Gov. Wolf's policies send Pennsylvanians packing

| Monday, Feb. 15, 2016, 9:00 p.m.

Picture 10 people in a room. After 12 minutes, one walks out. Twelve minutes later, a second person leaves. After just two hours, the room is empty. That's how quickly Pennsylvanians are exiting the state to seek better opportunities elsewhere.

Last year alone, we lost one person to another state every 12.5 minutes—a net migration of 41,600 residents, gone. That's nearly the entire population of York, Gov. Tom Wolf's hometown. And, ironically, Wolf used his second budget address to double down on the policies that are driving people away.

Each year since 2011, Pennsylvania saw more people move out than move in. The commonwealth joined the unenviable company of high-tax states like New York, New Jersey, Illinois and California as states of exodus.

These are parents, children, recent college graduates, working families and bright minds ready to contribute to a prosperous society but forced to look elsewhere for opportunity.

Where are families moving? To North Carolina, Florida and Delaware—where state and local tax burdens are significantly lower.

States with the largest migration losses over the past five years — including Pennsylvania — had a higher average state and local tax burden (10.93 percent) than those with the greatest gains (8.84 percent).

The lesson is simple: People vote with their feet. Out-of-control spending and burdensome taxes change a state's future. To many, America's Keystone State is looking more like an exit door and Wolf's policies will push it ever wider.

Wolf's latest budget calls for a tax hike of $850 per family of four—that's on top of the existing state and local tax burden of more than $18,000 per family. In all, Wolf demanded an astonishing $3.6 billion in new taxes, including an 11 percent retroactive personal income tax increase. If Wolf gets his way, you'll owe higher taxes on money you've already earned.

From 1992-2014, Pennsylvania lost $11.6 billion in adjusted gross income because of domestic outmigration. That represents more than $350 million annually in lost state income tax revenue.

Meanwhile, the state's population already ranks among the nation's oldest. By 2030, the 60-plus population is expected to reach 29 percent — or 4 million.

This trend means a higher demand for government services. At the same time, Wolf's policies will drive out the very taxpayers who fund these programs.

There is an alternative. Restoring Pennsylvania to “keystone” status remains an achievable goal. But it will require Wolf and policymakers to reduce the tax burden on working people, families and job creators to create an environment that rewards — not punishes — productivity.

Nathan Benefield is vice president of policy analysis for the Commonwealth Foundation.

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