Harrisburg Happenings: September 13, 2017

Categories:  News & Politics    Opinion
Wednesday, September 13th, 2017 at 2:00 PM
Harrisburg Happenings: September 13, 2017 by Dan Laughlin

Over the past several months, state leaders have struggled with financial issues, namely completion of the 2017-18 budget. The relatively easy part was reaching an agreement on spending. The spending package that was finalized in late June covered the basic services and programs that meet the needs of Pennsylvania’s citizens.

A particular matter of pride for me was that this spending plan included a significant — and essential — increase in state support for the Erie School District. The plan also included a number of line items that directly benefit our region and will improve the quality of life for our communities and their residents.

But, as I said, that was the easy part. At this point we are still struggling to finalize a revenue package that covers the moderate increase in state spending and fills in the deficit carried over from the previous fiscal year.

This deficit is not a new thing by any means. It is something that has grown in severity over the past few years, exacerbated by Pennsylvania’s struggling economy, leading to increasing fixed costs and obligations. Our state economy is a challenge that has negatively affected many parts of Pennsylvania and is clearly seen locally in the financial and human ramifications of GE’s decision to curtail operations at its Erie plant.

That decision directly affects families across northwest Pennsylvania. The loss of those paychecks means that families have less money to spend in the community. This impacts everything from home sales and car purchases to grocery bills and dining and recreation expenses, which leads to more layoffs and further economic devastation.

We cannot simply stand by and watch this trend continue unabated.

My primary goal when I took office was to help the Erie School District address its financial crisis and we’ve made great strides in that respect.

My next goal is to bring jobs to the Erie region. I feel that our population decline, and related problems, such as crime and blight, are directly tied to the loss of jobs in our region.

Addressing this challenge will take a comprehensive and dedicated collaboration between community leaders, business executives and government officials at all levels. We must all be stakeholders in this effort. This is a battle that we can win together or lose individually.

We, as consumers, can assist in this effort by spending our money locally.

A great example has been set by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture with its “PA Preferred” program. This is a public-private partnership between the Department of Agriculture and thousands of companies and stores to support and promote homegrown products, including several businesses, farms and wineries in our region.

By buying products under the PA Preferred banner and logo, we are truly benefiting our neighbors and working to support our regional and state economy. This is an initiative that should be expanded beyond the realm of agriculture and could benefit manufacturers across the commonwealth. For example, as PENNDOT adds natural gas fueling stations, we encourage the department to purchase compressors made by Knox Western here in Erie.

We should not only be promoting Pennsylvania-made products and services here, but across the nation and throughout the world. Between September 30 and October 6, we will be marking the third annual Pennsylvania Manufacturing Week. This week is designed to showcase our diverse manufacturing industry, while promoting the career opportunities available here and increasing public awareness of manufacturing’s significant impact on the economy.

This is a step in the right direction. I believe we can — and must — do a better job of promoting the Keystone State as an attractive place to do business. In that effort, we should aggressively market Pennsylvania and all that it offers to top national and international businesses and industries.

As the Keystone State, we are an important crossroads that connects the Northeast, the South, as well as the Great Lakes region and all points west. We have an energetic and dedicated workforce. This, combined with our evolving natural gas industry and our multi-modal transportation hubs, provides the foundation of a great portfolio that we can aggressively present to new and growing businesses.

It is truly time for Pennsylvania to take a forward-looking approach to economic development to build a great future for the commonwealth.

Senator Laughlin encourages local residents to visit his website, www.senatorlaughlin.com, and his Facebook page, facebook.com/senatorlaughlin, to keep up to date with state government news — including the state budget — and learn more about state services and agencies.

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