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Taxes, immigration and climate among issues to watch in Biden’s first 100 days, panelists say

Less than one month into the Biden administration, actions taken by the president have indicated a much more progressive approach to governing than in the conservative Trump administration.

More than 30 executive orders signed by Joe Biden so far have mostly overturned many of the more controversial policies of his predecessor.

Like with any change, there will be winners and losers.

Central Penn Business Journal and Lehigh Valley Business spoke with a panel of legal experts on what to expect during the first 100 days of the Biden administration and beyond.

Sectors of the economy most likely to benefit under the administration are health care, manufacturing and technical industries, who will now have a more stable stream of access to foreign-born workers with specialty skills.

The environment and those companies that support clean technology will also likely find a better friend in the Biden administration than they did with Trump. On the flipside, companies involved in fossil fuel are likely to see a drop in subsidies and support.

High-wealth individuals will also likely feel a larger tax impact than they had under Trump, but maybe not as much as they fear.

The legal panel of experts from left to right: S. Graham Simmons III, Melissa Kelso, Steven Koehler, Christian Johnson

Boost to M&A

Melissa L. Kelso of Kelso Law in Carlisle said she is hearing concern from many of her small business clients who are worried about potential changes in the minimum wage and estate taxes could impact their profitability.

“I think one point that I don’t want to overlook, they are concerned things will be less stable, whether that is founded or not,” she said. “They’ve very concerned they are going to see their costs go up.”

She said the minimum wage going from its current $7.25 an hour to $15 is the largest concern she is hearing. “Most of our clients pay above that, but they’re concerned about that making everything go up,” she said.

Meanwhile, she said, concern over issues like estate tax are leading many of her clients, who may have been thinking of selling their business, to wonder if now is the right time.

Christian Johnson, a law professor at Widener University in Harrisburg, agreed that such concerns will likely lead to a short-term jump in merger and acquisition activity. “With big changes on the horizon there’s always going to be a rush for the exits,” Johnson said. “The tax structure is very favorable right now and I don’t think it will get any better.”

Stimulus payback

The big looming concern with taxation is the question of how the government is going to pay for all of the stimulus money it’s handing out now, which will certainly lead to higher taxes in the long run. S. Graham Simmons III, an attorney with Norris McLaughlin in Allentown, said that time will come.

“It will be interesting to see when we get to that point where they look across the aisle and realize we have no choice to raise taxes to pay for what we are doing with the stimulus and spending to get out of the COVID situation,” he said.

The fact that such a conversation isn’t happening now concerns Johnson.

“There appears to be very little thought about how were’ going to pay these amounts back in the long run,” he said. “It’s impossible to say with a straight face that $1.7 trillion dollars isn’t going to have any impact on our economy. It is just total nonsense.”
Fintech

“I’d be looking to see how this administration is going to look to make changes involving crypto currency and the fintech tax,” said Simmons.

The Biden admin has been more crypto friendly, he noted, and with crypto currency, like Bitcoin beginning to have more widespread acceptance, that could have an impact on the economy.

Immigration

One issue that the world has been paying particular attention to is how Biden is reversing many of the Trump-era restrictions on immigration, said Steven A. Koehler, an immigration attorney with Stock and Leader in York.

“As an immigration lawyer we’re certainly hoping that Biden’s big shot will be in the immigration field,” he said.

He said the US Citizenship Act of 2021 is expected to expand citizenship to undocumented immigration.

Corporate America, however, is keeping a close eye on the Biden administration renewing accessibility to H-1 Visas, which will help in the recruitment of individuals with specialty skills into fields such as health care, technology and engineering.

“Employing foreign-born workers is vital to our economy. Business will see a more stable playing field in having access to that stable workforce,” he said. “It will definitely affect the health care industry. It will definitely affect the manufacturing industry. A lot of professors are foreign born. It’s probably the most widely used visa in the U.S.”

Going electric

The environment will also be a bigger concern under the Biden administration, said Johnson.

“Biden is pushing for the U.S to become a leader in batteries, electric cars and general electrification,” Johnson said. “That is something Biden could see as a big win for him, it would keep jobs in the auto industry.”

With less subsidies for fossil fuels however, he noted states like Pennsylvania would feel a stronger impact because of the proliferation of coal and fracking gas, so such trends might not be as popular in the Keystone state.

“Sometimes we underestimate just how passionate people feel about climate on both sides,” he said.

Overall

Overall, however, the panelists didn’t see huge sweeping changes in any direction.

With an evenly balanced legislature, it may be difficult to get any major legislation passed, and like Trump, Biden may have to rely on executive orders to make some changes.

Even expected tax increases should be tempered, said Johnson.

“You’re going to see a lot of loopholes being closed and he’ll be quite aggressive,” Johnson said. “But, I don’t see congress having the stomach for a huge tax increase.”

Stacy Wescoe
Writer Stacy Wescoe has her finger on the pulse of the business community in the Greater Lehigh Valley and keeps you up-to-date with technology and trends, plus what coworkers and competitors are talking about around the water cooler — and on social media. She can be reached at swescoe@bridgetowermedia.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 4104. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

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