Commonwealth Court overturns RGGI inclusion, sparking debate

A climate initiative to place limits on carbon dioxide pollution from Pennsylvania’s power sector was found unconstitutional Wednesday by the Commonwealth Court. 

Under former Gov. Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in 2019. Entry into RGGI means power plants pay for each ton of carbon dioxide they produce. Wolf’s unilateral decision to enter the multi-state RGGI via an executive order and minus input from the state legislature was deemed by state Republicans and industry groups to be unconstitutional. 

The court agreed with Pennsylvania’s Republican Senators and energy interests, and in its ruling stated it reaffirms its determination that the tax was imposed by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Environmental Quality Board (EQB) “in violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution.” 

The ruling from the five-judge panel was met with varying responses. 

Luke Bernstein, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, said in a statement that the chamber agreed with the court’s conclusion that joining RGGI would result in a tax on energy producers and that the power to tax lies only the state legislature. Bernstein said this point was emphasized in an amicus brief the chamber submitted with various other groups. 

Bernstein said the PA Chamber also shared the concerns of businesses, labor, consumers, and lawmakers that entry into RGGI would threaten to significantly increase energy prices. 

“Policymakers should embrace abundant domestic energy production, facilitate building new infrastructure, support competitive markets, and set long-term policies that encourage innovation and prioritize reliability,” Bernstein said. “This comprehensive approach is congruent with emissions reductions goals, and Pennsylvania – which is second nationally in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions since 2005 – should continue these efforts.” 

Bernstein said the regulation did not sufficiently protect Pennsylvania’s electricity and manufacturing sectors, and it failed to guard against the potential for a significant run-up in electricity or commodity prices. Businesses, he added, need affordable energy and long-term certainty. 

“We encourage the governor (Josh Shapiro) to let the court’s decision stand and continue working with stakeholders and the General Assembly on policy that leverages our state’s strengths for the benefit of our economy, national security, and the environment,” said Bernstein.

Pennsylvania Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Scott Martin, R-Strasburg, called the court’s ruling a win for Pennsylvanians.

“The real winners today are Pennsylvanians who will not suffer from even higher electricity bills, fewer jobs, and less investment in our communities as a result of the RGGI carbon tax scheme,” Martin said in a statement.

Martin said the ruling affirms that RGGI is a tax on energy that can only be enacted by the General Assembly, not unilaterally imposed by the Executive Branch.

“With that question settled, we are hopeful Governor Shapiro will make good on his campaign promise to work toward creating an energy strategy that supports the responsible development of our natural resources, protects grid reliability and maintains Pennsylvania’s status as a worldwide leader on energy,” said Martin.

Shapiro created a work group to find if RGGI would address climate change, create and protect energy jobs, and assure affordable power for consumers. The group did not come to a unanimous decision on RGGI but did state its support for a cap-and-trade program.

The court’s decision is a setback to environmental activists who believe joining the RGGI would propel Pennsylvania toward more climate-friendly energy sources.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) issued a statement calling RGGI the optimal path for Pennsylvania to cut climate pollution, protect consumers, and win jobs in the new clean economy. 

Executive Director Amanda Leland said in a statement that the EDF is “deeply disappointed” with the court’s decision to strike down the state’s RGGI regulation. 

“EDF has moved to intervene in the case and is reviewing the decision now,” Leland stated. “RGGI is a long-proven, flexible cap-and-invest program to reduce power plant air pollution. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has clear authority to limit carbon pollution from the power sector.” 

Leland said that if Pennsylvania were currently participating, RGGI would have already started cutting power plant emissions and would have provided support for programs that can clean the air to protect Pennsylvanians from pollution. 

Leland noted that earlier this year, Shapiro’s RGGI Working Group found that a program to limit pollution and invest in Pennsylvania’s future is the “optimal” approach for the state and that cutting air and climate pollution from power plants was both inevitable and necessary.

“We agree with (Shapiro) that the state’s Environmental Rights Amendment, which enshrines the right to clean air and pure water for all Pennsylvanians, is a guiding principle we should all follow and that is consistent with what RGGI can provide,” Leland said.

Climate change advocacy group Evergreen Action called the court’s decision the wrong one in that it further delays Pennsylvania’s participation in RGGI. Evergreen Action Deputy State Policy Director Julia Kortrey said it marked “a disappointing setback” for Pennsylvania’s economy, communities, and climate. 

“But this is not the end of the story,” Kortrey said in a statement. “To protect the economy, grow clean jobs, and safeguard public health, we trust Governor Shapiro will appeal immediately.” 

Kortrey said that Pennsylvania communities and businesses have seen state and federal clean energy investments blocked by red tape and lawsuits. 

