Chamber officials, lawmakers press for more aggressive permitting reform

by JOHN FINNERTY, Capitolwire

HARRISBURG – State and federal chamber officials joined with lawmakers Tuesday to call for further action to reform permitting processes in the state, arguing that Pennsylvania remains at a competitive disadvantage due to the amount of time it takes businesses to get the state’s OK to begin projects.

State Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York, said that she has a constituent who moved his business to West Virginia because he’d wanted to expand the facility and he was able to get the new facility built and open in less time in West Virginia then he would get permits to get started in Pennsylvania.

Luke Bernstein, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry said a similar circumstance helped prompt US Steel to decide to open 900-job facility in Arkansas instead of Pennsylvania.

“Pennsylvania needs to be more competitive,” Bernstein said.

They were part of a call with reporters Tuesday that also involved representatives of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and labor groups.

Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, made permitting reform one of his first priorities after taking office earlier this year. That order dictated that agencies set deadlines in which they will provide permits or the applicants will be refunded their application fee. Earlier this month, the governor’s office announced that as part of the administration’s efforts to improve the state government’s online services, the Department of Environmental Protection is working to shift more permit applications online.

“Currently, only 3% of DEP applications and permitting licenses are submitted online,” according to an Aug. 15 press release from the governor’s office.

Bernstein said that the administration’s efforts haven’t gone far enough.

“People don’t want their money back, they want their permit,” he said, adding that the state suffers from a “dysfunctional and unpredictable permitting process.”

Bernstein said the state needs the kind of reforms spelled out in Senate Bill 350, which passed the state Senate in May, but has yet to move in the state House.

Among the reforms included in that legislation would be a provision requiring agencies to create online systems for applicants to track the status of their permit applications.

Bernstein noted that people who order pizza online can track the progress of their dinner but permit applicants don’t get the same kind of service from the state government.

Senate Bill 350 also includes provisions that would require state agencies to notify applicants within 10 days if their permit application is incomplete and to notify applicants within 20 days if there is a technical deficiency in the application.

Addressing Workforce Challenges in Rural PA

Last week, PA Chamber Director of Government Affairs Kevin Sunday testified on the ongoing workforce challenges that employers face in the Commonwealth’s rural communities during a public hearing at Penn College hosted by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania.

The hearing brought together leaders from Pennsylvania’s energy and healthcare sectors as well as educators, agency officials, and nonprofit associations. Participants included PA Chamber members UPMC, Coterra Energy, Penn College, Penn State, Shippensburg University, and the University of Pittsburgh. Senator Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) – who also serves as the Center for Rural Pennsylvania’s board chairman – chaired the hearing.

During his testimony, Sunday emphasized the importance of improving Pennsylvania’s economic competitiveness through favorable tax and regulatory policies. “Our goal at the PA Chamber is to make Pennsylvania the most economically competitive state in the nation. This requires a tax and regulatory environment that encourages investment into the state,” Sunday said.

He also highlighted the need for modernized infrastructure to support economic growth throughout Pennsylvania. “We need modernized infrastructure across the state – from a safe and efficient system of roads and bridges to world-class airports and ports, to reliable gas, electric, and water infrastructure, and, just as important, access to high-speed broadband.”

Sunday also discussed recent legislative achievements, including the Senate’s advancement of comprehensive permitting and licensing reform legislation (S.B. 350) and tax reform measures (S.B. 345 and 346) that accelerate reduction of the state’s corporate net income tax and enhance businesses’ ability to carry forward net operating losses into future years, respectively.

The PA Chamber also supports efforts to improve the state’s workforce by addressing key barriers such as affordable childcare, occupational licensing requirements, and re-entry into the workforce after incarceration. In his testimony, Sunday reiterated the Chamber’s support for expanding Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate law and efforts to improve childcare for working families.

With Pennsylvania’s population decline being another major concern in the hearing, Sunday’s written testimony cited IRS data demonstrating that residents are leaving Pennsylvania for states with better economic climates. Sunday recommended targeted regional marketing efforts and greater collaboration with local chambers of commerce and economic development groups as a solution to help attract more residents to the Commonwealth.

Sunday urged policymakers to focus on creating an environment that attracts investment and promotes population growth. “We encourage the Center to take a close look at regional economic needs and population migration trends. Reforms to the state’s tax and regulatory structure help everywhere, but it is certainly the case that each region of the state has its own key industries.”

Sunday concluded his testimony by restating the PA Chamber’s commitment to working with stakeholders including the governor’s office, state legislature, and local communities to help move Pennsylvania forward.

Sunday’s full written testimony is available here. To watch his remarks, click here.