Gov. Wolf’s Pennsylvania Budget Prioritizes Education, Income

Gov. Wolf’s Pennsylvania Budget Prioritizes Education, Income

By: Sara Warden

2 min read February 2020 — Democrat Gov. Tom focused his 2020-21 budget on education and income, proposing an increase in spending of almost 6% to $34 billion over the fiscal year, including $600 million to cover cost overruns. Republicans criticized the heavy reliance of the budget on the assumption that revenue would grow by 4.5% ($1.6 billion) over the period. The proposals also require borrowing funds. “It’s easy to put things on a credit card and then ask other people in the future to pay for it,” said Republican State Representative Stan Saylor. “That is not the solution for Pennsylvania.”

 1. There will be no major tax increases

Instead of tax increases for citizens, several novel approaches were proposed in the budget to fund services, one of which was a state police fee based on number of incidents and coverage area. Wolf estimates the initiative will bring in $136 million to fund police services. Another way taxes could stay flat is by imposing a tax on the Marcellus Shale natural gas field to be placed in a $4.5 billion infrastructure fund. Based on 2019 production, Wolf believes the tax would generate more than $600 million per year.

Sweeping changes will be made to charter school funding

Wolf proposed a reduction in the obligatory payments school districts must make when one of their students decides to attend a charter school, which would save districts $280 million annually, according to the governor. “Our charter school system is in desperate need of reform,” Wolf said in a sharp rebuke of the charter school system. “It’s time to close the loopholes. It’s time to establish real standards, and it’s time to level the playing field.”

2. Revisiting previous proposals.

The Wolf administration wants the state to increase basic education spending by $100 million and special education by $25 million. He wants all school districts to offer full-day kindergarten, shifting 22,000 students who attend half-day programs into full days. He wants budgets on the whole for Pre-K to be increased by $30 million, most of which will be allocated to the state-run Pre-K Counts program. Finally, he proposed an increase in the state’s minimum teaching salary from $18,500 to $45,000, impacting 3,000 teachers. 

3. Higher minimum wage is high on the agenda

Wolf’s government has always championed higher minimum wages but has been met with stiff resistance. The governor wants to increase Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $15 per hour on a gradual basis. The current minimum wage is $7.25, which he proposes should be increased to $12 this July and every consecutive year by $0.50 until reaching $15 in 2026.

Another issue the governor addressed was gun reform, which is unusual for a budget speech. Gov. Wolf made an impassioned plea for the state to take gun laws more seriously. “The steps I’m proposing are supported by the evidence and supported by the vast majority of Pennsylvanians,” Wolf said. “To let another session go by without action would be a failure of imagination that will cost lives.”


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The Peach State’s tourism industry is thriving

The Peach State’s tourism industry is thriving

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read February 2020 — Florida has the beaches, Pennsylvania has the Pocono Mountains, and California has the movie studios. Looking for a place where you can experience all three attractions and still get a taste of southern hospitality? The Peach State is your best bet and the tourism statistics prove it. Georgia welcomed more than 111 million international and domestic visitors in 2018, a record-breaking year for the state’s tourism industry, Gov. Brian Kemp and economic development leaders announced in January during the annual Tourism, Hospitality and Arts day at the Georgia State Capitol.

Explore Georgia, the state tourism office within the Georgia Department of Economic Development, calculated that visitors spent close to $40 billion in communities throughout the state and supported 478,000 jobs. The billions in tourism-related expenditures generated $3.4 billion in state and local tax revenue.

“As visitors continue to discover Georgia’s unexpected destinations that range from the North Georgia Mountains to Cumberland Island, our economy continues to grow, new jobs are created, and our communities thrive,” said Pat Wilson, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development. Without the jobs created by the tourism industry, Georgia’s unemployment rate would be 10%, nearly twice as high as the record-low average, Explore Georgia said in a press release. 

The announcement follows Georgia’s consecutive recognition as the best state to do business by different business publications, solidifying the Peach State’s live, work and play attraction. “The tourism, hospitality, and arts industries are constantly propelling our state’s places, culture, stories, and people to the forefront – showing the world why Georgia is the best place to vacation, live, and do business,” Wilson said. 

