#PaBudget2020: Innovative workforce solutions, pro-growth policies needed to move Pa. forward | Opinion

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By Gene Barr

As 2020-21 budget negotiations get underway, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry is calling on state elected officials to continue the positive momentum from last year and focus on pro-growth policies that will improve the economy and increase private sector job opportunities across the Commonwealth.

Workforce development continues to be a top priority for the PA Chamber.  As noted in the PA Chamber’s most recent Annual Economic Survey, finding qualified workers to fill current job openings continues to be the leading concern for employers from across the state.

This is an issue that impacts businesses of all sizes across all industry sectors.  And it’s one that’s preventing the Commonwealth from moving forward. The past year – including the enactment of a first-of-its-kind “Clean Slate” Act — has demonstrated the powerful impact of lawmakers working in a bipartisan fashion, and we need to continue this momentum in the year ahead.

There is no “silver bullet” solution to addressing the state’s workforce challenges – rather, a multi-pronged approach focusing on a variety of areas, including barriers to work and the skills gap needs to be taken.

To that end, we are in our fourth year of internal efforts via our “Start the Conversation Here” initiative (through which we recently launched an online “career calculator” aimed at helping Pennsylvania students make informed post-secondary education decisions) and external efforts – which includes joining with a broad coalition of organizations and lawmakers to find common ground on workforce barriers via criminal justice reform and changes to the state’s occupational licensure system.

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Additionally, I am proud to continue serving as co-chair on the governor’s Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center.

The Command Center is charged with finding innovative solutions for the private and public sectors to collectively ensure Pennsylvania has a trained and qualified 21st century workforce. Just last week, the Command Center’s initial report was released – which included 42 recommendations to address employment barriers.

While workforce development is a key component to making Pennsylvania more attractive to potential investors, more must be done.

In order for Pennsylvania to compete on a global scale, elected officials must pursue pro-growth policies that will improve the state’s overall business climate.

Pennsylvania’s corporate tax structure – including our corporate net income tax rate, which is one of the highest in the nation – continues to send major red flags to job creators looking for the best place to possibly invest or grow their companies. State tax reform is long overdue.  In order to compete in the global marketplace, Pennsylvania job creators need a tax structure that is based on the principles of competitiveness, fairness, predictability and simplicity.

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Additionally, government mandates – including unbalanced labor laws and a burdensome regulatory environment — increase the cost of doing business.

The PA Chamber remains concerned about several policy proposals pushed by the Wolf administration in the week prior to the budget address, including an aggressive hike of the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour; a change to Pennsylvania’s overtime rules and an additional tax on the natural gas industry.

As I stated in a recent press release, these policies will create significant burdens on job creators, could lead to job loss and will hurt the state’s overall competitive edge.

As the budget process unfolds over the coming months, we are encouraging lawmakers to pursue smart public policies that will truly signal to the private sector that Pennsylvania is “open for business” – which in turn will lead to additional private sector job opportunities and an increase in state revenue collections.

Gene Barr is the president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. He writes from Harrisburg.