Energy, election reform discussed at Northeast Pennsylvania MAEA legislative roundtable
Feb. 3—BARNESVILLE — State lawmakers gathered Friday at the Mountain Valley Golf Course Clubhouse for a discussion about energy, election reform, taxes and other topics during the Northeast Pennsylvania Manufacturers and Employers Association legislative roundtable.
The seven legislators at the event included the four Republicans who represent Schuylkill County in the state House of Representatives: Joanne Stehr, R-107, Hegins; Dane Watro, R-116, Kline Twp.; Tim Twardzik, R-123, Butler Twp.; and Jamie Barton, R-124, East Brunswick Twp.
Also participating were two Luzerne County representatives, Alec Ryncavage, R-119, Plymouth, and Aaron Kaufer, R-120, Kingston; and Columbia County's Robert Leadbeter, R-109, Catawissa Twp.
The panel, moderated by MAEA Vice Chairman Mike Narcavage, covered numerous topics relating to business, energy and politics in Pennsylvania.
Before the main discussion, Kaufer, a fifth-term representative, referenced House Speaker Mark Rozzi's recent decision to recess the legislative body until Feb. 27. Kaufer commiserated with his fellow roundtable participants — five of whom are first-time representatives — and told them to stick through the "dysfunctional" time in the Legislature.
Meanwhile, Rozzi, a Berks County Democrat, has embarked on what he calls a statewide "listening tour" to hear directly from residents about the chamber's struggles.
"This has been a very, very difficult time here in government," Kaufer said. "This is not the way things normally are. ... I'm hoping that we'll get back into session, and we'll actually start getting things going here soon."
On the topic of energy, regulatory reform and the environment, Barton said it is key to "open up" and tap into Pennsylvania's natural resources.
Barton said that while he is not opposed to alternative energy sources, it is important not to overlook fossil fuels, as they are crucial to operating small businesses across the state.
"There needs to be accountability for energy," he said.
Twardzik agreed with Barton, noting that the government must take advantage of the abundance of energy in Pennsylvania.
Twardzik said he will work to withdraw Pennsylvania from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multi-state, market-based program intended to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. More than 10 states along the Eastern Seaboard, including Pennsylvania, are participating in the program.
Twardzik said RGGI "punishes" those who use carbon-based fuels and makes it more expensive to shore up green energy.
Twardzik added that it will be important for the House to work with Gov. Josh Shapiro, who has expressed wariness about RGGI's effectiveness.
"We need to let the energies that we have in Pennsylvania thrive and create good jobs," said Twardzik, noting that lawmakers will likely have to compromise on some issues along the way.
Regarding alternative energy, Kaufer said that a potential "green energy revolution" is unlikely to occur soon due to insufficient technology.
He echoed Twardzik's statement that there will likely be compromise on issues involving solar, hydro and other energy sources.
"We are the number-one net energy exporter here in Pennsylvania," Kaufer said. "Energy is our business. It is what we are really good at. ... Here in Pennsylvania, we are artificially raising the price of our energy to sell to our surrounding states and surrounding partners, which makes us less able to do it and less accessible in being that energy state."
Election reform, taxes
Asked about election reform, Twardzik mentioned a bill that House Republicans have introduced that would mandate voter identification.
However, because of the adjournment of the chamber last week, the legislation will not appear on this spring's primary election ballot. The bill is part of a three-part constitutional amendment package that includes proposals for an expanded window for survivors of sexual abuse to file a claim, along with regulatory reform. However, lawmakers have expressed dismay over the amendments being grouped together rather than presented as individual bills.
Barton lamented the fact that "they're not even allowing us to put it on the ballot for the people to decide."
On the topic of taxes, Barton cited Pennsylvania's corporate net income tax, which, at 8.99%, is currently the fifth highest in the United States.
The tax will be reduced by 0.5% every year until it reaches 4.99% in 2031.
However, Barton would like to reach that rate sooner, believing lower taxes will draw more business to the state.
"One thing that's a little reassuring is that Governor Shapiro has said he is not opposed to fast-tracking this," Barton said.
Last year, Pennsylvania's 9.99% rate was the second highest in the nation, behind New Jersey's 11.5%.
Twardzik mentioned legislation introduced by House Republicans that addresses "unfair" unemployment compensation rates raised by shutdowns during the pandemic.
"It basically said that if you close because of the governor (Tom Wolf's) shutdown, and reopen, you cannot have your unemployment compensation rates (increase)," Twardzik said. "We got that through. About 2,000 businesses were affected by this."
The bill was amended into legislation sponsored by state Sen. Lisa Baker, R-20, and was passed unanimously.
Twardzik said the bill was inspired, in part, by a meeting with a restaurateur, whose unemployment compensation rate for his business went from $340 to $3,200 during the pandemic.
Ryncavage added that he looks forward to the results of Rozzi's statewide listening tour. Ryncavage said the discussions have covered Rozzi's proposed amendment on the statute of limitations, but have also explored "how we can get back to bipartisanship."
"It'll be interesting to see what those results show," Ryncavage said.
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