Podcast – C&G’s “The Public Forum” on KQV 1410 – June 15, 2015

In case you missed it, here is the Podcast from our June 15, 2015 show.

Our host was Cohen & Grigsby International Business Lawyer, Susanne Cook with guest, Paul Overby, President of the newly formed German American Chamber of Commerce, Pittsburgh Chapter (GACCPIT).

The Public Forum is taking the summer off and will be back in September with another line up of great guests. See you then!!!!

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Tonight on “The Public Forum” on KQV Radio 1410

The Public Forum is a monthly KQV Radio Talk Show where hosts from our Cohen & Grigsby Public Affairs Team and various guests discuss current topics impacting Harrisburg and D.C. and the business community.

Our Host for tonight’s show is Cohen & Grigsby International Business Lawyer, Susanne Cook with guest, Paul Overby, President of the newly formed German American Chamber of Commerce, Pittsburgh Chapter (GACCPIT).

We hope you will listen tonight at 7:00 PM at 1410 AM, KQV.

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Podcast – C&G’s “The Public Forum” on KQV 1410 – May 18, 2015

In case you missed it, here is the Podcast from our May 18, 2015 show.

Our hosts were Nello Giorgetti and Kim Hileman with guest, John Pippy, CEO of the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance.

Our next show will air on Monday, June 15, 2015 at 7:00 PM.

We hope you will join us!!!!

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Tonight on “The Public Forum” on KQV Radio 1410

The Public Forum is a monthly KQV Radio Talk Show where hosts from our Cohen & Grigsby Public Affairs Team and various guests discuss current topics impacting Harrisburg and D.C. and the business community.

Our Hosts for tonight’s show are Nello Giorgetti and Kim Hileman with guest, John Pippy, CEO of the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance.

We hope you will listen tonight at 7:00 PM at 1410 AM, KQV.

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Podcast – C&G’s “The Public Forum” on KQV 1410 – April 20, 2015

In case you missed it, here is the Podcast from our April 20, 2015 show.

Our hosts were Rob Vescio and Kim Hileman with guest, David Spigelmyer, President of the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

Our next show will air on Monday, May 18, 2015 at 7:00 PM.  The hosts will be Rob Vescio and Nello Giorgetti with guest, Mayor Bill Peduto.

We hope you will join us!!!!

*     *     *     *     *

If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Tonight on “The Public Forum” on KQV Radio 1410

The Public Forum is a monthly KQV Radio Talk Show where hosts from our Cohen & Grigsby Public Affairs Team and various guests discuss current topics impacting Harrisburg and D.C. and the business community.

Our Hosts for tonight’s show are Rob Vescio and Kim Hileman with guest, David Spigelmyer, President of the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

We hope you will listen tonight at 7:00 PM at 1410 AM, KQV.

*     *     *     *     *

If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Death and Taxes

Governor Wolf earlier this month presented his budget for fiscal year 2015-2016. It was actually one of the more interesting budgets of the past 30 years. Not because it advocated for tax increases and acknowledged a state revenue deficit of over 2.5 billion dollars.

No, this was not just a budget address but almost a complete overhaul of both state government and the tax code. It was a political manifesto as it was a budget.

For decades there have been complaints about the property tax and its inequities. There have been countless solutions, from money from legalized gambling to Allegheny County’s RAD tax—none have stopped the inevitable rise in millage rates. Governor Wolf’s solution is a rate increase and broadening of the base of the state sales tax, with the majority of the additional dollars collected going to local school districts with a mandate to reduce property taxes.

The corporate community has long complained about the high taxes on business in Pennsylvania making us non-competitive with other states in attracting or maintaining businesses. Governor Wolf would complete the long hoped for demise of the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax and also cut the Corporate Net Income rate in half in just two years. He would fund these cuts with the demise of the Delaware Loop hole.

Governor Wolf would use an excise tax on natural gas extraction to increase funding for education and raise the Personal Income Tax to fill the deficit. Plus there would be a tax on cigars and smokeless tobacco to round out the tax smorgasbord.

Reaction from the Republican controlled General Assembly was of course, predictable.

Now whether we will see any or all of these proposed taxes come the end of June when the Pennsylvania Constitution mandates a budget be in place remains to be seen.

There is a deserved skepticism on state mandated property tax reductions, local municipalities, counties and school districts are ultimately responsible for the levying and spending of property taxes. The business tax cuts and closing of loopholes currently has the business community divided between the larger corporations and their S-Corp brethren.

Republican options include selling off the liquor stores and using the money to bridge the revenue gap; fixing the state employee’s pension fund deficits to reduce the cost of the Commonwealth’s contributions into that fund. Or just cutting the state budget even further than the recently unelected Governor Corbett was not willing to do.

