Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin answered several questions of importance to the state’s business community during a budget hearing last week with the Senate Appropriations Committee.
According to coverage of the hearing by Pennsylvania Legislative Services, one issue raised was how the department plans to help business owners that have been especially hard hit by the pandemic – specifically, the tourism and hospitality industry. Sec. Davin said that DCED’s tourism office has crafted a marketing plan for Pennsylvania that he said would be launching “very soon to get people thinking about Pennsylvania,” and hopefully boost tourism revenue in the near future.
Sec. Davin acknowledged that industry leaders are having a hard time getting people to apply for available jobs. Business leaders statewide have told the PA Chamber they believe this is largely due to pandemic recovery packages that continue to be passed at the federal level and include checks to individual taxpayers, along with the continuation of unemployment benefits to individuals who are out of work. **(see editor’s note below) “We have to build up confidence and get people vaccinated and getting businesses opened up again,” he said. “It is critical; we have to get people back to work. There are going to be a lot of jobs that are going to need to be filled. We need to make sure we do what we can to train them.”
Pennsylvania’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a market-based greenhouse gas reduction program involving several Eastern and Mid-Atlantic states, was also discussed at the hearing. Sec. Davin stated his belief that market forces – not regulation – were what led to the closure of 14 coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania over the last 10 years. He added that DCED received funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to craft “playbooks” for communities that will be impacted by plant closures. Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, agreed that market forces are at play but emphasized that RGGI will indeed lead to the premature closure of plants. “We will not have the ability to get ahead of it as you suggest. I continue to ask for the plan, the outcomes to replace these losses … [these plants] are already deferring maintenance which means that job losses are occurring in the trade unions because of the discussion of this,” he said.
Committee Chairman Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, noted that in 2000, DCED was receiving $600 million from the General Assembly and questioned why the agency isn’t requesting a larger budget for FY 2021-22, given the governor’s tax increase proposal, in order to grow the state’s revenue capacity. When Sec. Davin replied that he is trying to be respectful of the budget process, Sen. Browne replied that the governor is proposing $1.5 billion in spending for primary and secondary education. “I understand you’re trying to respect everyone else’s requests but the governor is asking for a significant increase in revenue and … you’re not asking for any additional dollars that would support your programs that would increase investments in the Commonwealth and therefore grow the economy,” he said.
Chairman Browne also said the natural gas severance tax proposal has not gained enough support by the General Assembly to pass, and the new federal stimulus provides an opportunity to do significant work on the broadband issue. “It’s likely we will have more dollars, $7.3 billion, than we need to balance our books. We will have an opportunity to use a significant piece of this, in the hundreds of millions of dollars range, for a significant, real broadband investment in this Commonwealth … I would suggest if you want to consider it along with the executive and the budget secretary that we consider using a substantial part of the dollars that are available to us that are not needed for fiscal relief as a means to invest and advance in a significant broadband initiative in this Commonwealth,” he stated.
*Editor’s note – This story has been updated to clarify that it is the business community’s belief that continued financial relief and unemployment compensation benefits are the catalyst behind fewer people applying for available jobs. Sec. Davin did not say that as part of his remarks. We apologize for any confusion the original article may have caused.