“Republicans in the state legislature are keeping Pennsylvania mired in litigation instead of ensuring their constituents benefit from participation in RGGI,” Kortrey stated. “Their obstruction is responsible for these unnecessary delays and today’s misguided ruling by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth court.” 

Kortrey cited findings from a report independently produced for Evergreen Collaborative and Ceres exploring the economic benefits of Pennsylvania’s participation in RGGI. The findings were reported by Synapse Energy Economics and included the following: 

  • An estimated $1.5 billion reduction in energy costs for Pennsylvania’s residents, businesses, and industrial sector. 
  • A net decrease of $24 annually for the average household in utility bills. 
  • $930 million of additional federal funding coming to Pennsylvania through Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) tax credits for solar, wind, and storage projects. 

Kortrey said full participation in RGGI is crucial for Pennsylvania to maintain economic competitiveness across the region, bring in clean energy jobs, and reduce climate pollution. 

“Governor Shapiro’s administration has rightly defended Pennsylvania’s authority to participate in RGGI throughout this year,” Kortrey said. “We strongly urge the governor to continue doing so and swiftly appeal this decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.” 

Shapiro and the DEP have 30 days to appeal the decision.

Record-setting PUC chair/commissioner ends tenure; commission confirms replacements

Gladys Brown Dutrieuille retired recently as Public Utilities Commission Chairman and Commissioner, ending a record-setting tenure that lasted more than a decade.

The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) on Wednesday recognized Gov. Josh Shapiro’s appointment of Commissioner Stephen DeFrank as the new chairman and welcomed Kim Barrow as commissioner.

Dutrieuille’s retirement capped her extensive career in public service. Appointed as PUC chairman in 2015 by Gov. Tom Corbett and then reappointed under Govs. Tom Wolf and Shapiro, she became the longest-serving female commissioner and chair, the longest-serving Black commissioner and chair, and the longest-serving chair in close to half a century. Her tenure on the commission marked two of only three periods in state history when two women have served together on the PUC.

Dutrieuille said in a statement that her advice to others is to prepare themselves for the opportunity that will come their way.

Being open to opportunity encompasses the length and breadth of my professional career with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” said Dutrieuille. “That path has never been a straight line from point A to point B. However, it has been a path where I have been challenged to grow professionally.”

Dutrieuille said every opportunity prepared her for the next.  Serving as legal counsel in the Senate Democratic Caucus, where she worked on a variety of issues, prepared her for an appointment as a commissioner with the Commission, and the role of chairman.

DeFrank spoke to the importance of energy issues and to PUC’s mission of providing reliable public utility services at reasonable rates.

“We are in the midst of the largest and most substantial changes in our energy landscape ever witnessed, impacting families and businesses across the commonwealth along with the public utilities that serve our communities,” said DeFrank. “The reliability, availability, and affordability of energy is vital for us all – as is the need to address the ongoing evolution in how we generate, distribute, use, and value power.”

DeFrank, who recently served as PUC vice chairman, joined the commission in September 2022 following a nomination by Wolf. He was confirmed by the Pennsylvania Senate in October.

Prior to joining the PUC, DeFrank worked as government relations professional at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney. He spent 24 years in state government, including serving as chief of staff/executive director to Senator Lisa Boscola, D-Lehigh.

Barrow, who has been involved in the utility regulation industry for more than two decades, was approved unanimously Wednesday by the Pennsylvania Senate, following unanimous recommendations by the Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee.

“The mission of the PUC is to balance the needs of consumers and utilities,” Barrow wrote in her testimony to the Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee.

“Achieving that balance between the needs of consumers and utilities is difficult, but as a veteran PUC employee, as an attorney and as a mother, I am up to that challenge of balancing important competing interests.”

Barrow served as Chief of Staff for Dutrieuille since 2013. From 2008 to 2013, Barrow served as Chief of Staff in the Office of Commissioner Wayne Gardner.

Supporters, detractors debate former governor’s complicated legacy

Governor Josh Shapiro was just minutes into his inaugural speech on Tuesday, Jan. 17, when he turned to address the outgoing chief executive, Gov. Tom Wolf. 

“Thanks to his leadership,” Shapiro stated, “we now find ourselves in the strongest financial shape in the history of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, allowing us to make critical investments for tomorrow.” 

Supporters of Wolf likely found Shapiro’s praise for his predecessor providing a moment of warmth on a day otherwise chilled by wintry wind and leaden skies. The President & CEO of Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp., Don Cunningham, believed Wolf’s greatest contribution to the state’s businesses and economy to be the reduction of the corporate net income tax from 9.99% to 4.99% by 2031. 

“It’s very significant for those of us to do economic development,” Cunningham said. “He proposed it in his budgets and finally got agreement from Senate Republicans. That’s what leaders do.” 

