Bloomsburg Open to Mini Casinos

On Monday, March 12, Bloomsburg Town Council passed a resolution which would allow a “mini casino” to locate in the Town. Pennsylvania is making 10 Category 4 casino licenses available through an auction process currently underway. Local municipalities have the option as to whether or not they would allow such establishments. Several other municipalities in Columbia and Montour counties are also open to consideration.

A Category 4, or “mini casino”, may operate between 300 and 750 slot machines and 30 table games. Such establishments could also serve alcohol and provide live entertainment. Additional information is available on the PA Gaming Control Board’s website.

Members are being asked to provide input on whether or not a casino in our area would potentially benefit your business, and if you are in favor of one being located here. It is just a brief three-question survey that shouldn’t take any more than 30 seconds of your time. Thanks in advance for the feedback. 

Final Week of 2018-19 State Budget Hearings Wraps Up

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

Last week, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees hosted their third and final week of budget hearings with the heads of state agencies and state row offices, to discuss Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed spending level for their entities in the 2018-19 Fiscal Year, among related issues.

Amazon’s consideration of Pennsylvania for the location of its second corporate headquarters was a topic covered in the Senate Appropriations Committee’s budget hearing with the Department of Community and Economic Development. DCED Secretary Dennis Davin said that the Commonwealth is in a “very good position” to appeal to Amazon, with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia among Amazon’s top 20 potential locations. Davin also touted the state’s tax advantages of having no Capital Stock and Franchise tax, along with the administration’s efforts to lower the Corporate Net Income tax as benefits that would appeal to Amazon. While the PA Chamber supports the lowering of the CNI, we remain opposed to the Wolf Administration’s insistence that it be packaged with mandatory unitary combined reporting – a complex and burdensome system that would serve as a detractor to additional business investment and job creation in Pennsylvania.

Helping job candidates gain the skills and training they need to fill open positions was also covered in the same hearing. According to a story by Pennsylvania Legislative Services, Sec. Davin told the committee that the single biggest task in economic development is matching jobs with the appropriate people, mentioning initiatives in manufacturing such as Manufacturing PA to utilize specific training programs for the needs of area companies. He also expressed the importance of adequate training and broadband internet access to attract tomorrow’s workforce and discussed the department’s efforts with the Department of Education in making students career-ready – along with working with research universities, and getting younger people to explore education outlets other than a four-year degree.

The Department of Education also met this week with both Appropriations Committees. In the Senate hearing, lawmakers expressed frustration that the agency did not seem to incorporate the legislature’s recommendations on topics such as the implementation of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act and the potential of allowing students to take the SATs as an alternative to the Keystone Exams, which Sec. Pedro Rivera pushed back on. When questioned by Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, on whether the department was focused on career and technical education as an option for students, Rivera said that they are “absolutely providing greater opportunity for students to work towards that career pathway.” In terms of the way that schools are currently funded – a combination of state funding and local property taxes – Sen. Dave Argall, R-Schuylkill, who is a leading proponent of legislation that would apply new and higher sales and income taxes to achieve so-called property tax reform – talked about the complaints he gets from taxpayers about the rising rates. Sen. Argall lamented that the governor didn’t include a mention of school property tax reform in his budget address, to which Sec. Rivera answered that while he couldn’t speak for the governor, their conversations have centered on academic opportunities, teaching, learning and instruction. The PA Chamber is opposed to property tax reforms like S.B. 76 that would target renters, small businesses and young families and put school districts and the Commonwealth on financially shaky ground.

