Economy & Business

Economy & Business news from 90.5 WESA.

The IRS Gives Back

Mar 5, 2012

The Internal Revenue Service says refunds totaling more than $1 billion are sitting unclaimed by individuals who did not file a federal income tax return for 2008. But to collect the money, there is a catch: they must file a 2008 income tax return no later than April 17, 2012.

In Pennsylvania there are 38,700 people who haven't filed, according to IRS spokeswoman Jennifer Jenkins. She said state residents are entitled to more than $35.5 million in unclaimed returns, with a median of $695 per person.

Jenkins said these unclaimed refunds represent relatively easy money.

Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald Castille is reminding attorneys in the state of their ethical duty to provide public service. Justice Castille also thanked lawyers who provided direct pro bono service to the poor in 2011.

Last year, lawyers statewide provided free service equal to the work of more than 60 full-time attorneys. Castille said lawyers are doing some good work during tough economic times.

Congressional, military and community leaders are building their case to convince the Air Force to halt its planned closure of the 9-11th Air Lift Wing and sharp reductions at the 171st Air National Guard in Pittsburgh.

Members of the Congressional delegation from southwestern Pennsylvania met today with representatives of Military Affairs Coalition of Pittsburgh and the Chamber of Commerce to update efforts to preserve the air bases.

Proposed Budget Cuts General Assistance Benefits

Feb 28, 2012

State legislators are taking their first cracks at the Department of Public Welfare's proposed budget that eliminates cash benefits and makes cuts to mental health assistance. Governor Corbett wants to eliminate a $319 million General Assistance program that provides cash assistance benefits to about 60,000 Pennsylvanians.

Democratic Senator John Blake of Luzerne County says that oft-stated mission could be obscuring cuts that cannot rightly be called savings.

A new analysis of census data indicates a shortage of homes for those living on a $20,000 income. The study, released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, found there are only 36 affordable and available units for every 100 low income people living in Pennsylvania.

Liz Hersh, Executive Director of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, says these numbers are troubling.

"There's only about a third the supply of the apartments that are needed in the market. So the market is in very short supply of apartments that are both available and affordable," Hersh said.

Table Games Revenue Up At Commonwealth Casinos

Feb 20, 2012

Gross revenue from table games in January was nearly $9.7 million higher than last year, according to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

962 tables at 10 casinos generated $52,980,494 last month compared to $43,310,753 in January 2011.

Spokesman Doug Harbach said the casinos are still in a stage of growth.

A free-market think tank in Pennsylvania fears that public welfare spending is exceeding what the state can afford.

Elizabeth Stelle is a policy analyst for the Commonwealth Foundation, which compiled a report examining cases of fraud — like using welfare money for luxuries like landscaping or a six-person hot tub — rather than necessities like food. Stelle said she would prefer to see more reform in order to better correlate welfare spending with a drop in the poverty rate.

Electric Deregulation, Fewer Landlines Cause Drop In Tax Revenue

Feb 17, 2012

A little known state tax is seeing a shortfall for the second year in a row. The drop off is due in part to electric deregulation that went into full effect in Pennsylvania a little more than a decade ago.

Deregulation introduced a number of companies to the state's tax rolls, but with their historically narrow profit margins, the amount of taxes they had to pay was low last year and will be low again this year.

Liquor Control Board Looking For Large Reforms

Feb 17, 2012

The Liquor Control Board is asking state lawmakers for help on a slew of reforms.

Among them, bills to allow liquor stores to sell lottery tickets, allow more to pen on Sundays, and change pricing rules to make them more competitive with neighboring states and online retailers.

Senator John Pippy (R-Allegheny) says efforts to modernize the LCB will not interfere with efforts to sell off the state's liquor stores.

Small business leaders from the Pittsburgh region traveled to the nation's capital this week to meet with President Obama and members of his administration. Among the Pittsburgh contingent was the director of the Center for Women's Entrepreneurship at Chatham University. Rebecca Harris said one of the main takeaways from the day was that there are actually jobs out there, even as the unemployed continue to struggle.

