Saturday, July 21, 2012

An open letter from "10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania"

Dear Friends,  

As we all know, Pennsylvania state government operates on a July 1st through June 30th fiscal year, and each year a state budget must be enacted for the new year beginning July 1st.

Every year as the days count down to the end of the State's Fiscal Year, there is frenzy of activity to complete action on bills that sponsors are seeking to enact concurrent with movement of the budget for the next fiscal year beginning July 1st.

This year was certainly no different, with a frenzy of activity on a whole host of bills covering many different policy issues in the run up to July 1st. Thus, the mid year recess is an opportune moment to review the status of bills important to our legislative agenda at 10,000 Friends.

The first half of 2012 was a very successful and productive legislative session for bills important to 10,000 Friends. Working with coalition partners, old friends, new allies, or just quietly carrying the message alone, we made important contributions to aid in the legislative accomplishments described below. Many of these success stories are the culmination of many years, in some cases decades, of work by our partners and ourselves-multi faceted work alternately taking the form of policy development, public advocacy, and private persuasion.

First, the good news - the following bills that we support and advocated for have become Pennsylvania law:
  • State Historical Preservation Tax Credits. Sixteen years in the making, Pennsylvania has now become the thirtieth U.S. state to enact state-level tax credits for historical preservation renovation work. A provision of the state's Tax Reform Code, HB761, enacting provisions of a bill introduced by Sen. Smucker, provides for a tax credit of 25% of the qualified costs incurred, up to a limit of $500,000 per project, for each completed historical preservation project. The program will start small, with up to $3 million in tax credits authorized in fiscal year 2013-2014. For further information, please click here.
  • Public - Private Transportation Partnerships (P3). After many years of work and much negotiation, the Public-Private Partnership bill of Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Rick Geist, HB3, passed the legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Corbett. The "P3" bill was long championed by 10,000 Friends as a necessary new "tool in the toolbox" to help address our critical transportation infrastructure needs. If a dedicated source of revenue is provided for a project to repay private sector investors, that project will now have the ability to attract private sector funding to complete the financing needed for the project to begin. For further information, please click here.
  • Revenue from Free State Police patrols now dedicated to help pay for State Police.  Gov. Corbett signed into law SB237, which provides that municipalities with 3,000 people or more that do not provide their own local police protection will no longer receive revenue from traffic citations written by State Police troopers that patrol that municipality free of charge to the municipality.  The portion of the fine that had gone to the locals will now go to pay for the training of incoming new State Police Cadet classes. Previously, the citation revenue was split between the state and municipality.  This law corrects the unfair subsidy by the State Police of local areas unwilling to pay their own fair share for public safety. Municipalities should meet their responsibilities to provide for essential public services, and pay for the services they use-this principle has now been enacted into law with regard to State Police services. For more information, please click here.
  • Downtown Location Law. The Downtown Location Law, SB276, was signed by the Governor. This law further expands the existing power and duty of the Department of General Services to locate any new state office facilities in downtown locations compatible with existing local plans. When job locations sprawl, it costs taxpayers huge sums of money to pay for required infrastructure, and the result is it becomes more difficult to connect qualified workers with jobs via multiple modes of transportation-this law supports good, efficient business.
Further, some of the good news on the legislative front stems from the fact that, in several important instances, problematic legislation which we strongly oppose was not enacted:

  • HB2191, a bill to enable the expansion of abuses of storefront pay-day lending operations in Pennsylvania, authorizing pay-day lenders to charge interest rates of 300% and more (currently the Department of Banking regulates these interest rates at a maximum of approximately 24% annually), has been stalled in the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee.  
  • HB1659, a bill that would provide a process whereby approval of DEP permit applications affecting the environment and public health could be outsourced to private industry subcontractors, has not passed either chamber. The bill, a classic example of the "the fox guarding the henhouse," is now opposed by DEP itself.
  • HB2175, an effort to change the operations of the state's Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, is misguided on several fronts. It scales back the program authorization from $4.05b to $3b over 10 years, a cut that is counterproductive to the capital asset needs of the Commonwealth and ideologically, not fiscally, motivated.  According to the non-profit organization State Budget Solutions, which lists among its partner organizations on its website the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), 36 of the 50 U.S. states had higher per-capita aggregate state debts in FY2011 than Pennsylvania.  Also, the bill promotes changes to the way projects are selected in a way that 1). constitutes a gross skewing of the definition of a community capital asset, and 2). likely will prevent community development projects, rural projects, older borough and small city projects, and placemaking/quality of life projects from being awarded in the future.  Sen. Scarnati's assessment of the new scoring criteria, according to published reports, is in fact identical to ours.
But on several important legislative fronts, we still have work to do:

  • Transportation Funding. A plan to address and fund our critical transportation infrastructure was not debated on either Chamber floor, let alone enacted. The Governor has been conspicuous by his absence so far on this issue-which remains stuck in neutral. This critical issue must be addressed, and soon.
  • Land Bank Authorization. The legislation authorizing the voluntary creation of local land banks, HB1682, has passed the House and awaits action in the Senate. Communities need this local tool to assist in the crucial task of reconverting blighted and abandoned properties into productive reuse. We strongly support the bill as written. Indications are that this consensus bill has been temporarily waylaid by efforts to alter the applicability or availability of the land banks in some counties, including Allegheny County, which we continue to work to oppose.
  • Delinquent Tax Collection Reform. This much needed and long overdue reform to Pennsylvania's antiquated, cumbersome, and bureaucratic delinquent tax sale process and procedures, HB1782, was introduced and referred to the House Urban Affairs Committee, but hasn't been acted upon yet at all.

  • We at 10,000 Friends look forward to working with all of our friends, supporters, allies, and partners to continue advance our important common work in fall and future legislative session. There is much to celebrate, but much more to be done.

    Till then, we hope that you enjoy the rest of your summer.

    Jack Machek
    President & CEO

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10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania works as an alliance of organizations and individuals committed to promoting land use policies and actions that will enable Pennsylvania to strengthen its diverse urban, suburban and rural communities. Through a diverse coalition focused on a positive agenda, we seek proactive solutions and options for local, regional and state leaders.

We update our site regularly with articles, opportunities and links, so please bookmark the home page of 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania and stop by often.

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