STATEHOUSE UPDATE

Alex Baloga is the President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association, a trade association representing food retailers operating in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at abaloga@pfma.net.

The weather is heating up and so is the Pennsylvania legislative session. As lawmakers consider the flurry of bills that cross their desks, the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association (PFMA) is working hard to get specific legislative measures and policy changes across the finish line in 2019.

Senate Bill 139 — legislation that would provide a long-overdue update to the state’s Price Gouging Act – advanced in the Senate’s Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee in March with only one committee member voting against it. The bi-partisan bill, sponsored by state Sen. Judy Ward, would address price controls in a state of emergency, benefitting both business and consumers. Among other benefits, SB139 limits the duration of pricing restrictions to 15 days (with extensions up to 60 days) and would limit its scope to those goods and services necessary for use or consumption. In addition, it requires the governor to specifically activate pricing restriction when declaring a state of emergency, so they apply only when needed. Other states have similar best practices. Similar legislation was approved by the full State House and Senate last year, but unfortunately, the measure was vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf at the end of session. PFMA is currently working with the governor’s office to come to an agreement on this important piece of legislation.

In Philadelphia, there’s been movement on the crippling sugar-sweetened beverage tax that has had a devastating impact on neighborhood businesses. Philadelphia City Council approved a resolution in March to study the economic impact of the 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax and to hold hearings on the completed study. You don’t have to search far for an example of the hardship created by the tax. Jeff Brown, president and CEO of PFMA member Brown’s Super Stores Inc. and chairman of the PFMA Board of Directors, announced the closure in January of his Haverford Avenue ShopRite, blaming the closure on the tax saying it caused a 23-percent decline in sales and an annual net loss of more than $1 million. According to the coalition, AxTheBevTax, the levy has “drastically raised prices on thousands of common beverages.” A 6-pack of diet green tea that typically costs $4.99 is now $6.07 with the tax. Price increases add up for families on a fixed income.

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On the federal end, we’re pleased with the legislation introduced by Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey and Alabama Senator Doug Jones that would correct a provision of the 2017 tax reform bill to allow for retailers to fully expense investments in renovation. We’re also monitoring legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate and House to change the legal age of tobacco sales to 21. We’re paying close attention to the measure to make sure it does not put additional burdens on retailers selling tobacco products.

For more information these issues and more, visit www.pfma.org.