with a $250k appropriation to operate, and it had expenditures of $3.5 million that fiscal year.

Under changes signed into law as Act 99 of 2016, the audit required under Section 207 going forward are to be completed by December 31st following the end of the fiscal year.

Call of the Amazon

There’s a curious line at the end of an Associated Press story regarding Pennsylvania’s ongoing budget impasse:


“Now, an analysis by Moody’s Analytics of metro areas that are good fits for Amazon’s huge second headquarters questioned whether Pennsylvania’s budget troubles will make it unwilling or unable to offer the generous financial incentives that Amazon will want.”


Really? As if handing a very (very) wealthy company a very (very) large bolus of corporate wealthfare should be some kind of “priority” in a budget-less commonwealth in which the governor and many legislators seeks to borrow and tax our way to prosperity, while others can’t seem to grasp the concept of belt-tightening, preferring instead to make ends meet with non-recurring revenues.


Business climate, indeed, is critical to attracting new investment to the Keystone State. But “business climate” should be defined by the relative paucity of government


interference in the form of taxes and regulations, not by how many taxpayer dollars can be given away.


Speaking of Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan to borrow in excess of $1.6 billion (and counting, one can only suppose) to “right” Pennsylvania’a badly listing budget ship, this, also from the AP:


“Public finance analysts generally regard borrowing to pay operating costs as bad fiscal practice and a last resort, and the practice of plugging deficits with one-time cash infusions over the last five years has played a prominent role in Pennsylvania’s credit rating plunging to the bottom rungs of state ratings.”


Sadly, Pennsylvania’s leaders appear to have no problem saddling future generations with ever more debt.


But, hey, Amazon will solve all this, right?


Business students at Penn’s Wharton business school, part of a team calling itself “Team Wharton Prime,” propose Amazon be given free land for its much ballyhooed “HQ2,” its second headquarters outside of Seattle. Oh, and also between $12.5 billion and $15 billion in tax credits to locate in Philadelphia.


It once was written that ignorance is a voluntary misfortune. How intellectually and economically tragic it is that so many so supposedly learned people so regularly tout alms for the moneyed interests that can, and have a moral responsibility to, pay their own way.


Pennsylvania, by the way, has an unflattering history of tracking/proving that tax incentives live up to their rah-rah-sis-boom-bah billing. And, in some cases, the very veracity of the commonwealth’s claims of “public benefits” has come into question.
As’s Wallace McKelvey reminded in an Oct. 9 dispatch, “A 2010 report by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee found little oversight to ensure that the jobs tax credit recipients promise actually materialize.”


Poor record-keeping was cited. But also cited were confidentiality requirements that shield hiring and tax payment information from public scrutiny, McKelvey wrote.
Now there’s a sound public policy: Offering tax breaks for possibly illusory benefits that are either difficult to verify or can’t be verified.


Sweet deal, eh?


Perhaps on this Amazon is banking?


Speaking of unflattering, that’s the portrait Carnegie Mellon University humanities professor Tim Haggerty paints of the process being used to put together Pittsburgh’s proposal, due Oct. 19, to secure Amazon’s HQ2.


In fact, in an Oct. 8 commentary in the Post-Gazette, he likened the secretive and limited-time process to “railroading … a great way for a corporation to see how much control it can exert over a local government.”


Concluded the former urban planner, “(I)f you’re frustrated by the lack of input into the process now, just wait until we’re essentially a one-company town. New and innovative really doesn’t mean fair or livable.”




Citing a litany of redevelopment “fashion cycles,” Haggerty says “popular (economic) renewal strategies have fallen in and out of favor over time as intrinsic costs and benefits reveal themselves.”


That would be, generally, costs that are too high and hardly an effective allocation of scarce resources – taxpayer dollars – and benefits that always, always, fall short of the pols’ promises of fantastical “multiplier effects” that will deliver the renaissance of all renaissances.


Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (


Short and Long Term Looks at the Pittsburgh Region’s Economy

Summary: Pittsburgh’s seven county metro area’s (MSA) economy has little to boast about for the period since 2000 in terms of job and income gains. There have been some notable bright spots, including Marcellus shale, but overall the picture is one of very slow growth.  And while the latest August figures for payroll employment show some strengthening compared to 2016, the strongest pickup was in leisure and hospitality, a sector that has seen initially reported gains subsequently revised downward significantly. There was also some bounce back in hourly and weekly earnings following a big and unexpected drop in 2016. But as will be seen these latest modestly better numbers cannot mask the longer term trend of very sluggish job and income gains in the region.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles data on two measures of employment. One is based on a monthly survey of households that ascertains information that is used to estimate the number of people in a market area who say they are working or, if not working, if they are looking for a job.  The second is an estimate of the number of employees on payrolls obtained through a survey of businesses in a market area.  Thus, the two measures of employment do not necessarily line up exactly because workers can commute to a market where they do not reside and workers can have more than one job and can therefore be counted more than once in the payroll total. For example, many workers from gas producing states came to work on Marcellus drilling rigs.

