Proposed legislation would merge several Pennsylvania agencies into a single entity, a move its sponsor says will reduce the cost to taxpayers and streamline government operations.
Senate Bill 1131 proposes to merge the existing Department of Labor & Industry with functions from the Department of Community & Economic Development and the Department of State into the new Department of Business, Tourism & Workforce Development.
The bill, which is similar to House Bill 53, aims to help Pennsylvania “better compete in a global economy.” It also creates the Office of Business Consultant to reduce regulatory burdens and help entrepreneurs and businesses comply with state regulations.
“COVID-19 has really emphasized and put an exclamation point on how bad the situation is with the tax burden,” state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Adams, said at the conclusion of a Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee hearing on the bill.
“In the midst of all the sacrifices that we’re making across the commonwealth, it doesn’t seem like the government is doing anything,” Mastriano added. “Where is their sacrifice? Where is their good stewardship? Where are their reductions in the size of the government? It’s not there.”
Representatives for the departments that could be merged did not participate in the hearing, held in Chambersburg. However, in written testimony, the Pennsylvania Department of State said it opposed the bill, while Department of Labor & Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak said he had “significant concerns” with the legislation.
“This bill is vague at best, misguided in the name of government reform, when all it does is provide unnecessarily confusing government to Pennsylvanians during a pandemic,” Oleksiak said in his written testimony.
Meanwhile, in written testimony, Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) Secretary Dennis Davin said the “intent of this bill is appreciated.” He called on DCED staff “to review and recommend changes to existing programs and the agency to adapt to the needs of businesses, communities and the residents of this commonwealth.”
“While the intent to assist businesses with one department is noted, this could cause interruptions or decreased technical assistance as a result,” Davin said in his testimony. “Having these three separate agencies allows for specific focus on matters related to business, and workers, and ultimately assistance catered to the needs of those businesses.”
Rebecca Oyler, state legislative director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said cutting red tape is crucial to helping small businesses succeed, and she asked lawmakers to give small businesses in the Keystone State a louder voice when it comes to policies.
“What small businesses want most is for government to get out of the way so they can focus on recovering, reorienting, if necessary, and growing,” Oyler told the committee. “Red tape and bureaucracy hold them back, and they have an important role to play in identifying ways to lift that burden. Please provide a venue for them to speak.”