Just recently the Independent Fiscal Office proclaimed that our revenue deficit was only 1.8 billion. Regardless, Pennsylvania is not the Federal Government, our beloved Commonwealth is required by law to have a balanced budget.

So whether Governor is successful in the broad sweeping changes his budget calls for or whether the General Assembly is successful in stopping him one thing is ultimately clear.

Taxes will go up. Don’t know which ones or how much. Taxes will go up.

by Nello Giorgetti

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Washington Gridlock: Earmarks Are An Answer

To keep traffic moving during rush hour the District of Columbia placed signs at several major intersections, including several crossing lobbyists’ K Street, that simply read, “NO GRIDLOCK.”  The irony is sublime.

Despite the road signs, there is still gridlock every morning and every evening.  Amazingly, however, there are never any reports of commuters languishing on downtown streets for days or weeks.  Everyone always makes it to work and everyone always makes it home.

We fret about “gridlock in Washington, DC” and lament the threat of government shut downs. Our country’s infrastructure is deteriorating and desperately needs repair.  The immigration issue creates more divisiveness every day and budget debates seem to overlook opportunities to bolster what works and fix what does not.  Pundits decry the federal government’s inability to get anything done and yet the nation functions. Issues are being addressed.  No one is fiddling and Rome is not burning. At the end of each day, everyone makes it home.

So what’s the big deal?

The big deal is opportunity cost.  Even though we make it home every day, there are some pretty big problems that still need solutions and as strong as our country is, Washington’s partisan bickering creates a huge and growing opportunity cost.  By not solving issues like transportation infrastructure and immigration, lawmakers are leaving proverbial dollars on the table.  The country functions but is not reaching its potential.

There are many clear compromise solutions, but most seem too far out of reach, too simplistic, even far fetched, at least for now.  Do you really think the President will relent his opposition to building the Keystone XL Pipeline in exchange for Congressional Republicans relenting their opposition to his executive orders on immigration?  Me neither.

Bridging that chasm seems like walking a bridge to nowhere, but I have an idea.  Give Congress a boost and ease gridlock by bringing back the cursed earmarks.  Allow heathen special interests to have their say. Allow taxpayer dollars to spill and fund projects like Ft. Worth’s Cowgirl Hall of Fame and Ketchikan’s insipid bridge to nowhere.

For those unaware, an “earmark” is a federally funded special project written into and having the force of law.  In years past, during the annual legislative appropriation process wherein Congress allocates funding to each of the federal agencies, Members of Congress inserted language into the “appropriations bills” or their accompanying explanatory reports that required a federal agency to spend a portion of the money Congress gives it on a special project, i.e. a new toll booth, parking garage, bike lane, hospital equipment, job training program, environmental study, etc. etc. etc.  These special projects generally inured to the direct benefit of one Congressional District or one state.  How grotesque!  If the project happens to be in your neighborhood, however, it is clearly a matter of national significance.  What bike rack or spillway would not be?

Admittedly, at some point the earmarking process ran amok.  Members in power, such as Appropriation Committee members, would quietly “air-drop” these projects into appropriations bills in their eleventh hour.  No one knew about them until the bill was law and federal agencies found themselves required by law to underwrite new cancer research, sewage treatment plants, or Everglades education initiatives.

Each project’s value will always be a matter of debate.  Its simply a matter of perspective.  The process, however, for delivering these projects should be at least as transparent as the rest of the legislative process.  As the partisan sniping sharpened and more and more budget hawks landed in Congress, in an effort to correct the despicable earmarking process, Congress overreacted.  It eliminated earmarks altogether.  Some of the reasoning was to save taxpayer money.  Some of the reasoning was to make Congress more accountable.

Bunk.

Eliminating earmarks does not save any money whatsoever.  The funding set aside for legislatively constructed special projects is NOT returned to the Treasury, let alone the taxpayer.  It’s simply folded into the balance of each federal agencies’ piece of the federal budget pie allowing the agencies to spend it; sometimes wisely.  And if you think that eliminating earmarks has made Congress more accountable, responsible, or responsive you need to peek a bit further out from under your sleepy little rock.  Congress has done nothing for which to be accountable!

Congress is in gridlock, despite its magnanimous gesture of eliminating research projects, job training programs, infrastructure improvements, and yes – bridges to nowhere.

Pragmatism is an unsung element of what makes our country so successful.  Americans’ ability to take good with bad as long as we have more of the former and less of the latter creates balance.  Pragmatism keeps us moving forward and maintains the optimism that makes America different and special and there is nothing more pragmatic; no more useful legislative tool than an earmark.

So what if a few chumps pull one over on Congress and the taxpayers, finding a way for Uncle Sam pay for a drawbridge you’ll never use or commercialize a product you’ll never see?  What we get in return is priceless and it just may ease some gridlock and get us all home a little quicker.

