Workforce challenges in rural communities subject of public hearing

Workforce challenges faced by employers in rural communities were voiced by PA Chamber Director of Government Affairs Kevin Sunday this week in a public hearing hosted by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. 

Held at Penn College, the hearing included participants from PA Chamber members, UPMC, University of Pittsburgh, Penn State, Coterra Energy, Shippensburg University, and Penn College. Leaders from Pennsylvania’s energy and healthcare sectors along with agency officials, educators, and nonprofit associations were also on hand. 

Sunday testified on workforce challenges in rural communities, highlighting the importance of improving Pennsylvania’s economic competitiveness through favorable tax and regulatory policies. He said the PA Chamber’s goal is to make Pennsylvania the most economically competitive state in the country. 

“This requires a tax and regulatory environment that encourages investment into the state,” Sunday said in a release. 

Sunday emphasized the need to support economic growth across Pennsylvania through modernized infrastructure. 

“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,” he said.

Sunday restated the chamber’s support for efforts to improve Pennsylvania’s workforce by addressing key issues such as affordable childcare, occupational licensing requirements, re-entry into the workforce following incarceration, and childcare for working families.

Noting Pennsylvania’s population decline, Sunday called for policymakers to focus on creating an environment in the state promotes population growth and attracts investment. Citing IRS data showing that businesses and citizens are leaving Pennsylvania for states with better economic climates, he urged a close look at regional economic needs and population migration trends.

“Reforms to the state’s tax and regulatory structure help everywhere,” said Sunday, “but it is certainly the case that each region of the state has its own key industries.”

Sunday reiterated the PA Chamber’s commitment to working with the Shapiro Administration, state legislature, local communities, and other key stakeholders to deal with Pennsylvania’s workforce challenges.

Pa. revenue increased more than $51 million in April

Pennsylvania’s revenue for April increased $51.1 million to $5.7 billion, Acting Revenue Secretary Pat Browne reported Monday. 

The amount was 0.9% above estimate. Fiscal year-to-date General Fund collections total $37.9 billion, which is $1.2 billion or 3.3% more than anticipated. 

Sales tax receipts totaled $1.2 billion for the month, $43.1 million above estimate. Year-to-date sales tax collections total $11.7 billion, which is $227.6 million, or 2.0%, more than anticipated. 

April’s personal income tax (PIT) revenue was $2.9 billion, $322.0 million below estimate. This brings year-to-date PIT collections to $14.9 billion, which is $406.4 million, or 2.7%, below what was anticipated.

The corporation tax revenue of $992.1 million for the month was $261.3 million above estimate. Year-to-date corporation tax collections total $7.2 billion, which is $1.1 billion, or 18.7%, above expectations.

April’s inheritance tax revenue totaled $118.7 million, $5.5 million more than anticipated, bringing the year-to-date total to $1.3 billion, which is $36.4 million, or 3.0%, above estimate.

Realty transfer tax revenue was $41.9 million for the month, $21.8 million below estimate, bringing the fiscal-year total to $528.9 million, which is $95.4 million, or 15.3%, less than expected.

Other General Fund tax revenue, including cigarette, malt beverage, liquor and gaming taxes, totaled $61.9 million for April, $18.5 million more than expected. This brings the year-to-date total to $1.4 billion, which is $12.6 million, or 0.9%, above estimate.

The non-tax revenue for the month totaled $310 million, $66.4 million more than expected, bringing the year-to-date total to $986.2 million, which is $286.8 million, or 41%, above estimate.

Along with General Fund collections, the Motor License Fund received $291 million for April, which was $4.5 million below estimate. Fiscal year-to-date collections for the fund – which include gas and diesel taxes, as well as other license, fine and fee revenues – total $2.4 billion, which is $66 million, or 2.8%, more than anticipated. 

Best gas station food? Survey says it’s Wawa

Wawa beats out other gas stations nationwide for having the best food, in a new survey from Payless Power.

The suburban Philadelphia-based convenience store chain, which is expanding farther into central Pennsylvania as well as other states, was the top choice in this category among 1,011 Americans asked about their gas station preferences.

Costco and Sheetz, which also have a presence in the region, did well, too.

