Weekend essay: A matriarch’s grace

“Courage” is the word that came to mind with the news that Bush family matriarch Barbara Bush had died Tuesday at the age of 92. That, after she had chosen home “comfort care” over a hospital or hospice stay as her congestive heart failure neared its natural end.

But 18 years ago, in the hall of a Philadelphia hotel, it was the words “gracious deportment,” and “downright funny” that came to mind.

It was nearly two decades ago, in the summer of 2000, that I met Mrs. Bush during the Republican National Convention. I was there in my role as the director of editorial pages at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. She was in her role as the mother of presumptive Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush and, of course, the wife of former President George H.W. Bush.

And it was quite the assemblage on that hotel floor. At one end of hall, directly across from my room, was David Eisenhower, grandson of Dwight Eisenhower. Camp David, the presidential retreat, was named for him. His wife, Julie, was one of President Nixon’s daughters.

At the other end of the hall was John Street, then in the first year of his first term as mayor of the City of Brotherly Love. In between, initially unbeknownst to me, was one of the president-to-be’s family members.

Early one morning, freshly showered and wrapped in only a towel, I put on a pot of coffee and then peered through the door’s peephole to make sure the coast was clear to retrieve a nice stack of free newspapers on the other side.

The coast appeared to be clear. And cracking the door open with the safety lock still on, that clear-coast assessment appeared to be confirmed. Closing the door and taking the safety lock off, I quickly reopened it to retrieve that treasure trove of morning reading.

But just as I bent down to pick up the morning papers, there was that sense of somebody else being in the hallway. And there was.

Two or three doors down the hallway to the right, Barbara Bush was about to knock on a door room. With that signature bemused face, she turned my way.

“Oh, sorry,” I said sheepishly, startled and struggling to keep the towel in place.

“Don’t worry,” she said, with that hearty, motherly laugh, as she was about to enter the room. “I’ve seen worse than that!”

Later that day, deep in the belly of what then was called the First Union Center, Mrs. Bush and I were about to pass one another. “Do I look away?” I thought to myself. “Do I keep my head down?”

At the last second, I decided to deal with my continued embarrassment with dignity. As she approached, and I was about to nod a “Hello,” she beat me to the punch — with a wink and a smile. A nod and a chuckle and we each continued on our way.

Wrote Charles Churchill in 1761’s “The Rosciad”:

“What’s a fine person, or a beauteous face, unless deportment gives them decent grace?”

That “deportment” of “decent grace” in life, and that “courage” as a life well lived approached its nadir, was Barbara Bush. We all would do well to aspire to her example.

Rest in peace, Mrs. Bush.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

The ‘rule of capture’ question

By most accounts, shale gas and oil production are going gangbusters.

To wit, national shale oil production is expected to increase by 125,000 barrels per day to 7 million barrels. That’s the fourth-consecutive monthly increase, says the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

It also reports national shale gas production is expected to increase to 66.9 billion cubic feet per day in May, the highest on record and a billion cubic feet per day higher than the April forecast. That includes record high production in the Appalachian region.

And while pipeline capacity to carry it all remains a critical issue – stalled in many places by envirocrats — producers might have a new headache to deal with – a reinterpretation of an old law from the courts.

Pennsylvania Superior Court, in what could be a landmark ruling should it be sustained, unplugged the long-standing “rule of capture” axiom.

As CourthouseDirect.com details it, the rule of capture is rooted in English common law. “Under the law, the first person to ‘capture’ a certain resource has rightful ownership to it.”

“(W)hen oil or gas that was previously ‘roaming’ under the ground is captured, it becomes the property of the captor.”  And, “just because oil or gas is present under the ground of somebody’s property does not mean it’s his or her property,” the website notes.

“For example, if a neighbor drills into his own land to obtain oil, and the oil comes into his well from a reservoir on your land, the oil becomes his property.”

Now, “that does not give him the right to drill on your land,” CourthouseDirect.com reminds, “but he has no liability if the oil his well produces came from your land.”

But under “rule of capture,” there is recourse – drill your own well to capture “your” oil and gas.