When Congress postured, “No more special interests!” they committed the classic public policy gaff. They threw the baby out with the bathwater only the bathwater was relatively clean and warm and the baby was perhaps the best leverage lawmakers had to unhinge legislative gridlock.

Earmarks not only fund special projects (most of which, by the way, offer great benefits, e.g. job training for the disabled, energy research to improve fuel economy, better armor for our troops, etc.), earmarks are political chits.  They are bargaining tools in the classic art of democracy’s legislative compromise game.

If the chairman of the House Transportation Committee needs 125 more votes to pass her highway bill reauthorization, what can she offer her stalwart opponents to sway their opinions?  If negotiating on the bill itself yielded the best possible compromise; the best possible policy to help reconstitute our bridges and highways, what else can she do to remove enough of the remaining road blocks and finally pass a transportation bill?

Hold your “ears” and perhaps your nose, but what about an appropriation earmark to build a bridge that 99.9% of the country will never see?  In exchange for that special interest “gift” she receives five votes to help pass a badly needed bill.

The pragmatic (the American) evaluation is simple. Determine if that special interest earmark and others like it will cost more than allowing our infrastructure to crumble.

I can tell which way I’d go; which way I think would get us all home a bit quicker!

So the next time you’re up-in-arms about Washington’s gridlock, take heart.  You’ll get home sooner or later and Congress has it within its means to open things up even more.  The gridlock will ease, bills will get passed, and we may even benefit from more than a few productive special projects; get home a little faster when earmarks are reinstated.

by Aaron Grau

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Podcast – C&G’s “The Public Forum” on KQV 1410 – March 16, 2015

In case you missed it, here is the Podcast from our March 16, 2015 show.

Our hosts were Rob Vescio and Nello Giorgetti with guest, Eugene DePasquale, Pennsylvania’s Auditor General.

Our next show will air on Monday, April 20, 2015 at 7:00 PM.  The hosts will be Rob Vescio and Nello Giorgetti with guest, David Spigelmyer, President of the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

We hope you will join us!!!!

*     *     *     *     *

If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Tonight on “The Public Forum” on KQV Radio 1410

The Public Forum is a monthly KQV Radio Talk Show where hosts from our Cohen & Grigsby Public Affairs Team and various guests discuss current topics impacting Harrisburg and D.C. and the business community.

Our Hosts for tonight’s show are Rob Vescio and Nello Giorgetti with guest, Eugene DePasquale, Pennsylvania’s Auditor General.

We hope you will listen tonight at 7:00 PM at 1410 AM, KQV.

*     *     *     *     *

If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Highlights of Governor Wolf’s Proposed 2015-2016 Budget

Budget Numbers

  • 2015-2016 budget proposal: $29.884 billion.
  • Most of the tax revenue to come from the Personal Income Tax (40.8%) and the Sales and Use Tax (31.1%).
  • The largest proposed expenditures would be for Human Services ($11.9 billion), Education ($10.1 billion), Corrections ($2.3 billion), and Treasury ($1.2 billion).
  • Federal funds that contribute to the total operating budget of the state would be $27.9 billion.

The following have been proposed as part of Governor Wolf’s 2015-2016 budget plan.

Government Savings and Efficiency

  • Establishes GO TIME (Governor’s Office of Transformation, Innovation, Management, and Efficiency)–an initiative designed to save taxpayers more than $150 million in the next year.
  • Merges the Department of Corrections with the Board of Probation and Parole to eliminate duplicative administrative oversight and provide better outcomes after offenders return to the community.
  • Re-integrates Medicaid into a single delivery system with a goal of realizing $500 million in additional state savings next year.
  • Allows Pennsylvania to enter into Pay for Success projects (also known as Social Impact Bonds) in five areas: 1) early childhood care and education; 2) education, workforce preparedness, and employment; 3) public safety; 4) health and human services; and 5) long-term living and home-and community-based services.

Liquor Store Modernization

  • Modernizes the liquor delivery system to make it easier and more convenient for customers by including Sunday hours, identifying the most convenient locations for customers, and establishing competitive pricing.

Pension Reform

  • Provides for pension investment reforms: reducing management fees and over reliance on high-risk investment strategies.
  • Eliminates “double dip” payments to charter schools in the Public School Code.
  • Guarantees that all actuarially required employer (meaning the government) pension obligations are paid in full.
  • Builds on the pension changes of 2010 (Act 120 of 2010).
  • Establishes a restricted account to ensure that all future employer obligations are paid in full.
  • Refinances a portion of the unfunded liability of the Pennsylvania State Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) through the issuance of a $3 billion bond (which would be paid for by increased profits from the state liquor store system beginning in FY 2017-2018).
  • Realizes new revenues through the modernization of the current state-run wine and spirits system that would be allocated to school districts to reduce their pension debt.

