FMLA Guide Available

From ChamberChoice

In late April, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced that a new general Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Notice will soon be issued. According to the DOL, the new poster won’t necessarily include an extensive amount of new information. Rather, the information in the notice will be reorganized so that it’s more reader friendly. The Agency has advised that employers will be allowed to either continue posting their current Notice or post the new version. Thus, employers are not required to change their current poster.

Along with that announcement, the agency also issued a new guide to assist employers with FMLA administration. Another purpose of the Guide is to help employers increase their knowledge of the law. This Employer’s Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act is designed to provide essential information about the FMLA, including information about employers’ obligations under the law and the options available to employers in administering leave under the FMLA. The Guide is organized to correspond to the order of events from an employee’s leave request to restoration of the employee to the same or equivalent job at the end of the employee’s FMLA leave. It also includes a topical index for ease of use.

Although the Guide may not provide an answer to every FMLA administration issue an employer may have, it is likely to have some benefit to employers when administering the FMLA.

Representatives Optimistic About 2016-17 Budget Process

The State Representatives for Columbia and Montour counties are optimistic that finalizing a budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year will be quicker than the process for the current year’s budget. Despite a structural deficit of $1.4 to $1.8 billion in the proposal, Representatives David Millard and Kurt Masser feel this year’s negotiations are better. Their comments were made to members during a breakfast program held Friday, May 6th at the Pine Barn Inn.

Jennifer Reis with the PA Chamber of Business & Industry outlined Governor Wolf’s $33.29 billion budget, which represents a 10.9% increase in spending from the finalized 2015-16 plan. Included in the proposal are increasing the personal income tax rate from 3.07 to 3.4 percent, retroactive to January 1, a severance tax on the natural gas industry, and taxing a number of products and services that are currently not taxed. Reis noted that the budget includes no significant reforms to the State’s two public pension systems, or moves toward privatization of the liquor system.

MillardRepresentative Millard highlighted the increasing burden of the pension plans. In the upcoming fiscal year, more than $2 billion will be dedicated to pension obligations. Over the next four years, those costs will increase by more than $1 billion. Rep. Millard has co-sponsored legislation which would put all new hires in a 401k plan, which would ease the burden long-term.

Representative Masser reiterated that it’s past time for Pennsylvania to get out of the liquor sales business, which only generates a 3% profit. “If any CEO was running a monopoly and could only return three percent, I don’t think your days in that position would be long,” said Masser. Privatization of the system could generate significant revenues.   Masser

Masser also stated that this year’s budget negotiating process is better. During an abbreviated, two-day session week last week, the state House positioned H.B. 1999 – the General Appropriations bill for the 2016-17 fiscal year – for a final vote. After bringing up the bill on the House floor, lawmakers withdrew all of their amendments with the understanding that their funding priorities would be addressed at a later date.

The PA Chamber also expects the proposal to increase the minimum wage to be revisited. Earlier this year, Governor Wolf increased the minimum wage for State employees to $10.15 per hour. The Independent Fiscal Office projected in November that an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour could result in 31,000 lost jobs in Pennsylvania and 500,000 nationwide. The PA Chamber has been advocating for workforce training programs and tax credits to help low wage earners rather than mandated wage increases. Millard and Masser said they are still looking at the potential impacts and solutions to the minimum wage discussion.

Understanding Flood Insurance and Mitigation Programs

Residential and commercial property owners in flood-prone areas of Columbia and Montour counties are facing dramatic increases in flood insurance. The Columbia County Housing and Redevelopment Authority recently received grant dollars to help some homeowners mitigate these higher costs and future flooding risks. Information sessions are scheduled for May 11th to explain the reasons for the insurance increases, and the grant assistance program. In addition to property owners, lenders, realtors, and insurance agents are welcome to attend to learn more.

In 2012, Congress passed the Biggert Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act. This legislation phases out flood insurance subsidies, which impacts many properties in our area that were built prior to the creation of the program. When the subsidies are fully phased out, property owners could be facing premiums many times higher than current rates.