Several Republican lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee also expressed frustration at Gov. Wolf’s veto of welfare work requirements in the fall during a hearing with the Department of Human services. According to a story in Capitolwire, they asked for an explanation behind the veto because the legislation (H.B. 59) would have required some Medicaid recipients – namely the non-elderly who are not disabled – to work or be active in a work-related activity to maintain their Medicaid eligibility. Acting DHS Secretary Teresa Miller responded, “I think the issue is we know people experience barriers to working, and I think taking away access to health care is just going to add one more barrier.” Committee Chairman Stan Saylor disagreed with the governor’s veto, saying that “We’re not doing enough at the state level …. to get people into jobs.” Miller initially claimed in the hearing that a work mandate would end up costing the state about $600 million, because the agency would need to hire 300 new employees to implement the requirement – a comment she walked back a bit later in the hearing, as she said that the agency only has very rough figures regarding the potential cost. The committee did find common ground with the agency regarding the need to reevaluate programs to ensure that welfare recipients aren’t losing access to many of the programs that help them after they secure employment.

The final week of budget hearings concluded with Budget Secretary Randy Albright, who provided both committees with a thorough overview of the budget plan. To recap, Gov. Wolf is proposing spending $32.9 billion in the coming year’s budget – an increase of 3 percent over the current year’s spending. While no sales or income tax increases are in his proposal, he is yet again pushing for a punitive additional tax on the state’s natural gas industry, along with other policies that the PA Chamber will fight back against in the coming months – including a mandated entry-level wage increase to $12 an hour and the aforementioned imposition of combined reporting within the state’s tax structure.

Tickets Remain Available for Easter “Eggs”press Train Ride

The Bloomsburg Easter “Eggs”press Train Ride will offer four rides on Saturday, March 24, and there are still tickets remaining for all four departure times. The train will depart at 10 a.m., 12, 2, and 4 p.m. from the Sherwin Williams parking lot, located at 607 Market St., Bloomsburg. This train ride is organized by Downtown Bloomsburg, Inc. and is being sponsored this year by Service 1st Federal Credit Union, with the trains being provided by North Shore Railroad



Tickets are $13 per person, and may only be purchased online at the DBI website. Visit the website for more information, including FAQs.



PA Senator, Geisinger Representative Brief Local Chambers on Energy Policy and Efficiency

From Chambers for Innovation & Clean Energy

To some, Pennsylvania may be best known for its great historical significance — as home of the Liberty Bell and the place where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the U.S. Constitution drawn up.

But Pennsylvania has an equally strong history of innovation: being home to the nation’s first baseball stadium, first commercial broadcast station, and the world’s first high-speed, multi-lane highway to name just a few examples.

So perhaps not surprisingly a growing number of Pennsylvania leaders are now taking steps to seize the growing economic opportunities in energy innovation.

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PA State Sen. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Allegheny/Washington)

“This is a win-win for everyone,” PA Sen. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Allegheny/Washington) said in a recent briefing call with local Chamber of Commerce leaders from across the Keystone State.

Sen. Reschenthaler is a co-sponsor Senate Bill 234, which would allow municipalities to establish voluntary programs to provide financing for energy upgrades without any upfront costs.  Known as Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE), property owners re-pay the financing through a property assessment. C-PACE is offered in enabling legislation is active in 33 states plus Washington, D.C.  

SB 234 was overwhelmingly passed on the Senate floor 42-8 and is now being considered by the House Commerce Committee. Sen. Reschenthaler asked that Chamber leaders contact their legislators to voice their support.

(Note: The Columbia Montour Chamber has not taken a formal position on this proposed legislation)

“It’s about job creation in high paying fields such as electrical contractors, excavating, general construction, engineering, and so on,” Sen. Reschenthaler said. “It will lower energy costs for local businesses, increasing competitiveness.” Importantly, he added, the program uses funds from private institutions, not taxpayer dollars.

Asked why he became interested in CPACE, Reschenthaler said because he believes in energy independence and knows that renewables help contribute to that.

Geisinger Savings Through Efficiency

Co-hosted by the Columbia Montour Chamber, the briefing call was also an opportunity for local Chamber leaders to hear from Geisinger about how it is saving with energy efficiency.

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Al Neuner, VP of facility operations at Geisinger

“Energy is one of these topics that can benefit everyone,” said Al Neuner, VP of Facility Operations at Geisinger. As a result of its investments in energy efficiency, Geisinger has saved $15 million in energy costs, Neuner said.

