Online Retailers to Begin Collecting PA Sales Tax

Pennsylvanians’ online shopping sprees won’t be tax-free for much longer.  Starting September 1st, online retailers with nexus – or a physical presence – in the state must collect and remit sales taxes.  In an interview with Radio PA, state Revenue Secretary Dan Meuser said they are simply enforcing the existing law. “The governor has pledged no new taxes.  The governor is not going to raise taxes.  However, we are going to administer and enforce the laws fairly on all taxpayers.”

Mueser says the enforcement effort is more about tax fairness than revenue generation, but he does estimate that it will result in an additional $55-million dollars in sales tax collections per year.

The strictly enforced system is intended to be fairer to Pennsylvania’s brick & mortar retailers.  “Those companies on Main Street tend to do most of the hiring and employment and living in our communities, so it’s simply not fair for us not to enforce the laws appropriately,” Meuser says.

Businesses were notified of the enforcement effort last December.  The original February compliance deadline was pushed back until September, and Meuser says there will be no more extensions.

While he declined to discuss specific companies, Meuser does expect former e-commerce companies, both large and small, to be collecting and remitting sales taxes as of September 1st.

House Panel Mulls Stronger School Library Policy

Not all school libraries are created equal.  A State Board of Education study highlights the point.  While almost all schools have libraries and 95% have librarians, only 44% of those librarians are full-time.  “Many of the librarians are serving multiple schools within their districts,” says the University of Pittsburgh’s Dr. Mary Biagini, the study’s lead author.  “So students do not have access to a librarian, and sometimes not to the library, throughout their school days.”

The study, mandated by state lawmakers, also found dated and scarce collections at school libraries.  Dr. Biagini says state guidelines recommend $40 – $50-dollars being spent per student on library services, but almost 40% of school districts allocate just $1 – $10-dollars per student.  “The research shows that the higher the funding, the better those students do in reading and writing.”

The House Education Committee formally accepted the school library study at an informational hearing on Wednesday.  It also heard from advocates, who are promoting equal access to adequate school libraries.

While the State Board of Education study provides a snapshot of the 2010-2011 school year, the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association says more recent budget cuts have only made the situation worse.  “We found that an additional 198 schools eliminated or reduced their services from the previous year,” PSLA president Eileen Kern told the committee.

Despite 75-pages of guidelines, state law does not currently mandate dedicated funding, trained staff or even school libraries themselves.  Citing those facts, leaders of the Pennsylvania PTA also called for reforms that set standards for Pennsylvania public school library programs.

Before he adjourned the hearing, Education Chair Paul Clymer (R-Bucks) told the audience that his committee will be making strong school library recommendations when the new state budget is discussed.

Americans Ready to Travel for Labor Day Despite Higher Gas Prices

Americans are ready to travel for Labor Day weekend, despite the higher gas prices.   AAA expects travel to be up almost 3% nationwide for the holiday with increases in both car and air travel.

Jenny Robinson of AAA Mid Atlantic says   consumer confidence has improved compared to a year ago and more people are prioritizing travel.  Timing may be a factor as well; she says travel tends to go up when the holiday weekend begins at the end of August.  This year, Labor Day falls on September 3rd and the travel period begins on August 30th.

There are signs of economizing, with more than half of travelers saying their trips will be shorter.  While the number of projected miles per trip is up slightly over last year, Robinson says air travel is likely fueling the extra miles.  More people are expected to head to their destinations by both plane and car than last Labor Day weekend. Travel by automobile is expected to rise by 3.1% with air travel up 3.7%. Median spending is expected to increase slightly.

It’s the third increase in holiday travel this year.  AAA projects that 33 million Americans will make trips of 50 miles or more during the last holiday weekend of summer. As the holiday weekend approaches, further shifts in gas prices could encourage, or discourage travel.

Report Provides Roadmap to Grow Manufacturing Jobs

The manufacturing sector has actually posted employment gains in two consecutive years.  It currently employs 574,000 Pennsylvanians, but Governor Tom Corbett says we can do better.  Corbett and key members of his administration unveiled the Governor’s Manufacturing Advisory Council report at four, statewide events Tuesday afternoon.

The 24-member panel decided upon 15-recommendations that range from better career and technical education, to a statewide energy plan and tax policy changes.  “We have a cross-agency, public-private team of folks working on implementation going forward,” says Team Pennsylvania Foundation president & CEO Matt Zieger.  “So those [recommendations] that are not underway, will be underway very soon.”

Team PA has been funding and facilitating the council since Governor Corbett created it late last year.  Zieger says the report is unique because many of the recommendations aren’t just about how the state can help the manufacturers, but how the manufacturers can help themselves.

One of the key issues raised in the report is the “skills gap” that was reported by 82% of Pennsylvania’s 15,000 manufacturers.

“My goal is straight forward; a healthy economy and a job for every Pennsylvanian that wants one,” Governor Corbett said.  “This report provides a solid roadmap for us to work together and achieve that goal.”

The statewide jobless rate now stands at 7.9%, according to the latest data from the Department of Labor & Industry.

Game Commission Announces Pheasant Stocking Plans

Despite Tropical Storm Lee, and thanks to Marcellus Shale leasing money, Pennsylvania’s pheasant stocking level this year will be the healthiest in almost a decade.

