State Budget Talks Continue Facing Thursday Deadline

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

In the final week of the 2015-16 Fiscal Year, a budget agreement for 2016-17 remains a work in progress. Legislative leaders in the House and Senate met twice on Sunday, and told reporters that they are moving ever closer to an agreement on a final spending number. According to media reports, the bipartisan budget deal that was taking shape was jelling somewhere between $31 billion and $32 billion. Differences are still being worked out over new sources of revenue, although cigarette taxes, increased liquor sales and expanded gaming are said to factor into the revenue equation.   In an effort to generate more non-tax revenue for state spending, the House adopted a gaming expansion amendment last week that allows for internet-based gaming for players 21 years of age and older; permits players 18 years of age and older to participate in daily fantasy sports betting; authorizes the state’s five racetrack casinos to put slot machines at a certain number of off-track better parlors; allows for slot machines at airports; and changes rules related to resort casinos and sports wagering. All told, the House-passed gambling reform package is projected to net between $150 million to $200 million in annual revenue for the Commonwealth.

Before the House adopted the gaming reform amendment by a bipartisan 115-80 vote, the chamber voted down another amendment that would have implemented these changes, plus legalized video poker and other gaming machines in bars.   Meanwhile, Gov. Tom Wolf announced early last week during a radio interview that he has taken personal income and sales tax hikes off the table in 2016-17 state budget negotiations. While he is still asking for $250 million for basic education and $34 million to combat the state’s heroin crisis, he said during the interview: “I think all this can be done without a broad based tax increase. I’m not asking for a Sales Tax increase or Personal Income Tax increase. I think we can do all this; the balanced budget, the increase in education and heroin initiatives without a broad based tax increase. So, I think that we’re making some good progress. I think we’re very close.”

Seeking Input on Block Party

The annual Block Party held in Bloomsburg in mid-April each year has a significant impact on the Town. The Board of Downtown Bloomsburg Inc., in coordination with the Town/Gown Relations Committee, is interested in getting input from service (restaurants, spa/salons, professional services, financial institutions, lodging, etc.) and retail businesses in the Bloomsburg area about this event through a brief poll.  Businesses located within the Town and surrounding townships are invited to participate.

Click the link to participate by noon on Friday, July 1st. The results will be shared with the Town/Gown Committee, Bloomsburg Town Council and Bloomsburg University Administration.

Anyone with questions should contact Fred Gaffney at 570-784-2522 or fgaffney@cmpartnership.org.

Chamber Expresses Support for Natural Gas Pipeline Project

Last week, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) held four public meetings to collect input on the draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline project. The Chamber of Commerce submitted comments at Wednesday’s meeting in Bloomsburg in support of the expansion of Pennsylvania’s pipeline infrastructure. Public comments on the DEIS are being accepted until June 27th.

The Atlantic Sunrise project includes construction of 195 miles of 30 and 42-inch pipeline in Pennsylvania for the transmission of natural gas. The proposed route runs south through Columbia County. A compressor station is also proposed to be built in the county. Details about the project including maps are available here.

In early 2015, the Chamber Board solicited input from members on two natural gas pipeline projects in the region, the Atlantic Sunrise project, and the Sunbury Pipeline project. The Sunbury Pipeline consists of a 35-mile pipeline being constructed primarily to supply the Hummel Station power plant in Shamokin Dam, Snyder County. A portion of that pipeline will go through Montour County after being approved by FERC this spring. Following member input, the Board approved a resolution supporting “the expansion of Pennsylvania’s natural gas transportation and distribution pipeline infrastructure through responsible collaboration with property owners for the benefit of the citizenry and economy of the Commonwealth.”

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement, as well as links to electronically submit comments, are available through FERC’s website. Comments must be received by June 27, 2016.

PA Chamber Applauds Gov. for Signing Historic Liquor Reform Bill

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

Last week, the House passed historic liquor reform legislation that Gov. Tom Wolf publicly signed on Wednesday, June 8. On Tuesday, the House voted 157-31 on concurrence in favor of H.B. 1690, which provides for the private sector sale of wine in grocery stores with a restaurant license; allows takeout wine sales in licensed restaurants, bars, hotels, supermarkets and delis; and lets about 14,000 holders of takeout beer licenses to sell up to four bottles of wine; among other improvements to the current state store system.

The new law makes no changes to the current sale of liquor and does not close any state stores.   Governor Wolf issued a statement calling the bipartisan effort “the most significant step the commonwealth has taken to reform our liquor system in 80 years.” For its part, the PA Chamber has long advocated moving Pennsylvania’s antiquated liquor sales system into the 21st century to give consumers the convenience and choice they overwhelmingly want; and make the state competitive in alcohol sales, in order to keep critical sales revenue in the Commonwealth’s borders each year.

Following the governor’s action, PA Chamber President Gene Barr released a statement thanking elected officials for enacting the popular reform legislation and allowing the private sector to responsibly sell wine. “We applaud the governor for signing this important reform legislation into law – which will help keep revenue within our borders and will expand private sector opportunities to responsibly sell alcohol and compete on equal ground with neighboring states,” Barr said. “This effort – which had bipartisan support – shows how the spirit of compromise can bring about positive change in Pennsylvania.”

New Overtime Rules Increase Salary Threshold

It has been over 12 years since the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was last amended. In 2004, a Final Rule increased the salary level an employee must be paid to come within the standard test for an Executive, Administrative or Professional exemption (EAP, also known as the white collar exemption) from minimum wage and overtime requirements to $455 per week. At that time the Department of Labor (DOL) also modified required duties tests for meeting the exempt from overtime status and created an exemption for highly compensated employees (HCEs).

After issuing proposed rules in 2015, the DOL recently released its 2016 Final Rule, which is aimed at expanding overtime eligibility for millions of American workers. The Final Rule increases the minimum salary employers must pay white collar workers to maintain their exempt status to $913 per week, but does not make any changes to the job duties test. Employers have until December 1, 2016 to comply.   The Chamber’s member benefits provider, ChamberChoice, has provided a summary of the key provisions of the new overtime rule. The U.S. Department of Labor has held several webinars explaining the changes, which are archived for viewing.  If employers have any remaining questions, they are advised to contact an attorney for clarification.