The State and Local Government Workforce in Pennsylvania is the 2nd Smallest in the Country

Mark Price |

As we begin to debate the 2017-18 state budget, the anti-government spin merchants will (yet again) paint a picture of a menacing, out-of-control public sector in Pennsylvania eating up taxpayers like a great Kraken.

But facts do matter. And the picture they will paint is the opposite of the true picture, shown above.

When you add up all the workers employed both by the state of Pennsylvania and those workers employed by all of our local governments, including school districts and community colleges, and consider them relative to all employment in the Commonwealth, Pennsylvania has the second smallest public workforce in the country: for every 100 workers in the state only about 10 are state and local government employees. For typical states, 13-15 workers out of every 100 are state and local government employees. For all but three other states, at least 12 of every 100 workers are state and local government employees. This suggests one or both of two things. First, the public sector in Pennsylvania is more efficient than average. This is a good thing that we should all celebrate. Second, it raises the question: “is our state and local government too small?” (i.e., do our rural areas need colleges, or was laying off tens of thousands of workers in schools in 2011-13 such a great idea?)

Despite an efficient (and possibly anorexic) public sector, the state budget has a structural deficit now creeping towards $2 billion. A key driver of the structural budget deficit are past decisions by lawmakers of both parties to cut corporate taxes. For instance, the Capital Stock and Foreign Franchise Tax (at 2.89 mills, its level in 2011-12) would have raised almost a billion dollars for the 2016-17 state budget.[1] Instead, when policymakers take up the 2017-18 budget, their first task will be to close the budget deficit (which is now $367 milllion) that has emerged since the budget agreement was reached last July.

Some of you, like us, may be struggling to get your bearings at a strange time in national politics. Part of our response, as well as organizing to fight policies that harm most people, must be to double down on the facts. We can’t let people get away with just making stuff up. We’re here to help with that.



[1] The final phase out of the Capital Stock and Foreign Franchise Tax has cost the Pennsylvania treasury $2.7 billion since 2012-13.