The state game commission plans to stock some 200 thousand pheasants for the upcoming small game seasons for the first time since 2004,  after being at a reduced level of 100 thousand in recent years due to budget constraints.

15 thousand birds are being stocked for junior only hunting season and another 15 hundred are intended for clubs holding mentored hunts for juniors in October.

Bob Boyd of the Bureau of Wildlife Management Services at the Pennsylvania Game Commission says they’ve recovered from damage at two farms caused by Tropical Storm Lee due to the dedication and perseverance of staff at the Lycoming County facilities.

Some changes have been made to protect from future storms by relocating some of the fields most prone to flooding. But he adds that the core infrastructure was not damaged during the storm.

***Photo of Ring Necked Pheasant by Joe Kosack/PGC Photo

New Flu Strain Turns Up Again In Pennsylvania

More than 200 cases of a pig-related flu have been confirmed in several states and Pennsylvania is now among them.   The State health department has four confirmed cases and 6 probable cases of the H3N2v flu. The cases occurred among youth participants in the Huntingdon County Fair and were mild.

Cases in other states have been linked to recent contact with pigs, mostly at agricultural fairs. Acting state Physician General Dr. Stephen Ostroff says Pennsylvania was already watching for it  after the rise in cases in Indiana and Ohio. Last year, there were only 13 cases of H3N2v flu in the United States.

Health officials say people attending agriculture fairs are advised to wash their hands after visiting areas with live animals and avoid taking food or drink into animal exhibit areas.  People at high risk for flu complications should consider avoiding live pig displays.  Although the flu has been linked to live pigs, health officials say that handling or eating pork products presents no risk of exposure.

Pennsylvania had three cases last year.  Currently, there is no vaccine for this strain of flu.

RadioPA Roundtable

Radio PA Roundtable 08.17.12

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Brad Christman and Matt Paul update you on Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law, now that the Commonwealth Court has issued a key ruling; Matt talks to a state lawmaker about property tax reform; and we have new poll numbers on the presidential race in Pennsylvania.

Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting on the top news stories of the week.

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:

Houses, Housing, Property Taxes, Street

Select Committee on Property Taxes to Meet on Monday

State House leaders have tapped a select committee to study property taxes, under a resolution that passed with broad bipartisan support before lawmakers’ summer break.  Monday marks the group’s inaugural meeting, but its final report and recommendations won’t be due until the end of November.

“We really look at that report as a way to set the table for the 2013-14 legislative session, as a way to move forward to try to address this issue,” says Rep. John Quigley (R-Montgomery), who sponsored the legislation and sits on the new select committee.

Quigley introduced the resolution in early June, after the Property Tax Elimination Act was tabled in the House Finance Committee. His district office was soon swamped with calls.  “It certainly has been quite a buzz in the Berks, northern Montgomery, northern Chester County area,” Quigley says.

The 13-member panel is comprised of seven Republicans and six Democrats.  It will be investigating local and county property taxes in addition to the school district property taxes, which make up the bulk of the burden.

Details won’t be hammered out until Monday, but Quigley estimates that the select committee may call three to five public hearings.

Reactions Abound to Voter ID Ruling

Stakeholders are weighing in now that a Commonwealth Court judge has rejected critics’ call for an injunction against Pennsylvania’s new Voter ID law.  Here’s a sampling:


ACLU of Pennsylvania legal director Vic Walczak:  “Given clear evidence that impersonation fraud is not a problem, we had hoped that the court would show greater concern for the hundreds of thousands of voters who will be disenfranchised by this law.”

Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele: “I am pleased Judge Simpson affirmed the constitutionality of the Voter ID law.  This law will reinforce the principle of one person, one vote.  By giving us a reliable way to verify the identity of each voter, the voter ID law will enhance confidence in our elections.”

State House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny):  “Today’s ruling is a travesty not just for those Pennsylvanians whose right to vote will be stripped away by this law but for all Pennsylvanians and all American citizens.  A threat to one person’s right to vote is a threat to us all.  I sincerely hope the Supreme Court will right this terrible wrong and will overturn this decision in time for the November elections.  The commonwealth’s highest court should see what the rest of the nation so plainly does – that this law is a scam.”

Governor Tom Corbett: “Now that the court has upheld the constitutionality of the law, we can continue to focus our attention on ensuring that every Pennsylvania citizen who wants to vote has the identification necessary to make sure their vote counts.”


As Rep. Dermody alluded to in his statement, the case will surely be appealed to the state Supreme Court ahead of the November 6th General Election.  In the meantime, implementation and outreach efforts continue.  Interested voters can find a full list of acceptable forms of identification online.

Drivers License, PennDOT

Preliminary Injunction Denied for Voter ID Law

A Commonwealth Court judge has denied opponents’ request for a preliminary injunction against Pennsylvania’s new Voter ID law.  In his 70-page opinion, Judge Robert Simpson says the petitioners did an excellent job of “putting a face” to those burdened by the photo ID requirement.  However, he writes that he cannot decide the issue based on sympathy for the witnesses.

Judge Simpson also indicated that he’s convinced the law is being implemented in a non-partisan, evenhanded manner so that no qualified voter should be disenfranchised.

The plaintiffs have previously indicated that they would take the case to the state Supreme Court if necessary.