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Governor Shapiro Courts Business

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In the first three weeks of Governor Josh Shapiro’s new administration, he has taken steps in an apparent attempt to court Pennsylvania’s business community by issuing several executive orders to increase Pennsylvania’s business attractiveness. While there is much to be done and questions remain on his approach to energy, here are the initial updates and suggestions to keep the ball going.

Governor Shapiro issued an executive order to create a new office named the Pennsylvania Office of Transformation and Opportunity. According to the Shapiro administration, it will help develop and lead an overall growth strategy and implement economic development projects — coordinating with Commonwealth agencies, expediting permit reviews, and ensuring the speed of business review and approval of key incentive programs. Instead of forcing business to go to multiple agencies for permits, approvals and funding, the Office will serve as a “one-stop shop” to cut through red tape, bring state agencies together, support Pennsylvania businesses that want to grow and encourage other businesses to move to Pennsylvania.

The idea here is to prevent businesses looking to grow or apply for funding from laborious application processes, which often includes up to five different agencies and a long timeline. The new office will be led by a “transformation and opportunity czar” overseeing a strategy group composed of cabinet members and state agency heads. Their job will be to advise the governor on economic development projects and ways to attract and retain employers.

The second executive order also seeks to reduce the permitting and licensing process time. As of January 31, state agencies were directed within 90 days to compile and send Shapiro a catalog of the licenses, certificates and permits they issue, at which point the administration will review, analyze and establish efficient application-processing timelines for all occupational permits or licenses based on agency recommendations — with a money-back guarantee if the application is not processed in time.

Although the list of reforms needed to slow the bleed as Pennsylvania’s business competitiveness falls to the bottom of the list, perhaps the most timely and significant step to address is for Shapiro to reject the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

RGGI is an agreement among a group of states to require power plants to pay additional fees, a fancy term for new taxes, on emissions. This is on top of the more than $2 billion in impact fees the state has already received.

Shapiro’s position is ambiguous after he criticized then-Governor Tom Wolf for joining RGGI and even campaigned as an “all-of-the-above” energy governor. However, while attorney general, Shapiro’s office approved the decision for Wolf to move forward with RGGI. Joining RGGI would have a direct negative consequence to the over half million jobs the energy industry provides in Pennsylvania and must be given strong consideration.

As well intentioned as a money back guarantee may sound, the implication of a pending refund because the state’s bloated bureaucracy is unable to process license requests in a reasonable time is not comforting.

Furthermore, businesses looking to expand or move to Pennsylvania need the government to move at the speed of business. If the new governor
wants Pennsylvania to be marginally competitive, hard decisions and drastic overalls need to be made fast.

Shapiro’s effort is a step in the right direction his predecessor never considered. However, if he wants to create hope for Pennsylvania’s economy, he needs to reject RGGI, go all-in on Pennsylvania’s energy resources, refuse to let other states beat us on permitting, expedite the CNI reduction plan and commit to our workforce.

Jezree Friend is assistant vice president of External Relations at the Manufacturer & Business Association. Contact him at 814/833-3200, 800/815-2660 or jfriend@mbausa.org.