STATE COLLEGE — State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, was looking toward the future as he spoke to the crowd at a Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County breakfast at Mountain View Country Club on Feb. 11.
Benninghoff took some time to compare the technology that is prevalent in today’s world to the technology he grew up with.
“What we can do today is amazing. We can talk to people all across the world. We can send hundreds of pages of documents thousands of miles to a hundred people, 200 people, thousands of people. Where is technology going to take us in next two decades?” asked Benninghoff.
He answered his question with more questions.
“Are we ready? And more importantly, as business owners are we ready, and more importantly, are we preparing a workforce that is ready for these technological advancements? Are we preparing a workforce that is hungry to keep up with that?”
He said the Legislature needs to think about it too, and figure out how to build an infrastructure to support upcoming technologies, such as electric cars.
“Think about those changes. Why do I mention these phenomena? These are not to scare you, but to excite you and make you think about where we are going to go from there,” said Benninghoff.
“If you think about it, all these innovations are good and they sound good from an environmental prospective, but we also have to think about how we can energize them,” he said. “Are we, as policy makers, prepared to have a grid to energize these things? You think about the fact that in Pennsylvania alone, I think there are 4.5 to 5 million registered cars. … That is a lot of vehicles to think about if we converted overnight. And if we all plugged those in last night, we would all probably be sitting in a dark room eating cold donuts today. But those are the policy decisions we have to prepare for and we have to be willing to lead the way.”
Benninghoff talked about how the Potters Mills Gap and I-80/I-99 interchange projects are important to make Centre County safer and easier to travel to.
“We don’t do them just to get to Penn State games like all my colleges like to blame me for, but we do it for safety. We do it to be better at moving people and goods. An economy doesn’t grow unless you can move goods and move people,” said Benninghoff. “And if you think about Centre County’s geography in our country, we are at the crosshairs of the south and north corridors all the way to the New England states. You just have to sit along Route 322 and see how many Walmart trucks go through there on a day-to-day basis. Those infrastructure improvements are also very important for our overall safety in our communities and it is all about quality of life. If you want to sell a home, you better have good overall infrastructure.”
Benninghoff said those projects required a great deal of effort and planning, demanding commitment from local officials and the patience of people in the communities.
“I don’t think people realize this, but Pennsylvania has 40,000 miles of roadway to take care of and 24,000 bridge structures which we were doing an abysmal job on prior to Act 89,” said Benninghoff. “We now try to repair, refurbish or replace 300 bridges a year just to keep up.”
Benninghoff said the next step is improving Route 322 from Potters Mills Gap to State College, and he said he was excited to have a commitment from the governor to get that long dreamed about section complete and finally have a four-lane road that “leads from Harrisburg to Altoona.”
Benninghoff remarked about the many ‘help wanted’ signs he see in the county. He said it all points to how great a place Centre County is to live and grow.
“We have record low unemployment in Pennsylvania and across the nation. I believe we have a world-class higher education and research institution and medical institutions. In addition, we have a lot of natural gas resources underneath our feet.
“And when you see those signs of places needing people to work, what does that do? It drives the wages up organically and the government doesn’t have to do. It just happens because jobs are available,” said Benninghoff.
“In my opinion, this is a very blessed area. In my opinion, a large part of it is because of you and the many investments you have made,” said Benninghoff. “I have watched some of you continue to build and grow even in tough economic times. That takes a lot of guts. That is what makes Centre County grow and Pennsylvania do well.”
A longtime issue has been businesses waiting for the state to acquire permits to allow business to happen and Benninghoff said he is working to have the state shorten the timeline for government permitting so that growth can occur without the holdups.
“We have a lot of regulation in our own departments that they actually devise, but they ignore, requiring them to act on a permit within 43 days of being submitted. But sadly, many of them are waiting 100, 150 or 200 days or until one of us calls and gives them a kick and say, ‘What is going on,’” said Benninghoff.
He said he is also working on a bill to get to repeal outdated regulations and increase permit transparency so that things move faster and businesses can track where their permits are.
“We believe that if you can track your package being transported by UPS, you sure as heck should be able to track where your permit is in the process,” he said.
Benninghoff spoke of CBICC’s CentreREADY campaign that is working to get high school students ready for the workforce.
“CentreREADY gives our students the experience of entering into the workforce before they get there … before they are even out of high school,” said Benninghoff. He said it is important that workers have soft skills, interpersonal skills and have a driver’s license.
“Sadly, we have people who are trying to apply for jobs that don’t have driver’s licenses and can’t pass a drug test. We can do better than that,” he said. “At the state level we have been passing different educational reforms to try and address this. In last year’s budget we put a significant emphasis on trying to put more money to career and educational options. Because we believe that for every engineer that graduates you need people to help actually build what it is they design.”
Benninghoff also spoke about keeping taxes low.
“We are in a good economy now, but too often a government thinks that we need more money so we might as well just tax you more. Last year we were proud to invest more money in our rainy day funds, and I hope that we can continue that in our strong economy,” said Benninghoff. He said he hopes that he can keep the money in the hands of business so they can reinvest in the community by hiring more workers.
He said he plans to work with the governor on the proposed budget so that taxes will not be raised.
“We will not want to raise taxes. We will not be borrowing so that we can have more money to spend. I think that is a poor way to govern and to be spending money just for new projects. The Legislature will be taking care of that, and I think that you will see a good product, and I think it will get done on a timely basis.”
Despite the budget issues, Benninghoff said there were a lot of things he agrees with the governor on, such as a recently resent bill that will allow cancer patients more options in their treatment.
“It specifically allows those who are dealing with stage 4 cancer to use the treatment their physical prescribes. Not all of us respond to the same treatment, even though we might have the same cancer as someone else. But if you are in stage 4 cancer, I don’t believe a patient should have to flunk stages A, B and C, which is part of some insurance formula, if a physician thinks you will have a better response with les side affects taking drug D. With the passage of this bill, cancer patients will be allowed to make those decisions with their family and physician.”
Benninghoff closed by saying that, as he is running for re-election, he is as motivated as ever to work for his district, just as he was when he started.
“I am still excited to do this job like as when I first went down there (Harrisburg),” he said. “I am like a little kid when I see the dome (of the capital).”