Economy & Business

Economy & Business news from 90.5 WESA.

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.

Home Sales Leveling Out in Region

Jan 23, 2012

After years of declining home sales, it appears as though the housing market in Southwestern Pennsylvania is stabilizing.

In a report released Monday, the analysis group RealSTATs said the regional residential market declined from 2010 to 2011, but only by eight homes.

"In reality, the market would be more flat than declining," said RealSTATs Vice President Daniel Murrer. "What we envision in 2012 is that the number of home sales should pick up, based on what we saw in the last few months of 2011."

Pittsburgh Credit Rating Upgraded

Jan 20, 2012

Following a trip to New York City aimed at encouraging international bond rating agencies to upgrade Pittsburgh's credit rating, that very thing happened. Moody's upgraded the city from an A1 negative to A1 stable rating and Standard and Poor's upgraded the city from BBB negative to BBB stable.

"For the city and the taxpayers, this means that either their borrowing costs will remain the same or be improved. Either way it's a net plus for taxpayers," said Pete Schlict, financial advisor with Janney Montgomery Scott.

Independent Fiscal Office Offers First Report

Jan 20, 2012

Pennsylvania's Independent Fiscal Office is linking the state's poor economic showing at the end of 2011 to state and local government job layoffs. The opinion is part of the group's first report.

Pennsylvania Housing Alliance Rejects State Funding Cuts

Jan 18, 2012

Following the state's budget cut of $160 million dollars this month, the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania said the Corbett Administration is being foolish. Liz Hersh of the Housing Alliance said the statewide freeze hit housing programs hard.

$19.5 million was from the state's homelessness assistance program. $2.5 million dollars is now gone from legal aid to help people stay in their homes.

Hersh said the latest cuts confuse expenses and investments.

PNC Q4 Earnings Dip

Jan 18, 2012

Fourth-quarter earnings for Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group fell more than 40 percent, according to the bank's quarterly report. Net profits dropped to $451 million, or 85 cents a share, from $798 million ($1.50/share) one year ago.

"PNC had a solid year of accomplishments in a challenging regulatory and economic environment," said PNC Chairman and CEO James E. Rohr.

Overall profits for 2011 came in under $3 billion, a decline from last year's $3.01 billion.

Regulatory matters

A survey by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) reports small business optimism rose nationwide in December for the fourth consecutive month. While the NFIB's Optimism Index gained 5.7 points since September, it is still 6 points below the pre-recession average.

Given ongoing struggles with Pittsburgh's pension funding, the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy decided to examine how the other 129 municipalities in the county are faring with their plans. Using the most recent pension plan data available, which was from 2009, the institute found that overall, smaller municipalities were doing quite well, with only three of the plans funded below 50 percent.

At the House Democratic Policy Committee's public hearing on job creation on Monday, many speakers called on legislators to pass a bill to fund transportation infrastructure investments.

Frank Snyder, the Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO, said that not only do roads and bridges need repair, but many other kinds of infrastructure could be improved as well. He pointed to the hundreds of dams in Pennsylvania that are structurally weak, and said that thousands of jobs could be created by strengthening such water infrastructure.

Calls for help through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) have been down so far this heating season compared to recent years. That's likely due to the slow start to winter. The milder temperatures have helped ease concerns that the program would run out of money before the end of the heating season, due to federal funding cuts.

Gas Industry: State Should Be Sole Regulator

Jan 9, 2012

In a speech made in Washington, D.C. last week, the leader of the American Petroleum Institute said that the industry wants state governments to be the sole regulators of shale gas exploration, production, and supply.

API President & CEO Jack Gerard said that putting several strata of regulation on energy companies is redundant.

Governor Tom Corbett has signed a law that expands the Pennsylvania Insurance Department's authority to review and disapprove rate increases in the small group market. Previously, that was out of their hands. Large commercial insurance companies that deal with big businesses are still outside the scope of their authority.

Unemployed Workers Rally for Extension of Benefits

Jan 6, 2012

In an effort to raise awareness for the end of unemployment benefits for 40,000 Pennsylvanians, the Mon Valley Unemployed Committee rallied in downtown Pittsburgh on Friday afternoon.