Not everyone on that gray inaugural day shared Shapiro’s sunny sentiments for Wolf’s impact on Pennsylvania’s businesses. State Senator Scott Martin (R-Berks/Lancaster) said there was “a lot of frustration” the past eight years. The reason being that many of Wolf’s policies were, said Martin, “counterproductive to Pennsylvania tapping into its full economic potential.” 

David N. Taylor, president & CEO of the Pennsylvania Manufacturer’s Association, cites the “deeply disturbing” practices of the Wolf Administration that he says have destroyed an untold number of businesses in Pennsylvania. 

“Governor Wolf, during his tenure, was markedly unhelpful to Pennsylvania’s business competitiveness,” Taylor said. “At every turn, he was pushing for more government, higher spending, and he did a number of specific things that were especially damaging to the economy.” 

One such thing, said Taylor, was the 2017 Tax Cuts and Job Act (TCJA), which changed the depreciation, deductions, tax credits, and tax items that affect business. 

“When the tax policy was changed at the federal level, that was the starting gun for the process of American companies considering where to bring those overseas earnings to reinvest in America,” Taylor said. “Pennsylvania was the only state to say ‘no’.”  

Another point of contention was the additional tax on the production of natural gas in Pennsylvania that Taylor said Wolf called for in his annual budget addresses. 

“Even though he was never going to get that, the fact that you had the sitting governor calling for it rendered our investment environment uncertain,” Taylor said. “If you want to go back and look at when the rigs stopped coming in or when did they start leaving, 2015 was that turning point.” 

Jon Anzur, vice president of public affairs for the PA Chamber, called Wolf’s record on working with the business community “a mixed bag.” 

At the beginning of Wolf’s first term, he had what Anzur said was “a very adversarial” relationship with the business community. The issue at the heart of the impasse were business-related, a tax-and-spend approach not in line with the business community. 

“As Wolf went along,” said Anzur, “rather than treat the business community as an adversary, he treated it as a partner.” 

Supporters of the Wolf Administration point to what they see as life-changing investments in the people of Pennsylvania and the building of a business-friendly climate via the following actions: 

  • Collaborated with 430 companies to create and retain close to 194,000 jobs. 
  • Diversified state contracting so that diverse, small, and veteran businesses comprise 20% of Pennsylvania’s contractors. 
  • Eliminated the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax. 
  • Launched Manufacturing PA to link job training to career pathways. 
  • Partnered with the private sector to address the worker shortage. 
  • Placed Pennsylvania on track to a Corporate Net Income Tax rate of 4.99%. 
  • Reformed Occupational licensure to cut red tape, help workers, and strengthen the workforce. 
  • Distributed grants to help more than 10,000 small businesses and the hospitality industry survive the pandemic. 

“He did some things that were very focused on what we need to do to grow the economy,” Cunningham said. 

At the same time, Wolf’s handling of COVID-19 came under criticism. A state audit called the business waiver program confusing and inconsistent, declaring that it created for Pennsylvania companies an unfair playing field. 

Martin agreed. “Direct competitors, even in my own district, one would get a waiver to stay open and their direct competitor would not,” he said. 

Taylor recalled Wolf’s shutting down of businesses being done without the okay of those whose livelihoods were affected by the decision. 

“There was no outreach to say, ‘How will this play out in the real world?’” Taylor said. “You would think any leader would want to have the most comprehensive overview information as to how will this play out… Governor Wolf didn’t reach out to anyone.” 

Like many politicians, Wolf leaves behind a legacy that is complicated and conflicting. Supporters say it abounds with innovative programs, people-driven policies, and investments aimed at creating a more prosperous Pennsylvania. The Rainy Day Fund, dangerously low when Wolf took office, now stands at an historic $5 billion, and his administration secured a $5.3 billion budget surplus, albeit aided with federal funding. Still, Wolf is the first governor since 1987 to hand his successor a surplus. 

Critics call Wolf’s business policies catastrophic and see the former governor, in Taylor’s words, “hurling down thunderbolts from on high” during the pandemic, preventing citizens and their enterprises from adapting to the circumstances, forcing them to “sit back, do nothing, and watch their business die.” 

Martin likewise believed Wolf’s policies made the pandemic worse, and that Pennsylvania’s businesses have not fully recovered. 

“Businesses continue to struggle and some no longer exist because of the policies he put in place,” said Martin. “It had a lasting impact.” 

Cunningham noted that Wolf was operating in real time and trying to find the balance between keeping people safe and keeping businesses open. 

Good and bad, Wolf’s two terms provided what Anzur termed “an evolution in office,” the former governor finding “common ground to move the ball forward for Pennsylvania.” 

History made as Shapiro, Davis sworn-in as Pa.’s new leaders

Invoking the history of Pennsylvania, its founder William Penn, and various chapters of its storied past and present, Democrat Josh Shapiro was inaugurated Tuesday as the state’s 48th Governor. 

