Chamber Supports Open Meeting Legislation

Legislation under consideration in the PA House of Representatives would require that agendas for public meetings be posted on agency websites at least 24 hours prior to the meeting. With a few exceptions, items not on the published agenda could not be voted upon. The Chamber’s Board of Directors recently expressed support for the bill.

House Bill 1531 would apply to any public agency, including local governments, with a publicly accessible website. Emergency business or minor issues that do not involve the expenditure of funds or entering into a contract or agreement that arise after a published agenda could be acted upon. The legislation was introduced last summer and was reported out of the House Rules Committee in June of this year.

The Chamber Board voted unanimously to support the bill to allow the public to be better informed and offer input on issues. “While meetings of public agencies are open to the public, attending numerous meetings without knowing what is going to be considered is burdensome and typically less productive,” said Fred Gaffney, Chamber president. “Posting agendas online in advance will allow concerned citizens and organizations, including the Chamber, to be better prepared to comment and be more efficient in the decision making process.”

Tax Foundation Report Analyzes PA Tax Code, Offers Recommendations

The PA Chamber unveiled a new study last week, “Pennsylvania: A 21st Century Tax Code for the Commonwealth,” that presents a comparative analysis of the state’s tax structure with other states and provides a menu of policy options to improve Pennsylvania’s tax system and overall competitiveness.

Compiled by the Tax Foundation and funded via a grant from the PA Chamber, the report shows that Pennsylvania relies more heavily on corporate taxes as a revenue source than most other states.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 4.7 percent of Pennsylvania’s state and local tax collections come from the corporate income tax, while the national average is 3.7 percent.  The heavy reliance on volatile corporate taxes can make the state’s budget process more difficult.  The report ranks Pennsylvania 4th among the states in terms of corporate income tax collections, while the state’s corporate income tax structure ranks 7th worst in the nation.

During a media call that was held last week to share some of the report’s key findings and recommendations, PA Chamber Government Affairs Vice President Sam Denisco expressed optimism that elected officials will have an appetite in the upcoming legislative session to adopt some of these much-needed, long-overdue recommendations.  While Denisco acknowledged that strides have been made in recent years to boost the state’s competitiveness, he said that a reduction in Pennsylvania’s 9.99 percent Corporate Net Income Tax rate and a full elimination of the cap on Net Operating Losses would significantly improve the state’s opportunities to attract investment and create jobs.

The report has since been highlighted in stories in the Central Penn Business Journal, Capitolwire and the Pittsburgh Business Times.

“In order to compete in today’s global economy, we need to take a page out of the federal government’s book and take a hard look at the shortcomings within the state’s Tax Code,” Denisco said in a press release.  “This study provides an unbiased analysis of where Pennsylvania ranks compared to other states and offers solutions to streamline and simplify the Tax Code, while at the same time growing the state’s economy.”

Free Trade is Crucial to Pennsylvania’s Economic Prosperity

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

Throughout 2018, Pennsylvania has seen positive economic gains as a result of federal reforms to the nation’s tax structure and regulatory environment. These pro-business changes have helped to strengthen not only the Commonwealth’s competitiveness, but the nation’s as a whole; which has had the ripple effect of increasing employer confidence and boosting private sector growth. However, all of these benefits are at risk of going away due to the threat of a global trade war spurred on by the imposition of tariffs on a variety of goods from countries with which the United States has traditionally enjoyed a strong trade relationship. 

And what does this mean for Pennsylvania? According to data from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a trade war would put $2.2 billion worth of exports at risk – including coffee, motorcycles and steel – and threatens more than 1.6 million jobs in the Commonwealth that are supported by global trade.

Clearly, Pennsylvania has a lot at stake. Nowhere is this more evident than in our trade relationship with Canada – which is critical in advancing the state’s overall economy; generating billions of dollars in economic output and providing thousands of family sustaining jobs. In fact, in 2017, Pennsylvania ranked in the top 10 states providing imports to Ontario alone. I recently joined with my counterpart at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce – Rocco Rossi – to highlight this important trade relationship and call for the renewal of the North American Free Trade Agreement in order to strengthen cross-border trade.

Businesses across the state are already feeling the impacts of the Trump administration’s tariffs. This point was driven home at a recent roundtable meeting where Sen. Pat Toomey joined myself and other business leaders from across the Commonwealth. From timber to steel manufacturing to construction, representatives from a variety of industries spoke of how the tariffs have resulted in increased costs, the loss of sales, fewer export opportunities, and a growing sense of uncertainty with respect to potential future or retaliatory tariffs that is leading them to scale back on or even shelve important projects. Across the state and the country, companies are weighing in on the threat these tariffs are having on their bottom line and their ability to operate and hire new workers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has launched a website that runs a state-by-state analysis of the negative economic impact of the tariffs and encourages business leaders to submit their comments. And Sen. Toomey has co-sponsored legislation that would require Congressional approval of any tariffs that are levied under the guise of national security – a bill that the PA Chamber has signed a letter of support for.

