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GERALD SMITH: Steps that would reduce poverty in Pennsylvania

on July 25, 2013 10:50 AM

Last week Rep. Dave Reed announced that he is forming an initiative to reduce poverty in Pennsylvania. This is certainly good news, but it is also ironic given that many of the policies and laws enacted by our Republican Legislature and Republican Gov. Tom Corbett do nothing to address poverty — and, in fact, many of their actions actually harm poor people. If Reed wants to reduce poverty, here are few things he could advocate immediately:

1) Take advantage of the Medicaid expansion afforded by the new health care law. Aside from improving the health of the commonwealth, numerous studies show that making health care available to the thousands of uninsured in Pennsylvania would create more than 40,000 jobs and reduce uncompensated care costs by nearly $900 million. In addition, Medicaid expansion would give working Pennsylvanians a foothold out of poverty; and it would create healthier neighborhoods and communities.

2) Bring in millions for education and social services by creating a reasonable excise tax on Marcellus shale drilling. Pennsylvania is the only major gas-producing state not to have an excise tax. Instead of using this gas as a means toward economic development, this Legislature is giving away commonwealth assets to out-of-state and foreign companies.

3) Pass a law establishing a living wage, which, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living wage calculator, is $8.67 an hour for an individual, and at least $20 for a family. When consumers have more money, they spend it and stimulate the overall economy. The results are clear: States with higher wage floors have stronger economies.

4) Create a fair tax system. The wealthy, especially wealthy corporations, pay much less tax than they used to just a couple decades ago.

According to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, Rep. Reed himself sponsored legislation that could let corporations off the hook for millions of dollars in taxes.

In the last few decades, the trend toward more economic inequality in this country is undeniable.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the difference between after-tax income of the richest 1 percent of Americans and the middle and poorest income earners in the country tripled between 1979 and 2007.

This Friday at 7:30 local labor leaders will join the Center for Community Growth for a discussion of these issues, and a screening of “Capitalism: A Love Story” at the Indiana Theater. We hope our legislators are listening.

Gerald Smith

Center for Community Growth

Ron Airhart

United Mine Workers of America

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