Amid cold, overcast surroundings, the 49-year-old former attorney general placed his hand on three Jewish Bibles and took the oath of office from Chief Justice Debra Todd. 

The three Bibles are of special significance to Shapiro, who is Pennsylvania’s third Jewish governor. One was a family bible; one was from Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, where 11 worshippers, including several Holocaust survivors, were killed in 2018 by a gunman in the deadliest antisemitic attack on U.S. soil; and one was U.S. Army-issued and brought into battle on D-Day, June 6, 1944, by Philadelphia’s Herman Hershman, a Purple Heart recipient. 

“Along the winding road that led to this moment,” Shapiro began, “I’ve been grounded in my faith and family.” 

Shapiro’s swearing-in ceremony on the steps of the state Capitol was one of two historic ceremonies taking place Tuesday in Harrisburg. Austin Davis was sworn in the state’s Senate chamber as Pennsylvania’s first Black lieutenant governor, and at age 33, is the country’s youngest lieutenant governor. 

Davis said his swearing-in sends a message to young people in Pennsylvania, particularly young people of color, that the Keystone State is a place where everyone is welcomed and can succeed. 

“I say to all the young people watching right now, who are worried and unsure about their future – that the American Dream is alive and well in Pennsylvania,” Davis said. “That no matter how you grew up, no matter where you come from, or what you look like – this Commonwealth will always be a place where you can create your own destiny.” 

Shapiro spoke of destiny as well. Acknowledging that he is “entrusted with this awesome responsibility,” he said he realizes “it is just for a moment in the long history of our Commonwealth” and that he is the “next link in the chain of progress.” 

Noting the presence of former Pennsylvania Governors Tom Wolf, Tom Ridge, Mark Schweiker, and Tom Corbett, Shapiro thanked his predecessors, particularly his immediate predecessor, Wolf. 

“Thanks to his leadership,” Shapiro said, “we now find ourselves in the strongest financial shape in the history of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, allowing us to make critical investments for tomorrow.” 

Shapiro emphasized that the presence of the former governor’s “formally celebrates the peaceful transfer of power.” 

His statement was one of several pointed references he made to political extremism and the Jan. 6 insurrection. 

“Here in Pennsylvania, we didn’t allow the extremists who peddle lies drown out the truth,” he said. “We showed that our system works and that our elections are free and fair, safe and secure.” 

Shapiro’s speech lasted approximately 45 minutes and covered a wide range of subjects, including abortion, diversity, education, environment, extremism, faith, family, gun violence, public safety, and religion. Staying away from specificity, Shapiro spoke largely in broad terms. His speech was aimed at unifying a Pennsylvania government divided and attempted to resonate not only with his supporters but also with those whose votes he failed to get. 

Having the reputation as a consensus builder, Shapiro is expected to put together one of the most diverse cabinets in Pennsylvania history. Despite the divided government in Harrisburg, Democrat and Republican leaders have spoken of having common ground when it comes to investing in education, investing in workforce development, and economic development. 

“I set out to build a Cabinet and senior team that looks like Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said, “and reflects the people and the communities that I just took an oath to serve and protect.” 

Shapiro’s inaugural speech often had the tone of the type of rallying cry heard on campaign trails. It also mirrored in some respects the lyrical oratory of former Democratic presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Shapiro is seen by many as a possible presidential prospect. 

Shapiro concluded his address by stating, And so, with my faith firmly rooted in we the people of Pennsylvania, with my heart open to others and my eyes fixed ahead, I am prepared to do my part to move our Commonwealth forward.” 

Congratulations on Shapiro’s swearing-in came from several fronts. Republican Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) said in a statement that as a candidate, Shapiro “offered many policy proposals that provided a path to bipartisan accomplishment and real progress for shared goals. As we look ahead, it is our hope that Gov. Shapiro governs under that same spirit and with a true willingness to find common ground.” 

Bill Johnston-Walsh, state president of AARP Pennsylvania, also congratulated Shapiro and Davis. He added that AARP Pennsylvania applauds the commitment to public service shown by Shapiro and Davis and the message of inclusivity that’s been the essence of the Shapiro-Davis Transition Team, aligning as it does with AARP’s mission to lead positive social change and to find ways to improve the lives of Pennsylvania’s 50 and older population. 

“Recognizing that every Pennsylvanian deserves access to quality, affordable health care and home and community based-services when needed,” Johnston-Walsh said, “we look forward to working with the Shapiro Administration and the General Assembly to promote policies that guarantee residents throughout the Commonwealth can live and age healthy and well with the dignity and respect they deserve.” 

National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) State Director Greg Moreland urged the Shapiro-Davis Administration and legislators to keep small businesses’ interests in mind. 

