When session came to recess in July, we had committed the most state funding (dollars) to education in the Commonwealth’s history and delivered the first on-time, balanced budget in eight years. We did this by reducing spending and ending the borrowing binge that had been the crutch of the Capital in previous years.
While there was positive feedback on what was accomplished, I and my colleagues know there is more to do. With the House back in session, I wanted to take a moment to let you know what you can anticipate on the fall agenda. During this important fall session, we will tackle some of the toughest issues we face as a Commonwealth. Here’s what’s ahead:
Job Creation and an Improved Business Climate
Let’s start with the realities the Commonwealth is facing: rising unemployment, an economy fragile in its recovery and excessive burdens on our job creators. While unemployment in Pennsylvania is lower than in many of the surrounding states, it’s been increasing and as a consequence, state revenues have come in below expectations. We know that in every decision we make, jobs must be preserved and economic expansion must be encouraged.
Pennsylvania has the quality workers to do any job, which is why we need to attract the employers to provide those jobs. The key to doing this is to make Pennsylvania competitive in the national marketplace. To do that, we must make our business climate more appealing and helpful to job creators through regulatory reform, mandate relief, and corporate tax changes that bring our tax burden in line with other states.
Expect to see a “jobs package” approach to the fall session with many pieces of legislation considered that will help expand our economy and create jobs in this difficult period. Pennsylvania has the quality workers to do any job, which is why we need to attract the employers to provide those jobs.
While natural gas companies already pay the same taxes as every other business in Pennsylvania, there is still concern over how to make sure they are contributing fairly for the added stress they place on our infrastructure and the potential for any damage to our natural resources.
To address these concerns, I support one of two approaches -- either a modest tax at the well-head (which I have been consistent in supporting) or an “impact fee” – to ensure that the gas industry is helping to pay for its other impacts to our state.
We cannot look at this industry as the “golden goose” for all of the State’s economic woes. Instead we must be careful not to overreach and slow the job growth that has already occurred. Balancing these environmental and economic impacts is the best approach for all everyone.
Privatizing Wine & Spirits
Throughout the summer, House leaders have debated privatizing Pennsylvania’s Wine & Spirits Stores. Committee hearings were held to weigh the potential benefits and drawbacks of each idea.
Supporters argue state government should not be in the business of selling alcohol and privatizing stores would bring in much-needed revenue to pay for programs and services. Opponents claim government must maintain control of the stores in an effort to keep alcohol out of the hands of minors. I believe that selling alcohol is not a core function of government and if we can divest of the government run monopoly we should in the most prudent means possible.
Whatever proposal emerges must transition those already employed by the state system; this reform cannot cost workers employment at this delicate time. We must also be sure revenue estimates from selling the state store system are accurate. There are many questions to answer before this topic can be fully and finally debated.
Paying for Infrastructure Improvements
The recent floods have exposed weaknesses in the state’s infrastructure, and Governor Corbett is currently weighing the recommendations of his transportation task force which suggested several ways to fund the more than $2.5 billion in repairs needed for roads and bridges.
It’s unclear what proposals will come before the legislature (and the governor is still undecided about what he’ll support) but one thing is clear: infrastructure improvements must be a priority in our state budget process.
What will not happen? We will not support any attempt to localize the tolling of roads, and that includes Route 422, 202 and I-76. However we decide to fund transportation, we must ensure that one group is not more unfairly burdened based solely on their geography.
As you can see, each of the items above will have an impact on our state’s economy and job situation and, while we need to take action, we must do so carefully to ensure that we are making a positive impact for both today and the future. As your Representative, I urge you to provide me with your ideas and feedback on these and any other issues. By working together, we can put forth a balanced and reasonable plan to get Pennsylvania back to work.