Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The McCord Report

There have been eight issues of The McCord Report:  a Quarterly Look at Pennsylvania’s Economic Vital Signs, published by State Treasurer Rob McCord and his office.   The issues are available at:  http://www.patreasury.gov/newsMediaMcCordReport.html.  I love the main page for it.  The image bar across the top is a stack of newspapers, some right side up, some upside down.  You can read a word here and there on the fold.  One newspapers has words in two columns showing.  One column has the words “appeared unimpressed” and the other “had little to recommend it.”  The bottom paper has the words “opening three car garages” but it’s upside down so it may be difficult for some people to read.  Personally I just think it’s a very cool graphic.

Now to the issues of the McCord Report.  The title banner on the first issue is blue; it is green on all the others.  There was one issue in 2010, five in 2011, and two in 2012.   All issues include a lot of graphics.  Let’s take a look issue by issue and then summarize.

The first issue is listed as being published on Nov. 15, 2010 but the actual report just says First Quarter 2010-2011 Fiscal Year.   There is an opening statement from McCord:  “As Pennsylvania’s independently-elected chief financial officer, I am uniquely positioned to promote useful conersations about our Commonwealth’s economic health.  My colleagues and I rely on many data points to gauge the temperature of Pennyslvani’s economy, and we offer The McCord Report for those who may be interested in the data we track.”  The issue has a lot of general information – tax revenue, appropriations, gaming revenue, public pensions, unemployment rate in PA as compared to the national average and neighboring states, top 25 PA employers (#1?  Walmart, of the 25, 9 are governmental agencies of some kind, an additional 3 are universities), foreclosure statistics, treasury performance, and 529 college savings plans.  It ends with another statement from McCord.  Here is an excerpt:  “My goal as Treasurer is simple:  to increase the economic security and prosperity of Pennsylvanians any way I can.  Good information fuels that effort, and it seems to me that if I’m interested in data about the economic health of our Commonwealth, you might be too.”

The second issue is listed as being published on Feb. 7, 2011 but the report is dated Second Quarter 2010-11 Fiscal Year.  It has only three pages and focuses on alcohol sales and tax revenue.  There is a sidebar box giving a history of the alcohol tax, which originated as the Johnstown Flood Tax, but was made permanent in 1951.  General data, on pensions, debt, revenue, employment, gaming revenue, investments, and PA Treasury performance is included.  There is a general statement from McCord on the last page.

On April 8th a “special edition” was published.  The opening note from McCord states that it is devoted to one topic:  “privatization of the state’s liquor store system.”  The three page issues does exactly that, with the last page devoted to a “liquor system revenue calculator.”  

The official third quarter issue was published May 16, 2011.  In his statement on the last (4th) page, he notes that he has recently visited several colleges and universities.  “In this edition, we focus on the issue of state funding for high education as well as related matters.”  Graphics show educational attainment and median earning by education level for Pennsylvania and neighboring states (no shocker here – more education equals greater income).  Additional graphics show state higher education funding vs enrollment (appropriations are dropping but enrollment is skyrocketing).  The issue also provides information on college graduates and debt, education and unemployment, and a few other charts.  It is interesting to note that Pennsylvanians rank 7th in the nation for average student debt, with an average debt of $27,066.  The last two pages provide standard information on revenues, unemployment and Pennsylvania Treasury performance.  There is also a shaded state map showing Marcellus Shale activity by county. 

That was the last formal quarterly issue, though the reports continued to be called “a quarterly look at Pennsylvania’s economic vital signs,” they were given dates and not labeled by quarters.  The next issue was published August 1, 2011.  The focus of it was transportation, specifically highways and roads.  Quick fact:  Pennsylvania has more than 45,000 miles of public roads, the 5th most of any state.  Graphics include state/local gasoline taxes as of January 2010, a statewide map showing structurally deficient bridges by county (in SEPA Montgomery and Bucks are in the 30%+ category), PA gasoline consumption, estimated miles driven, regional comparisons for state registration fees, and structurally deficient bridges, liquid fuels tax revenue in Pennsylvania and revenues and expenditures for the motor license fund.  The last page has some general statistics on the PA 529 college savings plan and the usual statement from McCord.

The November 22, 2011 issue focuses on public debt.  There is a simple graphic on the capital budget process, and other visuals on the stat’s debt limit, borrowing cap, annual debt service, the top 10 counties for capital project funding per capita, tax revenues, agency and authority debt, and then general PA Treasury performance.  The last page has the usual statement from McCord – excerpt:  “Ideally, public debt would be used to finance something that has a useful life beyond the borrowing term – or for investments that have a return greater than the cost of capital.” 

The February 22, 2012 issue mixes up the format a bit, with the McCord statement on the first page.  This issue provides a general overview of the first seven months of the fiscal year’s finances.  There are graphics for collections vs estimates, major revenue sources by fiscal year, budget funding sources, foreclosures by county, corporate tax collections, unemployment (several graphs on this), and some general PA Treasury figures.  Interesting takeaways, four counties in the Commonwealth had unemployment rates of 9.5% or higher.  One was Philadelphia.  Another fun fact:  wondering if education is worth the investment?  People with at least a four year college degree have an unemployment rate roughly one third of the percentage of unemployed people with less than a high school diploma.  Stay in school, kids!

The most recent issue is dated June 5, 2012.  It focuses on the Lottery Fund.  Excerpt from McCord’s statement (hidden on the second page):  “It is important that we manage it property, because the Lottery helped seniors get more than 8 million hot meals and nearly 11.4 million low-cost prescription medications in the last fiscal year. “  Graphics include total sales and net revenue, lottery proceeds per senior by county, where the money goes, program benefits, performance comparisons of top 10 US lotteries, information on lotteries of selected other states, followed by some general state economic indicators. 

The graphics in the reports are very well done.  They are informative and attractive, even in black and white printed copies.  My middle-aged eyes had trouble reading some of the fine print, like the names of counties on some of the statewide maps with varied shading by county.   It is easier to read in color online where the images are a little larger.  I can’t tell from a cursory search if McCord is the first Pennsylvania State Treasurer to provide this kind of report but it’s an interesting publication and I hope it is something that continues.

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