On behalf of a broad-based membership that is nearly 10,000 strong, the PA Chamber has crafted a 2020 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.
Workforce. It’s an issue that is central to the PA Chamber’s mission and one Pennsylvania employers have listed as their No. 1 top-of-mind issue for the second year in a row -- as a jobs skills gap exists between the positions that are available and the qualifications that job seekers are able to offer.
An issue that was first raised in 2016, our most recent 29th Annual Economic Survey identifies workforce as the private sector’s leading concern. That’s why our goal is to be proactive – both through our internal “Start the Conversation HERE” initiative and through bipartisan legislation – to help close the jobs skills gap and arm more Pennsylvanians with the information and connections they need to forge a bright career path and collectively become a world-class, 21st century workforce.
The PA Chamber 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’re also supporting a number of other bills in the 2019-20 session that aim to facilitate reentry programs and would offer more people a second chance at obtaining a job in their chosen field. This includes legislation that would reform Pennsylvania’s occupational licensing process by establishing a more uniform standard, which would help applicants with a criminal record avoid rejection when applying for a state-issued occupational license, helping them to obtain employment and re-enter the workforce. These measures are a key piece in the puzzle to tackling our state’s workforce development issues.
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.
Last year, strong revenue collections aided in the passage of a responsible spending plan that put significant savings ($319 million) in the state’s Rainy Day Fund to help the Commonwealth better withstand future economic downturns. However, while the economy continues to perform at higher levels than expected this year, it isn’t growing at the rate that the Wolf administration has proposed to spend in Fiscal Year 2020-21. The governor’s spending plan proposes a 6 percent, or $36.1 billion, increase over what was enacted last June.
Fiscally conservative lawmakers have already voiced concerns about the administration wanting to spend more than the state is bringing in, and cost-drivers continue to put a strain on the state’s General Fund. Among the Commonwealth’s highest fiscal obligations is public pension obligations 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 626.8 percent from the 2009-2010 school year to 2017-18.
Throughout the 2020-21 budget negotiation process, the PA Chamber will be advocating for a responsible and efficient state spending. We are urging lawmakers to exhaust all opportunities for cost-savings in order to avoid placing undue tax burdens on the state’s business community or individual tax payers; and advocating for various pro-growth policies that will send the message to potential investors that Pennsylvania is open for business.
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 the 2019-20 session, our organization has been strongly opposing a Wolf administration effort to greatly expand the state’s overtime eligibility rules. The overtime proposal, which was approved by the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission in January 2020, would dramatically expand -- both in the near-term and automatically going forward – the scope of employees eligible for overtime pay, or time-and-a-half for any hours worked over 40 in a week – a move that many employers have indicated they cannot afford and would force them to convert salaried employees into hourly positions so that hours can be closely monitored and overtime avoided. The PA Chamber has been a key stakeholder on this issue and is encouraging both chambers of the General Assembly to issue disapproval resolutions of the changes, as overtime mandates could lead to significant cost increases for businesses and damage workplace culture and morale.
In terms of our workers’ compensation and unemployment compensation systems, the PA Chamber supports policies that root out fraud and abuse and ensure 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. Additionally, the PA Chamber advocates for public policy that focuses on improving outcomes for injured workers while also helping to address cost-drivers in the workers’ compensation system. The PA Chamber opposes any erosion of employer rights and protections under the state’s WC law and also opposes any weakening of the “exclusivity doctrine” of workers’ compensation.
We also oppose excessive mandates and artificial wage inflators 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.
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 the nation’s worst “Judicial Hellhole,” it really serves as a wake-up call that reforms are needed NOW. The American Tort Reform Association’s most recent “Judicial Hellhole” report listed Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas as the No. 1 WORST in the nation for the number of mass tort cases flooding the system – particularly from out-of-state plaintiffs; 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. ATRA releases its Judicial Hellholes report each year as a “wake-up call” for government officials to stop unscrupulous trial lawyers from taking advantage of legal loopholes in court systems nationwide. The excessive tort costs that plague these systems result in thousands of jobs lost and billions of dollars lost in personal income each year. In addition to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was also spotlighted by ATRA this year as a court that should be watched closely by lawmakers due to troubling recent decisions.
The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas’ leap from 6th on the “judicial hellholes” list to No. 1 over the last year is due mainly to the sheer number of tort cases that inundate the city’s judicial system and result in high-dollar judgements and settlements from deep pocket defendants. Among the most infamous verdicts the court has handed down is the recent, $8 billion verdict against Johnson & Johnson in the case regarding the medication, Risperdal, for which the litigation has grown to nearly 7,000 cases or two-thirds of the court’s inventory. In the wake of this egregious ruling – and the fact that 86 percent of new pharmaceutical cases before the Court are from out-of-state – the PA Chamber has stepped up its call for venue reform that would prevent plaintiffs’ attorneys from filing cases in jurisdictions where there is no tie to the plaintiff or defendant.
In addition to urging lawmakers to support venue reform legislation, the PA Chamber continues to speak in favor of merit selection of appellate judges, among other reforms outlined in our official civil justice policy; and we are actively engaged in the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform.