Economy & Business

Economy & Business news from 90.5 WESA.

While Black Friday has become one of the busiest in-person shopping days of the year, Cyber Monday, the Monday after Black Friday, has become the busiest online shopping day of the year. But, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue is reminding residents that those internet purchases are not tax-free.

Department of Revenue Secretary Dan Meuser said many online retailers don't collect use tax, and some even claim products can be purchased online tax-free, which he said is not the case.

Pennsylvania Senator Tries to Spark Third Class Growth

Nov 25, 2011

Main Streets in many of Pennsylvania's mid-sized cities are struggling to survive. One Cambria County lawmaker is hoping that the state can help reverse the trend.

Senator John Wozniak (D-Cambria County) has introduced legislation that would send millions of dollars to the state's third class cities, including Johnstown. The measure would set aside $100 million in state budget grants each year for the next five years to fund economic development in 53 cities, including Harrisburg, New Castle, and McKeesport.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett announced the formation of a new public-private council that will work to identify and prioritize issues that can lead to a more sustainable and successful manufacturing sector.

GOP Opposes Allegheny County Property Tax Hike

Nov 21, 2011

A proposal to raise Allegheny County property taxes is taking flak from Republicans on County Council, who argue that there are better ways to balance the budget.

The Council's Democratic majority has proposed a property tax hike from 4.69 mills to 5.69 mills, a 21 percent increase meant to restore last year's budget cuts to the Community College of Allegheny County and human services programs.

Shale Gas and Health: Science Meets Politics

Nov 18, 2011

Public health researchers gathered at the University of Pittsburgh on Friday to share their findings on how drilling in the Marcellus Shale for natural gas does or does not impact human health.

Among the presenters was Duke University's Robert Jackson. He co-authored a study earlier this year showing higher concentrations of methane in groundwater near Marcellus shale gas wells. The study instantly thrust Jackson into the national debate about franking.

Pennsylvania Unemployment Down for October

Nov 18, 2011

Pennsylvania's unemployment rate dropped to 8.1 percent in October, down from 8.3 percent in September.

It remains lower than the national average of 9 percent. The positive news has some economists cautiously optimistic.

Washington County's Commissioners plan to appeal Common Pleas President Judge Debbie O'Dell Seneca's ruling ordering property reassessment in the county. They have until December 15 to appeal the decision.

Commissioner Diana L. Irey said that the county wants to avoid reassessment because the process is outdated.

Council, Administration Battle over City Debt

Nov 16, 2011

Pittsburgh City Council is forging ahead with a new plan to control the city's borrowing habits, despite stern opposition from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration.

The measure, given preliminary approval on Wednesday, would put strict limits on how much total debt the city could take on, pegging that number as a percentage of the General Fund.

The mayor's Finance Director, Scott Kunka, said that the city needs more freedom when borrowing.

Agency Works to Help Vets Get Jobs

Nov 9, 2011

As Pennsylvania celebrates the nation's service members this Veterans Day, the veterans themselves continue to deal with an unemployment rate higher than the civilian average.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for veterans who've served in the past ten years is 12.1%, as compared with the national average of 9.0%.

Business Council Weighs in on Shale Rules

Nov 4, 2011

Local government groups have been critical of a Pennsylvania House proposal that would allow state-imposed natural gas drilling regulations to trump local ordinances, but one business advocate is arguing that the alternative is a regulatory patchwork.

Representatives for the state's townships and boroughs have issues with the bill. The Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs is not keen on the idea of allowing counties to decide if they would like to impose drilling fees.

Per capita spending in 123 of Allegheny county's 129 municipalities rose slightly in 2009. That's according to a report from the Allegheny Institute, a conservative think tank based in Castle Shannon. The average per capita amount spent was $638, compared to $629 in 2008.

The report finds that per capita spending was up slightly at a time when revenue remained flat.