“Small business is the backbone of Pennsylvania’s economy, anchoring Main Streets across the state and creating a majority of all net new jobs,” Moreland said. “There is much work to be done to ensure small businesses in Pennsylvania can thrive. 

“NFIB stands ready to work with Governor Josh Shapiro, his cabinet members, and the Senate and House to adopt policies that help improve the business environment for small businesses in Pennsylvania.” 

Wolf Administration, PASSHE provide $5 million in new funding for Pa. employees

A new scholarship program providing $5 million for Pennsylvania employees and their dependents who are pursuing higher education at a State System university was announced Thursday by Gov. Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE). 

“An essential part of building effective government is supporting the employees who serve their fellow Pennsylvanians every single day,” Wolf said in a statement. “These folks do the hard work of the commonwealth, and I am proud of the ways that we have modernized state employment to ensure we can attract and retain great employees who do their best for their fellow Pennsylvanians every day.” 

The Wolf Administration authorized a grant of $5 million to the PASSHE Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that operates in service of the State System of Higher Education, which will develop and implement the scholarship program. Wolf said the program will help “continue to grow and provide the first-class service that Pennsylvanians deserve from state government.” 

Pennsylvania employees and eligible dependents will be able to apply to the PASSHE Foundation beginning with the Spring 2023 term for a grant of up to $2,000 per academic year for full-time students and up to $1,000 for part-time students. Scholarship funds may be used for expenses including tuition, room, and board. 

Board Chair Cindy Shapira said the State System has frozen tuition for four consecutive years and increased student financial aid in our commitment to provide high-quality education at the lowest possible cost to students. “These scholarships will further those efforts and open doors of opportunity for many students and working adults.” 

This scholarship program furthers the Wolf Administration’s and PASSHE’s partnership to make higher education more affordable for Pennsylvania’s public servants. Wolf and PASSHE announced in October 2022 that state employees can earn an online degree from Pennsylvania Western University at a 20% discounted tuition rate. Foundation scholarships can be applied to any PASSHE course, including the PennWest Global Online program. 

“This additional financial aid is critical for many students to start college, complete their degree and have the advanced skills the state and other employers need,” said Lynn Miller, PASSHE Foundation Board Chair and retired healthcare executive. “The scholarships enable more students of all ages to get an affordable degree or credential that propels them into good jobs, strengthens the workforce, creates economic security for their families and provides a tremendous return on investment.” 

Added Wolf, “I am grateful to the leadership team at the PASSHE Foundation for coordinating with my administration and using these grant funds to provide Pennsylvania state employees and their dependents with scholarship opportunities to further their higher education.”

Pa. closes 2022 with strong December revenue, budget surplus

Pennsylvania collected $4 billion in General Fund Revenue in December 2022, which was $319.9 million more than anticipated, Gov. Tom Wolf and the Department of Revenue announced Tuesday. 

Collections for the fiscal year-to-date General Fund total $19.7 billion, $503.1 million above the estimate. 

Wolf said in a statement that Pennsylvania is in a strong fiscal position heading into 2023. “Year to date, we are 2.6 percent above our estimated revenue collections, which means we have $503.1 million in the bank above and beyond what we expected. That’s money that can be used to better support the people of Pennsylvania in the coming year, and I look forward to seeing what the new administration and the General Assembly will accomplish on behalf of Pennsylvanians.” 

Pennsylvania was operating with a $2-3 billion budget deficit when Wolf took office eight years ago, and the Rainy Day Fund was just $231,800. Pennsylvania ended the most recent fiscal year with $5.537 billion in the General Fund, and an investment of more than $5 billion in the Rainy Day Fund. 

Revenue Secretary Dan Hassell noted it was only a couple years ago that Pennsylvania was dealing with a $3.2 billion shortfall at the end of the 2019-20 fiscal year. “Fortunately, we are facing a much different situation today — and that is very much a testament to the strong fiscal management of Gov. Wolf. Pennsylvanians should be encouraged that we are on such solid financial footing as the Governor closes out his term.” 

Wolf said the goal of his administration has been to build a strong foundation for Pennsylvania so that government can invest in the things that improves the lives of Pennsylvanians, including an historic $3.7 billion investment in education. 

“The strong fiscal foundation that my administration has built will empower the next administration and the General Assembly to continue making life-changing investments in the people of Pennsylvania in the years to come.” 

Most of the surplus in December is attributable to personal income tax revenue that was deposited on the first day of the month, rather than on the last day of November, as initially expected. Sales tax receipts totaled $1.2 billion for December, which was $2.3 million below estimate. Year-to-date sales tax collections total $7.1 billion, $134.8 million more than anticipated. 

Personal income tax (PIT) revenue in December was $1.4 billion, $204.9 million above estimate. This brings year-to-date PIT collections to $7.5 billion, which is $27.1 million above estimate. 