Tax Changes

  • Provides for the complete elimination of the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax, effective January 1, 2016.
  • Provides for a reduction of the Corporate Net Income Tax from 9.99% to 5.99% in FY 2015-2016; within two years, the rate would drop to 4.99%.
  • Requires combined reporting for corporate taxpayers; companies would file a single return for all subsidiaries at the state level.
  • Decreases the cap on net operating losses from $5 million or 30% of income to $3 million or 12.5% of income.
  • Provides for $3.8 billion of property tax relief effective in the 2016-2017 school year– paid for by an increase in the Personal Income Tax to 3.7%, an increase in the Sales and Use Tax by 0.6 percentage points (to 6.6% statewide), and the elimination of certain exemptions under the Sales and Use Tax (commonly referred to as broadening the base of this tax); this property tax relief incorporates $600 million in revenue from gaming that is already dedicated to property tax reduction.
  • Provides for a severance tax on natural gas extraction to help finance new debt for publicly financed economic development initiatives and for the Pennsylvania Education Reinvestment Act, which would be established to finance the education spending provided for in the governor’s budget plan.
  • Institutes a 1.25% Bank Shares Tax, retroactive to FY 2013-2014.
  • Increases the Cigarette Tax by $1.00 per pack effective October 1, 2015.
  • Imposes a tax on all other tobacco products at 40% of the wholesale value of these products (effective October 1, 2015).

Public Financing for Economic Development Programs and Projects (includes transportation and water and sewer infrastructure)

  • Provides $5 million for a new initiative that combines the Industrial Resource Centers with technological advances of higher education.
  • Provides a $5 million tax credit to manufacturing companies (this tax credit would be funded through the elimination of “under-performing” tax credits).
  • Provides $100 million to the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority.
  • Provides $250 million to Business in Our Sites for site development, business expansions, and business relocations.
  • Provides a $1 million increase for World Trade PA.
  • Provides a $2 million increase for Marketing to Attract Tourists.
  • Includes a $1 million increase in Marketing to Attract Business.
  • Includes a $25 million increase for PA First—to facilitate job creation through Opportunity Grants, Infrastructure Development, and Customized Job Training programs.
  • Provides a $15 million increase in Keystone Communities for Main Street, Elm Street, and Core Communities Development projects.
  • Provides an additional $11 million for the Infrastructure and Facilities Improvement program.
  • Includes $775,000 to preserve Pennsylvania’s military communities (Base Realignment and Closure).
  • Provides a $4 million increase to Public Television Technology.
  • Includes $15 million for a Mixed Use Development Program through the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.
  • Supplements revenue generated by Act 89 of 2013 (transportation funding) with $145 million in bonds scheduled to be issued in FY 2014-2015 under Act 89 of 2013.
  • Leverages more than $500 million through the issuance of PennVEST revenue bonds to address deteriorating municipal water and sewer systems.

Public Financing for Energy Projects

  • $30 million for Combined Heat and Power (Cogeneration).
  • $20 million for Wind Power.
  • $20 million for Green Agriculture.
  • $30 million for the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority.
  • $25 million for “Last Mile” Natural Gas Distribution Line Development.
  • $50 million for PA Sunshine (solar investments).
  • $50 million for Energy Efficiency.
  • $100 million for Technology Investment.

Basic, Special, and Early Childhood Education

  • Provides for a $400 million increase in the Basic Education Subsidy.
  • Includes a $100 million increase in the Special Education Subsidy.
  • Includes a $120 million increase in early childhood education for additional enrollment in Pre-K Counts and the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program.
  • Includes a new Basic Education Formula that contains four goals: 1) adequacy, 2) equity, 3) predictability, and 4) accountability.
  • Includes accountability measures that address academic and fiscal performance in schools.

Charter Schools

  • Sets the regular education tuition rate for cyber charter schools at $5,950.
  • Applies the formula recommended by the Special Education Funding Commission to cyber charter schools.
  • Makes permanent in law the policy of stopping charter and cyber charter schools from being paid twice for the same employee pension costs.
  • Includes a requirement for an annual reconciliation whereby charter and cyber charter schools would refund money to their sending school districts if the charter school’s audited expenditures were less than its tuition revenue.