But in an interesting – some might call “novel”; others might call “nonsensical” – Pennsylvania case (Briggs v. Southwestern Energy) out of Susquehanna County, the Superior Court held that gas and oil trapped in shale rock does not naturally move from one place to another in a pool.

Without hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to release it, the court held that the shale gas and oil would stay in place. The lawsuit alleges that the act of fracking on one property extended to the complainants property and, thus, was an act of “trespassing.” Others might call it theft.

Said the court: “In light of the distinctions between hydraulic fracturing and conventional drilling, we conclude that the rule of capture does not preclude liability for trespass due to hydraulic fracturing.”

So, is the Briggs family entitled to compensation for Southwestern Energy extracting its gas without a lease? Superior Court says that’s up to a lower court to decide.

As Marcellus Drilling News sees it, the decision “could greatly restrict, even stop, Marcellus drilling in the Keystone State.”

All this said, to a reasonable rule of law constructionist, “rule of capture,” no matter its English common law base, indeed sounds a lot like a license to trespass, if not steal.

If you are the owner of a property, and if you own the mineral rights to the property you own, what “right” does a competing interest have to the mineral wealth of your land?

And that should matter not whether it is a conventional gas or oil well or fracked shale gas and oil wells. Given the high-tech methods that have made modern fracking the revolution it is, surely there is a way to take steps to not “trespass”onto unleased property.

Should that lower court, on remand, award Family Briggs compensation, you can bet this case will be appealed the state Supreme Court. And given the proliferation of fracking nationwide, this case very well could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

But the bottom line should remain this: Private property is sacrosanct and the foundation of our American republic. And, again, surely in this modern age, there is a way to balance the procurement of an abundant natural resource without violating republican ideals.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

An Update on Washington County’s Property Values

Summary: A look at the 2018 certified taxable values and millage rates for Washington County in the second year following a countywide reassessment.

 

Washington County’s taxable property values for buildings and land totaled $16.9 billion for 2018. That is a decrease from $17.2 billion in 2017 ($224 million or 1.3 percent), which was the first year new values from a reassessment went into effect. Data from the county show that slightly over 1,100 appeals have been heard since the last certified values were released. Many of the appeals have been settled and contributed to the decline in the county’s certified property value. The county moved from a 1981 base year in which property was assessed at 25 percent of that year’s market value to a 2015 base year with assessed value at 100 percent of market value.

There are 66 municipalities in the county. From 2017 to 2018 taxable value increased in 21 municipalities, was unchanged in one and decreased in 44. Close to half of the total taxable value in the county is situated in four municipalities near the southern border of Allegheny County: Peters ($3.1 billion), Cecil ($1.9 billion), North Strabane ($1.9 billion) and South Strabane ($1.2 billion). Cecil had the largest rise in value among Washington County municipalities, climbing $154 million over the last year. Taxable value also rose in Peters ($27.8 million) but fell in North and South Strabane ($35 million and $57 million, respectively).

Once value is established, taxing bodies can then determine tax rates. As we have noted on many occasions, there are legal requirements that apply to the setting of millage rates in the year the new values go into effect. Since 2018 is not a reassessment year, the county and municipalities are not constrained by those state law limits. Last year, for example, it would have taken a separate vote to increase the millage rate above the revenue-neutral rate that must be determined first. This year, and in future years when there is no reassessment, this procedure will not be required. School districts won’t set millage rates until closer to the start of the fiscal year in July. Those rates are subject to the Act 1 requirements on annual property tax increases.

The county will still levy a 2.43 millage rate in 2018 to fund its budget, meaning no tax increase from last year. With the unchanged tax rate, the slight decrease in value affects the county’s tax collections for 2018 negatively by about $600,000. Last year the tax levy was $41.8 million and this year it is $41.2 million, before any discounts, delinquent taxes or uncollectible taxes are considered.

