Aug 19, 2020

PICPA Virtual Town Halls Bring Members Closer to the Action

By Peter N. Calcara, CAE, vice president, government relations, and Alexandra C. Fabian, manager, government relations

The PICPA government relations and chapter relations teams recently hosted a series of virtual town hall meetings in all 11 PICPA chapters. Our Legislator Town Hall series gave members throughout Pennsylvania an opportunity to hear from elected officials in an informal setting. Members were able to connect with leaders at the federal and state levels and ask them questions. These town halls took the place of our long-standing Day on the Hill program, which was usually held in Harrisburg in May when the General Assembly was in session. Prior to the coronavirus shut down, our plan was to repurpose Day on the Hill and take our advocacy efforts on the road: to bring Harrisburg to the chapters, so to speak. COVID-19 forced a change from in-person town halls to ZOOM sessions.

Sen. Hutchinson on PICPA's Northwestern Chapter legislator town hall.

Pennsylvania state Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R-Venago) at PICPA's Northwestern Chapter virtual town hall with legislators.

Rep George Dunbar (R-Westmoreland) on PICPA's virtual town hall

Pennsylvania state Rep. George Dunbar (R-Westmoreland) at PICPA's Southwestern Chapter virtual town hall.

Our guests this year included state Sens. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster), John Blake (D-Lackawanna), John Gordner (R-Columbia), Scott Hutchinson (R-Venago), and Judy Schwank (D-Berks). From the state House, we hosted Reps. Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia), Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny), George Dunbar (R-Westmoreland), Mike Schlossberg (D-Lehigh), and Jesse Topper (R-Bedford). We were also joined by U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, who represents Pennsylvania’s 16th Congressional District. Kelly is a member of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, the chief tax-writing committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. This bipartisan mix of legislators included members of leadership, chairs of key tax writing committees of the state legislature, and rising stars in the General Assembly.   

Some topics covered include the $27 billion stop-gap Pennsylvania budget, the ongoing unemployment compensation debacle, Pennsylvania’s fiscal outlook, school reopenings, the struggles of small businesses, recently enacted police reforms, the need for liability protection from COVID-19-related lawsuits, and much more. Members also probed lawmakers with a variety of other questions covering an assortment of topics. The discussions were frank and open.

Advocacy takes many shapes and forms, but the one component that is critical to the success (or failure) of a program is the interaction between an organization’s membership and policymakers. This is important at both the state and federal levels of government. The Harrisburg-based PICPA government relations team works tirelessly to cultivate relationships with our state lawmakers. We might be on the frontlines in Harrisburg, but lawmakers always tell us that they want to hear directly from you, our members. What are your top-of-the mind concerns and issues? What keeps you and your clients up at night?    

The bottom line is this: policymakers want to hear from their constituents, but they really want to hear from CPAs because you have your pulse on what is happening in our communities. As trusted advisers to businesses large and small, individual taxpayers, not-for-profits, and everything in between, CPAs have their ears to the ground when it comes to understanding the economic landscape in the towns in which they live. CPAs have valuable information, and elected officials want access to what you know and what you are hearing in their districts. Credible information is the currency that drives decision-making in Harrisburg, Washington, D.C., and state capitals across the country. PICPA’s virtual town hall series effectively brought together these two important components in an engaging, informative fashion.

If there was one downside, it was the member participation levels at several sessions. For example, it is difficult to understand how chapters with hundreds or thousands of members could muster fewer than two dozen attendees on a private call with a member of the General Assembly. We did well the first time out, but surely we can do better.

Thanks to the responsiveness of our legislators, we plan to host more sessions in the future. Look for information on upcoming town halls in your chapter beginning in January.

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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.