HOLLIDAYSBURG - Gov. Tom Corbett is committed to improving the business climate in Pennsylvania, state Revenue Secretary Dan Meuser said Wednesday.
"We are most excited about fostering a competitive business and job-creation environment by improving business tax structure, resulting in increased revenues for the long term without raising taxes. The governor believes strongly in creating a strategy and executing it as well as possible," Meuser told members of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Executive Roundtable Committee at the Blairmont Club.
"Gov. Corbett's goal is to reduce business taxes $4.3 billion over five years. We want to set the tone that Pennsylvania is open for business and that we are proactive," Meuser said.
For example, the governor plans to phase out the capital stock/foreign franchise tax by 2014.
"That is a major initiative. That affects over 100,000 businesses," Meuser said. "That will mean a $735 million tax reduction to our businesses."
Meuser said he doesn't expect an impact fee to be placed on companies drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation.
"The governor believes strongly we should not tax the natural gas industry. They have paid over $400 million this year in taxes; they are paying their fair share," Meuser said. "Township supervisors and county commissioners are working well with the gas companies. The governor doesn't want to get in the way of that."
Education is also important to Corbett, Meuser said.
"This governor, when the results speak for themselves, will be known as the education governor. Education has got to be part of any long range economic growth strategy," Meuser said.
Basic education funding went up $100 million from the governor's original proposal but still was well within the 2008-09 pre-stimulus levels, Meuser said.
However, many local school districts received reduced funding and had to make staff cuts. Teachers in several local districts accepted wage freezes.
Spring Cove School District Superintendent Rodney Green said the jury is out on Corbett.
He said reform of the state pension system would have a big impact on school districts and taxpayers.
"Over the next three years we are looking at $1.45 million in additional funds to cover our future pension obligations. That would be the equivalent of 19.5 mills of additional taxation to the taxpayers in our school district. That would certainly be a challenge and a huge burden," Green said. "If the governor wants to be known as the education governor, pension reform will make the greatest difference to local school districts."
Meuser said one of the goals of his department is to become more consumer friendly.
"We want to be a good customer service company. We want to answer more questions than we raise. We are moving aggressively to increase efficiencies," Meuser said. "We are an advocacy group. We are a consultant; it is not you against us."