Property tax rates were raised by 22 municipalities—including the City of Washington, which levies separate rates on land and buildings and boosted both rates. Nine of those increases came in municipalities that had taxable value increases from 2017 to 2018. Millage rates did not change in 39 municipalities and were lowered in two (three municipalities have not yet reported to the county). Only one municipality with an increase in value dropped its tax rate. As an example, the higher 2018 value in California Borough would have netted an additional $4,500 without changing the tax rate. But the boost in millage from 3.33 mills to 4.33 mills translates into a much larger $209,000 increase in current levy.

In the coming years there is a very strong likelihood that school districts in particular will be active in the appeals process. If a sale meets the criteria for an appeal (based typically on the percentage difference between the sales price and the taxable assessment) a district will appeal to have the appraised (and taxable value) moved closer to that of the sales price.

And why are appeals expected to continue for years? Because many counties go a very long time before reassessments and updating estimated market values, which they are allowed to do by state law. Currently 15 Pennsylvania counties have a base year that predates 1978. Decisions by county elected officials or court rulings on lawsuits brought by property owners determine when reassessments occur. Last year an observer of an eastern Pennsylvania reassessment noted there is “no county jumping up and down with excitement” to carry out an update to values. If the state were to pass legislation requiring counties to update on a regular cycle, opposition to reassessments would gradually decline as taxable value changes over two- to three-year periods are more predictable, smaller and less shocking than they are when decades have gone by since a reassessment.

Having just gone through the difficulties and angst of updating assessments, could it be that Washington County or a county that completed a reassessment within last five or 10 years is contemplating avoiding that ordeal by doing the next reassessment in a much more timely manner to avoid the problems for officials and property owners that long-delayed updates create? If they do, it would provide strong encouragement for the Legislature to get over its reluctance to bring Pennsylvania into at least the 20th century with regard to fairness in property taxation and enact legislation mandating that reassessments be done on a regularly scheduled basis.

Cycle Repeats for School District

In the summer of 2013 we wrote a blog about a budget proposal in the Plum School District that would have furloughed teachers in order to eliminate a budget deficit.  Instead the decision made by the school board was to raise taxes and dip into reserves to not eliminate jobs.  Taxes did not increase in 2014-15, but have gone up in the last two years.

We noted “One thing is for sure: as long as [the board is] taking guidance from the union and the students who do not have to pay the bills, the board will keep making bad decisions that will come back to haunt them later.”

Forward to the budget deliberations for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years: as of now, subsequent years of tax increases (an eighth of a mill each year) and furloughing an additional 14 employees (beyond twelve teachers that are to be furloughed as part of the closure of an elementary school) that would come from the ranks of administrators and teachers are possibilities.

Since both administrators and teachers are mentioned in the news article that sounds like the District plans to utilize the new language in the school code added by Act 55 of 2017 that allow for economic reasons for layoffs.  The Act requires administrative layoffs at an equal percentage of teacher layoffs unless the state Department of Education grants a waiver.  There are then a number of steps that have to be taken as spelled out in the Act when teachers are furloughed for economic reasons.

That 2013 blog also noted ” Plum taxpayers (and others across the state) will now begin to learn the reality of the underfunded pension mess as it appears the state is in no mood to make the serious reforms that will reduce the unfunded liabilities.”  And what did a consultant tell the District a few months ago?  That there would be “no financial problems if it were not for a yearly payment of about $10 million the district must make to the Pennsylvania Public School Employees Retirement System.”

 

 

School Association Survey: Pension Pressure Now, Relief Long Time Away

The PA School Boards Association released its State of Education report for 2018 today.  The report combined available data on K-12 education with survey responses from school officials serving K-12 districts, intermediate units, vocational-technical centers, etc.

There is plenty in the report; budget issues/pressures are prevalent with administrators identifying pension costs (82% of the responses) as a major budget issue (the report says “chief school administrators once again identified pension costs as the most common source of budget pressure”, which likely means that at least in 2017, if not earlier years, pensions and pension funding have been at the forefront of school budget preparation and attention.

Page 35 of the report shows that following the 2010 legislation on school pensions the percentage of pension costs of total expenses has risen from 2.2% to 10.1%.  And school district contribution rates are going to continue to climb until about 2034-35 and then will start to fall.