Some other highlights from the survey:

· Overall, Costco was No. 1, Sam’s Club No. 3, Wawa No. 4 and Sheetz No. 5 in the ranking of America’s best stops.

· Costco was the cleanest and cheapest gas station. Wawa was fourth cleanest.

· Wawa had the most spent on each visit on average, $84.46, and the shortest average time, 16 minutes.

· Sheetz and Costco ranked third and fourth, respectively, as having the best food.

Of the 57% men and 43% women surveyed, 10% were baby boomers, 22% were Gen X, 43% were millennials and 25% were Gen Z.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Pennsylvania’s gas tax to jump 3.5 cents in 2023

For Pennsylvania drivers, gas at the pump may soon cost more, thanks to a 2013 state law enacted to fund road and bridge improvements.

The commonwealth’s gas tax is scheduled to rise 3.5 cents in 2023, an increase levied on wholesalers that will likely be passed on consumers.

From the current 57.6 cents per gallon, the tax will rise to 61.1 cents per gallon next year, according to a notice in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.

Meanwhile, the tax on diesel fuel is set to climb from 74.1 cents per gallon to to 78.5 cents per gallon.

Pennsylvania’s gas tax is already one of the highest in the nation, ranking in the top three.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Wolf Administration approves Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative 

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program rewarding power companies that reduce carbon dioxide emissions, has been finalized by the Wolf Administration. 

The initiative, commonly known as RGGI, has been a focus of Gov. Tom Wolf’s since 2019 when he directed the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to develop rulemaking that established a carbon dioxide budget consistent with other RGGI participating states. 

RGGI is a partnership between 11 Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states. States participating in the program set a regional cap on CO2 emissions from electric power plants. 

Each state has its CO2 allowance budget, which plants must purchase from in an equal amount to the CO2 they emit. 

By joining RGGI, Pennsylvania will reduce up to 225 million tons of carbon pollution from its plants by 2030, prevent up to 30,000 hospital visits for respiratory illnesses like asthma and increase its Gross State Product by nearly $2 billion and 30,000 jobs by 2030, according to the Wolf Administration. 

“Today we are already experiencing the effects of climate change and those impacts are only going to get worse. Our children and their children are going to look back at our decisions and by participating in RGGI, we have begun to set Pennsylvania on the path forward to addressing this threat,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “Climate change caused by pollution remains the most critical environmental threat confronting us and we are already paying the price.” 

RGGI was approved by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission of Pennsylvania last September and was then sent to the General Assembly for debate. 

Opponents have pointed out that the initiative would harm Pennsylvania businesses and could send the state’s power plants to other states. 

Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania Senate failed to block the program, falling just under the two-thirds margin needed to override an earlier veto Wolf made of a resolution passed by the Senate last year meant to void RGGI. 

The Senate is also expected to soon vote on House Bill 637, after its passage in the House in March. House Bill 637 would force the program to need legislative approval before a carbon tax on employers could be imposed on the state. 

DEP’s CO2 Budget Trading Program regulation, which will enter Pennsylvania into RGGI, will be published in the April 23, 2022 issue of the Pennsylvania Bulletin.  

The program is on track to participate in RGGI’s next quarterly auction, which sets the price for the purchases of allowances. Revenue from the auctions is returned to the states for reinvestment in efficiency and other Greenhouse Gas reduction programs. 

“Pennsylvania’s program is projected to cut up to 227 million tons of carbon pollution by 2030, deliver billions of dollars in public health benefits, and provide hundreds of millions of dollars annually for reinvestment in Pennsylvania’s families and communities,” said Joseph Otis Minott, executive director and chief counsel of the Harrisburg-based Clean Air Council. “These investments can help improve housing quality, increase energy efficiency, and lower electricity bills, as well as further eliminate air pollution.” 


Wolf joins four Democrat governors to request pause on federal gas tax 

Gov. Tom Wolf, along with four other Democratic governors, is urging Congress to pass legislation that would pause the federal gas tax until the end of the year. 

In a joint letter to leaders in the US Senate and House, the governors said that the move would address rising gas prices amid international crises and rising inflation. 