The longer term picture

Compared to August 2000 when the MSA labor force stood at 1,207,707 the August 2017 count was at 1,204,546. There was a modest rise in labor force of 31,000 recorded from 2000 through 2012 but that has been completely reversed over the last five years. Meanwhile, the number of area residents employed posted a net decline of 12,290 from 1,154,192 in 2000 to 1,141,899 in 2017.  There was an increase of 14,500 employed residents from 2000 to 2007, but like the labor force pattern, that growth has been completely reversed. In sum, the Pittsburgh MSA has gone 17 years with no net growth in the number of residents working.

Meanwhile, private-sector establishment payroll jobs pushed marginally higher over the 17 years rising from 1,026,800 in August 2000 to 1,062,800 in August 2017. The 36,000 increase represents a 3.5 percent gain—or a compound annual growth rate of a mere 0.2 percent. This anemic rate represents a significant slowing from the 1990 to 2000 decade when jobs grew by one percent per year and boosted private-sector payrolls by 101,000 jobs.

And unfortunately, if history is any guide, the 2017 figure is likely to be revised downward because half of the 11,000 gain in private jobs over the last year has been in the leisure and hospitality sector that has regularly seen big revisions in years past.

In terms of major industry shifts over the last 17 years, goods producing jobs, mostly in manufacturing, are down by 48,000 since 2000 while service producing employment is up 84,000 jobs.

Meanwhile, by comparison U.S. private job growth was 11.5 percent over the 2000 to 2017 period which, like the slowing trend experienced in the MSA, was well below the 21.9 percent rise from 1990 to 2000.

During the 15 years 2000 to 2015, the latest MSA income data available, personal income (adjusted for inflation) growth was also relatively weak at 1.2 percent per year, about half the national real income increase of 2.1 percent per year. Bear in mind that both nationally and regionally, the recession of 2008-2010 produced extended periods in which real incomes remained lower than the 2008 prerecession high points.  The national economy was extremely hard hit by the recession with several states taking six or seven years to recover fully. Overall, the US economy took almost three years to climb back to the income peak of May 2008, reaching it in March 2011.  Pittsburgh MSA income data are not available monthly so a comparative time frame is not possible. But data show that real incomes fell from the 2008 level and remained below that level in 2009 and 2010.

Recent jobs performance

To look at a more recent performance—August 2015 to August 2017—payroll employment and real weekly earnings of private-sector employees are reviewed.

Over the two year period, the private-sector job count rose 10,600 to stand at 1.0628 million, a mere one percent pick up in two years.  The long slide in goods-producing jobs was still in evidence the past two years as employment fell by 9,300 to stand at 149,500 in August 2017.  Private service jobs, meanwhile, rose by 20,000 to reach 913,300 and offset the ongoing goods producing slide.

Of the 20,000 increase in service employment, 7,500 were in leisure and hospitality payroll gains—a sector that makes up about one eighth of service jobs and one tenth of all private sector employment.  Food services and drinking places climbed 5,800 representing the bulk of the overall sector rise.

The 7,500 jump in leisure and hospitality is a gain of 6.1 percent. However, there are two problems with the latest jobs number. First, it is likely to be revised downward. And second, jobs in the sector are low wage with very low weekly earnings because of the average 25-hour work week. Thus, these jobs are weak contributors to income and output compared to manufacturing or professional service employment.

Health care and social assistance jobs climbed from 189,400 in 2015 to 195,200 in 2017, an increase of 5,800.  Social assistance employment notched higher from 32,000 to 35,200 or 3,200 jobs (a 10 percent gain) meaning this category that represents only one sixth of the sector total accounted for well over half of the sector job gain.  Health care accounted for only 2,600 new jobs.

Somewhat surprisingly, nursing home jobs decreased slightly. Modest increases in employment in doctors’ offices, hospitals and ambulatory services combined to produce the rest of the health care growth.

Substantial growth was registered in the professional and business services sector which saw a 4,900 gain in employment, a 2.7 percent rise over the two years. This sector is among the highest paid service jobs and is therefore a principal contributor to earnings growth in the MSA. The financial services category (1,700 jobs) and colleges and universities (1,400) were the only other service sectors to post meaningful gains. Employment in all the other major service categories including retail, wholesale, transportation and utilities, and information was flat to slightly lower.

Earnings changes

Finally, a review of the growth in hourly and weekly earnings since 2007 (the earliest MSA data available) and since 2015. The Labor Department provides data for all private workers including data for average hours worked per week, average hourly earnings and average weekly earnings. Hourly earnings and weekly earnings were adjusted for inflation using the national Consumer Price Index.

Average hours worked per week in the MSA have been on a slowly declining trend since 2007, falling from 34.5 to 33.7 hours in 2017, a drop of 2.3 percent. Average hourly earnings rose from $19.86 in 2007 to $25.10 in 2017 (2.4 percent per year) resulting in an increase in average weekly earnings from $685.17 to $845.57, a gain of 23.4 percent (2.1 percent per year). However after adjusting for price increases, weekly earnings were up a mere 4.5 percent over the ten years, an annual growth rate of just 0.44 percent.

