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Elected officials representing Columbia and Montour counties discussed issues of interest to the business community with members of the Chamber and Visitors Bureau recently. Senator John Gordner, Representative David Millard, and Harold Hurst with Representative Kurt Masser’s office met with the Joint Government Affairs Committee in early January. Topics included tourism funding, energy policy, group health plans, and workers comp reforms.
With forty-three new representatives and seven new senators being sworn in to office on Jan. 1, Governor Wolf will take the oath for his second term on Jan. 15. The Governor will then deliver his budget address in early February. Aiding the budget process for the coming year will be revenue collections which are currently ahead of estimates. Sales tax revenues through December were $163.2 million, or 3 percent, above estimates, and corporate tax revenues were up $294.6 million, or 21.6%, ahead of projections. Both Gordner and Millard noted the strength in the economy and sales taxes from online retailers as contributing to the positive numbers.
Capturing revenues through online lodging booking sites as well as services like Airbnb could also provide additional funding for statewide tourism promotion. Representative Millard was reappointed Chair of the House Tourism and Recreational Development Committee and spoke about the need for more funding at the state level. He did not have an estimate on how much additional revenue could be realized for marketing.
Millard also expects to co-sponsor legislation in the House to support the State’s nuclear power industry. In November, the Nuclear Energy Caucus released a report detailing the challenges of the industry in Pennsylvania, and suggesting options for keeping nuclear plants viable. Senator Gordner is co-sponsoring a Senate bill that would provide clean energy tax credits. Any legislation would need to be signed by the Governor by June to avoid the premature closure of a plant in Beaver County.
Another topic of discussion was the Wolf Administration’s stance on association health plans. In mid-2018, a federal rule change allowed businesses to band together for the purposes of negotiating health insurance rates. This would allow the Chamber to once again offer health insurance options for small and medium-sized employers. However, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General is among twelve in the nation attempting to block the change, and the State Insurance Department is also taking a stringent stance which prevents pricing benefits from being realized. Gordner and Millard asked for more information on the issue in order to question representatives of the administration.
One action approved by the Governor in 2018 is saving businesses money. The passage and enactment of H.B. 1840, significant workers’ comp legislation, provides a fix to a state Supreme Court decision in the Protz v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board case, which has been financially detrimental to employers. In 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court removed Impairment Rating Evaluations from the law, which for more than 20 years has provided a structured process for state-designated physicians to determine a patient’s level of impairment and how long wage-loss benefits should be paid. As a result of the ruling, the Pennsylvania Compensation Rating Bureau took the unprecedented action of filing for a mid-year loss cost increase, which industry experts conservatively estimated was costing employers hundreds of millions of dollars each year in higher insurance costs. The PA Chamber of Business & Industry had been advocating for the fix.
Gordner, Millard, and Masser will be invited to participate in the annual state legislative breakfast briefing with the general membership in the spring.