It was a little disappointing to see most of the talk about state-level inequality last week leave out the argument that it’s regional inequality that matters. There’s a lot of variation between regions of the state, but I think what matters most is inequality within metro regions.
Local economies are regional and have little to do with municipal political boundaries. But the way the revenue for public services is distributed within regions is highly segregated. That has a lot to do with the way economic segregation interacts with PA’s old school system of hyper-local political boundaries.
There are 2562 municipal governments in PA – the most of any state. If PA had county tax bases to pay for schools, then wealthier exurban residents and city residents would pay into the same tax base and elect politicians to the same municipal government, and compete for the same funding. The way it tends to work now, wealthier residents pay taxes to a local government, and poor residents to another. The distribution of public services within regional economies is highly unequal.
Back in 2010, Myron Orfield gave an excellent presentation on how this all works at the Building One PA summit. It’s a must-see for anyone interested in the issue of inequality in Pennsylvania: