Table Talk

Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley made a couple of stops in Warren on Friday, first to hold a business round table to brainstorm ideas with community leaders for making Pa., and Warren, better.

“I came to Warren to discuss with businesses and the community about what is important. We have been cautiously optimistic over the last two months, as we posted the lowest unemployment rates since the start of the great recession, and it’s even better here in Warren. When Governor Corbett and I walked through the door, the rate was 8.2,” Cawley said.

He said the Corbett administration is “sending a message that Pennsylvania is open for business. We’re changing the way we are doing business. All of you know that the corporate tax rate in Pennsylvania is the highest in the nation.”

Cawley spoke of the administration’s efforts to improve the business environment, first by getting rid of the inheritance tax, which he said made passing down family farms difficult or even impossible because the inheritors had to sell parts of the farm to pay the taxes.

Another effort is being made to re-educate state agencies so that the regulators become a resource rather than roadblocks to progress.

“At the end of the day, we all want clean air, we all want clean water. We want to be good stewards of the environment. We want to create family-sustaining jobs,” he said. “Meeting with folks like you gives us ideas.”

He also said that without meaningful pension reform, “Property taxes will continue to grow to fulfill obligations most of you don’t enjoy.”

Cawley asked the participants if they had questions or suggestions for him.

City Police Chief Raymond Zydonik said some pension reforms could have impacts on municipalities that could cause an increase in property taxes, and Cawley said however it is framed, “We can’t create yet another huge unfunded mandate.”

Warren County School District Superintendent Dr? William Clark pointed out the decline in revenues over the years from timber cutting on the Allegheny National Forest is taking a toll on the school district’s revenues, and the fact that the hundreds of thousands of acres on the forest had been removed from the tax roles.

Cawley handed off the question to State Rep. Kathy Rapp, saying he had already had a conversation with her on that subject.

She answered that the Senate and House legislators have been discussing the issue with the Forest Service over the years. “It’s critical to the school district. The school district and the community depend on the timber cut,” she said.

She added that that with the continuous turnover of forest supervisors, the issue never gets resolved. “I think it’s deliberate. It’s a federal issue. If the governor or the lieutenant governor came to a meeting, it would make a point that the forest in Pennsylvania is important”

Cawley replied, “Timbering is critical to this part of the state, and as I understand it, it is healthy when it’s done right. Kathy is right, it’s a shell game.”

Al Loranger III asked what Cawley saw happening in the business environment over the next ten to 15 years.

“There have been opportunities created. We think we are on the right track,” Cawley said adding the cabinet secretaries in the Corbett administration were selected based on experience. “The Secretary of Agriculture was a farmer… It seems like common sense here , but common sense in Harrisburg is revolutionary,” he said.

He was vehement about critics that said Corbett cut one billion dollars in education. “It’s not true. It’s a lie.” He said the Rendell administration spent that money from one time funds that came from the federal government, hoping that the money would keep coming, knowing it was a gamble.

Robert Sokolski, of Whirley DrinkWorks, said, “Send us in a boat-load of people. We have the jobs, but we need a trained workforce,” he said adding that employers have a responsibility to train their workers without counting on new hires to know everything about the job.

“It’s really technical jobs that are a problem,” Sokolski said.

He added, “Anyone in Warren that wants a job, can find a job.”

Cawley replied that the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency now offers grants for those seeking a certificate program rather than a college degree. “The opportunities are here, we just need to fine-tune the educational opportunities,” he said.

William Wagner, president and CEO of Northwest Savings Bank asked if there should be an additional tax on oil and gas royalties, as they bear no risk or costs to the operations, yet there are effects to roads and bridges from truck traffic associated with the industry.

Cawley said that Pennsylvania has some of the strictest regulations for oil and gas operations and they already pay income tax on the royalties, and some drillers have been deducting for costs involved.

“Anecdotally, I heard one person got a bill for 27 cents instead of a check,” he said.

He added they did recognize that the industry has a local impact on roads and bridges, hence the impact fee charged to gas operations.

He also said they recognize that people moving into the state to work for gas drilling outfits brought their issues with them, putting a strain on local resources.

As a former county commissioner from Bucks County he said, “The county governments are responsible for human services, and the impact fees are intended to help with local issues.”

As far as more fees and taxes on petroleum operations, “We don’t want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.”

Following the meeting Cawley went to greet the participants at the Pa. Sheriff’s Association at the Holiday Inn. He had other commitments, so he spoke only briefly. “Many people don’t know the vital role the sheriff’s and deputies play in Pennsylvania,” and he said that he is a friend to the organization. He went through the crowd, greeting and speaking with the attendees.