Pennsylvania legislature: Tackling economic recovery

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Pennsylvania legislators are tackling economic recovery plans in 2021, House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, announced Tuesday. The move comes as industry analysts report a historic low in small business confidence.

Tackling economic recovery
Rep. Kerry Benninghoff

The House Economic Recovery Task Force will focus on the state’s “homegrown assets,” Benninghoff said. It will align them with opportunities for growth in hopes of turning the state into “the envy of the east.”

“As we began this session, I made it a priority to develop a working group of lawmakers from across Pennsylvania, with varied backgrounds,” he said.

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Those lawmakers will “put their heads together to help inform my office about what economic recovery legislation should look like,” he said. “Their charge is simple: Examine how we got here and develop and strategize legislative and policy ideas to kick-start the economy.”

The goal is to make Pennsylvania the ‘envy of the East.’”

RELATED: Op-Ed: Business community needs help

Lawmakers can start with favorable tax and regulatory policies, said Gordon Denlinger, director of the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business. Lingering uncertainty from ongoing COVID-19 restrictions at the state (and potentially federal) level plummeted small business confidence to historic lows, according to the NFIB.

“There is an amazing amount of uncertainty at this time,” Delinger said.

Small business concerns

Small business owners are concerned about health mandates coming from Governor Tom Wolf. They also worry about policy changes that will advance at the federal level.

Business owners not only need favorable tax and regulatory policies. They need stability to make good decisions and plan for the future, Delinger said.

Just 8% of businesses think it’s a good time to expand, according to the NFIB’s Small Business Optimism Index. Nine of the index’s components declined, with virtually no one anticipating better business conditions over the next six months.

“The current dramatic changes in Washington and our ongoing challenges in Harrisburg are not providing stability or much in the way of hope for strong pro-business support from government,” Denlinger said.

Pandemic restrictions continue hampering industries unevenly. Bars and restaurants limp along under strict capacity limits and social distancing mandates. Meanwhile, Big box retailers remain virtually unaffected.

It’s hard to forecast what the future holds for small business owners, according to the NFIB. That is blamed on factors such as a slow vaccine rollout nationwide and a new incoming presidential administration.

Optimism at a historic low

“This month’s drop in small business optimism is historically very large, said  NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg. “Most of the decline was due to the outlook of sales and business conditions in 2021. Small businesses are concerned about potential new economic policy in the new administration; and the increased spread of COVID-19 that is causing renewed government-mandated business closures across the nation.”

Rep. Aaron Kaufer, R-Luzerne, will lead the state lawmakers’ task force. He said it will investigate “legislative solutions” that will encourage business owners to again expand and hire more workers.

“With difficult challenges come great opportunities; and we are faced with the opportunity to not only recover but come back stronger,” he said of tackling economic recovery efforts,

Fellow task force member Rep. Wendi Thomas, R-Richboro, said the state is “obligated to repair the financial damage caused by the ramifications of COVID-19.”

“We must help Pennsylvania’s businesses rebound from this crisis and thrive; but we must also focus on attracting new businesses to our state through economic policies that remove the obstacles to economic growth,” she said. “In the end, the work of this task force will create a roadmap for helping businesses flourish and stand strong in the face of any future crisis.”

Election discrepancies called
Christen Smith

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania’s General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.

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