December corporation tax revenue of $1 billion was $116.3 million above estimate. Year-to-date corporation tax collections total $2.7 billion, $328.7 million above estimate. 

Inheritance tax revenue for the month was $138.0 million, $6.1 million above estimate, bringing the year-to-date total to $725.7 million, $16.3 million below estimate. Realty transfer tax revenue was $55.8 million for December, $23.3 million below estimate, bringing the fiscal-year total to $351.9 million, $26.7 million less than anticipated. 

Other General Fund tax revenue, including cigarette, malt beverage, liquor, and gaming taxes, totaled $174.2 million for the month, $5.1 million below estimate and bringing the year-to-date total to $939.6 million, $32.5 million below estimate. Non-tax revenue totaled $55.5 million for the month, $23.3 million above estimate, bringing the year-to-date total to $346.7 million, $88 million, above estimate. 

In addition to the General Fund collections, the Motor License Fund received $203.0 million for the month, $8.2 million above 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 $1.4 billion, $25 million above estimate.

Lehigh Valley projects granted funding for workforce development

Workforce development projects across Pennsylvania are receiving $5.5 million in Industry Partnership Grant funding aimed at meeting local and regional workforce needs. The announcement was made Wednesday by Gov. Tom Wolf. 

Lehigh Valley and Central Pennsylvania projects will receive approximately $2 million combined funds in grants. 

Industry Partnership (IPs) grants are administered through the Department of Labor & Industry (L&I). The program supports businesses partnering to build a stronger, more competitive job market through training, networking, recruitment, and collaboration within targeted industries and offer Pennsylvanians opportunities for pathways into careers and jobs with wages that are family-sustaining. 

“With Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate holding steady at a record low, it is our collective responsibility to make decisions that are responsive to the needs of both Pennsylvania workers and employers in sectors where talent pipelines are tapped,” Wolf said in a statement. 

“By investing in workforce development projects, and specifically industry partnerships, we can connect hardworking Pennsylvanians wit opportunities to advance their skillsets and obtain family-sustaining jobs in booming industries.” 

Pennsylvania has invested more than $40 million since 2018 to enhance opportunities for workers through apprenticeship programs and industry partnerships via Wolf’s PAsmart initiative. This new round of funding provides grants to 25 Industry Partnerships to increase awareness and implement strategies for workforce development in the agriculture, construction, education, healthcare, manufacturing, information technology, hospitality and energy industries. 

“At L&I, we strategically use resources to connect Pennsylvania employers with a highly skilled and talented workforce who can do the jobs of tomorrow,” L&I Secretary Jennifer Berrier said. “We continue to do that, first and foremost, by investing in people and their families.” 

Following is a list of Central Pennsylvania and Lehigh Valley PAsmart grant winners and their award amounts: 

  • AgConnect (Lehigh, Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia – $250,000). Grant funding for technical assistance for farm and food business partners in the region for training, management, and accounting; create youth pipeline development and provide hands on experience to high school students; implement an Innovative Workplace Solutions grant program; and provide project management for the PA Cheese Guild and Growing Roots Partners’ Good Food Fest. 
  • Lehigh Valley Healthcare Pipeline Industry Partnership (Lehigh, Northampton – $250,000). The partnership will conduct healthcare industry employer roundtables and develop a Workforce Pipeline Strategic Action Plan Committee. Projected activities to support workers include identifying strategies for recruitment of adults, youth, and those in underrepresented populations. 
  • Manufacturing Alliance of Chester and Delaware Counties (Lancaster, Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, York – $250,000). Funding to recruit and retain employees for participating companies. The project will also focus on outreach efforts to youth and their parents promoting manufacturing careers and create programs to connect women and female students to careers in manufacturing. 
  • Smart Energy Initiative of Southeastern PA (Berks, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lehigh, York, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia – $250,000). Goals include consumer and business education about different energy sources. 
  • The Innovative Technology Action Group (Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Philadelphia – $250,000). The partnership will use its funds for employer outreach, technology education events for IT professionals, incumbent worker training, and youth career exploration activities. 
  • South Central Construction Industry Partnership (Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Juniata, Lancaster, Lebanon. Perry, York – $204,396.44). Funding will be used for partnership start-up and convening regional partners to develop outreach strategies. 
  • South Central Manufacturing Industry Partnership (Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Perry, York – $250,000). Funding to build a pipeline of diverse young individuals pursuing careers in manufacturing by promoting careers in the industry via social media and connections among manufacturers in the region. 
  • South Central NextGen IT Industry Partnership (Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Perry, York – $250,000). Funding for creating awareness and access to employers and resources to increase a skilled workforce that can meet the current IT needs of the region. Funds will be used to build a communication infrastructure for employers, educators, and job seekers. 
  • Opportunity for All Pennsylvania Construction Industry Partnership (Statewide – $250,000). Funding to hire a project manager that will research and develop education materials on best practices around apprenticeship readiness, diverse pipelines, and local hire/community benefit agreements. 

