State chamber official wants less state spending

PAT FRIDGEN
GENE BARR

Approximately 90 people turned out to learn about issues affecting Pennsylvania businesses at a joint Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast Feb. 19. Chambers from Greencastle, Tuscarora Area and Waynesboro hosted the annual event at Antrim House Restaurant.

Gene Barr, vice president of government and public affairs for the PA Chamber of Business and Industry, spoke about the state budget now under review by legislators. He cautioned that Governor Edward Rendell's idea to lower the sales tax from 6 percent to 4 percent would cost businesses more. The plan would tax professional services provided by lawyers, accountants and IT companies.

"This is not the time to take more money out of businesses' pockets," he said.

Barr emphasized that more money was not always the solution to problems. Sometimes they were caused by too much spending. Pennsylvania's looming pension crisis was one example. Demographics of the population had changed over the past 40 years, so spending on programs and benefits had to change accordingly. He advocated more competition among schools to produce a more qualified workforce. The results of a national study had given the state a D on return on investment for education. He also warned that House Bill 80, promoting alternative energy sources, would really drive up energy costs and lock some new sources of fuel out of contention.

In an effort to rein in governmental spending, Barr pushed for a revamping of the unemployment compensation policy. Pennsylvania owed the federal government $2.2 billion for a program that did not encourage people to look for work. Those who received severance packages were allowed to collect unemployment simultaneously, while he preferred they become eligible when the severance ended.

"The recession is over but jobs haven't come back," he also stated. He attributed it to employers fearful of a card check bill passing in Congress to allow easier unionization, energy mandates, and the unknown with health care reform.

State senator Rich Alloway also addressed the crowd. He expected a challenging year, Rendell's last. "It's time for a change, to move on, to think outside the box with a new governor."

He said Franklin County had many good things going on, especially when government got out of the way. He wanted consistency in laws so companies could abide by the rules, hire people and get to work.