That’s what we noted in a Brief last year and PSERS funding ratio should begin to climb between 2030 and 2040 from 72% to 96% if projections hold.  There really was not much difference between forecasts of the Act 5 reforms and the 2010 pension changes because it takes a long time to have current employees be replaced by new hires, and the new hires will have three pension options from which to choose, one of them a pure defined contribution type plan.  If they don’t make a choice, they fall under a default hybrid plan with both a defined benefit and defined contribution portion.

Around the public policy horn

Wow. That’s the best way to describe two of the recently released details of Pittsburgh Public Schools’ new three-year contract with its unionized teachers. And that’s not a good “wow.”

The district and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers averted a strike when they reached a tentative contract in February. Last week, the teachers and other district employees approved the pact. The school board will take it up on Wednesday. Its rubber stamp appears to be a fait accompli.

But given the long and gross dysfunction of the district and its well-documented failings, the tax-paying public should be outraged over contract terms that defy rational thinking.

To wit, the new pact eliminates performance-based pay. The union won the day by calling the 8-year-old standard — determined by principal observations, student test scores and overall school performance — to be, in the words of a Tribune-Review story, “unfair, inconsistent and ineffective.”

Pittsburgh Public Schools will revert to what might as well be called “The Drone System” – a 12-step pay-raise regimen based primarily on seniority.

Then there’s a capitulation to the union involving teachers’ assignments. Again, from the Trib:

“(T)he district will be able to make 35 involuntary assignments a year to meet shifting school needs, so long as officials follow certain guidelines.

“Among them: No teacher may be involuntarily assigned more than once in five years, and no more than three teachers from the same school may be involuntarily reassigned in the same year.”

Who runs Pittsburgh Public Schools again? Certainly it appears that it’s not so much the district – but the union. And that should strike most thinking people as exactly backwards.

That this contract runs for three years (versus what seems to have become the standard five years for public school teachers) is of small consolation.

And that taxpayers – the public that pays for these things – are allowed to be privy to such contracts only after they are essentially signed, sealed and delivered certainly adds insult to the opaque racket that long has been public school teacher contracts.

Sayeth Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald, after yet another group chided government’s continuing refusal to say how deeply it will allow Amazon to pick the public’s pocket for the “privilege” of locating a new headquarters here:

“If this region is chosen, any and all public incentives will go through a very public process during which residents may have every opportunity to weigh in.”

Just before local government types apply that big rubber stamp.

Taking the tax-paying public for common rubes is not a very becoming way to govern, now is it.

Writes Nick Kyriazi, in a Post-Gazette letter to the editor regarding calls for government to intervene in Pennsylvania’s struggling dairy industry:

“(I)f there is less market demand … perhaps the state should just buy all the milk produced by the dairy industry in Pennsylvania and give it away to the general public. …

“And if people won’t take it for free, the state can just pour it down the drain, because nothing is more important than keeping people in the same jobs even if there is no use for their products or services anymore.

“Perhaps if the state had been as alert back in the 1920s, it could have intervened in the private market when the services of blacksmiths were being impacted by the advent of the automobile and we could have saved the jobs of hundreds of horseshoers who could have continued producing horseshoes to this day.”

Well put, sir – well put.

A certain governor of a certain state running a certain advertisement for a certain reason make two incorrect statements:

First, this governor claims that Pennsylvania does not tax shale gas producers.

But it does, and it’s known euphemistically as an “impact fee.”

Second, this governor claims, as a justification to seek a second tax – a “severance” or “extraction” tax – that the shale gas below us “belongs to all of us.”

If he’s referring to “state”-owned lands, yes.

But if he’s talking about private land, then the right of property is a dead and rotting letter. Shale gas, as with any other mineral, belongs to property owners who hold the mineral rights to that property.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

School District Scrutinizes Spending

Staff at the Moon Area School District in Allegheny County are sharpening their pencils and taking a hard look at its spending to see where it can reduce expenses.  In a news article the superintendent of the District said that “we are really focused on our budget” which is a good thing since the fiscal year starts on July 1st.  Transportation, printing, travel, and contracts are being reviewed.

