How Josh Shapiro kicks off his administration with a focus on business — and a ‘money back’ guarantee

HARRISBURG — Gov. Josh Shapiro continued his efforts Tuesday to cut red tape and make it easier to work in Pennsylvania by creating a “money back” guarantee for industries that require various occupational licenses.

Every agency in Pennsylvania is now required to review its licensing, certification and permitting processes over the next 90 days, according to a new executive order presented by Shapiro on Tuesday. The Shapiro administration will then specify a time frame in which the agency must issue a license or refund the cost of the application fee.

Shapiro has signed three executive orders in the three weeks since he took office that aim to increase access to jobs and business opportunities in the state. Those efforts — plus the fact that his first appearance as governor was on Fox News — led the Washington Post to describe him as “on the GOP charm offensive.”

The 49-year-old Democrat from Montgomery County scored a double-digit victory over Republican Doug Mastriano, a state senator. His supporters say Shapiro is a strong example of how Democrats can win over Republicans in today’s hyperpartisan environment, and they hope he runs for president one day.

Shapiro has repeated “Pennsylvania is open for business” at several news conferences since taking office. Tuesday’s order showed a continuation of that strategy to woo Republicans and Democrats by shifting the focus to customer service.

He began his administration with a largely token executive action, reducing the four-year degree requirement for 92 percent of government jobs, or roughly 65,000 positions. As of July, however, only about 135 of the state’s 2,600 jobs required a bachelor’s degree as part of the minimum experience requirements, PennLive reported. In 101 of those jobs, managers could accept experience and training as a substitute for a degree. Pennsylvania’s executive branch employs more than 72,000 people.

Shapiro also created an Office of Transformation and Capabilities as a “one-stop shop” to help businesses grow or expand in the state. The office will be housed in the governor’s office and will be led by a “transformation and opportunity” czar. Shapiro said it will help businesses of all sizes navigate the bureaucratic processes required to run a business in Pennsylvania.

When asked about his strategy for wooing the GOP, Shapiro balked and said he was “pro-common sense.” He said he has received positive feedback from leaders and rank-and-file members on both sides of the aisle about his pro-business pursuits.

“It’s about making government more effective and efficient,” Shapiro said. “This is about customer service, giving the public the answers they deserve.”

As part of the agency review, each will also be able to request additional staff to meet the new time frame state agencies will have to respond to applicants.

The state will still ensure that each applicant is vetted “with a very careful eye,” Shapiro said.

There’s not much Shapiro can do right now except take executive action. The state House of Representatives and Senate are in recess until February 27. The House has three special elections next week to fill vacancies that are likely to give Democrats a razor-thin majority. After House Speaker Mark Rosey (D., Berks) vowed to keep the House doors locked until members reached an agreement on a two-year window for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits, the entire General meeting is at a standstill.

For now, it appears that Shapiro will focus on fulfilling the campaign promises he can alone as the state’s chief executive.

Daryl Thomas, who owns Philly Cuts barbershop in West Philadelphia, said during a news conference Tuesday that the licensing process is often an added concern for small business owners when they or stylists are often focused on making ends meet.

Shapiro promised Thomas during the campaign that he would improve the licensing process for cosmetologists and barbers in Pennsylvania. Thomas said Tuesday that he made good on that promise.

“In Philly, you keep your word,” added Thomas.

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