It’s budget time in Harrisburg.
Upper Bucks Chamber of Commerce set the table for a state budget and services update to area business and community members in its second of three legislative breakfasts held April 12 at McCoole’s Arts & Events Place in Quakertown.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed $34.2 billion spending plan does not increase the Personal Income Tax (PIT) or state sales tax. The budget is about 2.8 percent, or roughly $927 million over last year’s, said state Rep. Craig Staats (R-Bucks).
Staats was joined by State Senators Bob Mensch (R-24th district) and Steve Santarsiero (D-10th district).
Spurring economic growth is a “hot topic” not just in local gathering spots, business meetings or around dinner tables, but in the Harrisburg Rotunda, too.
Staats said reducing Pennsylvania’s corporate income tax was a top priority “if we want to be competitive,” Staats said.
Pennsylvania’s 9.99 percent tax levy is among the highest state corporate income tax rates in the nation, Staats said. The proposed reduction to 8.99 percent, with incremental decreases to the tax in future budgets, is a start.
Staats believes reducing the corporate income tax is a key to attracting new and retaining existing businesses and investment.
Another impact to the commonwealth’s growth is a proposal to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $12 per hour, with incremental increases to $15 per hour over time.
So far the hourly increase doesn’t seem popular with tip workers, who currently earn about $2.83 per hour and make up the difference in tips, earned either table-side or from bartending, he said.
Santarsiero said he supported increasing the minimum wage, but it shouldn’t be seen as a policy to spur economic growth.
“From the state level there needs to be investment” in public education and greater tuition relief to attend college along with a fresh approach to funding it. Funding schools with property taxes is a burden on property owners… [and it] hurts economic growth,” Santarsiero said.
He said the state could take an active role in supporting career paths other than four-year college educations, which often leave students saddled with heavy debt.
“We have to get past this idea that every kid has to go to college,” Santarsiero said.
Pennsylvania spends about 80 percent of its budget on education and human services, Staats said.
Legislators are also considering a proposal for a sliding fee scale to help fund municipal state police coverage to those without local police departments.
A drop off of emergency medical services or EMS volunteers, which include ambulance and fire departments, are a state-wide concern amid a declining trend of fewer recruits.
Mensch said state and local government as well as the business community needed to explore ways to make volunteering with EMS and fire departments attractive once more.
“In 1970 there were 300,000 firefighters, and today there are [about] 38,000,” Mensch said.
The third and final legislative breakfast series concludes May 31 with Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick offering the “State of the Nation”. Fitzpatrick is a Republican Congressman serving Pennsylvania’s 8th congressional district. For information visit www.ubcc.org/events.
Upper Bucks Chamber of Commerce
An economic development agency for Upper Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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