Sixty Jobs To Be Cut At State Homes For Disabled Veterans

Feb 16, 2012

The head of the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans' Affairs says budget cuts will mean about 60 layoffs, but a decision at the national level could lead to more.

Major General Wesley Craig says his agency can deal with the roughly $6 million funding cut proposed by Governor Tom Corbett. But, he says the U.S. Air Force is looking to downsize a National Guard air refueling wing in Pittsburgh by 25 percent and close another air wing entirely.

Top state administrators say it's a bit too early to tell whether the commonwealth's cut of a nationwide mortgage services settlement could breathe life into a program meant to help Pennsylvanians avoid foreclosure.

This is not the first attempt to resurrect the Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (HEMAP). The program closed last July after its state funding was nearly eliminated.

The year-over-year increase for January new home sales in southwestern Pennsylvania was 4.6 percent compared to a year ago. This follows three consecutive months of increases, including December's 9 percent increase. That's according to RealSTATs, a firm that tracks real estate information for Allegheny, Butler, Washington, Westmoreland, and Beaver Counties.

Perhaps the best news is that the upward trend is expected to continue.

An advocacy group gathered in Market Square on Tuesday to drum up support for an extension of federal unemployment benefits, just weeks before the program is set to expire.

Pennsylvania Wants to Work seized the Valentine's Day opportunity to tell Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) to "have a heart," and agree to extend unemployment compensation insurance for laid-off workers. The handful of activists passed out heart-shaped petitions asking GOP legislators to extend the jobless benefits.

Workers compensation premiums paid by companies across the state will be down an average of 5.66 percent from last year, the first time the rates have decreased in two years.

Pennsylvania's Executive Deputy Insurance Commissioner Randy Rohrbaugh said this is good news for state companies.

"They will have hopefully the $160 million to really put back into their business for business expansion and hiring employees, so this is a very positive thing for our employers," Rohrbaugh said.

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu today unveiled plans for energy-efficiency improvements to the 97 year-old City Hall building.

Overall, the renovation process will save the city an estimated $475,000 per year, and will also generate nearly 40 constructions jobs.

Ravenstahl said one main renovation will be to the steam line that provides heat and air conditioning to City Hall.

"We estimate that this will reduce our carbon footprint by 800 metric tons each year," Ravenstahl said.

The Homeowners' Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (HEMAP) helps Pennsylvanians catch up on mortgage payments when they get behind because of circumstances beyond their control, such as an illness. The program was put on hold in July 2011 because of a lack of funding and is not included in Governor Tom Corbett's $27.1 billion budget. The Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania said leaving it out is a mistake because of the benefit to counties.

CEO Survey Reports Measured Optimism

Feb 7, 2012

A new survey by First Niagara Bank and Siena College finds mixed feelings among chief executives of Pennsylvania companies as they look forward to 2012.

Overall, CEOs are optimistic about the economy, a finding that squares with steady job growth in recent months, both in Pennsylvania and nationwide. 42 percent of the 251 survey respondents in Pittsburgh and Erie expect to see the economy improve in the year ahead, while nearly a third told researchers they plan to hire new employees.

Occupy Pittsburgh had until noon Monday to clear out tents and other structures from the BNY Mellon Green downtown, which they've dubbed "The People's Park."

Labor Groups Ask Lawmakers To Close Tax Loopholes

Feb 6, 2012

A coalition of public labor unions is suggesting a series of reforms to help the state save more than $2 billion and avoid more cuts to education and unspecified "vital services."

It's a list several pages thick itemizing ideas for saving millions at a time including a call to close a corporate tax loophole, a move which recently received bipartisan support. That loophole currently allows corporations to avoid paying taxes on certain proffits they transfer to holdings in Delaware.

Coalition Offers Free Income Tax Help

Feb 5, 2012

A coalition of local organizations is offering free income tax return preparation to low-income residents of Allegheny County.

