Nov 18, 2013

Advocacy with an Impact

By Peter Calcara, Vice President - Government Relations

The legislative process can be unpredictable and frustrating. As PICPA’s vice president of government relations, I live with this on a daily basis. Frustration with the process, not to mention some of the individuals in charge of the process, can at times overshadow the good that can be achieved.

Harrisburg capitol buildingA legislative “win” can mean many things. From having a bill introduced (or blocking a bill from being introduced) to simply getting a vote in committee, all can be considered victories in the world of government relations advocacy. A bill actually signed into law by the governor is the ultimate legislative victory, though. Those accomplishments are, relatively speaking, rare occurrences. After all, year-to-date, nearly 3,000 bills have been introduced in the House and Senate combined, and less than 100 have made it through the entire process. I would say maybe 10 percent of the bills introduced during a two-year session actually make it to the governor’s desk.

The process does work, however, and the results can be very positive. For example, this year the PICPA and its advocacy efforts achieved several big “wins” in Harrisburg that members and the clients they serve will benefit from.

The first significant victory was a reform of the Board of Finance and Revenue. Called a “kangaroo court” by CFO Magazine and given a “D” rating in a 2010 report by the Coalition on State Taxation (COST) due in large part to its lack of independence, the Board of Finance and Revenue is the second level of appeal after the Board of Appeals in the Department of Revenue and before the courts. Working with key stakeholders, the PICPA was able to fashion a legislative reform package and carry it through the legislative process—all in a little over six months. The end result is Act 52 of 2013, which includes the most significant reforms in Pennsylvania’s tax administration process in more than 20 years.

These changes won by the PICPA resulted in COST changing Pennsylvania’s grade in the area of tax administration from that “D” to an “A-,“ which will be in a report being released later this year. More importantly, taxpayers will experience savings in time and money by having a more streamlined and efficient system in which to operate.

A second big win was the enactment of House Bill 40, now Act 15 of 2013. This amendment to the Pennsylvania CPA Law permits CPA candidates to attain their required experience through employment in public practice, industry, government, or academia. By adopting this change, Pennsylvania became the 27th state to adopt this general experience requirement.

Act 151 signing
The Governor and PICPA representatives at the ceremonial bill signing of Act 15 of 2013 in Harrisburg.

The reality is that CPA candidates who provide services in the attest area will most likely receive all of their experience hours in the attest function, plus this area is subject to additional oversight through standards and programs such as peer review. Candidates not working in the attest area will be able to maximize their training in areas related to their responsibilities. This change opens the CPA profession to many potentially worthy candidates who were otherwise qualified but blocked by an inflexible barrier from licensure.

A third victory was elimination of the Corporate Loans Tax. This arcane provision in the Tax Code will be gone beginning Jan. 1, 2014, saving Pennsylvania taxpayers more than $30 million over a five-year period.

Last but not least, the PICPA scored a major victory when the House overwhelmingly defeated an amendment to a property tax reform measure that would have added accounting, auditing, tax, and related services to the items subject to the state sales tax. The ill-conceived “Property Tax Independent Act” is not only bad tax policy, but it effectively increases taxes by more than a $1 billion on Pennsylvania taxpayers.

None of this success could have been possible without a concerted team effort. As legendary football coach Vince Lombardi famously put it, “The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.”

To all PICPA members, our allies in the legislature, and the executive branch of state government, thank you for a successful 2013!

Advocacy with an impact.

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PICPA Staff Contributors
Statements of fact and opinion are the authors’ responsibility alone and do not imply an opinion on the part of PICPA officers or members. The information contained in herein does not constitute accounting, legal, or professional advice. For professional advice, please engage or consult a qualified professional.
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