News & Brews July 15, 2021

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Commission to propose host of new fees, taxes to replace gas tax

Gov. Wolf ‘s Transportation Revenue Options Commission, charged with coming up with alternatives to the gas tax, is set to recommend a host of new taxes and fees in its place. Want to pay an 8.1-cent tax for every mile you drive your car? Check. How about paying an extra $1 for your package deliveries? Check. And forking over $76 (double the current fee) for your vehicle registration? Check. I get that we have the second highest gas tax in the country, and reducing it would be a great talking point. But shifting taxes isn’t the same as cutting them.

PASSHE votes to merge schools

The board of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) voted unanimously yesterday to merge six state universities into two new institutions. The new schools will enroll their first students in August 2022. PASSHE Chancellor Daniel Greenstein pledged that current students will be able to finish their degrees and that sports will be kept at all campuses. But the Post-Gazette notes that “[t]he NCAA, in fact, has not weighed in on the future of athletics…nor has the Middle States Commission for Higher Education said when and how it will accredit the combined institutions.”

Study: Tax & spending limits could help economic growth

The Commonwealth Foundation released a new study, examining how properly structured tax and expenditure limits (or TELs), could control the growth of our state budget, thereby avoiding deficits and guarding against tax increases. The Center Square reports on the study.

PA overdose deaths jumped 16.4% in 2020

In a tragedy the Pennsylvania Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania says is tied to the social isolation resulting from government’s COVID orders,overdose deaths in PA rose from 4,444 in 2019 to 5,172 last year, a 16.4% increase. Nationwide, CDC data shows overdose deaths rose 29% from 2019 to 2020, hitting 93,000 last year—the highest ever.

Unemployment fraud spikes after PA updated its system

WHYY reports, “When Pennsylvania made it easier to apply for unemployment benefits last month, it also gave scammers a new opportunity.” Apparently, the state’s switch to a new unemployment system did not include enhanced identity verification, and this lack “appears to be inviting a flood of fake claims.” Overall, new claims in PA spiked from 31,317 for the week ending May 29 to 71,695 for the week ending July 10. And according to one group that helps PA employers handle unemployment claims, before the system switch, the group received reports of about 100 fraudulent claims per week. After the switch? For the week ending July 3, this figure spiked to more than 2,000, 75% of which turned out to be fraudulent.

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