Higher Education and Workforce Development

  • Provides $15 million to support and modernize career and technical education.
  • Provides $5 million for Career and Technical Education Equipment grants.
  • Provides $9 million from Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) proceeds to re-establish the state’s Dual Enrollment Grant Program.
  • Provides $8 million for career counselors for middle and high school students.
  • Provides a $15 million increase to community colleges.
  • Provides a $45.3 million increase to the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
  • Provides an $80.9 million increase to State-Related Universities (i.e., Penn State University, Temple University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Lincoln University).
  • Calls on community colleges and the universities of the State System of Higher Education to freeze tuition during the next academic year.
  • Recommends $7.5 million from PHEAA proceeds for STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.
  • Provides a $10 million increase to offer additional scholarships under the Ready to Succeed program.
  • Provides a $5 million increase for grants to independent colleges and universities (known as Institutional Assistance Grants).
  • Provides $8.5 million from PHEAA proceeds to expand the state’s loan forgiveness program for primary care physicians in medically underserved areas.
  • Provides a $10 million increase for Industry Partnerships.
  • Provides $8 million in funding for the Workforce and Economic Development Network of Pennsylvania (WEDnetPA).
  • Provides a $1.2 million increase for the Pennsylvania College of Technology and an $863,000 increase for the Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology.
  • Provides an increase of $466,000 for scholarships to graduates of Lincoln and Cheyney Universities who pursue graduate and professional degrees at state-related universities.
  • Provides a $475,000 increase for grants to offset tuition and other expenses for gifted students who attend Cheyney University.
  • Provides an increase of $4.6 million for Adult and Family Literacy programs.
  • Provides a $5 million increase for Vocational Rehabilitation.

Health Care

  • Expands Medicaid into a single consolidated system.
  • Expands coverage of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to an additional 15,881 children.

Drug and Alcohol Treatment

  • Provides a $2.5 million increase to Behavioral Health Services.
  • Provides a $5 million increase to the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs to address heroin use and opioid addiction throughout the state.

Public Safety

  • Funds four classes of Pennsylvania State Police Troopers (or 350 new cadets).

Care for Vulnerable Citizens

  • Expands home-and community-based long-term care by providing an additional $31 million to the Department of Human Services (previously called the Department of Public Welfare) and $7.3 million to the Department of Aging to allow more individuals to obtain care in their homes.
  • Provides for the implementation of managed long-term care within three years.
  • Implements an online home care registry for workers to find jobs in the field and for consumers to find competent care.
  • Provides $45.9 million to reduce waiting lists for individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities (and expands services for these individuals).
  • Provides an additional $19.3 million for home-and community-based care for individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism (and includes $12.8 million to fully annualize the 2014-2015 program expansion).

Labor and Employment

  • Provides for an increase in Pennsylvania’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 and ties it to inflation.

Note: The information contained in this document is from public materials made available by the Pennsylvania Office of the Budget.   This document serves as a condensed summary of the provisions of Governor Wolf’s proposed budgetIt is not an official source on the Governor’s proposed 2015-2016 budget.

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Podcast – C&G’s “The Public Forum” on KQV 1410 – February 16, 2015

In case you missed it, here is the Podcast from our February 16, 2015 show.

The host was Kim Hileman and the guest was Robert Hurley, the newly appointed Director of Economic Development for Allegheny County.

Our next show will air on Monday, March 16, 2015 at 7:00 PM.  The hosts will be Rob Vescio and Nello Giorgetti with guest, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.

We hope you will join us!!!

*     *     *     *     *

If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Tonight on “The Public Forum” on KQV Radio 1410

The Public Forum is a monthly KQV Radio Talk Show where hosts from our Cohen & Grigsby Public Affairs Team and various guests discuss current topics impacting Harrisburg and D.C. and the business community.

Our Host for tonight’s show is Kim Hileman with guest, Robert Hurley, the newly appointed Director of Economic Development for Allegheny County.

We hope you will listen tonight at 7:00 PM at 1410 AM, KQV.

*     *     *     *     *

If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Liquor Privatization, Déjà vu all over again?

The stories are countless, a new resident to Pennsylvania goes grocery shopping for the first time and is astounded when they can’t find either the beer or wine aisles. Or you are amazed when you go to the Food Lion in North Carolina to stock up for your beach vacation and lo and behold you can buy not only a case of beer but a bottle of wine.

Since the repeal of Prohibition way back in 1933 the Commonwealth has constructed a set of laws and regulations so arcane and unintelligible that you would need to look even further back in history to the rules of court in ancient Byzantium for guidance.

Now I am old enough to remember when I went to the “State Store” and I had to place my order to a clerk who then disappeared into the back and sometimes actually came back with something resembling what I desired.  Now of course we have “Wine and Spirits” shops where I can actually see and touch what I am ordering.  But no beer!

Change comes at a glacial pace.  Governors Thornburg, Ridge and Corbett tried with nothing to show for their efforts.

Under Governor Corbett the latest attempt was made to change the system, and then Majority Leader Mike Turzai actually defied history and passed his bill through the State House.  It died an unseemly death in the State Senate. With the defeat of Corbett it seemed as if the issue was dead, or at least dormant.

But credit, now Speaker Mike Turzai, who has pledged to get Pennsylvania out of the liquor business once and for all.  As part of any negotiation on revenue increases in this year’s budget Turzai has made it a condition that liquor privatization must be passed and signed by Governor Wolf. A new privatization bill by Turzai is waiting to be launched any day now.

