TUNKHANNOCK — The Affordable Care Act, tax reform and excessive government rule. U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, sounded off on all three topics Tuesday when he met with the Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce.
The senator fielded questions important to business owners from the rural county and outlined what concerns him most. Of highest importance to the senator: trying to get the federal government on a sustainable fiscal path.
“I got to tell you it’s frustrating. The administration believes that the way we do this is just keep raising taxes. The fact is, I think that will do more harm than good … because it discourages the kind of economic activity we’re trying to encourage,” Toomey told the audience of 50.
“’Obamacare’ will completely stifle innovation,” said Toomey, who once had owned a restaurant chain in the Lehigh Valley. The act is the chief offender threatening entrepreneurship, he said.
If an employer does not provide health care for workers, the Affordable Care Act, set to go into effect Jan. 1, encourages employers to keep their workforce below 50 and reduce scheduled hours or risk paying a penalty for not insuring all of them, he said.
The senator’s prediction is that the legislation will collapse on its own.
“So at precisely the time when we desperately need job creation, we’ve got a federal government policy that creates a huge incentive not to hire the workers,” Toomey said.
Toomey attacked the Environmental Protection Agency, saying its micromanagement of the natural gas industry impedes operators’ efforts in helping gain energy independence and also obstructs industrial development elsewhere.
“If you’re manufacturing pretty much anything, it seems the EPA has been a problem,” Toomey said. “Look, I think we all can agree there needs to be an appropriate level of regulation. We all want clean air. We all want clean water … I think this administration’s just gone way overboard.”
Veto Barziloski, owner of Tunkhannock’s Bennie’s Nurseries Inc. and a former Tunkhannock Area School Board member, was concerned that state and federal mandates impede progress not only in business, but also how children learn.
The Pennsylvania State Education Association, the teachers’ union, has too much state and federal support in its fight for incentive pay, he said. “Any professional deserves their pay,” Barziloski said, but he said protracted negotiations and the union’s consistent refusal to budge on issues makes running a school district difficult. New economic conditions call for compromise on both sides, Barziloski said.
“I happen to think the income tax code is completely indefensible,” Toomey said. “On the individual side, our Democratic friends have been very up front. If you touch the tax code, you have to raise taxes or they’re not interested,” Toomey said.
Tax reform for U.S. businesses — an effort to lower rates that are the highest in the industrialized world — is something on which both sides of the aisle can agree. But, Toomey said, after a conversation with President Barack Obama, he thinks Democrats seem to be sitting on their hands.