Let’s Put Pennsylvania Back on Track

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Pennsylvanians want better. Nearly 70% of voters believe that the commonwealth is “seriously” heading in the wrong direction. Worse yet, new polling shows that 42% are thinking of leaving the state or know someone who has left or is considering a move due to the lack of opportunities. Over the last decade, Pennsylvania lost more than 250,000 residents to other states. The outmigration caused the state to lose another congressional seat following redistricting.

If lawmakers do nothing to reverse the state’s poor economic performance, this exodus will continue and grow.

Pennsylvania ranks near the bottom of the country in job growth, in population growth, and in income growth over the last 30 years.

The state still hasn’t recovered from pandemic-related business closures. As of May 2022, only three states have higher unemployment rates. More than 100,000 Pennsylvania workers have dropped out of the labor force entirely since January 2020, and the state has lost 167,000 payroll jobs during this time – only New York has lost more.

The state’s Independent Fiscal Office projects that employment in Pennsylvania won’t recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2025 or 2026, and the state’s onerous regulations and taxes are largely to blame.

But there’s a bright side. Pennsylvania is in strong position to reverse these trends and implement policies that will make our state more competitive and more attractive to families and that will allow all Pennsylvanians to flourish.

Pennsylvania is the nation’s largest and most significant swing state. With our vast natural resources, we should be the economic leader in the Northeast. We’re on the precipice of a public policy change that could revitalize our commonwealth. A new governor and a significant legislative turnover – almost one-quarter of the House and Senate will be new members – means that there’s no shortage of opportunity for change.

Pennsylvanians are ready for it. When polled, more than eight in ten supported overhauling education, taxes, and employee rights. That desire for a new future is why the Commonwealth Foundation released Better Pennsylvania in 2023, a nonpartisan agenda for a new era of economic prosperity and opportunity.

This blueprint outlines 23 policy ideas that expand educational opportunities, safeguard family paychecks, help Pennsylvania businesses compete, and protect workers. The policies would unleash prosperity by limiting the growth of government spending, providing tax relief that would make the state more competitive for job creators, and reducing the regulatory red tape that is stalling our energy production. Other proposals seek to reduce poverty by protecting the dignity of work and reforming broken social-service programs to preserve the safety net for the truly needy.

Better Pennsylvania in 2023 offers a plan for making government more accountable and prioritizing resources to create safer communities and a more transparent criminal justice system. It shows how lawmakers can restore public-sector employee rights, while curbing special interests’ power to exert undue political influence and exploit workers.

Better Pennsylvania in 2023 isn’t some ivory tower policy wish list. It’s a framework rooted in reforms that deliver real change. And it isn’t just good policy, but good politics. Each of the 23 ideas has the support of a majority of voters. Moreover, 86% back the full agenda.

Such widespread public support suggests that candidates for office should embrace this agenda. And they won’t be starting from scratch in 2023; lawmakers have made significant progress toward some of these goals in recent years.

Despite Gov. Tom Wolf’s threat to raise taxes, lawmakers have balanced the budget and increased the state’s rainy-day fund, enacted pension reform to save taxpayer dollars, allowed private outlets to sell wine, and expanded educational choice through tax credit scholarships.

Pennsylvania voters were the first in the nation to pass a constitutional amendment that limited the governor’s power to close businesses and enact policies without legislative consent. But Harrisburg needs to do more, and voters know it. A bold agenda is needed. Better Pennsylvania in 2023 puts the commonwealth back on a path to prosperity.

Nathan Benefield is the senior vice president at the Commonwealth Foundation, Pennsylvania’s free-market think tank.

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