How will this play out? Will the Senate finally pass Turzai’s bill? Will Governor Tom Wolf sign it? Stay tuned during the next six months.

by Nello Giorgetti

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Congressional Flerovium: Republicans, Small Business, & Earmarks

Creating public policy is as much a science as an art. It requires creativity, trial and error, finesse, and sometimes bull-headed determination.  On January 3rd a “refreshed” group of artisan/scientists will commence the country’s 114th Congress but sadly the rhetoric still seems more like Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm than Mendeleev’s methodical chart.

Our $64,000 question, however, is how the rhetoric will impact small businesses?

Republicans’ ascension means renewed efforts on pro-business issues.  For example, the House of Representative’s current Budget Committee Chairman, Paul Ryan (R-WI) will likely receive the Ways and Means Committee’s gavel giving him the runway he’s wanted to write tax overhaul legislation.  On the Senate side, Orin Hatch (R-UT) will lead the Finance Committee.  In addition to patent reform, Chairman Hatch will quickly move to repeal the medical device tax and later take up larger matters like the Highway Trust Fund.

House and Senate Small Business Committees preside over matters including commercial lending declines, rural small businesses access to resources, and level playing fields for small businesses’ access to federal contracts.

Senators Risch (Idaho,) Vitter (Louisiana,) and Rubio (Florida) are considering the Senate Committee’s chair while Representatives Graves (Missouri) Chabot (Ohio) Tipton (Colorado) and New Yorkers Richard Hanna and Chris Collins consider the House gavel.

As these pieces fall into place and Congress tries to accomplish…anything, one critical tool is missing: earmarks.  A new Congress gives leadership an opportunity to create new operational rules.  (US Const. Art. I, Sec. V, Clause 2)

In the name of fiscal responsibility, Republicans foolishly banned earmarking. Plainly, the decision stymies legislation.

Eliminating earmarks did not save taxpayer dollars.  The small amount reserved for earmarks simply shifted from Congress’s control to the administration.  Meanwhile, Congressional Members sacrificed a valuable trading tool.

It’s impossible to predict whether the 114th Congress can finally pass a transportation bill, but the process will be easier if Members who dig in their oppositional heels over some obscure provision can be persuaded to vote for the bill in exchange for a new bridge, bike path, or on-ramp.

Small businesses in Iowa who benefit from new highway construction will not take issue if a transportation bill finally passes in exchange for a new emergency room in Georgia.

The earmark ban, however, remains radioactive. No one touches it and consequently, legislation languishes. So, as the 114th Congress settles into its routine, appointing new chairmen and addressing issues for the country and small businesses, the question remains whether anything will actually get done. It’s been a long time since anyone has seen that happen.

Congressional progress, it seems, is like Flerovium: extremely radioactive, rarely, observed, and each with the atomic number 114!

This article originally appeared in SMC Business Council‘s December 17, 2014 edition of Government News.

by Aaron Grau

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Pennsylvania’s City Revitalization and Improvement Zone (“CRIZ”)

Purpose of the CRIZ Program

Act 52 of 2013 created the City Revitalization and Improvement Zone (“CRIZ”) Program. The purpose of this program is stimulate economic development and job creation in Pennsylvania’s smaller cities, such as Reading, Erie, and York, which over the years have struggled to remove blighted and vacant property and redevelop their communities after suffering losses in their manufacturing base.

Explanation of How This Program Works in Practice

  • A contracting authority, which is another type of municipal authority, is created by a Third Class City of at least 30,000 that has not had a receiver appointed under Act 47 of 1987 (Municipalities Financial Recovery Act); a city with a population of at least 30,000 designated as distressed under Act 47 that is not located in a home rule county; or a home rule county where a city with a population of at least 30,000 is designated as distressed under Act 47.
  • The contracting authority is permitted to designate up to 130 acres within a CRIZ.
  • This designated zone may include construction, reconstruction, or renovation, of commercial, sports, exhibition, hospitality, conference, retail, community, office, recreational, or mixed-use facilities; construction could include related infrastructure and site preparation.
  • The contracting authority may borrow money to provide development and construction within the designated zone.
  • State and local taxes paid by qualified businesses and construction contractors operating within the zone would be used to repay the debt service on money borrowed (including bonds issued) by the contracting authority to develop or redevelop the area within the zone.  Act 52 defines a qualified business as follows:
    •  an entity located or partially located in a zone that meets the following requirements:
      • has conducted an active trade or business in the zone.
      • appears on the timely filed list of qualified businesses and contractors with the Department of Revenue.
    • a construction contractor engaged in construction, including infrastructure or site preparation, reconstruction, or renovation of a facility located in or partially in the zone.