That’s likely welcome news for taxpayers in the District; since 2013-14, property taxes have increased 12% to 20.3028 mills this year.  In three of those years tax increases outstripped the Act 1 index for the District as determined by the PA Department of Education; exceptions granted to the District permitted the increases above what would have been the allowable hike.

Moon was involved with a merger discussion with the neighboring Cornell School District in 2014; it also closed a school building two years ago.  At that time the District had an interim superintendent (different from the current one quoted above) that spoke about furloughing staff for economic reasons, which was prohibited by state law at that time.  The law has now changed and there is a detailed process for how economic furloughs occur.  Could that be a provision that the District explores as it tries to avoid a tax increase for 2018-19?

Weekend essay: A precious moment

I knew not their names. Nor did I necessarily want to. Perhaps I feared too much information somehow would diminish the evocative moment to which I bore witness several years ago.

For years I waved to, and smiled at, the elderly man of Asian descent who lived just over the hill. When the weather permitted, he loved to take walks. The woman I assumed to be his wife often joined him.

Sometimes we passed on opposite sides of the street as I walked one of the dogs of the day. Other times I’d see him as he meticulously tended to his trellis garden on the side of his home.

The pair never spoke. From the vigor of his wave and broadness of his smile, I doubt they knew English. But no proficiency in a specific spoken language is needed when one has mastered the universal language of a happy and sincere greeting.

It was near dusk one night when the pair crested the hill above their house and turned down the cross-street. Yet again, big waves and wide smiles. And then, the precious moment:

As the dog paused to investigate the scent of some recently passed deer, I watched the couple, a few feet apart and side by side, walk down the brick street. Their heads were bowed and their respective hands were clasped behind their backs. They spoke not a word to each other.

The remnants of the glowing sunset framed this contemplative trek in the perfect light — two people as one.

In an era in which we too often, as a poet once said, “view life as a bridge of groans across a stream of tears,” this was a most endearing moment — one that reaffirms how wonderful life can be with another.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

Pennsylvania Jobs Growth in Perspective

Summary: By almost every measure, 2017 was a good year for the national economy as evidenced by a big rise in the stock market and a sizable gain in employment, especially in manufacturing.  In fact, across the country, private jobs increased by nearly 2 percent over the 2016 level.  But how did Pennsylvania’s economy fare, especially in comparison to other states?

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This Brief compares Pennsylvania’s jobs performance in key sectors of the economy to national gains as well as to the performance of neighboring states Ohio and Maryland and two right-to-work states—North Carolina and Texas.  All data are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ current employment statistics survey.

Nationally private jobs total rose 1.8 percent from 2016 to 2017.  Pennsylvania’s 1.2 percent increase was well below the national gain and slower than Texas and North Carolina (1.9 percent each).  It did however, best neighboring Ohio (0.8 percent) and Maryland (1.05 percent).

Moreover, during the five years from 2012 to 2017, the commonwealth’s private jobs growth has been quite weak compared to the nation and the other states.  Over the period, annual average private jobs in the country climbed by 10.7 percent. North Carolina posted a 12.5 percent gain while Texas’ private jobs jumped by 13.2 percent.  Maryland’s increase was 6.8 percent and Ohio’s job count was up 7.1 percent.  Pennsylvania’s rise of 5 percent trails the nation badly and is far less robust than the stronger performing states.

As has been noted in earlier Briefs, manufacturing jobs in Pennsylvania were on a downward trend for quite some time. However, in a bit of a turnaround, 2017’s monthly average manufacturing job count registered a near one-half of a percent increase over the 2016 level.  This was smaller than the national increase of 0.73 percent, but not by much.  All of the other states in this comparison group also had gains of less than one percent with Maryland leading the pack at 0.85 percent and Ohio at 0.25 percent was the slowest and the only state in this group with growth slower than Pennsylvania’s.