"Most people think that extended benefits will be continued until the end of February, and if there is another renewal on the federal level, they will continue to receive extended benefits," said Antonio Lodico, co-Director of the group. "In reality, everybody with unextended benefits, which we estimate to be over 40,000 Pennsylvanians, will be cut at the end of this month."

Selling Pennsylvania to Europe

Jan 3, 2012

Governor Tom Corbett will lead a trade delegation to Europe in the spring of 2012, the governor's office announced this month. A group of business and government leaders will travel to Germany and France in March in an effort to boost Pennsylvania's export markets and lure European investors to the state.

The tax forms in Pennsylvania for 2012 will feature a new line item intended to collect a "use tax" that has been on the books for more than a half century, but has recently become a problem.

The use tax has been part of the tax code since 1953, but has grown into a larger issue as online shopping has become a bigger percentage of the retail market.

Elizabeth Brassell, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue, said that with the growth of online shopping, the state misses out on a large amount of collectable dollars annually.

Millions of Federal Stimulus Dollars Going to Community Lending Oganizations in PA

Jan 3, 2012

The state's economic development arm says that it took a unique approach to sending out the most recent round of federal stimulus money to small businesses: it's about to give $29.2 million federal dollars to community lending organizations.

Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary, Alan Walker, said this is an uncommon approach.

The Cost of Pennsylvania's Debt

Dec 28, 2011

At this time of year many of us add to our personal debt, pulling out that plastic to purchase holiday gifts. State officials are also thinking about adding to Pennsylvania's debt as lawmakers work through the 2011-2012 capital budget. They won't boost the debt by using a credit card, but rather through borrowing for capital projects by floating bonds.

Pennsylvania has a Double A bond rating, the second highest possible. But the question lingers: is it a good time to borrow?

PNC: 2011 Struggled but Grew

Dec 28, 2011

The 2011 economy might look different depending on your personal situation, but from where PNC Chief Economist Stuart Hoffman is standing, it was a relatively good year.

Hoffman said that the US economy overcame, but just barely, several hurdles: "Struggles and challenges coming out of Europe, much higher gasoline and energy prices through the first half of the year, a lack of any action in Washington to deal with the fiscal deficit."

State Efforts Underway to Help Returning Iraq Veterans Find Jobs

Dec 26, 2011

With the official conclusion of the Iraq War, local officials have made much of Pennsylvania's efforts to help returning service members come back into the civilian workforce. The state's Civil Service Commission held a recruiting event specifically for military veterans earlier this month. About 150 people showed up for information and advice.

Veterans face many challenges when returning from combat. One of the first steps to finding civilian employment is to get veterans to cut the shorthand out of their speech.

Apparently "what's on the inside" doesn't really count, at least when it comes to product choice. A recent study from a team of market researchers found that when it comes to consumer choice, packaging makes a big difference in the perceived effectiveness of a product.

Dire Cuts Predicted for 2012-2013 State Budget

Dec 20, 2011

State-funded programs and departments should brace for impact when the Pennsylvania budget is passed next summer.

The state budget for 2012-2013 will make cuts much deeper than those used to balance the current spending plan, according to predictions from the Corbett administration.

Budget Secretary Charles Zogby said on Tuesday that the state is facing a revenue shortfall of at least $500 million in the current budget year, which will carry over into next year's fiscal plan, creating a massive financial gap.

The net amount of the first paycheck you receive in the new year might be a bit smaller. That's because a final phase of Pennsylvania Act 32 is being implemented on January 1st and many employers will be withholding their workers' local Earned Income Tax (EIT) or wage tax for the first time. So, instead of receiving quarterly reminders from your city, township, or borough to pay the tax of 1 percent or so, that amount must now be withheld from your paycheck.

PNC: “Persistent Growth” in 2012

Dec 19, 2011

Don't look for a gangbuster economic year in 2012, but PNC Chief Economist Stuart Hoffman is predicting "persistent growth."

"We're not in the relapse or 'double dip' camp," said Hoffman. "Our view is that the economy will grow actually a bit stronger in 2012 than it did this year."