Currently tax prices across the country exceed $4 per gallon. A pause on the federal gasoline tax would decrease that cost by 18.4 cents-a-gallon. 

The letter, addressed to Nancy Pelosi, Charles Schumer, Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell, asks for the approval of The Gas Prices Relief Act, legislation recently introduced in the House and Senate that would alleviate the consumer cost of rising gas prices. 

The letter was signed by the governors of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, New Mexico and Wisconsin. 

“Like most Americans, Pennsylvanians are grappling with rising gas prices as they navigate paying for other household needs, from their rent or mortgage to groceries and other necessities,” said Wolf. “A federal gas tax holiday would ease some of that pain on Pennsylvanians’ wallets without impacting important infrastructure projects that are funded through the federal Highway Trust Fund.” 

PennEast cancels $1.2 billion natural gas pipeline project 

PennEast Pipeline announced it will end development of its proposed 120-mile long pipeline from Pennsylvania to New Jersey after it was unable to receive the permits needed for the project.

PennEast said on Monday that despite receiving a number of the permits it needed for the $1.2 billion project, including a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the project failed to secure water quality certification and other wetland permits.

“Therefore, the PennEast partners, following extensive evaluation and discussion, recently determined further development of the project no longer is supported,” a spokesperson with PennEast wrote in an email to the Central Penn Business Journal on Monday. “Accordingly, PennEast has ceased all further development of the project.”

The PennEast Pipeline was to run from Dallas, Pennsylvania, to Pennington, New Jersey with about one-third of the route located in New Jersey. It was designed to transport 1.1 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas from Pennsylvania.

PennEast has proven controversial since it was first announced in 2014, with many residents in the path of the pipeline and environmental advocates fighting the construction of the project, citing how it would have crossed 88 waterways and 42 parcels of state-owned conservation lands.

“PennEast’s cancelation of this unneeded, dangerous fracked gas pipeline is a momentous win for the communities that have fought hard for years to defend their property and the environment,” said Otis Minott, executive director and chief counsel of the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council.

Despite the positive approval from activists, the effects of the canceled project will have widespread effects on trade, ratepayers and more, said Gene Barr, CEO and president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry in Harrisburg.

“Let’s be clear: this is no victory – not for ratepayers, who are now lacking a reliable source of gas and electricity; not for the economy, which is now out several thousand well-paying construction jobs at a time when the economy continues to struggle; and not for the environment, as this obstruction results in the mid-Atlantic being more reliant on imported fuels from foreign nations that do not have our strict environmental standards,” said Barr. “It is no victory that Russian-sourced gas has been imported into Boston harbor in recent winters.”

The PennEast pipeline was initially planned for completion by 2019 but was pushed forward into 2022.

Partners on the project included New Jersey Resources, South Jersey Industries, Southern Co., Enbridge Inc., and UGI Corp.

The project passed a significant hurtle in June after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Third Circuit Ruling that looked to block the project from using federal eminent domain rules to seize New Jersey state-owned land.

Following the decision, Anthony Cox, chair of the PennEast Board of Managers said that the ruling would help the project provide affordable, reliable energy to families and businesses.

“This decision is about more than just the PennEast project; it protects consumers who rely on infrastructure projects – found to be in the public benefit after thorough scientific and environmental reviews – from being denied access to much-needed energy by narrow state political interests,” said Cox. “PennEast understood that New Jersey brought this case for political purposes, but energy crises in recent years in California, Texas, and New England, have clearly demonstrated why interstate natural gas infrastructure is so vital for our way of life, public safety, and enabling clean energy goals.”

Rate break coming for UGI customers

UGI Utilities Inc., South District, is reporting that it will lower its natural gas rates beginning Sep. 1, which should mean a drop on the average residential heating customer’s bill of 1.93 percent.

That would mean those normally paying $68.75 per month would be paying $67.42 per month.

“This change reflects actual and projected gas costs related to wholesale supply purchases,” said Chris Brown, UGI vice president and general manager of rates and supply,

By law, utilities are required to pass the cost of the natural gas they purchase directly through to customers without any markup.

UGI Utilities Inc., South District, serves more than 392,000 customers in 16 eastern and southcentral counties in Pennsylvania.