Get Caught Up on Unemployment Compensation Payments

Employers who owe money to the state’s Unemployment Compensation Fund may be eligible to participate in the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s “Make It Right” UC Amnesty Program. Under the program guidelines, eligible employers who have unpaid contributions through the third quarter of 2016 and unpaid reimbursement due on or before Oct. 31, 2016 can satisfy these liabilities and only have to pay half of the interest and penalties owed. The program is effective now through Sept. 30. For more information, visit the UC website

For Fourth Straight Year, Pennsylvania is Second in Nation in Natural Gas Production

According to statistics released last week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Pennsylvania ranked second in the nation in natural gas production in 2016, marking the fourth straight year that Pennsylvania has held this spot. Overall, the state is third in energy production and 27th in energy consumption. Pennsylvania was also the third-largest coal producing state and the only state that produced anthracite. 

Locally, both Columbia and Montour Counties contribute to that energy production either directly or indirectly through energy transportation. A big upcoming project intended to increase the ability to transport natural gas is the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline project by Williams, which the Columbia Montour Chamber continues to support. This new project will expand the Transco gas pipeline system with a new pipe approximately 185 miles long connecting the existing pipeline just north of Columbia County to southeast Pennsylvania. Last month, Chamber president Fred Gaffney spoke in support of the project at a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection hearing held at Bloomsburg High School.

This project will allow for more efficient transportation of Marcellus Shale natural gas and should enable even more to be exported. Additionally, the Atlantic Sunrise project, which is scheduled to begin later this year, is expected to generate an economic impact of $85.5 million for Columbia County alone, and a $1.6 billion economic impact in all of the project’s regions. 

Williams is also encouraging all workers that come into the area to work on this project to patronize local businesses. More information about the opportunities for local businesses related to this pipeline project will be available at the Chamber’s next Learn at Lunch, sponsored by PPL Electric Utilities, on Tuesday, Aug. 8, at noon at Wesley United Methodist Church. Mike Atchie from Williams will talk about the different types of opportunities for local businesses to cater to the visiting workers and give an overall update on the project at this event. The cost to attend this event is $10 for lunch and those interested can register here.

PA Department of Labor & Industry to Hold Free Safety Webinars in August

The Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Health & Safety Division of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry will conduct a series of free safety webinars in August. Titled PATHS (PA Training for Health and Safety), the series will covers a wide array of topics including but not limited to worker fatigue, cyberbullying, hazardous waste management, whistleblowing, ADA compliance, noise control and much more. Each webinar lasts approximately one hour depending on course material and viewer participation. 

For a complete list or to register, visit the PATHS Training Calendar

Revenue Deal Still Eludes Lawmakers

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

History repeated itself last week when Gov. Tom Wolf let H.B. 218, the nearly $32 billion General Appropriations bill for the 2017-18 Fiscal Year, become law without his signature. The bill was sent to him on the Constitutional budget deadline of June 30, albeit without the corresponding legislation that raises additional necessary revenue and specifically appropriates the spending. Last year, the governor let the budget become law without signing it; however, lawmakers were able to reach consensus over the following two days on how revenues would be generated to pay for the plan. This year, the House and Senate worked in vain throughout the weekend and into the early part of last week, only to return to their districts on Tuesday afternoon when it became clear that a final revenue agreement remained elusive. On Sunday, in fact, the governor reportedly rejected a $2.2 billion new revenue plan that legislative leaders sent to him on the grounds that it didn’t contain enough recurring revenue.

Rank-and-file members were told they could be called back to vote on bills within six hours’ notice. While the House remains on that schedule, the Senate will reconvene today at 1 p.m. Lawmakers are shying away from using the word “stalemate” to describe the current situation, but continued disagreements between the General Assembly and administration on how to cover a $1.5 billion shortfall from the Fiscal Year that just ended and $700 million in new revenue for the current year make it seem that a resolution could still be weeks away.

Borrowing from the state’s share of the nationwide Tobacco Settlement Fund still appears to be a part of the equation, along with a gaming expansion bill (that likely won’t include video gaming terminals, but could still be far-reaching) and potentially expanding the sale of wine and spirits to include beer distributors. While personal income tax and sales tax increases seem to remain off the table, there is now a resurgent call among some lawmakers to implement a severance tax on the natural gas industry. Gov. Wolf proposed a 6.5 percent severance tax in his February budget proposal. A story in Pennlive highlighted a letter to House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, from a group of 12 Republican lawmakers and three Democrats who have authored shale tax legislation and are in favor of a “fair, reasonable and responsible” proposal. The PA Chamber continues to lead a multi-industry coalition in the fight against another tax on the natural gas industry, due to the negative impact it would have in terms of job growth and economic potential for one of Pennsylvania’s most critical industries.

PASSHE Board Presented With Findings of Strategic Review

On July 12, the Board of Governors of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) were presented with a much-awaited set of recommendations by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), a consultant group that the PASSHE board hired earlier this year to conduct a strategic review of the state-owned university system. PASSHE, which Chamber member Bloomsburg University is a member of along with 13 other institutions, has a combined enrollment of just over 100,000 students, including over 9,500 at Bloomsburg during the recently completed 2016-17 academic year. According to a 2015 study commissioned by PASSHE, the 14 institutions have a combined $6.7 billion total economic impact, including nearly $393 million at Bloomsburg, utilizing data from the 2013-14 academic year. The strategic review was necessary due to falling enrollment and budget challenges at a majority of the PASSHE schools. 

A summary of the presentation to the PASSHE board is detailed in this article in Inside Higher Ed, and the complete NCHEMS presentation can also be viewed on its website.