With 2017 drawing to a close and the legislature recessed until after the New Year, now is a great time for the PA Chamber to assess our accomplishments on behalf of our membership this year and look toward our ongoing goals for 2018.
We were happy to see a lot get accomplished in 2017 that will help to bolster business investment and job growth and move our economy forward – including a budget that didn’t impose the up to $1 billion in new tax hikes that were proposed during a months-long impasse. One of the PA Chamber’s top priorities also got addressed this year, with a public pension reform law that is a great first step to putting the state and public school employees’ retirement plans back on the track to sustainability. And we’ve seen success on the education front, too – first, with a new law that replaces an antiquated, seniority-based system for teacher furloughs with a performance-based model in order to keep the highest quality educators in the classroom; and second, with a $10 million boost to the popular and effective Educational Improvement Tax Credit program that allows businesses to contribute toward scholarships to help students in low-performing school districts attend schools that better suit their academic needs.
As much as we have to celebrate, a lot of work still lies ahead. One of our major goals in 2018 will be implementing a workers’ compensation drug formulary, in which doctors writing prescriptions that are not FDA-approved or otherwise demonstrated to be effective must at least explain why the prescription is needed for the patient. This legislative action is especially necessary as the state finds itself in the middle of an opioid abuse crisis. In fact, in a recent 25-state study, Pennsylvania ranked third compared to other states for opioid use among injured workers between the years 2012-2014, measuring 78 percent higher than the median study state. Formularies are a proven way to combat this problem. For example, in the three years after Ohio implemented its formulary in 2011, the number of opioid prescriptions declined by 38 percent and the number of workers’ compensation patients considered opioid dependent was reduced by half. The bottom line is this – Pennsylvania needs a drug formulary to help combat opioid abuse among injured workers and get them healthy and back to work as soon as we can (Note: The Columbia Montour Chamber formally supports this proposed legislation).
We also continue to monitor ongoing calls from some legislators to enforce an additional tax on the natural gas industry. This issue, which we continue to lead a coalition against because another severance tax would hurt Pennsylvania’s business climate and drive jobs and economic opportunities to other states in the shale play, was a major point of contention in the House in the waning days of 2017. It’s an issue we expect to be hotly debated as 2018 – a gubernatorial election year – approaches. Voters will see a marked difference between Gov. Wolf’s stance on this issue (he’s been calling for a severance tax since he first campaigned in 2014) and the four Republican gubernatorial candidates, one of whom he’ll ultimately face off against in the fall. There’s no doubt that the governor will call for a severance tax yet again when he gives his budget address in February, and rest assured that we’ll stay vigilant in our efforts to fight against it.
We will also be continuing our workforce efforts to address the growing jobs skills gap in the Commonwealth. In 2018, we are pleased to feature several workforce related events – including three new webinars that will take a deeper look at programs offered by the state; as well as innovative solutions created by various private sector companies to ensure there is a pipeline of qualified candidates ready for the in-demand jobs across the Commonwealth (Note: The Columbia Montour Chamber is also planning to roll out several workforce development initiatives in 2018).
These are just a few of the many issues we will be closely monitoring over the next year. For more information on our legislative agenda and our workforce efforts, visit our website at www.PAChamber.org.