Terror-Free Investments Succeeding

Nov 2, 2011

A year into a state law prohibiting the investment of pension funds into companies that do business in Iran and Sudan, State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Pittsburgh), who advocated for the legislation, says the pension plans' investments have not been hurt by these restrictions.

"When you take a look at mutual fund portfolios around the country that target terrorist-free investments, they've outperformed the general market," Frankel said. "So we believe there's been no negative impact and probably positive impact on Pennsylvania's pension funds."

The leader of the national Democratic Party stopped in Pittsburgh on Tuesday to call on Republicans to pass President Obama's American Jobs Act.

Florida Congresswoman and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Republicans "should be ashamed of themselves" for voting against the stimulus measure when it came up for votes, both in full form and in smaller pieces.

Energy Assistance Program Opens for 2011-2012

Nov 1, 2011

The Low Income Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, is now accepting applications for the winter months ahead. Pennsylvania has $135 million dollars that will go to qualifying households to help with heating utilities or so-called crisis grants for things such as emergency repairs to heating systems.

"A household of four with an income of 33,525 a year is eligible to receive LIHEAP benefits. Those benefits range from a cash benefit from $100 to $1,000, and a crisis benefit from $25 to $300," said John Coleman, Vice Chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission.

Penn­syl­va­nia Gov­ernor Tom Corbett has said he wants to make deci­sions about drilling for nat­ural gas in the Mar­cel­lus Shale based on good sci­ence. But the effort to research the impact of shale drilling has been ham­pered by lack of fund­ing, lack of data and claims of bias.

Dur­ing the next sev­eral months, law­mak­ers in Har­ris­burg will be draft­ing leg­is­la­tion based on Gov­er­nor Corbett's pro­pos­als for new gas drilling rules.

"There's two things that really make Hulk mad: unsafe bridges and unemployment!"

Those words were uttered by Bob Glidden, who was dressed as the Incredible Hulk while rallying at the foot of the Birmingham Bridge. He and about a dozen others were calling for state lawmakers to commit to fixing the area's bridges. The rally was staged by Pennsylvania Wants to Work, an organization tackling unemployment in Pittsburgh. Organizers say that fixing the area's deficient bridges would help solve the jobs problem and increase public safety.

Housing Official Talks Rust Belt in PA

Oct 28, 2011

U-S Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Shaun Donovan took a trip to Pennsylvania this week to meet with clergy, city council members, and state lawmakers to dive into problems common to Pennsylvania's older cities, boroughs, and townships.

The top housing official in the Obama administration is singling out Pennsylvania cities where federal programs stand to benefit struggling neighborhoods.

Despite a cold, rainy day, about thirty Occupy Pittsburgh protesters gathered outside the Consol Energy Center Thursday to protest a private campaign fundraiser held by Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney.

Calling Romney a "one-percenter," the Occupy Pittsburgh crowd criticized his method of raising campaign funds. The protesters said many of his top campaign backers are the large banks they vehemently oppose, and that corporations and business leaders paid $1,000 to $2,500 for lunch with the GOP front-runner at the Consol Center.

It takes a lot of players to get natural gas from the ground to the marketplace. That was the message of a one-day seminar in Cranberry Township which helped regional businesses learn how to get into the supply chain. Natural gas development goes beyond drilling and extraction; the Marcellus Shale Coalition said more than 400 businesses are part of any one well development.

"There is a lot environmental, water management, land management, manufacturing opportunities, transportation and logistics," said Kathryn Klaber, President of the Coalition.

Pennsylvania's unemployment rate is still lower than that of most states, but the Commonwealth's jobless numbers are inching toward the national average.

The state's Department of Labor and Industry reports an unemployment rate of 8.3% for September, up more than a percentage point since May. The U.S. unemployment rate has held steady at 9.1% during that time period.

The state lost nearly 16,000 jobs over the span of a month. Government employment took the biggest hit, shedding 8,300 jobs since August.

A state-appointed financial oversight board required that Pittsburgh increase its yearly pension fund contribution, before giving approval to the mayor's 2012 budget proposal on Wednesday.

The Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority contends that the city's proposed pension payment of about $50 million wasn't enough to keep the fund on an even keel next year.

Pittsburgh ‘Occupied'

Oct 15, 2011

Hundreds of people marched from the Civic Arena to Market Square Saturday, chanting maxims like "We declare a class war!" and "Bankers are terrorists!" with both a steady drumbeat and a strong police presence in accompaniment.

The 'Occupy' movement has come to Pittsburgh, and activists say they'll be staying a while, camping out on the Mellon Green near BNY Mellon Headquarters.

Many said they feel the disparity in pay between corporate CEOs and the working class is unfair.

Workshop Aimed at Helping Small Businesses Thrive

Oct 10, 2011

It's often said that small businesses are the key to a strong economy, but in today's economic climate many continue to struggle. Monday afternoon, the "Small Business Works — Welcome to Oz" workshop will take place in downtown Pittsburgh. It's an effort to connect small businesses, startups and entrepreneurs with needed resources.

This is the third event of its kind, which is sort of a one-stop shop for small businesses to find what they need.

Marketers Predict High Halloween Retail Sales

Oct 10, 2011

Halloween has become one of the big retail events of the year, and indications this year point to even higher sales volumes, according to Duquesne marketing professor Audrey Guskey, who says the holiday could boost the national economy.

Consumers spend more than $72 per person on candy, decorations, parties, and costumes, according to Guskey. Adults now spend more on costumes for themselves—$1.2 billion—than the $1 billion they spend on their kids. Pets dress up at a cost of $310 million.

Tonight, those in favor of the American Jobs Act will rally on the Greenfield Bridge in Squirrel Hill, draping a large banner from the bridge.

Shawn Wygant, who helped organize the 5:30 p.m. protest, said the location of the rally is a prime example of work that needs to be done.

"In Pittsburgh we have one of the highest unemployment rates in the state right now. And there's plenty of work to be done around the city — namely these bridges that are dilapidated, falling down, and really endangering the safety of our citizens," Wygant said.

Grant to Help Pennsylvania Companies Boost Exports

Oct 10, 2011

Small business owners looking to increase trade are receiving help from the government.

Pennsylvania will receive $1.7 million to help companies expand and grow by increasing their exports as part of a program by the federal Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA is committing approximately $30 million nationwide to increase the number of businesses exporting and enhance the value of exports for those already selling overseas.

A majority of U.S. small business owners will either maintain or reduce their number of full-time employees over the next 6 months, as weak sales continue to put a strain on commerce. That's according to the PNC Outlook Survey's newest findings.

In Pennsylvania, only 9% of business owners expect to hire full-time employees during the next six months, down from 15% in the spring. 9% plan to reduce full-time staff, which is unchanged from the spring.

The United Steelworkers (USW) opposes three new free trade agreements (FTAs) proposed by President Barack Obama on Monday.

USW Legislative Counsel Linda Andros said her union is lobbying against the trade deals with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama.

"We think that these FTAs are not any different than past free trade agreements in that they don't generate jobs, not in the manufacturing sector, which is where we have about 850,000 members working," said Andros. "They've actually been a good way to outsource jobs."

Gas Prices Down But Still Higher Than Last Year

Oct 3, 2011

Gas prices in Western Pennsylvania have dropped recently, which is typical when high summer demand slacks off, but they are also influenced by global conditions. Bevi Powell, Communications Director for AAA East Central, said Wall Street and worldwide demand affect the price we pay for gas. When summer began, oil was $113 a barrel; today it's about $80. The average price of self-serve regular gas is still more than 70 cents higher now than it was a year ago.

The ongoing delays and legal issues surrounding Allegheny County's property reassessment process may force the County Treasurer to send out tax bills as late as June next year — four or five months later than usual.

Treasurer John Weinstein said he's waiting on an order from Common Pleas Judge Stanton Wettick before confirming a send-off date for the tax bills, which are normally sent in late January or early February.

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