Trump, taxes, and ghosts of industry past.
Is Harrisburg a war zone?
Now, that’s a question the City of Harrisburg probably never saw themselves having to answer. But this week, after a campaign event in Mechanicsburg, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said the city looked like a “war zone.” He was apparently referencing the city’s depressed manufacturing and industrial sector.
Joyce Davis, spokeswoman for the city, emailed The Daily Beast criticizing Trump’s comment, saying Harrisburg’s “rich history and natural beauty have won both the respect and acclaim of some of America’s greatest leaders and patriots.”
Other local leaders jumped to Harrisburg’s defense in the Allentown Morning Call, like David Black, president of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and Economic Development Corp. “The Harrisburg region actually represents something of a bright spot in what is still, in many respects, a Rust Belt State. The area has comparatively low unemployment and has for years experienced a modest but steady influx of new residents.”
State Senator Rob Teplitz doubled-down on this argument, saying, “If he had made the point that our cities have challenges and we need to bring manufacturing back to our country, I think most people would agree with that. But [he] makes it seem like it is a uniquely Harrisburg problem, which is just flat-out incorrect.”
Essentially, Harrisburg is saying, ‘If you think we’re bad, you haven’t taken a driving tour of the Keystone State lately.’ Trump apparently agrees: he took shots at both Downingtown and Johnstown on Twitter so far during this campaign.
Taxes: CRIZ, credits and cigs
As of last Monday, the cigarette tax in Pennsylvania jumped from $1.60 a pack to $2.60 a pack. The revenue is intended to help the state chip away at it’s budget deficit, but retailers and smokers are feeling the burn.
Philadelphia Public Schools aren’t so happy about the increase either. No, they’re not for smoking in schools. An additional Philly-specific tax goes to the public school system — if taxes go too high, they’re worried too many people will quit smoking, and they’ll lose their revenue stream.
While the state is raising some taxes, they are lowering others through tax credits for companies and industries the state wants to bolster. The state gave about $100 million in tax credits this year, though they won’t all cash in at once.
Some of those tax incentive programs go to cities hoping to boost their economy. One such program, Community Revitalization and Improvement Zones, or CRIZ, is undergoing some changes. The first year revealed some room for growth, but cities are still competing to get the coveted program.
Industry past, present, and future
This week, the National Museum of Industrial History opened in Bethlehem. The Smithsonian affiliate will feature the first piece of Bethlehem steel ever rolled and an exhibit about the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia. Museum director Amy Hollander said there will also be a room dedicated to ‘Industry 4.0,’ since industry, in some form or another, is alive and well in Pennsylvania.
Like, say, warehousing. Amazon has large warehouses outside the city of Harrisburg that employ 1,500 people and pay double the minimum wage. The city is working with Amazon to provide public transit for employees who live in the city and need to commute to the borough of Carlisle.
One form that industry takes in Pennsylvania today is slightly less-than-appealing: trash. Pennsylvania is the largest importer of trash in the country, leaving us with the second most trash in landfills in the country. Maybe, if we all work really hard and create a lot of waste, we can get that first place trophy!
Or we could lead the way toward more environmentally responsible waste disposal options. That’s what activists in Scranton would like to see. The area is home to a large landfill requesting a 40+ year expansion and it’s bringing up a lot of interesting community tensions.
What’s one indicator that industry is improving in Pennsylvania? Air travel. Pittsburgh, once a major hub for both airlines and industry, is seeing both start to slowly come back. It’s a chicken-egg scenario, but the progress is a good sign.
Have a good weekend, whether you’re in “Not A War Zone” Harrisburg, at the Museum of Industrial History in Bethlehem, or just watching planes take off in Pittsburgh.