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.

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!!!!

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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 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.

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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.

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.