In today’s global marketplace, the strength and long-term prosperity of the United States economy is fortified by American businesses continuing to export goods and services around the world. That’s why we are voicing our concerns about the negative impacts these tariffs, along with any future retaliatory tariffs, may have on the Commonwealth’s economy and continuing to advocate for public policies and initiatives that promote free and fair trade, open investment and regulatory cooperation

As Public Comment Period Closes, Republicans Urge Wolf Administration to Ax Proposed Overtime Regulations

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

As the public comment period on the Wolf administration’s proposed overtime rules drew to a close last week, a group of 15 Republican state lawmakers sent a letter to the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission that called the changes an “administrative nightmare” for employers.

“Employers of all types will have to engage in additional timekeeping and other record keeping to comply,” the letter states.  “Also, employers will have to reclassify many employees and reorganize their operations upon implementation.”  These facts are in line with the concerns that the PA Chamber and employers statewide expressed during the public comment period that ended on Aug. 22.  These concerns mirror the swift, negative reaction that employers had a few years ago when the Obama administration issued proposed changes to overtime rules that were very similar to – but did not even go as far as – the Wolf administration’s proposal.    

First announced by the Wolf administration in January, the proposal – which was unveiled by the state Department of Labor and Industry in June – would raise the wage threshold for “exempt status” to more than double what is currently set by the federal government; along with changes to “duties tests” that determine eligibility; and an automatic update to the salary threshold every three years.  This would have an especially harsh impact among small businesses, nonprofit organizations, higher education institutions and the health service industry, among others. 

The PA Chamber continues to speak out against this flawed proposal, which would harm Pennsylvania’s competitiveness and negatively impact workplace culture and morale, as employees would need to be shifted from earning a salary to being paid by the hour.  This transition typically requires employees to start clocking in and out, along with more burdensome record-keeping, less flexibility, a rigid work schedule and fewer training opportunities and benefits.  These impacts were noted in a letter the PA Chamber coordinated with various industry groups, which had urged the commission to extend the public comment deadline in order to give employers and the public more time to analyze the effect of the overtime changes and weigh in.  

The proposal is currently pending with the Independent Regulatory Review Commission.  Over the next several weeks, IRRC will review the feedback garnered from the public comment period before issuing a final ruling.   

Roundtable Event with Sen. Toomey Focuses on Impact of Trump Tariffs on Businesses

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

PA Chamber President Gene Barr participated last week in a roundtable discussion with U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey for a dialogue about federal trade policies impacting businesses in the Commonwealth.  In addition to Barr, the event – which was held at the PA Manufacturers Association’s offices in Harrisburg – also welcomed PMA President Dave Taylor, business leaders and chambers of commerce. 

Senator Toomey addressed a number of issues, including the importance of maintaining a strong trade relationship with Canada and protecting intellectual property rights. The discussion focused particularly on concerns with the Trump administration’s newly-imposed tariffs, including those imposed on goods from countries with which the United States has traditionally enjoyed a strong trade relationship – including Canada, which is undoubtedly the nation’s closet ally and trade partner.   Toomey mentioned his sponsorship, along with U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-TN, of legislation that would require Congressional approval for the president to invoke tariffs against another country under the guise of national security.  

As highlighted in a Pennlive article on the roundtable, the business leaders in attendance had plenty of stories to share regarding how their industries have been negatively impacted by the tariffs – either through the loss of sales, reduced export opportunities, material costs and a growing sense of uncertainty with respect to potential future tariffs or retaliatory tariffs from the countries being targeted.

For its part, the U.S. Chamber is resolved to educate elected officials, business leaders and the general public about the negative economic impact of these tariffs and launched a website, www.TheWrongApproach.com, which highlights the economic losses that each state could experience through the imposition of these tariffs.  The website’s data shows that an emerging trade war brought on by tariffs threatens to undo the good that was achieved through last year’s Tax Cuts & Jobs Act, along with regulatory reforms that have been implemented since the start of the Trump administration.  Retaliatory tariffs imposed by other countries on U.S. exports will make American-made goods more expensive, resulting in lost sales and potentially 1.6 million lost jobs. In Pennsylvania, $1.7 billion worth of exports are at risk, including coffee, motorcycles, and steel; along with 1,658,100 jobs in the Commonwealth that are supported by global trade.

Have the administration’s tariff decisions had an impact on your business, or do you foresee a future impact?  If so, we’d like to hear from you. Per our international trade and exporting policy, the PA Chamber has traditionally advocated in support of public policy and initiatives that promote free and fair trade, open investment, and regulatory cooperation.  Our organization also recently signed on to a U.S. Chamber-led letter in support of Toomey’s legislation, and raised concerns that unrestricted use of the laws regarding the levying of tariffs – as has been done with the recent steel and aluminum tariffs – could result in retaliatory tariffs from America’s largest trading partners and allies, which would have serious negative economic impacts on the United States.

Comments can be directed to PA Chamber Government Affairs Director Alex Halper  by email or 717-720-5471. Members are also invited to provide information on any impacts of tariffs to Columbia Montour Chamber president Fred Gaffney at 570-784-2522 or email. Information can be kept anonymous at member request.