Week In Review: PA unions fight controversial bills; Corbett previews budget

By PA Independent Staff

This week brought talk about photo speed enforcement in Philadelphia, sharp debate over the way public-sector unions collect their dues and an unusual budget preview from Gov. Tom Corbett, who is fighting for re-election this year.

Oh, and there was another round of bad financial news for the state.

Here’s a recap of some of what happened this week:

Unions fight to keep automatic deduction of dues

Labor leaders across the state have joined forces against two bills that would prohibit public-sector unions from having dues automatically deducted from employee paychecks.

“This is as vindictive, just ‘get-the-union’ kind of a piece of legislation,” said David Fillman, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 13.

Proponents of the bills, though, take issue that the taxpayer-funded government is being asked to collect funds for unions.

State Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair, the main sponsor of the bill in his chamber, said he has long been bothered about the government’s collection of union dues. His concern only grew, he said, after several elected officials were charged with corruption over allegations of using taxpayer resources for political purposes.

“I meet with a lot of union members that don’t agree with what’s happening with union dues money and PAC money, but they feel trapped in this system,” Eichelberger said. “That dues-collection process is really part of the entire entrapment. To them, they feel like this is a difficult thing for them to unravel.”

Next week is expected to bring more intense debate about the topic, with the AFL-CIO planning a Tuesday press event at the state Capitol.

Corbett has said he’d sign the legislation if it gets to its desk.

IFO revises projection – and it’s not good news

There was more bad fiscal news this week, as the state’s Independent Fiscal Office – which serves a function similar to the federal Congressional Budget Office – revised its projections for the year.

The IFO now expects Pennsylvania to finish the fiscal year about $150 million short of expectations, with modest jobs gains and low wage growth being to blame for the sluggish tax collections.

General fund revenue increased by only 0.5 percent during the first half of the current fiscal year, and robust growth of about 2.7 percent would be required over the last six months to make ends meet, the IFO projected.

Lower-than-expected revenue would add another wrinkle in a year when Pennsylvania is wrangling with an expected deficit of more than $1 billion heading into 2014-15.

Corbett’s fiscal sneak-peak includes some politics

Corbett mused Wednesday that he normally doesn’t “scoop” himself, but that didn’t stop him from giving a sneak peek at his upcoming budget.

It was difficult not to view the preview through a political prism, considering Corbett revealed a wish to increase funding for domestic abuse and rape-crisis programs by $2.2 million. Facing near-daily barbs from a cadre of Democratic candidates for governor, Corbett was likely looking for a political boost, several pundits said.

“It’s absolutely part of a broader strategy for re-election, and I think it makes sense,” said Chris Borick, a professor of political science at Muhlenberg College.

Corbett is still trying to make up for sagging approval ratings before the November election. A Quinnipiac University poll released in December placed Corbett’s approval rating at 36 percent among Pennsylvania voters. He’s polled particularly poorly among women voters, who gave him a 31 percent approval rating, according to the poll.

For more, read the full story here.

Unemployment below 7 percent for first time since 2009

Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate tumbled to 6.9 percent in December 2012, from 7.3 percent the previous month, the state Department of Labor and Industry reported.

It’s noteworthy because December marks the first month with an unemployment rate below 7 percent since January 2009.

Since then, the state’s unemployment rate climbed as high as 8.7 percent in March 2010 and remained stubbornly difficult to reduce. The rate was as high as 8.1 percent in February 2013, before finally tumbling downward.

But it’s not all good news. The state’s labor force — a measure of how many people are working or looking for work — has fallen by 92,000 since December 2012.

Speed cams could come to Philly

Philadelphia’s Roosevelt Boulevard, a treacherous highway that’s well-known for its safety problems, could soon be the site of an experiment in speed control in Pennsylvania.

State Sen. Michael Stack, D-Philadelphia, has introduced legislation that would allow the placement of speed-enforcement cameras along the roadway, the site of a horrific crash that killed a woman and her three children last year.

If it makes its way into law, Stack’s bill would pave the way for the state’s first speed-enforcement camera, according to his chief of staff, Matt Franchak.

Despite the good intentions behind Stack’s bill, the use of cameras raises a litany of concerns from the National Motorists Association.

The group contends they are often used more as revenue generators and cite studies that show they don’t actually decrease speeding. The NMA also argues that ticket recipients are not quickly or adequately notified, and the devices can often be inaccurate.

Read the full story here.

IFO revises projections, and it’s not good news

There was more bad fiscal news this week, as the state’s Independent Fiscal Office – which serves a function similar to the federal Congressional Budget Office – revised its projections for the year.

The IFO now expects Pennsylvania to finish the fiscal year about $150 million short of expectations, with modest jobs gains and low wage growth being to blame for the sluggish tax collections.

General fund revenue increased by only 0.5 percent during the first half of the current fiscal year, and robust growth of about 2.7 percent would be required over the last six months to make ends meet, the IFO projected.

Lower-than-expected revenue would add another wrinkle in a year when Pennsylvania is wrangling

with an expected deficit of more than $1 billion heading into 2014-15.

The post Week In Review: PA unions fight controversial bills; Corbett previews budget appeared first on Watchdog.org.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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