Additionally, FEMA is remapping flood elevations along the Susquehanna River Basin following the flooding in 2011. This is likely to result in many more properties being included in flood zones. The remapped zones are scheduled to take effect in 2018.

The Redevelopment Authority has received funding to help homeowners in some sections of Columbia County to elevate their homes and/or utilities above base flood elevations. There are income guidelines associated with these Federal dollars. The informational sessions will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on May 11th at the Espy Fire Hall to provide additional details, distribute applications, and help residents determine if their properties will be impacted by remapping.

Analysis Highlights Heavy Burden of Wolf’s Budget Proposals

The state’s Independent Fiscal Office released an analysis last week that anticipates the tax increases proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf in his 2016-17 budget plan would generate $2.66 billion for new state spending. This is slightly less than the $2.7 billion that the governor’s budget office estimates would be the full amount of tax hikes under his proposal. The IFO estimates that the proposed retroactive Personal Income Tax increase would generate the most revenue, netting $1.27 billion.

The IFO analysis also examined the impact of the governor’s proposed severance tax – a 6.5 percent levy that maintains the current impact fee but allows drillers to claim impact fee payments as a credit against the severance tax. The IFO notes the significant discount that Marcellus drillers are being paid compared to that of other major national hubs, and projects that this discount will remain in effect for the next several years. Because the governor’s proposal does not allow for deduction of post-production costs, the effective rate of the proposed severance would be the highest among other states that, along with Pennsylvania, lead the country in gas production: Ohio, West Virginia, Texas and Oklahoma.

FO also examined the employment effects of raising the state’s mandated entry wage to $10.15 per hour. The analysis projects a loss of nearly 30,000 jobs due to the increase, with the job losses felt disproportionately by part-time employees, as well as a “slower rate of hiring compared to a counterfactual where minimum wage did not increase.”

The final piece of the 2015-16 budget becomes law following an announcement by the Wolf administration last week that the governor will not veto or sign H.B. 1589, the Fiscal Code Bill. Per the Pennsylvania Constitution, legislation passed by the General Assembly automatically becomes law if the governor does not act on it within 10 days.

PPL Continues to Improve Reliability

PPL_DudkinPPL Electric Utilities has made significant improvements to customer reliability in recent years through line clearing, capital investments, and new technology. Assisted by mild weather, 2015 service reliability was the best in more than 20 years across its 29 county service area. The company plans to invest nearly $1 billion per year over the next five years to further improve reliability.

An overview of the company’s service performance was provided to business and community leaders at the Pine Barn Inn recently by Greg Dudkin, President of PPL Electric Utilities. Mr. Dudkin explained that the company is responsible for transporting electricity from power generation facilities to 1.4 million customers in Pennsylvania. Once a part of PPL Corporation, the power plant at Washingtonville and the Susquehanna Steam Electric Station are now owned by Talen Energy, created in June of last year.

According to Dudkin, PPL customers experienced 30 percent fewer outages than in 2007, with tree-related outages down 37 percent compared to an average of the previous 10 years. The company expects to improve overall reliability another 15 percent. In addition to line clearing, reliability has improved through installation of new lines, rebuilding older lines, and installing technology to allow power to be rerouted automatically in a matter of minutes during an outage. During an outage, customers receive alerts and have access to outage maps and better estimated restoration times. These resources are available at www.pplelectric.com.

Dudkin also talked about their energy conservation programs. In the past six years, customers have saved enough electricity to power over 240,000 homes for a year, and saving $218 million annually. Programs are available for residential, government, non-profit, education, commercial and industrial customers. The company and its employees continue to be highly engaged in the community. More than $2 million has been donated to United Ways by their employees, retirees, and corporate giving. Employees volunteered over 15,000 company-supported hours last year. PPL Corporation has supported over 90 organizations in the Susquehanna region, including the Chamber, its Foundation, and other economic development organizations.

Mr. Dudkin’s presentation is available here.