Over the last five years, national manufacturing jobs were up 4.3 percent thanks largely to a muted recovery from the plunge that occurred during the severe 2008-2010 recession.  Most of the growth occurred in the 2011 to 2015 rebound period. After stumbling in the second half of 2016 manufacturing employment regained significant momentum and moved up briskly in the last three quarters of 2017. Nonetheless, despite recent strong gains employment remains below its 2007 level.

Two of the states reviewed beat the five-year national gain (North Carolina, 6.2 percent and Ohio, 4.6 percent) while the others posted losses (Pennsylvania, -1.0 percent, Maryland, -4.3 percent and Texas, -2.2 percent).  Manufacturing, a goods-producing sector, is prized for its higher wages and multiplier effect it has on the economy. Pennsylvania has been struggling with manufacturing job losses going back to the collapse of the steel industry.

Meanwhile, several service sectors in Pennsylvania have fared better than manufacturing in terms of jobs. This Brief reviews the sectors of trade, transportation and utilities; education and health; professional and business services; and leisure and hospitality.

Trade, transportation and utilities employment includes wholesale trade, retail trade, transportation and warehousing along with utilities. From 2016 to 2017 the annual average jobs count in this sector nationally rose 0.9 percent.  Both Pennsylvania and Maryland registered small declines in this sector (-0.07 percent and -0.17 percent respectively).  The other states in the sample posted gains with North Carolina highest at 1.5 percent and Ohio lowest with jobs up by only 0.2 percent.

Over the five years 2012 to 2017, jobs in this sector rose 7.9 percent nationally.   Pennsylvania’s modest uptick of 2.6 percent was the lowest of the states in the five-state group. The fastest growth was recorded in Texas at 13.2 percent. North Carolina was close behind (11.2 percent) followed by Ohio (5.3 percent) and Maryland (3.6 percent).

Pennsylvania has done fairly well over the last five years in the education and health sector.  From 2012 through 2017, this sector posted a 7.8 percent rise in average annual jobs. Even with this gain however, the commonwealth failed to keep pace with the national growth of 11.6 percent.  It did slightly outpace Ohio (7.5 percent) but trailed North Carolina (9.1 percent), Texas (15.2 percent) and Maryland (10.2 percent).  Interestingly, health and education job growth from 2016 to 2017 was in a tight range of 2.2 percent to 2.7 percent for all states in the group except Ohio where the gain was a much slower 1.2 percent. The national pickup was 2.4 percent.

Much is made of the state’s strength in “eds and meds” but the reality is that over the long term it has lagged the national rate and other states that are also strong in growing this sector.

The professional and business services sector is another area in which Pennsylvania typically does well.  Over the last five years jobs in this sector climbed 9.2 percent in the state.  This was faster than neighboring Ohio (6.9 percent) and Maryland (8.1 percent) but lags well behind North Carolina (16.4 percent) and Texas (17.8 percent).  National growth over the last five years was 14.1 percent.  Thus while Pennsylvania posted respectable growth, it still lagged well behind the national increase and even further behind the faster growing states in the comparison group.

Looking at the 2017-over-2016 results, Pennsylvania grew 0.9 percent besting Maryland (0.7 percent) and Ohio (-0.4 percent).  The national gain was 2.1 percent (same for North Carolina) with Texas leading at 2.2 percent.

Leisure and hospitality concludes the sector employment comparisons. Overall, this sector has grown the fastest of all the major sectors. During the 2012 to 2017 period, national growth was 16.6 percent (an average compound growth of 3.1 percent per year). Five-year growth for the comparison group ranges from a high of 21.9 percent in Texas to a low of 8.1 percent in Pennsylvania. North Carolina’s 18.4 percent also exceeded the national gain while Ohio (11.8 percent) and Maryland (13.7 percent) trailed.

On a year-over-year basis, Ohio had the smallest rise (1.5 percent) with Pennsylvania slightly ahead of that pace (1.7 percent).  National growth in this sector was 2.5 percent with both North Carolina and Texas (2.7 percent apiece) exceeding that gain.  To be sure, this sector represents something of a mixed bag. While the increase in jobs is welcome, most are not high-paying jobs and are unlikely to have a spin-off effect on other sectors of the economy.

