From PA Chamber of Business & Industry
The 2019-20 state legislative session has started out much like the one before it – with a divided government. The state House and Senate remain under Republican control and the Executive Branch is still led by Democrats, with Gov. Tom Wolf being sworn in last month for his second term. However, there are some differences in the political dynamic. Last November’s General Election resulted in losses for some moderate Republicans, which has led to a smaller and more conservative Republican majorities and larger and more ideologically liberal Democratic caucuses.
But these differences weren’t the focus of Gov. Wolf’s Inaugural speech last month, when he focused on bridging political divides to get things done for the betterment of all Pennsylvania’s citizens. The PA Chamber is also taking this optimistic approach this session, realizing that there are many areas for improvement in the Commonwealth that everyone – regardless of political party – can be in favor of.
Building a Skilled Workforce
One area is in workforce development. Pennsylvania businesses are facing a workforce crisis. In our most recent Economic Survey, our members’ number one concern was finding skilled and qualified employees to fill open positions and actively seeking solutions that will help close the skills gap in PA. The Pennsylvania Chamber is taking the lead across the state, responding to the needs of the state’s job creators. We have named workforce development as our top priority and have launched a major grassroots initiative to help bridge the gap between Pennsylvania employers’ current and future employment needs and the skills of today’s workforce: Start the Conversation HERE.
Through this program we are collaborating with educators, developing solutions-based workforce programs, highlighting company success stories and providing resources describing how businesses can develop programs to attract the talent they need in Pennsylvania. We are spotlighting student success stories and the steps they took to reach their achievements, and raising awareness of the jobs that are in-demand in the state, describing the occupations, the education and skills needed and the salary potential they offer. And we’re also in our third year of teaming up with the mikeroweWORKS Foundation, in which—through the generosity of Pennsylvania businesses—we have donated more than $200,000 in Work Ethic Scholarships to 70 Pennsylvania students who have chosen to pursue careers in the skilled trades.
On the legislative side, we stood last session with a bipartisan group of lawmakers and the governor as he signed a “Clean Slate” bill – a first-of-its-kind measure that provides a mechanism for people with low-level, non-violent criminal offenses to have those records sealed from public view. This gives them a better chance at securing a better paying job and housing, which allows them to become productive members of society and lower their chances of recidivism.
Building a More Competitive Economy
There are other areas in which we are excited to work across the aisle this session. In last week’s Inaugural speech, Gov. Wolf referenced Amazon, the Seattle-based mega-corporation that ultimately decided to split a second headquarters between New York City and outside of Washington, D.C. instead of Pittsburgh or Philadelphia (the two cities were among the final contenders). The governor said he wants Pennsylvania to be a place where “we don’t wait around for Amazon to move here, because we’re building the next Amazon.” This is where the PA Chamber’s influence, through the support of our members, can make all the difference. Our business is in ensuring that for businesses of all sizes, the Commonwealth is the best possible place to invest, grow and hire. That’s why last session, we secured $2 billion in savings for our members by working to defeat a number of proposals that would have raised business costs; while also helping to enact money-saving initiatives (i.e., bonus depreciation and workers’ compensation reform) that are encouraging employers to make investments in their facilities, their workers and in new hires.
It’s true that a lot of work lies ahead to secure Pennsylvania’s reputation as the best possible place for business growth. Throughout our more than 100 year history, our job has been to work closely with elected officials to ensure that they understand the needs of business owners who are committed to building a brighter economic future, through smart public policies that don’t favor Republicans or Democrats, but ALL Pennsylvanians.