The CEO Council for Growth (CEO Council) leads our region forward by envisioning a stronger, more competitive community, convening decision-makers, taking action, and advocating for policies and practices that strengthen our regional economy. The CEO Council is committed to enhancing economic growth and prosperity in our region through regional and national policy. This update summarizes recent congressional activity as it relates to the identified priorities of the CEO Council.
The United States Congress and the White House reached an agreement over the summer on total discretionary spending, the Bipartisan Budget Agreement for Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021. The Agreement modifies the discretionary spending caps imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011 by eliminating the sequester on defense and non-defense discretionary spending by adding $324 billion to spending limits over the next two fiscal years. The CEO Council applauds Congress for allowing for a predictable budget process, paving the way for Congress to work across the aisle to address key federal investments that fuel economic growth.
Earlier this year, the CEO Council submitted to our regional congressional delegation its highest priority appropriations requests. We believe that federal investment in key sectors of our regional economy ensures tremendous economic return as well as innovations and breakthroughs that will provide for a better quality of life not only for the residents of southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and northern Delaware but the nation as a whole.
Recent passage of a Continuing Resolution (CR) extended government spending at current levels for seven weeks up to November 21, 2019. As lawmakers continue to negotiate spending levels, we urge our regional congressional delegation to advance our FY2020 funding requests for the following:
- Basic and translational research accounts
- Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs
- Economic Development Administration’s STEM Apprenticeship Program
- Pell Grant award
- Children’s Hospitals Graduate Medical Education Payment Program
- Corporation for Public Broadcasting
- Federal transit programs and highway programs
- Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair program
- Capital Investment Grants (CIG) program
- Defense appropriations for equipment procurement
High-Skilled Immigration Reform
The CEO Council urges our U.S. Senate members to advance and support the “Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019,” legislation to eliminate country-specific caps for employment-based visas, which currently do not account for variations in population, advanced degree graduates, and other criteria that differs greatly between countries. We applaud all thirteen of our tri-state regional Members of the House of Representatives for voting in favor of this bipartisan legislation.
Our region’s continued development hinges on the availability of talent to fill high demand positions that we are currently challenged to satisfy. As such, this bill’s emphasis on attracting and retaining highly-skilled immigrants and foreign-born workers is vitally important for regional businesses that are heavily invested in knowledge-based professions.
We hope that the passage of this bill will serve as the first step in our nation’s renewed efforts to support our regional economy through comprehensive high-skilled immigration reform. The CEO Council looks forward to working with Congress to continue enacting such reforms that will greatly benefit the economic competitiveness of Greater Philadelphia as well as the nation as a whole.
Apprenticeship Hubs Across America Act of 2019
The CEO Council urges our regional congressional delegation to support the “Apprenticeship Hubs Across America Act of 2019,” legislation that would establish a workforce intermediaries grant program to support, develop, and implement registered apprenticeship programs through engagement of employers and education institutions. We especially encourage those Members serving on the House Higher Education and Workforce Investment Subcommittee to include this legislation as part of any Committee effort to advance a comprehensive Apprenticeship Bill. We applaud bill sponsors, Senator Coons and Congressman Norcross, for their leadership to address workforce shortages and skills gaps that challenge employers’ ability to fill well-paying high-demand job opportunities.
We believe that apprenticeship programs continue the economic prosperity of the United States, ensure the country remains a leader in global competitiveness, and provide greater opportunity for America’s workforce. At present, there are too few apprenticeship programs available to support the information technology sector, among many others; this is a concern for companies throughout Greater Philadelphia, as they face the growing challenge of retaining industry graduates and attracting top technology talent. This bill is of vital importance to supporting our region’s business community in their need for a wider network of technology talent – a lack of training opportunities leads to a widened skills gap and an untrained and underprepared workforce.
Medical Device Tax
The CEO Council encourages members of our delegation to take up the overwhelmingly bipartisan effort for full repeal of the medical device tax, which unfairly targets an important industry to Greater Philadelphia by taxing medical device sales regardless of profitability. The tax stifles innovation by increasing the effective tax rate for many medical technology companies, thereby reducing financial resources that should be used for R&D, clinical trials, and investments in manufacturing. We urge our regional congressional delegation to repeal the medical device tax before the current suspension expires on December 31, 2019.
Surface Transportation Reauthorization
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously approved a five-year highway reauthorization bill, America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act (S. 2302). The bill authorizes $287 billion over five years, totaling a 27 percent increase over the current surface transportation bill, the FAST Act. This is part of the effort to pass a surface transportation reauthorization by September 2020.
America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019 is the largest amount of funding provided for highway reauthorization legislation in history. The reauthorization bill includes provisions to improve road safety, accelerate project delivery, improve resiliency to disasters and reduce highway emissions. The Senate Banking Committee, which oversees transit, and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, which oversees rail, have yet to pass their respective authorization bills. Perhaps most importantly, the Senate Finance Committee has not yet identified how it will fund the additional spending.
The CEO Council urges federal lawmakers to identify new, long-term, sustainable transportation funding to address the expected shortfall of the Highway Account and Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund. Elected leaders should explore and consider all existing and new user-related revenue sources that would provide increased and adequate funding to support a safe and reliable network of transportation infrastructure.