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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

NEPA's worship of the public sector

There was a great article in the March 9th edition of the Scranton Sunday Times, where the newspaper basically figured out that about 1 in 10 employees in the Dunmore School District are related to members (past and present) of district administration.  You can link to the article HERE. Bravo to the Scranton Times for digging in deep on this particular topic.

Now I've ragged on an on about nep(a)otism here from time to time, so need to re-seed the field.  However there is another angle to this that I've referenced before which I think bears re-treading.

I think this whole sad state of the Dunmore School District and in other simply a symptom of a larger problem:  namely a general indifference (at best) to the private sector and a over-whelming tilt towards the pubic sector when it comes to employment and economic development in NEPA.

Consider the following:

"Where the (good) jobs are"
Why is there so much nep(a)otism in the Dunmore School District (and in Scranton and other places as well)?  I'd guess because that's where the good jobs are considered to reside.  What does this say about the private sector economy in NEPA?  I'd also add, on the side, that many private sector employers have at least some policies in place to guard against nepotism.

"Youse should get a job at Da Depot, like uncle Cappy did"
Why is there a cloud of doom over NEPA (and much marshaling of the troops) when another base closing commission begins to look at Tobyhanna Army Depot (affectionately known as "DaDepot")?  Again, because in NEPA that's where so many of the best jobs are to be found.  Nothing against the work done at DaDepot, but relying on the government as a major source for employment will always involve an almost constant sense of economic endangerment, this side of 1970.

"Sure, why shouldn't a county government should own a shopping mall"
The Steamtown Mall is dying.  What do the county commissioners almost immediately propose?  Why have the county take over the site via eminent domain.  Link HERE.  For the record, Lackawanna County only a few years ago got out of the ski resort business, so I guess there is a general hunkering for more private sector endeavors to partake in before too long.  Now the days of touting the advantages and/or disadvantages of the Steamtown Mall are long gone, as it's here and we all need to deal with it.  What's more, I'm not opposed to the government helping in an effort to revitalize the property, but when all is said and done, it should be owned and operated by the private sector, subject the market disciplines that the private sector requires.  Anything else is just a smoke-screen and will cost taxpayer even more.

"Tax the bastards to death"
On the flip side of the coin, why are Scranton business owners subject to a gross receipt tax?  To the uneducated, allow me to explain:  this is a tax where you pay a percentage tax on what you take in, in addition to the taxes you pay on what you make.  With a gross receipt tax, even if you are losing money you still have to pay the City of Scranton.  Again, why is this?  See thoughts above; in Scranton (at least), the private sector is treated at best with indifference, as this is a punitive tax the has the impact of punishing private sector employers.

"NEPA:  Winner of the award for highest unemployment rate, several years running"
So why does NEPA chronically have the highest unemployment rate in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania?  It's a darn good question, and for the record I've yet to hear a very good answer.  Think about it for a second:

...we have excellent transportation links
...close proximity to large east coast population centers
...several universities that produce thousands of highly qualified graduates each year
...a willing workforce and land that could be developed.

So again, why the highest unemployment rate in the state?  Remember, this means that such garden spots as Johnstown , Altoona and Erie have chronically had lower unemployment rates than NEPA.

I could go on and on, but the point is well made, I think.  In NEPA, I'd venture to guess that, as a percentage of the total labor force employed, the public sector has a higher than average hold in NEPA than it does in other parts of the state.  Now if anyone has any statistics to prove me wrong, then bring'm on, because I'd gladly eat crow on that one if my hunch is incorrect.  Anyway, I truly think that there is an almost in-grained distrust of the private sector in our region, which translates to a defaulted trust in government.  Whenever government is given such power, it is inevitable that there will be some abuse.  The above referenced article about the Dunmore School District is a great example, in that I'll bet the district is probably one of the largest employers in Dunmore.  Holding sway over that many employment opportunities begs for corruption, especially in organizations where nepotism and patronage are treated as job perks for administrators.

Long on questions and short on answers, I know.  My final conclusion is this though:  so long as the private sector is  treated with (at best) distrust, NEPA will continue to suffer economically.  The reality is that the coal barons are gone and the mines are closed.  NEPA residents can stop thinking like chronically oppressed coal miners, ever distrustful of the private sector.  This kind of ingrained attitude...and the policies it spawns...are a part of what's holding the area back.

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