This term does not include an agent, broker, or representative of a business.

  • Eligible state taxes under this program include the corporate net income tax, capital stock and franchise tax, bank shares tax, personal income tax, sales and use tax, and the tax paid to state government on the sale of liquor, wine, or malt or brewed beverages in the zones. Eligible local taxes under this program include the business privilege tax, the amusement tax, the local services tax, and the earned income tax.
  • The contracting authority develops the zone plan, which is the basis of the CRIZ application and details the zone designation. The zone plan is submitted to the Department of Community and Economic Development (“DCED”). CRIZ applications must be approved by the DCED, Department of Revenue, and the Office of Budget.

Restrictions to Participate in the CRIZ Program

  • A financially distressed city under the Municipalities Financial Recovery Act (Act 47 of 1987) that is located in a home rule county may not participate in the CRIZ program unless the county creates a contracting authority that designates a zone.
  • A Third Class City that has had a receiver appointed under the Municipalities Financial Recovery Act may not participate in the CRIZ program.

Duration of a CRIZ

  • A CRIZ will have up to 30 years to repay the entire debt service on the money borrowed (including bonds issued) by the contracting authority for the zone.

The Number of CRIZs to be Established

  • Prior to 2016 up to two CRIZs and one pilot zone may be established. The two CRIZs have been chosen in Bethlehem and Lancaster. The pilot zone, which would be an area not more than 130 acres within a township or borough with a population of at least 7,000, has not yet been designated.
  • Beginning in 2016, up to two CRIZs within cities may be approved and granted each calendar year.

Specific use of CRIZ Funds

  • Payment of debt service on bonds issued for the construction within the designated zone.
  • Construction, including related infrastructure and site preparation, reconstruction or renovation of all or part of a facility.
  • Replenishment of amounts in debt service reserve funds established to pay debt service on the bonds.
  • Employment of an independent auditing firm.
  • Improvement or development of all or part of a zone.
  • Improvement projects including fixtures and equipment for a facility owned by a public authority.

Funds may not be used for the maintenance or repair of a facility.

Matching Funds

  • The amount of CRIZ money made available for the construction, reconstruction, or renovation of facilities in a designated City Revitalization and Improvement Zone must be matched by private money at a ratio of five CRIZ dollars to one private dollar.

CRIZ Tax Reports

  • CRIZ tax reports must be filed by CRIZ contractors and qualified businesses by June 15 to detail state and local taxes attributable to the CRIZ during the prior calendar year.
  • State tax reports must be filed with the Department of Revenue, and local tax reports must be filed with the local taxing authority.

CRIZ Exclusions

  • The acreage of a CRIZ cannot be increased after the zone is established.
  • A CRIZ may not include neighborhood improvement zones.
  • A CRIZ may not include any of the following unless and until they are decertified: Keystone Opportunity Zones, Keystone Opportunity Expansion Zones, Keystone Opportunity Improvement Zones, or Strategic Development Areas.
  • A CRIZ may not include Keystone Special Development Zones or Keystone Innovation Zones unless and until modifications to the geographical boundaries are made to these zones.
  • Projects located within a CRIZ are not eligible for new Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) funding considerations. RACP grants approved prior to the approval of a zone, however, would not be restricted.

Legislative Proposals to Expand the CRIZ Program

The following legislative proposals have been or will be introduced to expand the CRIZ program:

  • House Bill 2183 (Rep. Harhart of Northampton County) would expand the definition of pilot zone to allow for zones that span multiple municipalities, allow industrial and commercial development authorities to serve as contracting authorities for the purpose of applying for and administering a CRIZ, and provide for the actual calculation of the local baseline tax.
  • Senator Argall of Schuylkill County is planning to introduce legislation that would authorize the approval of three new zones in 2014 and two additional zones in 2015. This legislation would also increase the number of potential pilot zones in boroughs and townships from one to four.
  • House Bill 1962 (Rep. Saylor of York County) would authorize the approval of two additional zones during the 2014 calendar year.
  • House Bill 2044 (Rep. Matzie of Beaver County) would allow the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) to select communities from a wide applicant pool and determine which ones would benefit the most from the CRIZ program.
  • House Bill 2123 (Rep. Longietti of Mercer County) would authorize a CRIZ in a total of fifteen Third Class Cities and a Second Class A City (i.e., the city of Scranton) before 2016, divided among four categories of population: four in cities of 60,000 or more; four in cities between 20,000 and 60,000; four in cities up to 20,000; and in three additional cities regardless of population. After 2016, all population restrictions for entry into the program would be removed. Act 47 cities (financially distressed cities) would be given priority approval.       The legislation also increases the number of authorized pilot zones to five and lowers the population requirement for the municipalities in those zones from 7,000 to 2,000, without restriction by the form of county government.
  • Senate Bill 1227 (Sen. Schwank of Berks County) would also authorize a CRIZ in a total of fifteen cities, including the city of Scranton and Third Class Cities, before 2016. Four zones would be authorized in each of three population categories: cities of 60,000 or more; cities between 20,000 and 60,000; and cities up to 20,000. Three additional cities would be authorized a CRIZ without restrictions by population. The number of pilot zones would also be increased to five, without restriction by the form of county government. Priority would be given to cities that have been declared distressed or have had a receiver appointed under Act 47 of 1987 (Municipalities Financial Recovery Act).

