Senate Leader Discusses Accomplishments, Goals

With the 2011-2012 legislative session set to expire at the end of the month, Radio PA’s Matt Paul took a look back at the past two years with state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Chester/Delaware) in a wide-ranging interview.  Calling it an extremely productive session, Pileggi says jobs were the top legislative issue and the most important jobs bills are the ones that will have long-lasting effects. 

“The continued phase out of the capital stock and franchise tax, in both the 11/12 & 12/13 [fiscal] years, we continued that phase out,” Pileggi says.  “Just in this past year we eliminated the death tax on family farms.  We’ve also updated the film tax credit program and actually added a new tax credit for historic buildings.”

Pileggi also cites Pennsylvania’s Fair Share Act and expanded Keystone Opportunity Zone program as important jobs bills from this past session. 

Looking ahead to the 2013-2014 legislative session, Pileggi the biggest jobs issue is transportation funding.  It would obviously provide short term jobs in the form of construction projects.  “Longer-term I think every serious observer agrees that an effective transportation infrastructure – both for cars & trucks and mass transit – is necessary for a competitive environment for job creators,” Pileggi explains. 

He also tells us the Senate will be ready to move forward with a package of bills to address the state’s pension crisis within the first six months of 2013. 

Earlier this month, newly-elected and returning Republican senators tapped Pileggi for his fourth term as Senate GOP Leader.


Non-partisan Group Embarks on Different Kind of Campaign

At least one campaign is bringing together both Democrats and Republicans this election season.  The Campaign to Fix the Debt seeks to engage and educate the public on the issue of the nation’s $16-trillion dollar debt.  The list of supporters features some prominent names from both sides of the aisle.  For instance, former Governor Ed Rendell (D-PA) is a co-chair of the national campaign and former Governor Mark Schweiker (R-PA) is a member of the Pennsylvania Steering Committee. 

President & CEO of the Pennsylvania Business Council Dave Patti realizes $16-trillion is a hard number to grasp, so he used the analogy of basketball start LeBron James who made $42-million dollars last year.  “Well, if he plays for another 24,000 seasons he’ll make his first trillion dollars.”    

Fellow Pennsylvania Steering Committee member, and former Pennsylvania Democrat Party Chair, TJ Rooney says these are not abstract issues.  “Inaction on the fiscal cliff and the debt are hindering the nation’s economic recovery,” he told reporters on a recent conference call. 

The diverse group is taking a grassroots approach to urge policymakers in Washington to set aside their differences and address this issue.  Nearly 290,000 have signed their online petition.

Not Your Average Job Search Website

This new career tool, developed by the state Department of Labor and Industry, isn’t your average job search website.  PA Career Coach is designed to make sure Pennsylvanians are ready for the jobs that become available.  “First, it’s innovative.  Second, it’s common sense,” explains Governor Tom Corbett.  “We don’t always get that combination in state government… but we are working and striving hard to change that.”

Students, displaced workers and others who visit the new website will find out what jobs are in demand in their hometowns, what they can expect to earn and how to find specific training nearby.  Users can also link to current job postings. 

The new job search tool was announced at a news conference inside the Department of Labor and Industry building, where Governor Corbett said the state is growing new job markets like the Marcellus Shale.  “But what good is that growth if Pennsylvania workers don’t know how to break into those job markets?” he asked.  

PA Career Coach is bridging that gap.  Officials say it’s just part of a comprehensive job-matching initiative the Corbett administration will launch later this year. 

Department of Labor and Industry Secretary Julia Hearthway demonstrates the PA Career Coach website.

The statewide unemployment rate currently stands at 8.1%.  September’s numbers are scheduled to be released next week.

Jobs Bill Unveiled on Lawmakers’ First Day Back to Session

The new bill would incentivize qualified companies to relocate to Pennsylvania by allowing them to keep up to 95% of the Personal Income Tax they withhold on behalf of their employees.  It’s dubbed Promoting Employment across Pennsylvania (or PEP!).    

“Employers that bring a certain number of jobs, pay good wages and provide quality benefits would be eligible for this incentive,” says state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre), the bill’s prime sponsor.  “Keep in mind, right now, we don’t have these jobs or the revenue these employers would be paying through state and local taxes.  In other words we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

At a Monday morning news conference, PEP! supporters indicated that 20-other states already have a similar program in place.  But several lawmakers on the House Finance Committee voiced their concerns at a public hearing that soon followed. 