Individuals who earn less than $20,000 per year or families who make less than $40,000 per year are eligible to set up a free appointment with the Money In Your Pocket Coalition.

Appointments can be made by calling 211, or by visiting the group's website. The coalition lists fifteen offices across the Pittsburgh area.

Housing Market Up in Pittsburgh Region

Feb 3, 2012

Southwestern Pennsylvania's housing market was strong in January.

In the region overall, residential home sales increased by nearly 25 percent, new listings were up about 8 percent, and average sale prices increased 5 percent from January 2011, according to West Penn Multi-List, Inc.

Allegheny County showed a nearly 11 percent increase in new listings, 19 percent rise in home sales, and almost an 8 percent increase in the average sale price.

State May Require Asset Test to Qualify For Food Assistance

Feb 2, 2012

Starting in May, Pennsylvania will likely join a minority of states that check to see if people have too much in savings to qualify for federal food stamps.

Some 43 jurisdictions, including states, territories, and Washington, D.C., have eliminated the so-called "asset test."

Ellen Vollinger of the Food and Research Action Center, an anti-hunger non-profit, said the national trend has moved away from using this type of tool in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. She said such testing makes it trickier to apply for and approve the benefits.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Applauds Pittsburgh Progress

Feb 1, 2012

One week after President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, Commerce Secretary John Bryson joined Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and others at Carnegie Mellon University to discuss their commitment to energy efficiency, conservation, and innovation, as well as creating and retaining jobs.

The main focus of the discussion was on supporting American manufacturers.

Pittsburgh City Councilman Ricky Burgess said city residents can expect a higher level of capital investment this year, thanks to Council's unanimous approval Tuesday of an $80 million bond deal.

"You'll see more streets paved," said Burgess. "You'll see more public buildings repaired. You'll see more houses torn down, more lots cleaned. You'll start to see us invest in the city's infrastructure, which is decaying around us."

Those who struggle to make ends meet following tax season might not be taking full advantage of what's offered in tax credits and deductions.

The United Way of Allegheny County is promoting a free tax preparation program to help about a third of eligible workers who don't apply for the Earned Income Tax Credit. Allegheny County has partnered with the UWAC and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said some people are unaware of how much money they can get back.

Salvation Army & Groupon Partner To Provide Heating Assistance

Jan 30, 2012

G-Team, the philanthropic arm of the "deal-of-the-day" website Groupon, is teaming with the Salvation Army to help needy Pittsburgh residents. Starting Tuesday, people will be able to make donations on the site to help families with their heating assistance.

To receive money, The Salvation Army needs a minimum of 40 pledges, at least $10 apiece, in three days. If The Salvation Army does not reach a $400 goal it receives nothing and donor credit cards are not charged.

Several Republicans in the Pennsylvania House have thrown their support behind a bill that would lower corporate taxes while at the same time closing the so-called Delaware loophole. The move seriously bolsters the efforts of Democrats who have been fighting to get the measure passed.

"We need to lower the corporate net income tax rate," said House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny County). "We have the second highest [rate] in the nation. We also need to continue the phase-out of the capital stock tax. It's a tax on value. It's got to go."

Job Numbers In Pittsburgh Are Getting Stronger

Jan 25, 2012

For the third month in a row, the Pittsburgh region has had a record number of jobs. According to Pittsburgh TODAY, this rise in non-farm jobs has put Pittsburgh over pre-recession employment numbers.

Doug Heuck is the Program Director for Pittsburgh TODAY, a non-profit that provides timely statistical pictures of Pittsburgh life. He said compared to other cities, the Pittsburgh region had strengths that kept the worst of the recession away.

After two months of debating, approving, disapproving, and more debating, it seems like the mayor's office, City Council, and the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority have all agreed on a plan for Pittsburgh to borrow a hefty $80 million.

It's the largest bond floated in city history, and the first new debt issued since Mayor Luke Ravenstahl took office. Pittsburgh City Councilman Bruce Kraus said it's necessary to pay for much-needed capital improvement projects.

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