“And businesses do not have to be as large as Geisinger to benefit from energy efficiency—he noted, adding that it is very scalable and no-risk (Watch a video about Geisinger’s energy efficiency program).

“One of the things we can do as chambers is to play the role of conveyor and bring our business members, the community, the utility, and workforce development organizations together to exchange information so that clean energy, and clean energy workforce training is more relatable to all of our businesses and community members,” said Fred Gaffney, president of the Columbia Montour Chamber.

“There are people and resources there to help you pay for this,” he said, referring to Act 129, a law passed in 2008 to encourage energy efficiency and provides rebates for new appliances, lighting and windows and energy audits.

A 2017 Public Utility Commission study found that Act 129 has delivered $6.4 billion in benefits for all electric consumers to date.

Growing Solar Jobs in PA

The speakers also briefed Local Chamber leaders on the recently passed Act 40, the Solar Jobs bill, aiming to limit state payments to out of state projects and grow jobs here in PA.

Ron Celentano, President of Pennsylvania’s Solar Energy Industry Association told the audience that up to 70 percent of the solar energy purchased in the state was coming from outside the state, said.

The new Solar Jobs bill corrected this by requiring that the solar come from within Pennsylvania.

“We see this as a great opportunity to have more solar jobs created within the state,” Celentano said. “And we’ve been seeing growth of solar jobs already since the passage.”

The call was co-hosted by the Columbia Montour Chamber and Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy.

PA Chamber: Responsible State Spending, Pro-Growth Policies Will Build a Stronger PA

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

When Gov. Tom Wolf first took office, he adopted the mantra, “Jobs that Pay. Schools That Teach. Government That Works.” when describing his policy priorities. In many ways, our member businesses have indicated that the PA Chamber’s mission is much the same – to create a robust environment for job creation; schools that allow every student, regardless of their socio-economic background, to have the opportunity to earn a high quality education; and a government that runs efficiently for the Commonwealth’s citizens and employers.

However, it’s how those goals are achieved where there tends to be disagreement. For example, Gov. Wolf touted a reduction in the state’s Corporate Net Income tax rate as part of his 2018-19 state budget plan. But he wants to couple it with mandatory unitary combined reporting, which the PA Chamber has long opposed for the administrative and tax burdens it imposes on employers. The governor also wants to increase Pennsylvania’s minimum wage rate from $7.25 an hour all the way up to $12 an hour. The PA Chamber remains outspoken in our members’ opposition to government mandated wage hikes – they simply don’t help low-income workers improve their financial outcomes, and force them to compete against each other for fewer jobs.

In the view of the business community, the way to ensure that the Commonwealth has “jobs that pay” is through strengthened workforce development programs that help guide students and workers into the in-demand occupations that will offer family-sustaining wages in the long-term. Workforce development is a core component of the PA Chamber’s mission, through our “Start the Conversation HERE” initiative that is in its second year of promoting employer-paid scholarships for students to pursue a career in the skilled trades. We’re pleased to see that Gov. Wolf has also made workforce development a priority in this budget through a new initiative, PASmart, which is aimed toward closing the state’s jobs skills gap.  

For the “schools that teach” component, the governor has again pushed for more spending for basic education in the coming fiscal year. There’s no question that putting taxpayer dollars into student achievement is a worthy investment, but our members believe the money should be earmarked for the classroom – not to continue to prop up the unsustainable benefits packages of public school employees.

The PA Chamber is always ready to work with lawmakers on ways to streamline and simplify state government, and we’re pleased to see that the administration continues to look into department consolidation and other cost-savings initiatives in this year’s budget plan to help save time and money. But saving doesn’t have to mean turning around and spending more hard-earned taxpayer dollars, and this is a point we’ll continue to drive home in the four months before the budget deadline. On behalf of our members, we’re committed to working with elected officials on both sides of the aisle toward a common ground where there can be assurance that state government can do its job, and employers are given the freedom to do theirs.