Pennsylvania’s existing businesses were at the crux of those concerns.  “I want to see jobs created in Pennsylvania, but I don’t want to see it done at the expense of those of us who have struggled through…” says Rep. Scott Boyd (R-Lancaster). 

Minority Chair Phyllis Mundy (D-Luzerne) brought up the so-called Delaware Loophole.  “If we would close that and do some other things, perhaps we could reduce taxes on all the businesses on Pennsylvania; both the existing and luring new businesses here.” 

But Benninghoff, the Finance Committee Chairman, doesn’t believe that HB 2626 would pit existing businesses against those it would lure into the state.  “Remember, we all benefit if a new company moves into our area,” Benninghoff says, as he points out that by giving up one source of revenue, the state would be gaining many more.   

PEP! awaits action in Benninghoff’s committee.

PA Chamber: Poor Legal Climate Affects Job Growth

More than a year after enactment of the Fair Share Act, a new study has renewed the battle over lawsuit reforms in Pennsylvania.  The US Chamber Institute for Legal Reform ranks Pennsylvania’s legal climate 40th among the 50-states; down six spots from the last Lawsuit Climate study.

“We’re looking to grow and make Pennsylvania attractive, and when Pennsylvania has such a bad litigation environment, businesses won’t come here and the jobs will go to other states,” says PA Chamber of Business & Industry VP for Government Affairs Sam Denisco.  “That’s problematic.”

With the Fair Share Act, Denisco says Pennsylvania is just starting to catch up with the rest of the nation.  He says the state needs further reforms in order to lead the pack.

The Fair Share Act was written to ensure that the percentage of damages leveled against a defendant, in civil lawsuits, does not exceed their level of determined responsibility.  It was touted as an economic development tool, but critics say it has not correlated to a single new job.

“They want to cap damages.  They want to have their cake and eat it, but they’re not going to pass it onto the Joe Consumer.  It’s just really to increase profits at the expense of the everyday person,” says Scott Cooper, President of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice.

Cooper tells Radio PA the Lawsuit Climate 2012 study is not worth the paper it’s printed on, saying it’s no surprise that business groups oppose the ability of individuals to sue their members.

However, the PA Chamber will be using the new report to strengthen its call for additional lawsuit reforms.  Denisco wants the General Assembly to pass venue reform, which would place limits on where civil suits can be tried.

Venue reform is another issue the Pennsylvania Association for Justice plans to fight when it re-emerges in the new session.  Cooper points out the existing legislation would only apply to personal injury cases, not business-to-business lawsuits.

Consortium Envisions ‘Tech Belt’ in PA, OH and WV

Pennsylvania is part of the pilot program for a proposed national network of manufacturing institutes.  The National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMMII) is a public-private partnership that spans PA, Ohio and West Virginia.  The Department of Defense is putting up $30-million dollars to help fund the institute; another $40-million dollars is coming from a broad base of consortium members.

Additive manufacturing is a high-tech process that produces items directly from a 3D digital model.  “Rather than the traditional way of taking a block of material and subtracting material away where you don’t want it, additive manufacturing is a layered process that puts the material where you do want it,” says acting NAMMII director Ralph Resnick.

Eight Pennsylvania universities and community colleges are a part of the consortium, including Penn State.  “The concept is to try to utilize universities and industry together to try to advance technical issues and barriers that are impeding manufacturing from being competitive in this marketplace,” says Wayne Figurelle, director of industrial innovation programs for the College of Engineering at Penn State.

Resnick and Figurelle tell Radio PA that the Department of Defense is especially interested in additive manufacturing because it’s cost-effective, mobile, and allows for production in limited quantities.

Resnick expects big things if they can harness the energy of the 40-companies, 9-research universities, 5-community colleges and 11-nonprofits who are participating in the pilot project.  “We not only hope to create jobs, but we hope to create region that is similar to the Silicon Valley for electronics or the Research Triangle in North Carolina.”

NAMMII is the first of what President Barack Obama has proposed as a billion dollar network of 15-manufacturing institutes.  Expansion of the program would require congressional approval.