Speakers at the Chamber’s Legislative Breakfast included (from left) U.S. Congressman Dan Meuser, state Senator Lisa Baker, and state Representative Tina Pickett.
By Rick Hiduk
(Originally published in the Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce’s Impact Magazine. To see all stories in the latest issue, click here: IMPACT – Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce (wyccc.com)
The Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual legislative breakfast at Stone Hedge Golf Resort on April 4 with 86 people in attendance. Featured speakers were U.S. Congressman Dan Meuser, state Senator Lisa Baker, and state Representative Tina Pickett. Chamber president Gina Suydam provided welcoming remarks, and Alex Halper, vice president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry served as the facilitator and emcee. Prior to a question and answer session, Alex (below) asked the panel participants to cite their priorities for Wyoming County as they pertain to business and economic vitality.
Rep. Pickett only recently moved into Wyoming County as our advocate in the State House of Representatives after restructuring of the 110th legislative district last year. But she is no stranger to Wyoming County. In her 30 years as a business owner, she was co-owner of the Fireplace Restaurant in Tunkhannock. She cited the PA Chamber of Commerce as instrumental in helping her make better decisions on behalf of the individual chambers.
Tina lamented a stalemate in the House due to an election that resulted in an even split between Democrats and Republicans, but she maintained that the Policy Committee has been more productive. “If we aren’t advocating for jobs in Pennsylvania, then you simply can’t accomplish anything else,” she remarked.
Redistricting left Sen. Baker with the largest area in the state – more than 2,600 square miles, including 270,000 residents, 123 municipalities, and 22 school districts. She serves on numerous committees, including the Senate Judiciary Committee, which she chairs. She is a strong supporter of probation reform initiatives, which are geared to more quickly “bring people back into the workforce who have paid their debts to society.”
Lisa also expressed her concerns about the RGGI, also know as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – a multistate program to reduce pollution from electric power plants – that Pennsylvania entered last year. “I’m very concerned about $600-million being booked to RGGI,” she said of the amount included in Gov. Josh Shapiro’s proposed budget. “He needs to get us out of RGGI. That’s an important step in the right direction,” she later stated. “Let’s have Pennsylvania standards and not Connecticut standards.”
Congressman Meuser addressed energy from a federal perspective, including his support for HR1 – the Lower Energy Costs Act. Dan is also new to our county, but it has not taken him long to understand the valuable resource we have under our feet in the Marcellus shale. The bill would expedite the development, importations, and exportation of energy resources which, Dan maintained, will bring us energy independence and energy dominance. “We cannot be dependent on the actions of Putin or the Middle East,” he stated.
Some other issues addressed by Congressman Meuser included border security, undue burdens on small businesses and, specifically for rural areas, municipal airports, hospitals, and support for teachers. Education was, in fact, a recurring topic as each of the panelists agree that our future workforce is dependent on today’s students.
“We are not growing in school population,” Tina noted, “and we are in jeopardy of losing funding.”
Breakfast attendee and dairy advocate Arden Tewksbury expressed his concerns that cyber schools are draining the budgets of public schools, which have to forfeit the same amount of money as they spend on each student in a traditional school setting to the largely on-line institutions.
“Cyber schools don’t have the expenses as brick and mortar schools,” Rep. Pickett stated. There are currently a number of lawsuits against cyber schools, and Tina stressed that rural school administrators need to speak up and advocate for a fair apportionment of state education funding.
“We need to ‘right size’ so that there is more accountability,” Sen. Baker concurred. “We’re going to fight to make sure our rural schools are taken care of.”
George Stark of Coterra Energy (above, left, with Chamber president Gina Suydam) asked how the panel members were feeling about Gov. Shapiro, who was only recently sworn into office. Response was muted but generally optimistic.
“I do think that he is interested in and matches a number of things that I support, including education,” Sen. Baker responded.
“My jury is still out on the governor. He is smart, aggressive and career-oriented,” Rep. Picket offered. “He wants to see a list of accomplishments by the end of his term, but he needs us, and he needs you. I see a lot of negotiation at that table.”
Alex posed the question to Congressman Meuser, “How much does the governor matter in your work?”
Dan said that the governor’s interests and plans matter greatly when it comes to the economic might of the Commonwealth. “I want Pennsylvania to be the next Texas with prosperity and a greater quality of life,” he stated. “I’m rooting for him (Shapiro). I think he wants what’s best for Pennsylvania also.”