Pa.’s small, diverse, and veteran businesses benefiting from billions in contract spending

Since 2015, more than $4.5 billion has been spent with Pennsylvania’s small, diverse, and veteran businesses through state contracts. For two years in a row, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration has set records for contract spending with these businesses, including $995 million in Fiscal Year 2021. 

Wolf said in a statement that his administration has made supporting these businesses a top priority. 

“From the outset, we wanted to make the state contracting process more inclusive, equitable and fair for small businesses,” said Wolf. “Over the last seven years, we’ve put our money where our mouth is with multiple record-setting spending years. This is about building an economy that works for everyone – including the small businesses that power our communities.” 


The nearly $1 billion spent in Fiscal Year 2021 shattered the previous mark of $856 million set the year before and generated 10,000 new jobs. This FY spend with all small businesses represents an increase of 169% from 2015, when Wolf signed an executive order directing a coordinated and consistent effort to ensure diversity and inclusion in all contracting opportunities for small and diverse businesses throughout agencies under the governor’s jurisdiction. 


The executive order also established the Bureau of Diversity, Inclusion and Small Business Opportunities (BDISBO) to directly affect change for small businesses, veteran-owned businesses, and small diverse businesses – businesses owned by minorities, women, service-disabled veterans, individuals with disabilities and members of the LGBT community. 


“There is much to be proud of when it comes to our accomplishments in serving the small, small diverse and veteran business communities,” said Department of General Services (DGS) Acting Secretary Joe Lee. “The policies and programs we have been able to implement have laid a more than solid foundation that can be built upon for continued success in the years ahead.” 


The implementation of three policy/program changes in Fiscal Year 2020 was cited by Lee as a key point in the progress of BDISBO’s efforts. The changes are represented by the following: 


  • Small Business Reserve (SBR) that enabled small businesses to compete as prime contractors on specific procurements; 
  • implementation of goal setting for SDBs/VBEs to set minimum participation levels on goods, services and construction procurements; 
  • creation of the stand-alone Veteran Business Enterprise program that set participation goals specifically for these businesses. 


Kerry Kirkland, department of general services deputy secretary for diversity inclusion and small business opportunities, said a trend has been set in innovation and creativeness. 


“We have been able to commission the commonwealth’s first-ever Statewide Disparities Study; convene the first-ever DISBO Governor’s Advisory Council; and implement several other groundbreaking policies and programs to benefit small, small diverse and veteran businesses,” said Kirkland. “The future is truly bright for these business communities moving forward.” 


Program goals include conducting the follow-up to the disparity study; developing a capital and technical assistance program for small, small diverse and veteran-owned businesses; and continuing the promotion of legislation to statutorily establish BDISBO programs and policies.

Pa. receiving nearly $7 million for broadband accessibility

Pennsylvania is receiving $6.6 million from President Joe Biden’s “Internet for All” initiative, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Thursday. 

Of the more than $100 million to be managed by the Pennsylvania Broadband Authority, the funds are the first to be awarded as Pennsylvania looks to make broadband accessible and affordable for all residents. 

Wolf said the state’s lack of affordable, accessible broadband represents one of the largest challenges that is holding back the economy. 

“This $6.6 million is the beginning of a generational change waiting for Pennsylvanians,” Wolf said in a statement. “With guidance from the Pennsylvania Broadband Authority, distribution will be carefully targeted for guaranteed progress.” 

Funding from two programs is included in Pennsylvania’s award: 

  • $5 million from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program to expand high-speed internet access by funding planning, infrastructure deployment, and adoption programs. 
  • $1.6 million from the Digital Equity Act to ensure that all people and communities have the skills, technology, and capacity needed to reap the benefits of a digital economy. 


The Pennsylvania Broadband Authority will release the funds. The Authority last week released the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Statewide Broadband Plan to address the immediate and long-term needs of state residents. Wolf signed the legislation to create the Authority in 2021. Created through bipartisan partnership, the Authority serves as a one stop shop for all things broadband in Pennsylvania and manages more than $100 million in federal funds as it works to end the state’s digital divide. 

With up to 80,000 Pennsylvanians currently unserved by broadband, the Authority’s Plan focuses on actionable steps to achieve broadband access for all. The Plan looks to improve broadband service infrastructure and availability, digital equity and affordability, device and technology access, and digital literacy and technical support. 

U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said Pennsylvanians know that unequal Internet access equates to unequal access to economic, educational, and healthcare services and opportunities. 

“These grants will put Pennsylvania on the path to equitably achieve high-speed internet service for all residents,” said Raimondo. 

U.S. Senator Bob Casey, D-PA, noted that from rural areas to densely populated cities, many Pennsylvanians are struggling to access affordable, reliable internet. 

