By PA Independent | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — Early August is a popular time for getaways, and it appears governors are no different.
This week Gov. Tom Corbett took his annual kayak trip to promote Pennsylvania tourism. The three-day excursion started in the Juniata River in Huntingdon County, and wrapped up Friday in the mid-state with a trip to Bald Eagle State Park.
Corbett has said he wants to promote Pennsylvania to in-state residents and out-of-state travelers since tourism, Pennsylvania’s second-largest industry of 300,000 employees, is a critical economic engine.
While the governor was traversing rivers, parks and museums, state government carried on its business as the fall legislative session looms with continued challenges for Corbett’s policy agenda.
A six-month process to name a new head of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education wrapped up this week with the Board of Governors naming Frank Brogan, a Florida education official, the new chancellor.
Brogan was lieutenant governor under Gov. Jeb Bush through 2002 until he was named chancellor of the Florida State University System. Prior to that, Brogan had a decades-long career in education, including several years as the state’s commissioner of education.
Brogan’s appointment was announced following speculation the new chancellor might be former Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis. Other than PASSHE officials interviewing candidates, no one knew for sure since the board switched to a confidential chancellor search process this year.
Lauren Gutshall, spokeswoman for the Association of Pennsylvania State Colleges and University Faculties, said those rumors raised a few red flags.
“There was also some concern it was looking like an awfully political process, and we didn’t want that to overshadow the state system,” Gutshall said. “We’re really pleased the board went in a different direction.”
The PLCB made record-setting net income in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, the same year state officials hotly debated its closure.
The 80-year old PLCB reported a net income of $128.4 million for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, according to figures released Monday.
That’s a record high, and $24.9 million, or 24 percent more, than the system earned the previous year. The increase was due in part to a 6 percent increase in wine sales, and a 3.7 percent increase in spirit sales.
Anti-privatization lawmakers quickly jumped on the news, pointing to the transfers PLCB makes to the General Fund. Last year that transfer was $80 million, in addition to transfers to specific agencies like the Pennsylvania State Police.
“The liquor privatization issue is far from settled in Harrisburg,” said Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Allegheny, who ardently supports the agency. “I hope that my fellow lawmakers will see today’s news from the LCB, recognize its success and do whatever necessary to safeguard this vital public asset.”
QVC takes $3.7M in film tax credits
Under the umbrella of the Department of Community and Economic Development, state officials promote the Film Production Tax Credit program as a way to create jobs.
QVC, headquartered in West Chester, got about $3.7 million in tax credits in fiscal 2011-12 for 15 different shows. The QVC projects created a total of 227 full-time equivalent jobs and generated $976,312 in state and local taxes. That same year, QVC was authorized for an additional $2.5 million in tax credits for 48 productions, which had not been completed by year’s end, according to state data.
The international company with 100 million U.S. viewers has kept its foothold in Pennsylvania since the mid-1980s, long before the tax credit program began in 2004. But film tax credits are often criticized for promoting transient jobs by drawing a temporary production, while QVC has more than 4,000 employees in Pennsylvania.
Tax credits are given to QVC, like any other production, on a case-by-case basis. Janice Collier, film tax credit manager with DCED, said QVC receives film tax credits, in part, because it’s stable.
“They continue to employ Pennsylvanian employees,” she said. “They have increased their workforce. They have increased their infrastructure.”
Conservative Republicans still opposing higher taxes for transportation
In a letter to the editor that doubled as an open letter to Corbett, state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, made it clear he and other conservative Republicans would not return to Harrisburg this fall with a newfound willingness to increase taxes.
Though Corbett has long been hammered by moderates and liberals for his unwillingness to increase taxes, he has voiced support for higher gasoline taxes to fund transportation infrastructure projects around the state.
Metcalfe and other conservative members of the GOP revolted against that plan in June – one of several reasons why the transportation funding proposal failed.
“I disagree with Corbett’s gas-tax proposal, which could increase pump prices by 28 cents per gallon. His proposal would also funnel hundreds of millions of dollars into mass transit, not roads and bridges,” Metcalfe wrote.
The fractured House GOP caucus will have to put itself back together again before September if it hopes to move forward with any of the governor’s major policy issues.
Speaker Smith renews effort to cut size of PA legislature
The head of the state House is planning to make another push to reduce the number of members in the chamber.
Speaker of the House Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, said this week he would reintroduce a bill to cut that number to 153 from the current 203.
Unlike a previous version of the legislation – which the House passed in 2011, but died in the state Senate – Smith said his new proposal would not make any changes to the 50-member state Senate.
As he has done before, Smith cited difficulty in organizing and running a legislative body that includes so many lawmakers. Pennsylvania’s state House is the second largest legislative body in the nation, trailing only the 400-member New Hampshire state House.
In terms of cost, the Pennsylvania General Assembly ranks second to California, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Removing 50 members from the state House is not likely to reduce the annual cost of the Legislature by much, as each member would have more constituents and likely more staff.
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