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Spotlight On: Donna Chamberlain, Managing Principal, BDO USA

Spotlight On: Donna Chamberlain, Managing Principal, BDO USA

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read November 2019 — Rapid growth in Charlotte is attracting families and young professionals, as well as local and international companies. BDO USA, with help from the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance, has been at the forefront of helping potential foreign investors move into the Charlotte market. BDO USA Tax Office Managing Principal Donna Chamberlain talks about Charlotte’s appeal to international companies and efforts to use technology to improve efficiency in an interview with Invest: Charlotte. 

What unique opportunities are emerging as the region grows?


“In the past 12 months, while working with the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance and other internationally focused organizations, the global opportunities have really come to light. We focused on joining the alliance’s international advisory council, which aims to attract international investors to the Charlotte Metro Area. It was eye-opening to see how this city is appealing to prospective international investors. BDO’s consultants help potential investors with site selection and tax and accounting requirements, which is very exciting. Newly expanding companies from Europe and Latin America are also looking at what Charlotte has to offer. The area is attracting many foreign investors as well as corporate relocations from established companies.”


What makes Charlotte a desirable city for companies looking to relocate?


“Charlotte has seen an incredible amount of growth and infrastructure development, and the city is paying great attention to detail. Also, education as a whole is very high in the area, which is creating a diverse, educated and skilled workforce for companies to choose from. The industry make-up is becoming more diversified, from high tech and manufacturing to healthcare. It is not just financial services, which Charlotte is known for, but also the diversification into other industries that is very appealing for companies looking at the Charlotte Metro Area.” 


In what ways is BDO USA leveraging technology to improve customer experience?


“BDO is investing in technology that helps create processes across the firm nationally that are integrated seamlessly. Investments in software and technology make our practice efficient and portable. BDO has global offerings that feel very local. Data analytics improves efficiency and we want clients to access that data quickly. We offer global portals that allow our clients to see real-time statistics related to what we are doing for their company.


How is BDO collaborating with the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance to improve service offerings?

We are supportive of the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance and joining their internal councils has been beneficial. It hass been really collaborative. The alliance is reaching out to the local business community for support as it continues to expand. Working with the alliance has been helpful in understanding what companies need, especially in the current atmosphere, and how we can help them shape their business. We want to provide customized HR, tax and accounting solutions specific to our clients.”


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South Florida Collective Combats Gentrification in Palm Beach

South Florida Collective Combats Gentrification in Palm Beach

By: Sara Warden


2 min read November 2019 — As the 2018 federal tax code kicks into effect, capping deductibility of state and local taxes, demand has skyrocketed for luxury real estate in low-taxing states such as Florida. In the third quarter of 2019, the median price for a luxury home in Palm Beach tripled on the year to $21 million compared with $7.7 million in the same quarter of 2018.

As luxury house prices increase, single family and condo prices are also going up, according to a report by real estate appraisers Miller Samuel. In 3Q19, average sales prices for a condo reached $418,849, up 4.4% on 3Q18, and for a single family home the average price was $11.4 million, up 121.6% on the year. Tellingly, average price per square foot was up across the board, at $1,468/ft2 for a single family home during the quarter compared with $1,363/ft2.

The area is quickly gentrifying, with the Virgin Trains USA express service that runs through the county also pulling up house prices and pushing down affordability. In this environment, creating affordable housing for the residents of Palm Beach becomes ever more pressing. Now, the public and private sectors are joining forces to take action and create the South Florida Housing Link Collaborative, an ambitious affordable housing project. 

The project will target the route of the Brightline, deploying a $5 million investment by JP Morgan Chase to upgrade existing units and build new, more affordable accommodation. “Transport is the biggest expense after housing,” said Mandy Bartle, executive director of the South Florida Community Land Trust (SFCLT), to the Miami Herald. “We decided to hone in on this corridor because the people who most need public transit are a lot of the folks who already live in these areas near the railway and are the most likely to get pushed out by gentrification.”

As well as the $5 million in direct investment in the project, it is expected to garner $75 million in external capital from both the public and private sectors. Joining the SFCLT is the Community Land Trust of Palm Beach County, nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners, Florida Community Loan Fund, and the Solar and Energy Loan Fund (SELF). SELF provides small loans to homeowners for solar energy or hurricane-resilience technologies, providing $10 million worth of loans in their 10 years in business.

Duanne Andrade, the chief financial officer at SELF, said in an interview with Next City that those living on the path of new transit projects are often the most vulnerable to gentrification. Cindee LaCourse-Blum, executive director of the Palm Beach County CLT, added that climate change compounds the problem. 

“Housing and transportation eats up the majority of incomes in Palm Beach County, in addition to the risks that we are seeing with climate change and sea-level rise and a lot of people coming back into the urban corridor and gentrifying those neighborhoods,” she said to the same publication. “What I’m hoping to see is that residents of these communities have access to safe, affordable, resilient housing, and they’re not pushed out of their neighborhoods.”


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Spotlight On: HBK CPAs & Consultants, James Bartolomei, Principal

Writer: Yolanda Rivas

2 min read SEPTEMBER 2019 — Technology is disrupting every industry in the world. From healthcare to banking and finance, numerous companies are reinventing themselves to be at the forefront of technology and innovation. In the accounting and finance segments, these innovative tools are rapidly transforming customer experience and data management. The Invest: Philadelphia team recently sat down with HBK CPAs & Consultants Principal James Bartolomei to get his insights about the performance of Philadelphia’s financial sector.

In what ways is technology disrupting the accounting and finance industry?

Technology is disrupting every industry. Innovation and technology allow companies to get creative and find ways to improve processes and, more importantly, customer experience. The biggest challenge faced by the financial industry is to improve customer experience while protecting sensitive data. To assist our clients in this area we recently developed a cybersecurity offering, which has been well-received. 

With the rapid and dynamic change in technology, businesses can be eliminated and displaced very quickly today. This represents a big challenge as the value one thought was built up in their business could vanish. This is why it is vitally important for business owners to build wealth both inside and outside their businesses. Our firm combines tax and accounting services with our wealth management services to help deliver on this objective and minimize risk for our clients.

What are the services and industries where you’re seeing the most demand?

We have seen increased demand from clients looking for our advice about the effects of the federal tax reform, especially because of the substantial changes in the privately-held business area. Clients are concerned that their accountants and tax advisers fully understand the new tax law and how it impacts them. There are significant changes to the way small businesses are taxed under this new law.

Philadelphia’s real estate and biotech sectors are growing. We have numerous clients in the real estate sector and we have seen a substantial uptick in activity and development, especially in rental properties. In the biotech sector, we have seen a high amount of activity in the medical technology segment.

What is your outlook for Philadelphia’s accounting and finance sectors?

We are continuing to see growth in the Philadelphia market. We are relatively new to the market and we are expanding our client base and attracting good, young talent. We have hired a number of recent college grads over the last two years with great results. Philly is one of the strongest and youngest markets in the United States and the outlook is great for HBK and the local financial services sector. 



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Spotlight on: William Burns, Tax Office Managing Partner, BDO

By Yolanda Rivas

2 min read JULY 2019 — Accountants and financial professionals play an important role in the global economy and business model, taking on an array of roles within organizations in all industries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the employment of accountants and auditors is projected to grow 10 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. 

Accountants can bring a significant perspective of the economy and industries growth. Our ‘Spotlight on’ for this week brings a perspective of what are the industries looking for in regards to advisory and how the local accounting companies impact the labor pool.

BDO offers a wide range of services including advisory, audit/assurance and tax services. Which are most in demand in Philadelphia?  

The core services that we provide in Philadelphia are audit and tax, which is where we are seeing the most demand. Our recent acquisition of AC Lordi will allow us to bolster what we can do regarding advisory and scale us up to the next level. We have seen an increase in demand for our services from healthcare, life sciences, and manufacturing and distribution. In addition, we have seen an influx of people reaching out for advice regarding maximizing the benefits of tax reform. We expect to see an increased demand for advisory services related to tax reform, especially surrounding Opportunity Zones.

What are BDO’s efforts to recruit talent from the local pool?

Six years ago, BDO merged a select group of geographically close practices, retiring a number of partners and ushering in a new class. We now find ourselves in a position where we can grow exponentially in one of the largest markets in the country. Our focus on targeted growth means we are constantly adding talent as we look to expanding our tax specialties.

There is always a hunt for qualified talent. To combat that, we try to over-hire at the entry level. Turnover in our industry is relatively high and by attracting more students at the front end we have more opportunity to offer them higher positions when people decide to leave. We have partnerships with local universities and we recruit on a regional and national level. We also have a program to identify and attract students to the region from all over the nation.

What Impact does technology have on the accounting and financial sectors?

Technology has a huge impact on how we operate, since most of what we do is software driven. Data analytics is making us more efficient and many firms are using it as a tool within their audit and tax practices. Those firms that aren’t focused on using and developing technology are going to lag behind.

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