Coalition Letter Sent to Governor, Legislature in Opposition to Severance Tax

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

A PA Chamber-led, multi-industry coalition sent a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf and the General Assembly last week voicing opposition to imposing another punitive tax on the natural gas industry. Gov. Wolf first spoke of his desire for a severance tax when he was campaigning for office and has proposed the tax every year of his administration. His fourth and most recent proposal, as announced during his 2018-19 state budget address, would combine a new severance tax with the existing impact tax, resulting in an effective rate of around seven percent – among the highest of the states in the shale play.

Among the coalition’s reasons for opposing the tax is the state’s improving economy and increasing tax revenue, which would seemingly render another natural gas tax unnecessary.  Additionally, multiple studies have revealed that policies that enhance the use of natural gas and other natural resources – rather than stifle growth through undue tax burdens – are projected to yield billions of dollars in investment and hundreds of thousands of jobs.  “The effective tax rate of the existing impact fee is competitive with that of other states’ severance rates; a severance tax will diminish the potential that we realize through the facts outlined in these economic reports,” the coalition wrote. “As businesses make investment decisions on where they choose to deploy capital, we must not put up unnecessary barriers to growth simply because public sector unions are advocating for more spending.”

While the Columbia Montour Chamber did not sign on to this letter, a letter was sent to our representatives in Harrisburg in October calling for long-term revenue strategies rather than “one-time fixes, borrowing and taxes on specific industries such as the Marcellus Shale Gas industry, hotels, and warehousing.”

Governor Announces Initiative to Expand Broadband Access

On Monday, March 19, Governor Tom Wolf announced a new initiative aimed at expanding broadband access to businesses and households in Pennsylvania through the creation of a new office dedicated to ensuring every Pennsylvanian has access to high-speed internet. The announcement also included the introduction of the Pennsylvania Broadband Investment Incentive Program, which offers incentives to private providers willing to invest in underserved and unserved areas throughout Pennsylvania.

To spearhead the initiative the governor has created the Pennsylvania Office of Broadband Initiatives which will be responsible for developing and executing a statewide strategy to expand access to every Pennsylvanian by the end of 2022. To lead this initiative the governor appointed Mark Smith as the Executive Director of Broadband Initiatives. Smith, a former Bradford County Commissioner, has been with the Wolf Administration since 2015 serving as a Deputy Chief of Staff and Director of Government Affairs and Outreach.

Currently, over 800,000 Pennsylvanians still lack access to robust, reliable, High-Speed Internet. Over 520,000 of residents without access reside in rural areas and over 250,000 reside in urban areas. 

Additionally, the governor announced the Pennsylvania Broadband Investment Incentive Program. Through this program, the Wolf Administration is offering up to $35 million in financial incentives to private providers bidding on service areas within Pennsylvania in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) upcoming Connect America Fund Phase II (CAFII) Auction. The FCC CAF Phase II Auction is making nearly $2 billion available nationwide to providers willing to expand broadband access in unserved areas.

The program is available to all service providers interested in the CAFII Auction. Guidelines will be released March 22, with April 2 being the first day to file Preliminary Expressions of Interest. Any provider who wishes to participate will be subject to state guidelines and requirements that will ensure that service is delivered by June 30, 2022 and broadband speeds meet or exceed 100 Mbps, while encouraging the delivery of gigabit service.

The above noted $35 million of incentive funding is being provided through PennDOT to fulfill its strategic goal of building network along roadways, right of ways, and intersections and furthering connections between all its facilities. As the needs and demands of vehicle technology increase, including autonomous vehicles, so will the demands on the state to support digital transportation needs. PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards spoke about this future planning at the Cabinet in Your Community meeting held March 12 at Bloomsburg University. Broadband buildout benefits for PennDOT include better communications for public safety devices, the ability to provide high speed access and communication between PennDOT and emergency management partners, the ability to connect key traffic signals to PennDOT’s traffic management centers, and the success of deployment of automated vehicles.

The Pennsylvania Broadband Investment Incentive Program is the first, but not the only effort the Office of Broadband Initiatives will undertake to expand broadband access. The new office is also developing a longer-term approach to deliver service to those areas not included in the FCC CAFII auction. This endeavor will require further assistance from the private sector, FCC or other federal agencies, and the state legislature. The Chamber has joined with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission in calling for greater flexibility in the use of federal funds to expand broadband infrastructure.

Review, confirm, update: Your office spring cleaning should include employee benefits files

From ChamberChoice and Smart Business Pittsburgh

As spring approaches, many of us get the itch for a little “spring cleaning.” It’s less hectic with end of the year issues and open enrollment out of the way. It’s also the perfect time for employers to pull out benefits records for review, confirmation and updating, says Chuck Whitford, consultant at JRG Advisors.