 “This ‘Internet for All’ funding will kickstart the commonwealth’s plan to bring high-speed internet to Pennsylvanians so that kids can do their homework, businesses can grow their operations, and workers can have more opportunities for good-paying jobs,” Casey said.

“We have the infrastructure law to thank for this robust investment that will lead to a boost in the economy, increased access to health care and educational resources, and better-connected families and communities.” 

PDBA adopts broadband plan, Sen. Kane urges Pa. residents to review access map

The PA Broadband Development Authority voted unanimously to adopt the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Broadband Plan that will focus on four challenge areas and explore opportunities for universal broadband access in Pennsylvania. 

The four challenge areas are: 

  • Broadband Service Infrastructure and Availability 
  • Digital Equity and Affordability 
  • Device and Technology Access 
  • Digital Literacy and Technical Support 

Senator John Kane, D-Chester/Delaware, said Pennsylvania has not only pressing short-term needs for broadband access but also equally essential long-term needs. 

“Serving as Minority Chair on the Communications & Technology Committee, we have identified countless benefits to expanding broadband access,” Kane said in a statement. “When we provide all Pennsylvanians with strong and reliable internet access, it allows our businesses to work efficiently locally while also being able to compete in the global economy.” 

Kane said that reliable internet access will provide additional benefits to Pennsylvania residents, including more options for high quality health care, accelerating schools and reinvigorating students with access to new ideas, text and resources, all while connecting the state in more ways than before. 

“Moving forward, it is imperative that we can accurately locate and determine which areas of our commonwealth need these essential broadband services,” said Kane. 

The FCC released last November its draft National Broadband Map, which serves as a location-by-location view of high-speed Internet availability in America. At that time, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Pennsylvania’s Statewide Broadband Plan. From Nov. 17 until the deadline date of Jan. 13, 2023, eligible entities can submit challenges in time for the FCC to include corrections in the final version of the map. The final version of the map will be used to allocate Internet for All funding in the summer of 2023. 

“This is the ideal time for residents, businesses, schools, and organizations to check the FCC map to ensure their broadband availability is accurately represented,” Kane said. “A precise map of broadband connections will allow us to represent and speak for the areas who need broadband throughout our commonwealth, and make sure it is in the funding plan.” 

The board voted at a special meeting held by the PA Department of Community and Economic Development Authority to approve the scope of work and budget proposed by Penn State Extension. The plan is designed to help advance the planning and implementation efforts done by the Broadband Authority. 

“To have Penn State and the Broadband Authority working together on this Statewide Broadband plan shows that it’s all hands-on-deck to get reliable connectivity throughout our Commonwealth,” said Kane. “It is up to us to do all we can to keep this plan moving and strengthen the signal in Pennsylvania.”

Gov. Wolf announces plan to expand broadband in Pa.

The Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority has released the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Statewide Broadband Plan, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Monday. 

Both the immediate and long-term needs of Pennsylvanians are addressed in the State Broadband Plan. 

Wolf stated that broadband is as essential in today’s world as electricity and water but noted that there exists in Pennsylvania a digital divide. “This plan will ensure consistent, affordable, quality statewide broadband to keep children learning, businesses growing, and opportunities abounding for all Pennsylvanians.” 

In December 2021 Wolf signed legislation to create the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority. Created through bipartisan partnership, the authority serves as a one-stop shop for all things broadband in Pennsylvania and manages more than $100 million in federal funds while working to close the state’s digital divide. 

The focus of the Authority’s Plan to expand broadband across the state is on improving broadband service infrastructure and availability, device and technology access, and digital literacy and technical support. As there are up to 800,000 unserved Pennsylvanians, the plan includes steps to achieve universal broadband access. 

Meeting this goal means committing to the following: 

  • Maintaining current and accurate data on unserved and underserved populations 
  • Reducing obstacles to broadband deployment 
  • Supporting and maintaining a skilled workforce 
  • Ensuring devices are made available and affordable 
  • Ensuring multiple affordable service options are available 
  • Ensuring affordable options are sustainable 
  • Providing training so that every person can meet foundational digital literacy skills 
  • Developing a technical support network. 

Brandon Carson, the authority’s executive director, said in a statement that if Pennsylvania is to remain competitive, equal access to the internet, regardless of income or location, must be provided. “Broadband access affects every area of our lives – from work, to education, to health, and safety. Closing the digital divide helps enhance our communities and fosters economic growth and innovation for all Pennsylvanians.” 

In 2018, the Wolf Administration launched a $35 million Pennsylvania Broadband Investment Incentive Program to expand broadband in rural areas. 

In 2021, the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development launched the Unserved High-Speed Broadband Funding Program to further support the deployment of high-speed broadband infrastructure to unserved areas with $10 million in funding.