Words Word Cloud

Enough with ‘words, words, words,’ Gov. Shapiro: Show me!

Op-Ed by Matt Brouillette. This piece originally appeared at PennLive.

In the 1960s musical, “My Fair Lady,” Eliza Doolittle memorably exclaims, “Words, words, words. I’m so sick of words!

Pennsylvanians can say the same to Gov. Josh Shapiro.

Since taking office, Shapiro has waxed extensively—and expletively— about “getting sh*t done” and being “competitive as hell.” But behind his speech is little substance.

With great fanfare Shapiro announced his plan to overhaul Pennsylvania’s state system of higher education. But when lawmakers pressed for specifics, they came up short.

More recently, Shapiro promised to “create nearly 15,000 energy jobs, save Pennsylvanians $252 million over just five years, and spur $5.1 billion in private investment – all while combating climate change.” But again, Shapiro was “light on details … but heavy on promises.”

Then there’s Shapiro’s recently released “Ten-Year Strategic Plan for Economic Development in Pennsylvania.” The 52-page tome is a glossary of buzzwords: streamline, invest, realign, reform, reinvent, launch, compete, position, innovate, strengthen, prioritize, capitalize, overhaul, double down, accelerate. You get the picture.

The plan lists “priority industries.” This is code for “government picking winners and losers.” The “winners” are agriculture, energy, life sciences, manufacturing, and robotics/technology. (A footnote caveats that these industries are subject to change because “the economic landscape is constantly evolving.”)

As is typical for Shapiro, his strategy is long on rhetoric and short on substance.

He plans to “update and grow Pennsylvania’s economic development incentives to make programs more flexible, faster, and relevant to today’s businesses” and proposes “making real investments in tools that work, eliminating outdated and underutilized programs, and creating additional, flexible funding mechanisms to provide both large corporations and small businesses with more opportunities to succeed and grow in Pennsylvania.” But what does this mean? Has he identified “outdated” programs?

Words, words, words.

Shapiro says “state government will work with Pennsylvania higher education, labor unions, and private sector partners to launch a statewide effort to match students, new graduates, and workers with in-state employers for internships, pre-apprenticeships, registered apprenticeships, and experiential education opportunities.” But how will government do this? Will only the favored industries be included?

Words, words, words.

“In a coordinated public-private effort, state government will dedicate resources to mapping supply chains in our priority industry sectors, identifying the goods and services needed, and assessing potential opportunities for priority industry businesses to partner with local suppliers.” What kind of resources? Where will they come from? Taxpayers?

Words, words, words.

To show Pennsylvania that he wants to “get sh*t done,” Shapiro needs to exchange empty words for concrete policies. Here are a few to get him started:

CNIT reduction

As a candidate, Shapiro supported accelerating the reduction of Pennsylvania’s Corporate Net Income Tax (CNIT) to 4% by 2025, rather than the current 4.99% by 2031. But a CNIT reduction is curiously absent from the thousands of words in Shapiro’s plan

As the Commonwealth Foundation’s Elizabeth Stelle explained, “Lower corporate taxes are a common characteristic of growing states, especially those that attract large amounts of Pennsylvanians. North Carolina, a top destination for Pennsylvanians, boasts the lowest flat CNIT. All the top destination states for Pennsylvanians levy a lower CNIT.”

Eliminate excessive regulations

Pennsylvania is the 12th most regulated state in the country, with more than 166,000 regulatory restrictions.

In 2022, neighboring Ohio enacted a law requiring a 30% reduction in state regulations by June 30, 2025. Per the law, “Beginning July 1, 2025, a state agency that has not achieved the specified thirty per cent reduction may not adopt a new regulatory restriction unless it simultaneously removes two or more other existing regulatory restrictions, until the specified thirty per cent reduction has been achieved.”

Shapiro’s plan talks about improving permitting—including the “customer experience.” Better customer service is good; reducing regulations is better.

Lifeline/PASS Scholarships

While Shapiro talks of “transformational change” and “experiential learning” such as apprenticeships and internships, he ignores K-12 education. If Pennsylvania is to become a competitive powerhouse, we must provide students with access to a quality K-12 education.

A concrete way to do this is via Lifeline (also called PASS) Scholarships, which allow education funding to follow children to the school or learning environment of their parents’ choosing. In the past two years, 11 states have dramatically expanded school choice. For a governor who claims to be “competitive as hell,” Shapiro is letting other states fly ahead of Pa. on educational opportunity.

An orator delivers words. A leader delivers results.

In My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle gets straight to the point: “Don’t talk … Show me.”

We say the same to Gov. Shapiro.

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Matthew J. Brouillette is president and CEO of Commonwealth Partners.