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By Tony May
Job opportunities or the lack thereof constitute a major voter concern in Pennsylvania as the state slides into the final month of the campaign to elect a Governor for the next four years. But which candidate can and will do the most to create new jobs beginning in 2015?
Democratic strategist Tony MayJohn L. Micek | firstname.lastname@example.org
The answer from the incumbent, Tom Corbett, has been a straddle between "the government doesn't create jobs; the private sector does" and his laissez faire policies have generated a net of 170,000 new jobs in the past four years.
For challenger Tom Wolf it's been an assertion that his record as a jobs generator in the private sector is proof that he knows how and what to do.
His jobs platform has been short on specifics but is built around improved customized job training, rebuilding Pennsylvania's manufacturing base and targeting high growth industries.
Because I am not the candidate, I can be specific without losing any votes on election day. So, for purposes of discussion, here are 10 things that Tom Corbett hasn't or won't do to generate new jobs that Tom Wolf can and should do:
1. Increase the minimum wage to .10 an hour. Contrary to conservative opinion, this won't generate significant long-term job losses but will stimulate buying power, in turn requiring the need for new hires to meet increasing consumer demand.
2. Fully fund basic education. If the state significantly increased the percentage of the cost of basic education underwritten by state tax dollars, school districts could hire back a significant part of the 27,000 education professionals laid off during the past four years.
3. Jump start consumer demand for natural gas as a vehicle fuel by converting a significant part of the state's cars and trucks to compressed natural gas. Initially, the state will have to build its own fueling stations at state garages but once demand starts growing, private industry can and will step in. Once critical mass is reached, thousands of jobs can be created by the need to retrofit existing cars and trucks to natural gas.
4. Fast track legislation to fully legalize affordable ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber, increasing the ability of low income workers who don't own cars to get to and from jobs at a reasonable cost. This would remove one of the most serious barriers to filling more jobs that are going begging for workers.
5. Lower tuition at state-owned universities (PA State System of Higher Education). Besides a short term burst in hiring at the universities to serve more students, long term job growth can be stimulated by focusing lower tuition on student majors that are closely aligned with job demand.
6. Address the dual challenge of siting and building natural gas pipelines to get Marcellus Shale gas to market AND the need statewide to replace aging gas service lines at the local level. It's not that the private sector needs public dollars to do this but they do need state government to help mediate siting pipeline routes in a democratic fashion and enhanced borrowing power to speed up pipeline replacement at the local level. Tens of thousands of construction related jobs will be created in the short term, lives will be saved and new businesses utilizing plentiful, affordable natural gas will be encouraged to locate in Pennsylvania.
7. Hire people to help people find jobs. This doesn't have to be a new statewide bureaucracy but it's apparent that the state's new Monster.com approach to job posting is becoming just that a monster that duplicates private sector job posting services without adding value. If there really are 250,000 good Pennsylvania jobs out there waiting to be filled, a small, well-trained cadre of "employment consultants could earn their keep from the unexpended unemployment compensation funds they would be saving by pro-actively matching qualified workers with good job openings. Job growth two ways by hiring placement specialists and by placing people in open jobs.
8. Advance a high speed rail initiative. Erie, Pennsylvania, is home to the General Electric locomotive works which now, through merger, has access to world class French high speed rail know how. With airlines rapidly pricing themselves out of the inter-city state travel market and turnpike tolls rising rapidly, a large, untapped market will exist for short haul, high speed rail passenger service Harrisburg to Philadelphia, Harrisburg to Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh to Erie, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Allentown to New York City. Jobs come in three categories: building locomotives and passenger cars; building right-of-way and running a passenger railroad.
9. Tax incentives for advanced manufacturing. In the small hamlet of Hegins in Schuylkill County, a highly automated machine shop competes on the world market with 75 well-paid employees manufacturing custom made parts and products. It's a case study in how what you can do trumps who you are or where you are located. The Commonwealth would do well to establish incentives to encourage more high tech entities like Ash-Tec, Inc., and would benefit by the jobs they create.
10. New wind and solar incentives. Pennsylvania's regional leadership in wind and solar jobs is slipping as federal incentives for the alternative energy industry wane. The next governor needs to take a hard look at what incentives can be offered to encourage a revitalization on the state's wind turbine manufacturing and solar panel installation business. Earmarking a small portion of revenues from a Marcellus Shale extraction tax for alternative energy incentives would be one way to accomplish this.
None of these jobs-generating concepts involve counter-productive bidding wars with other states like the effort to lure Shell Oil into building acracking plant to the state.
But they do require careful and conscious action by state government.
Tony May is a Democratic strategist and partner in Triad Strategies, a Harrisburg lobbying and public relations firm. Along with "Donkeys Elephants" columnist Charlie Gerow and PennLive Opinion Editor John L. Micek, he contributes analysis to "Face the State," which airs Sundays at 11:30 a.m. on WHP-21 in Harrisburg.
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