Smart Business spoke with Whitford about the tasks that employee benefits professionals should consider when spring cleaning.

Why should employers review and confirm items in their employee benefits this spring?

Many employers use benefits confirmation statements once employees have completed their open enrollment elections. Although these statements are generally utilized for electronic enrollments, some employers also provide them for paper elections. During this time, an employer should compare the confirmation statements to what is on record for an employee’s benefits choices and dependents enrolled. Furthermore, an employer should ensure that payroll records reflect any premium changes because of the employee’s elections.

This is especially important when an employee’s premium insurance elections are done on a pre-tax basis through an employer’s Section 125 plan. Section 125 rules provide that an election is irrevocable for the 12-month plan year unless there is
an IRS permissible reason for a mid-year election change. There are some events not in the 125 rules that could allow an individual to make a mid-year election change, such as a mistake by the employer or employee, or needing to change elections
to pass nondiscrimination tests. To make a change due to a mistake, there must be clear and convincing evidence that the mistake has been made. For instance, individuals might accidentally sign up for family coverage when they are single with no children.

What could need to be updated with life insurance and disability benefits?

Two popular benefits that employers provide their employees are group term life insurance and disability (both short and long term). Life insurance premiums are usually based on the age of the employee, while disability premiums are based on an employee’s wages.

An employer should take advantage of spring cleaning to ensure that its records (payroll and invoices) reflect the age changes
of employees as well as any pay increases that may have occurred at the beginning of the year. Also, the employer should double check these benefits for issues such as the removal of terminated employees, employee classification change, which affects the amount of a benefit, and proper taxation.

Depending on the employer’s policies, an employee may be able to have the premiums for disability insurance paid on a post-tax basis, instead of pre-tax, which enables an employee to avoid taxation upon receipt of a disability benefit.

How should beneficiary forms be reviewed and updated, if necessary?

Beneficiary designations are frequently used in retirement and life insurance plans to determine entitlement to benefits payable upon death of the participant. In the case of certain benefits subject to spousal protections, federal law imposes requirements on both the form and timing of beneficiary designations. Other types of beneficiary designations are a matter of plan design. A beneficiary designation that doesn’t accurately reflect an employee’s intent can result in disputes following the death of a participant.

There are a multitude of life situations that could be costly to an employer if a proper beneficiary designation is not on file — think divorce, simultaneous death of the participant and beneficiary, or lost forms as examples. An employer may be required to defend a lawsuit, correct improper payments or find the proper beneficiary.

Does the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act make other changes necessary?

The IRS updated the income tax withholding tables for 2018 to reflect changes made by the new tax law. The updated tables, which were to be used no later than Feb. 15, 2018, reflect the new rates for employers. As part of its spring cleaning, an employer may want to have its employees complete new W-4s. Employers should visit the IRS website for the release of
2018 W-4s.

Spots Remain For Nonprofit Vendors at Annual Bloomsburg Renaissance Jamboree

Renaissance Jamboree2The 40th annual Renaissance Jamboree in downtown Bloomsburg will be held on Saturday, April 28 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., rain or shine. This annual event is run by Downtown Bloomsburg, Inc., and is co-sponsored by Bloomsburg University and its Program Board, the Columbia Montour Chamber and the Town of Bloomsburg

There are still plenty of vendor slots remaining for nonprofit organizations. The application deadline was on March 12, however it is being extended for nonprofits. If your nonprofit organization is interested in being a vendor, please fill out the application and see the guidelines. The cost for a nonprofit vendor is just $25, and only online registrations are being accepted. 

For more information, visit the Downtown Bloomsburg, Inc. website.

Welcome Budget Roofing, Inc.

More than 400 businesses and organizations belong to the Chamber to receive benefits and support efforts to strengthen their businesses and our region. Increased membership allows us to offer additional programs and benefits, have a stronger voice in advocacy and be involved in more activities and initiatives in our communities. The Chamber welcomes its newest member, Budget Roofing, Inc., to help us fulfill our mission.

With more than 35 years of experience in roofing, Budget Roofing installs commercial, industrial and residential roofs for its customers. It is a licensed Red Shield applicator in good standing with the Firestone Building Products Company, and is also in good standing with the National Roofing Contractors Association, a non-profit trade association for roofing professionals. It is approved to install numerous roofing systems, including Firestone, Versico and Carlisle rubber roofing, single ply rubber, as well as hot tar and thermal plastic. Some of its previous projects include fellow Chamber members Bloomsburg High School, Geisinger’s Justin Drive building and Geisinger Shamokin Area Community Hospital. For more information, call 570-648-4951, or email or visit its website