Pennsylvania’s comparative jobs record over the last five years leaves a lot to be desired.  The state was neither able to keep up with growth in total private jobs nationally nor in the economic sectors examined.  In the group of states reviewed, Maryland and Ohio along with typically higher growth states North Carolina and Texas, it had the lowest growth in total private jobs.  It also finished last in this group of states in job expansion for the trade, transportation and utilities and the leisure and hospitality sectors and next to last in the education and health sector.

The reasons for this relatively poor performance are not difficult to find.  As we have written in previous Policy Briefs, Pennsylvania has an overall poor business climate, high business taxes and a business stifling regulatory climate. Its fealty to unions is evident in the absence of a right-to-work law, high rates of unionization of public sector employees and allowing teachers and transit workers to strike.  If Pennsylvania wants stronger economic growth, it needs to remove the glaring constraints it places on free market economics and it needs to address its shortsighted governance practices.

Consider this …

“(T)he machinery of state government” must come to the aid of a Pennsylvania dairy industry struggling to survive, a Post-Gazette editorial urged.

“The state should oversee efforts to find new buyers and keep the farms operating, making use of the incentives routinely offered to attract new companies to Pennsylvania,” the P-G opined.

But neither should be an acceptable function of the state.

Continued the editorial:

“The state should work to make dairy operations and other agricultural enterprises more stable and competitive so that they are able to embrace technology, operate more efficiently, diversify into new markets and weather market forces outside their control.”

But none of those things is a function of “The State,” either.

Consider this:

It is “The State” itself that has done so much to destabilize the dairy industry and make it uncompetitive. Think of “price floors” that, in actuality, subsidize the over-production of milk that begets a glut that beget depressed prices that beget continual calls for subsidies.

Another government intervention? The only purpose that would serve would be to cover up the lie of the last failed intervention. Such failure, of course, is pre-determined by basic economics. Sadly, government never seems to learn this lesson.

The far better thing for Pennsylvania milk producers would be to have “the machinery of government” (that some so pine for to help it) dismantled. For government “beneficence” truly is an oxymoron.

The marketplace is speaking, quite loudly. It’s long past time for Pennsylvania government – and dairy farmers — to listen to what it’s shouting.

A Tribune-Review editorial makes the excellent – but long forgotten point – regarding those ever-rising tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and a lawsuit by a group of truckers claiming the state’s Act 44 is patently illegal.

The 2007 law allows the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to shake down the Turnpike Commission for billions of dollars over 50 years to fund PennDOT projects, some of the highest dubiety.

To cover the shakedown payments, the Turnpike Commission is in the midst of a program of regular annual toll hikes.

But as the Trib reminds, federal law expressly prohibits such transfers. That point was made crystal clear in 2010 when the commonwealth sought to toll Interstate 80 across Pennsylvania’s northern tier.

Simply put, highway toll money can be spent only on the toll road from which it is collected.

Consider this:

If this same behavior were employed in non-government sectors, the state Attorney General’s Office, if not the U.S. Justice Department, would be charging such “actors” with a litany of crimes.

As Greater Pittsburgh’s population continues to slide, another P-G editorial urges “real outreach” to reverse the trend. But there’s an elephant in the editorial, so to speak.

While the editorial touts the efforts of The Pittsburgh Promise to attract Latino immigrants to the city, it neither dissects the many problems of a scholarship program that dumbs-down the concept of rigor – loosey-goosey academic standards are not a recipe for excellence –nor broaches the many manifest failings of Pittsburgh Public Schools.

“Pittsburgh should run recruitment campaigns in the 20 or 30 biggest U.S. metro areas,” the editorial concludes. “If the city has jobs, people should hear about them. It’s time to start renting more billboards.”

But consider this:

A far better, and long overdue step, would be for the city to look inward after looking in the mirror and stop putting new shades of lipstick on the pig – and that elephant.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).