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Copyright © 2015 by Cohen & Grigsby, P.C. (No claim to original U.S. Governmental material.)

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Cohen & Grigsby, P.C. and is intended to alert the recipients to new developments in the area of public affairs law. The hiring of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements. Before you decide, ask us to send you free written information about Cohen & Grigsby’s qualifications and experience.

Podcast – C&G’s “The Public Forum” on KQV 1410 – January 19, 2015

In case you missed it, here is the Podcast from our January 19, 2015 show.

Hosts were Rob Vescio and Nello Giorgetti and the guest was, Rich Fitzgerald, Allegheny County Executive.

Our next show will air on Monday, February 16, 2015 at 7:00 PM.  The guest host will be Kim Hileman with guest Senator Wayne Fontana.  The topic will be Economic Development.

We hope you will join us!!!

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Tonight on “The Public Forum” on KQV Radio 1410

The Public Forum is a monthly KQV Radio Talk Show where hosts from our Cohen & Grigsby Public Affairs Team and various guests discuss current topics impacting Harrisburg and D.C. and the business community.

Our Hosts for tonight’s show are Rob Vescio and Nello Giorgetti with guest, Rich Fitzgerald, Allegheny County Executive.

We hope you will listen tonight at 7:00 PM at 1410 AM, KQV.

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Cohen & Grigsby Launches Federal Lobbying Practice with hire of lobbyist, Aaron Grau

PITTSBURGH – January 13, 2015 – Cohen & Grigsby, a business law firm in Pittsburgh, PA and an office in Naples, FL, is pleased to announce the launch of its Federal Lobbying Practice with the hiring of federal lobbyist, Aaron Grau.  With the launch, the Public Affairs group will service clients with issues beyond local and state to those with a more national focus including clients of the firm’s Naples office. Grau will serve a wide range of federal issues including a key emphasis on funding, contracts, policy and association management.

Grau reestablished Grau & Associates, LLC in Pittsburgh after first starting the firm over ten years ago in Alexandria, Virginia.  Before creating his own Pittsburgh based company, Mr. Grau directed Pittsburgh’s Duane Morris Government Strategies’ federal government affairs practice from its creation, a merger between GSP Consulting and Duane Morris Government Affairs in January 2012.  Before the merger, as a GSP shareholder, Grau oversaw GSP’s federal practice for nine years.  During that time he managed and grew GSP’s (and later Duane Morris Government Strategies’) federal government affairs practice.

Grau has a BA from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia and a Juris Doctorate from Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.  He is licensed to practice law in Florida, Georgia, the District of Columbia, and the Federal Courts and has been honored by the State of Ohio for his legislative work on behalf of people with disabilities.

Cohen & Grigsby Public Affairs is a bipartisan public affairs group providing government relations and lobbying services.  The team consists of lobbyists who have years of experience working with both the legislative and administrative process of government in Pennsylvania. They have served at various levels of local and state government from both sides of the political spectrum.  The group of professionals operates collaboratively to address each client’s issues.

President and CEO Jack Elliott stated, “Cohen & Grigsby Public Affairs federal lobbying practice and the addition of Aaron Grau will complement our current team of professionals and further assist in the development and implementation of our client’s government relations strategies,” Elliott added. “Taken together, the group’s extensive backgrounds will bring considerable resources to bear for our clients in the Pittsburgh region and in Southwest Florida.”

ABOUT COHEN & GRIGSBY
Since 1981, Cohen & Grigsby, P.C. and its attorneys have provided sound legal advice and solutions to clients that seek to maximize their potential in a constantly changing global marketplace.  Comprised of more than 130 lawyers, Cohen & Grigsby maintains offices in Pittsburgh, PA and Naples, FL.  The firm’s practice areas include Business Services, Labor & Employment, Immigration/International Business, Real Estate & Public Finance, Litigation, Employee Benefits and ERISA, Estates & Trusts, Bankruptcy & Creditors Rights, and Public Affairs.  Cohen & Grigsby represents private and publicly held businesses, nonprofits, multinational corporations, individuals and emerging businesses across a full spectrum of industries. Our lawyers maintain an unwavering commitment to customer service that ensures a productive partnership.  For more information, visit www.cohenlaw.com.

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