On behalf of a broad-based membership that is nearly 10,000 strong, the PA Chamber has crafted a 2019 legislative agenda that aims to generate cost savings for employers; encourages their growth and hiring potential; and offers them the fairness and predictability they deserve when doing business in Pennsylvania. We have been proud to carry out the mission of building a stronger economic foundation for more than 100 years by working with our members, local chamber partners and pro-business lawmakers across the state on public policies that will boost the Commonwealth’s competitiveness and improve the quality of life for all Pennsylvanians.
A year of strong revenue collections aided in the passage of a responsible spending plan for the 2019-20 Fiscal Year that put significant savings ($319 million) in the state’s Rainy Day Fund to help the Commonwealth better withstand future economic downturns. However, growing cost-drivers continue to put a strain on the state’s General Fund. Among the Commonwealth’s highest fiscal obligations is the state’s public pension payments in both the State Employees Retirement System and the Public School Employees Retirement System – as you can see on the accompanying chart, pensions as a share of school district expenses grew a whopping 418.6 percent from the 2010-11 school year to 2016-17.
The PA Chamber is advocating for further reforms to the pension systems that will address the state’s enormous unfunded liability. During 2019-20 budget negotiations, we also worked with lawmakers to ensure a spending plan that didn’t place undue tax burdens on the state’s business community or individual taxpayers.. Our organization continues to promote these sound fiscal policies as the best way to keep Pennsylvania’s positive economic momentum going strong.
“One-size-fits-all” policies that govern labor relations and employment rules in Pennsylvania often fail to consider adverse impacts on employers. The PA Chamber supports public policy that helps facilitate a fair work environment without triggering unintended consequences that hurt employers.
In terms of our workers’ compensation and unemployment compensation systems, the PA Chamber supports policies that root out fraud and abuse and ensures the solvency of these systems, so that they can remain temporary safety nets for injured workers and those who lose their job through no fault of their own and are actively searching for work.
We oppose excessive mandates and artificial wage inflators – like “feel good” minimum wage mandates that unnecessarily increase the cost of doing business and lead to reduced hours, less hiring opportunities and, in some cases, force businesses to close their doors. The PA Chamber also supports legislation that levels the playing field between unions and private sector employers, allowing business owners ample time to communicate the pros and cons of unionism to their workers; as well as ending the practice of compulsory union membership as a condition of employment. We also stand opposed to any bills that would force one-size-fits all labor laws onto businesses in the Commonwealth, including overtime mandates that could lead to significant cost increases for businesses and damage workplace culture and morale.
Among Pennsylvania’s greatest assets are our vast natural resources. Since the shale gas industry arrived in the Commonwealth about a decade ago, companies have generated more than $1.7 billion for state coffers through a competitive impact tax, provided hundreds of thousands of good paying jobs, created an economic renaissance in many towns that were previously struggling and set Pennsylvania up to be a mass exporter of natural gas for generations to come. Despite these benefits, the natural gas industry remains among the top targets for taxation, year after year. Excessive regulation and delayed infrastructure development are also preventing our energy markets from reaching their full potential.
On this issue, the PA Chamber is engaged across multiple fronts – from leading a broad coalition against additional proposed taxes on the natural gas industry; to weighing in at the federal level in support of streamlined and simplified regulatory policies; to promoting legislation at the state level that helps Pennsylvania achieve both economic development AND environmental protection.
When one of the major cities in your state has been dubbed a “Judicial Hellhole,” it underlies the necessity for reform. The American Tort Reform Association’s most recent “Judicial Hellhole” report listed Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas as the 6th worst in the nation for the number of mass tort cases flooding the system; an overall lack of legal reform that’s allowed trial lawyers to take advantage of loopholes; a pro-plaintiff slant in the Court; and so much more.
The PA Chamber is a champion for lawsuit abuse reform, having been the driving force behind 2011’s Joint and Several Liability Law that has helped prevent plaintiffs’ lawyers from going after “deep pocket defendants” in civil cases regardless of their degree of fault.
Chief among our 2019 legal reform priorities is venue reform, which aims to prevent plaintiffs’ attorneys from filing cases in jurisdictions where there is no tie to the plaintiff or defendant. According to the “Judicial Hellholes” report, Philadelphia is well known to be a “hotbed for asbestos litigation,” ranking fourth nationwide in 2017 with 263 new filings. The PA Chamber is also focused on reforming the state’s current system of assessing responsibility for damages in asbestos-related suits. Our organization is proud to be engaged with the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform in helping to bring employers the predictability and certainty in the state’s legal climate that they want and deserve.
Back in 2016, the PA Chamber heard from our members - both anecdotally and through a workforce survey - that they were having difficulty finding job candidates with the necessary skills and training to fill open positions. This information came at the same time that the PA Chamber was celebrating its 100th anniversary, which is why workforce development became a central part of our mission as we headed into a second century of operation.
The jobs skills gap still exists, as evidenced through our 28th Annual Economic Survey that was conducted last year. For the first time ever employers’ concerns about not having the candidates with the skills to do the job ranked as the number one issue that keeps them up at night.
Realizing that while there are a lot of people without jobs, there are also a lot of jobs without people, the PA Chamber’s “Start the Conversation HERE” initiative is tackling this problem on multiple fronts. First, through a comprehensive website – StartTheConversationHere.com – we’re educating the business community, students and their families, and school officials about the jobs that are available in the trades and the education and training that is necessary to obtain them. Secondly, we just wrapped up a second year of teaming with the mikeroweWORKS Foundation to raise and distribute dollars for Work Ethic Scholarships, which have the triple benefit of preparing students for a great career; providing employers with the workers they need; and building the skilled workforce that Pennsylvania needs to compete in the global economy.
In addition, our organization supports legislation that broadens the scope of individuals who are able to pursue good paying jobs. Last session, we backed and Gov. Tom Wolf signed bipartisan “Clean Slate” legislation that provides a mechanism for low-level, non-violent offenders to have their previous records sealed from public view, thereby giving them a better chance at securing employment.
We encourage you to visit our workforce website to read up on our mission and our successes thus far; and learn how you can help be a part of the skills-gap solution with a tax-deductible donation toward the 2019 Work Ethic Scholarship.