The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

February 15, 2013

Critics: Lost government jobs a drag on economy

By John Finnerty
CNHI Harrisburg Correspondent

---- — The move to drive $1.8 billion toward transportation projects that could create thousands of jobs comes as the Corbett Administration touts private-sector job growth, while government job loss continues to drag on Pennsylvania’s economic recovery.

Critics argue that the cuts in state funding forced school districts to shed 20,000 jobs, partly canceling out growth in other areas, including the expansion of natural gas drilling which added 35,000 jobs. Overall, Pennsylvania has added just over 100,000 private sector jobs since Gov. Tom Corbett took office.

The number of state employees has shrunk by 2.6 percent – just over 2,000 jobs were eliminated on top of the 20,000 jobs eliminated in local schools. The state plans to eliminate 900 positions this year, including 400 jobs eliminated through layoffs.

Advocates for expanding Medicaid in Pennsylvania say that the move, which would extend coverage to 1-in-4 residents, would also create jobs.  Advocates contacted Thursday said they were still trying to determine what the full economic impact would be if Corbett refuses to approve the expansion of Medicaid.

The impact of funding cuts for schools is clearer.

From the 2009-2010 school year to the 2011-2012 school year, the number of educational professionals employed in Pennsylvania declined 7 percent as school districts shed 20,000 positions, according to data compiled by Keystone Research Center. Those numbers include teachers, staff and administrators and would include both positions that were not filled after an employee retired or otherwise left and layoffs.

With that decline, there are fewer people employed in public education now than there were a decade ago, said Mark Price, a labor economist at the Keystone Research Center.

Those decisions stem from a number of political decisions, some made by Gov. Tom Corbett and some made by his predecessors.

For the last decade, Pennsylvania has been cutting corporate taxes in a bid to make the state more attractive to business. But tax cuts have not netted  discernible improvement in job growth, compared to other states, Price said.

Pennsylvania escaped the Great Recession in better shape than many other parts of the country where the collapse of the housing bubble was catastrophic. But by refusing to invest in education, the state has seen its job growth slide.

In 2010, Pennsylvania ranked 8th in the nation in increased employment. By 2012, the state had fallen to 34th in increased employment.

Corbett refused to support any effort to enact a severance tax on the natural gas industry, passing up an opportunity that would have created revenue the state could have used to help provide money for schools, Price said.