Pennsylvania's economic, population problems getting more attention from state leaders

Pennsylvania has struggled to spur population and economic growth, but recent efforts from political leaders of all stripes show the issues are getting more serious attention.

“Pittsburgh is losing people, jobs, and investment. The city still hasn’t recovered pre-pandemic employment and has a problem of retaining young talent,” Charles Mitchell, president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation, wrote for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “While Pittsburgh attracts students to its well-respected universities, around half of the graduates go to other cities to work. People aren’t just leaving Pittsburgh. They’re abandoning Pennsylvania.”

Mitchell noted that 250,000 Pennsylvanians have moved to other states in the last decade and almost half of voters have considered moving or know someone who has. Wealth from Pennsylvania has flowed to Texas, North Carolina and especially Florida.

“Pennsylvania must move quickly to embrace reforms that will stop this dangerous exodus, advancing policies that welcome businesses and residents (new and old) to the state, not forcing them to leave,” Mitchell wrote.

While the speed of reforms may not be quick, some bright spots have appeared.

In the latest budget deal, as The Center Square previously reported, the corporate net income tax will be gradually reduced over the next decade, from its current 9.99% rate to 4.99%. Sales taxes remain below-average nationally and lower than most of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states.

State Republicans have also discussed lowering and simplifying the state’s tax system to attract businesses and make it easier for smaller businesses to grow.

Beyond taxes, housing affordability has become a growing concern in the General Assembly. In July, Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law a bill that allows municipalities to offer tax credits and other incentives to build more housing, as The Center Square previously reported. While places like Pittsburgh have remained affordable, rent prices have increased dramatically in central Pennsylvania and around Philadelphia.

Building more housing and lowering the price of rent could help Pennsylvanians stay in-state and attract new residents. Low-tax, low-rent states out West, for example, have attracted more people; Pennsylvania’s attempts to encourage more housing could have a similar effect.

Looking at the Pennsylvania governor’s race also shows a concern over the state’s economic stagnation. Democratic candidate Josh Shapiro talks about the need to “reignite our economy” and argues on his campaign website that “Pennsylvania’s lack of an innovation strategy is a major reason we continue to fall behind other states.”

Likewise, Republican candidate Doug Mastriano has promised to set a goal of cutting 55,000 state regulations in his first year in office to grow the economy.

Whether the new and promised policies will spur economic growth and keep Pennsylvanians from leaving remains to be seen. But the action and rhetoric shows a commonwealth that takes its issues seriously.

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