Over the past two years, August 2015 to August 2017, weekly earnings are up 2.7 percent or 1.35 percent per year. With prices higher by 3.0 percent, that means MSA real weekly private sector earnings are basically flat since 2015.

These very slow income growth rates for the two periods reflect in large measure the ongoing shift away from goods producing jobs to lower paying service sector employment, especially in the categories of leisure and hospitality and social assistance.

Summing up: Notwithstanding a few positive developments including Marcellus shale, the seven county Pittsburgh MSA has seen a 17-year period since 2000 in which there has been no net growth in the labor force or number of residents working.  Payroll employment managed to register a paltry 3.5 percent increase over the 2000 to 2017 period, less than a third of  U.S. gains.

Meanwhile, real personal income for all residents from all sources including dividends, rent, interest and transfer payments edged upward at a 1.2 percent annual rate between 2000 and 2015, half the U.S. rate. And since 2007, average weekly earnings for private-sector employees rose a skimpy 0.4 percent rate since 2007.

Oakland BID Looks to Continue On

This week Pittsburgh City Council will consider extending the life of the Oakland Business Improvement District and to levy a special assessment on the property in the boundaries of the District.  The assessment will be around 3.8 mills on land and buildings with specific dollar amounts that the levy is to raise for “…administrative services and improvements permitted by the Act and not essential government services provided by Pittsburgh City government.”

A 1996 state law permitted the creation of business improvement districts and that same year the Allegheny Institute produced an analysis of the Downtown Pittsburgh Improvement District.  The state law empowers cities of the second class (Pittsburgh) to provide administrative services in addition to the powers granted to all other governing bodies in relation to their role in improvement districts (establishing boundaries, expend money for feasibility studies, carry out improvements in the district, and to accept or acquire property or rights of way for improvements).

The resolution under consideration describes the board of the Oakland District, auditing requirements, and sunset provisions.

No reassessments bring stability? It’s a shibboleth

Elected officials say the darnedest things. Witness Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s defense of the indefensible in his Oct. 11 budget address to County Council.


The ACE touted a budget that holds the line on taxes but increases spending. That’s possible, Fitzgerald said, because of “robust construction” in the county and higher drink and sales tax revenue.


But then he noted how Allegheny County does not conduct annual property reassessments. “I think it gives folks the confidence there’s stability in our real estate taxing system.”


Sorry, but no.


In actuality, a lack of regular assessments creates uncertainty and instability in the real estate taxing system.


And let’s not forget gross inequities in which some higher-end properties are assessed lower than they should be and some lower-end properties are assessed higher than they should be. Those of lesser means subsidize those of greater means.


Worse, and as Allegheny Institute scholars detailed (in Policy Brief Vol. 17, No. 11) those growing inequities could result in a new, and expensive, round of court challenges.


“As the years go by and property values increase at very uneven rates in different areas of the county, the problem created by inequitable assessments that led to court-ordered reassessments in the past inevitably arises again,” researchers Eric Montarti and Jake Haulk noted in March.


While the ACE often has declined to push for a reassessment (the last one was five years ago, court-ordered, as was the one prior), claiming that property owners will be saddled with much higher tax bills, an institute op-ed, also in March, characterized that plaint as “a red herring fished in the deep waters of politics.”


To wit, a few years back, during a meeting with editors and reporters at the Tribune-Review (where, at the time, I served as director of editorial pages), Fitzgerald laughed off a question if a reassessment might be forthcoming. The clear implication was, in his intonations, that it would be political suicide.


But, and simply put, Montarti and Haulk remind that windfall limitations imposed by the commonwealth would prevent the kind of massive tax-increase Armageddon that pols typically claim comes with property reassessments.


“Only properties with market values that have increased faster than the average rate will get hit with substantially higher taxes,” they noted. And some properties with slow or no increases in value will see taxes fall post-reassessment.


All misguided local anti-reassessment stratagems aside, the state Legislature has been a recidivist hand-sitter on the issue. And that’s a dubious public policy considering the current system most assuredly is a violation of Article VIII, Section 1, of the Pennsylvania Constitution:


“All taxes shall be uniform, upon the same class of subject, within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax, and shall be levied and collected under general laws.”


Almost all states require regular assessments. And as Montarti and Haulk further noted last winter, those states have far less controversy and upheaval over assessments than in Pennsylvania, in general, and in Allegheny County, in particular.


Back to Fitzgerald’s statement. A lack of annual, or regular, reassessments “gives folks the confidence there’s stability in our real estate taxing system,” he says.


Perhaps for the ignorant. Perhaps for the poli-connected. Perhaps for those who pay less than they should for their real estate taxes.


But for those paying more than they should — and for taxpayers at large who will have to foot the bill for the next legal challenge to rectify such an inequitble system and the court-imposed remedy that is sure to follow – such “confidence” and “stability” is a shibboleth, a most vile economics lie.


Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (