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McClatchy-Tribune  01/12/2017 12:01 AM ET
In Lehigh Valley visit, Gov. Wolf says private-sector jobs best social policy [The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)]

Jan. 12--SALISBURY TOWNSHIP -- Midway through his term, Gov. Tom Wolf says he can point to some business-related achievements, such as legalizing medical marijuana and modernizing the liquor system -- two areas that could ultimately lead to employment growth from new, emerging markets.

But the Democratic state executive also has witnessed hundreds of job cuts during his first two years, not only from Lehigh Valley companies but within state government. Last week, the administration announced it is looking to close two out of five state prisons targeted, including one in Frackville, Schuylkill County, to trim a $1.7 billion deficit.

Wolf's answer to combat job cuts: Government can help, but only so much.

"The best social policy from a political point of view is a good job, and those good jobs come primarily from the private sector," Wolf said Wednesday during a taping of the "Business Matters" television show to air later this month on WFMZ-TV.

Show moderator Tony Iannelli, president and CEO of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, asked Wolf about modernizing the state liquor store system, giving consumers more choices in buying beer, wine and spirits, when union labor has supported the governor. Wolf signed into law last spring an alternative to full privatization of the state Liquor Control Board's distribution system, to the opposition of unions, including the Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, which represents state-store workers.

"That's the way it is in business," Wolf said. "You are making some people unhappy by restructuring things. But I ran on modernizing the state liquor system, and I make no apologies."

On the legalization of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania, the governor acknowledged some details still need to be ironed-out, such as banking regulations affecting businesses that wish to sell a drug the federal government still classifies as illegal. But he also said more than two-dozen states have approved medical-marijuana use, and he supports decriminalizing it in "small amounts" for recreational use.

Wolf also touched on the unemployment compensation fight in Harrisburg, which has delayed services and benefits for hundreds of residents after the state cut more than 500 employees from call centers amid a funding dispute between the governor and Senate Republicans.

"It's really inconvenient without those benefits for people who want to take advantage of the expanded unemployment compensation that we painstakingly negotiated," Wolf said. He said he needs legislation from the General Assembly to provide money to restore those jobs.

During the show's taping, which features a free-wheeling question-and-answer session, Iannelli asked Wolf if the he believes government is excessively burdening business owners when it comes to such hot-button topics as minimum wage, overtime pay and health care.

"Henry Ford raised the wages because he wanted to make sure the people could afford the products they were making," said Wolf, using it as an example of how owners who pay their employees decent wages are building healthier communities.

Iannelli also asked Wolf if the governor was surprised by the Lehigh Valley's business development.

Wolf, who was CEO of his York family's building materials company before becoming governor in 2015, called the Valley a "great place" to do business, citing in part the area's proximity to metropolitan New York markets.

"Businesses want to be here for all the right reasons," he said.

Several Chamber board members, including Lehigh County Executive Tom Muller, attended the taping at WFMZ's studios in Salisbury Township. The 30-minute "Busuiness Matters" featuring Wolf is scheduled to air 7:30 p.m. Jan. 23 on WFMZ.



Get the inside scoop on the Lehigh Valley's business scene on The Business Cycle, themorningcall.com/business.

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