Bipartisan Municipal Debt Reform Package

 

(Harrisburg) – Today, Senators Mike Folmer (R-48), John Eichelberger (R-30), John Blake (D-22) and John DiSanto (R-15) and State Representatives Francis Ryan (R-101) and Patty Kim (D-103) highlighted a bipartisan municipal debt reform package to address financial transactions that led to the fiscal distress of Harrisburg and other municipalities.

“Tax and rate payers across Pennsylvania assume there are protections in the law to stop public entities from losing public funds on risky investments, or contractors that go under during a project, or engaging in unethical financial practices; currently, these protections don’t exist,” said Senator Eichelberger, prime sponsor of Senate Bill 490 (Local Government Debt Act) and Senate Bill 493 (Bonds and Municipal Debt).  “Our bipartisan package of bills will correct these inadequacies.”

Senator Folmer, prime sponsor of Senate Bill 492 (“Swaps” Restrictions) continued, “As the Grand Jury report on the Harrisburg incinerator called the City’s financial transactions ‘a reckless bet,’ I believe swaps are gambling with taxpayers’ moneys.  If municipal or school district officials guess wrong, taxpayers are on the hook for any losses incurred.”  Representative Ryan will introduce companion legislation in the House.  “As part of a comprehensive financial rescue plan, it is essential that reforms be enacted at the state and municipal levels to ensure our financial viability into the future,” Representative Ryan said.

“It is imperative that we continue to legislate protections in law to ensure accountability and transparency in publicly funded activities,” Senator Blake added.  “This bipartisan package of legislation protects the public interest; improves transparency and accountability; and insists upon ethical conduct when local elected and appointed officials vote to issue debt backed up by taxpayer dollars.  It is my hope that these bills move quickly through the legislative process and get to the Governor’s desk for his signature.”  Senator Blake is the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 491 (Ethics Commission and Municipal Authorities).

Attorney General Josh Shapiro recently released a Grand Jury report on the financial transactions of the Harrisburg incinerator.  While a number of the Attorney General’s recommendations on the Harrisburg incinerator are covered by the previously mentioned bills, three additional bills will be introduced to include all of the recommendations.

Senator Blake will introduce Senate Bill 694 to amend the Commonwealth Attorneys Act.  Senator DiSanto will introduce Senate Bill 695 to amend the statute of limitations regarding public officials and employees.  “Public officials need to be held to a high standard and face accountability when they violate the public trust.  This legislation, recommended in a recent report by the Attorney General, will clarify the statute of limitations on crimes related to public employment and provide sufficient time for investigations to be conducted after someone has left office,” Senator DiSanto said.  Senator Folmer will introduce Senate Bill 696 to expand public bidding requirements for professional services.

Representative Kim will introduce similar companion bills in the House.  “I believe if these reform bills were law 20 years ago, Harrisburg’s financial status would look completely different and on better footing today,” Representative Kim said.

Senate Bills 490-493 are currently in the Senate Local Government Committee.  Senate Bills 694-696 will be introduced shortly.

Contacts:

Fred Sembach, Senator Folmer (787-5708)
Lee Derr, Senator Eichelberger (787-5490)
Luc Miron, Senator Blake (787-6481)
Charles Erdman, Senator DiSanto (787-6801)
Representative Ryan (783-1815)
Representative Kim (783-9342)

Stefano Introduces Bill to Aid Communities in Combatting Neighborhood Blight

Seeking to and help communities remediate properties that have fallen into disrepair, Senator Pat Stefano (R-32) has introduced legislation, SB 667, that will provide local redevelopment authorities with more authority and resources to combat neighborhood blight.

Stefano’s legislation would grant redevelopment authorities the same powers currently allotted to land banks through the Pennsylvania Land Bank Act, enabling them to take an active role in rehabilitated blighted properties and neighborhoods.

“Blighted, abandoned properties can be a danger to the public, increase crime rates and reduce property values,” Stefano said.  “This legislation will give communities another tool to effectively address a growing problem in many areas of our state.”

He said a land bank is an independent public entity created by a municipality to expedite the process of acquiring and rehabilitating blighted, dilapidated, and abandoned properties. In many instances, land banks and redevelopment authorities work in unison to eliminate blight in communities.

“While land banks have been crucial in this fight, many of the Commonwealth’s counties have active redevelopment authorities which have been performing these same functions since 1945 but do not have specified authority under Pennsylvania law.” Stefano said.  “Granting redevelopment authorities the same powers as land banks would allow them to acquire tax delinquent properties at a judicial sale without competitive bidding.”

The legislation would also enable redevelopment authorities to discharge tax liens on blighted properties, and to share up to 50% of the real property taxes for five years after conveyance of authority-owned property. It would also eliminate the need to form an entirely new entity in these municipalities; which can be redundant and cost-prohibitive, given the lack of resources and funding for these initiatives.

“Under my proposal, land banks will continue to remain a successful and useful tool for municipalities in combatting blight,” Stefano said. “This bill simply provides another tool for municipalities with active redevelopment authorities to use in eliminating blight, rehabilitating properties and improving neighborhoods and communities while saving them money and avoiding costly and timely duplication of services.”

Stefano noted that this bill was the result of a constituent meeting. “The Fayette County Redevelopment Authority came to me with very compelling data showing the increase costs some redevelopment authorities have incurred in order to setup land banks. This bill provides a common sense solutions to the problem they presented.” 

CONTACT: Ben Wren (717)-787-7175

 

Bipartisan committees review economic development tools and permitting issue in Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG – The Senate Majority and Senate Democratic Policy Committees held a joint public hearing on Monday in Harrisburg to take a closer look at Pennsylvania’s burdensome permitting process and lack of economic development incentives compared to neighboring states.

Senate Majority Policy Committee Chairman David G. Argall (R-Schuylkill/Berks) and Senate Democratic Policy Committee Chair Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton/Lehigh) invited testimony and recommendations from a number of state offices and organizations regarding Pennsylvania’s regulatory climate and permitting process. Leaders of the Pennsylvania Economic Development Association (PEDA), Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, National Federation of Independent Business and the Pennsylvania Business Council testified about the lengthy and non-uniform process necessary to receive state permits.

Pam Shupp, President of PEDA, who also serves as Vice President of the Greater Reading Economic Partnership, emphasized that permitting reform is a key priority for many in the economic development community.

“Streamlining the process and expediting collaborative inter-agency review for high priority economic development projects raises the level of economic prosperity in all our communities,” Shupp testified. “It keeps us competitive – no incentive money involved.”

The committees also heard from state agencies including the Department of Community and Economic Development, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Independent Fiscal Office.

DEP Secretary John Quigley noted that in order to expedite permitting processes, his department needs more staff and better technology as well as better applications from developers.

“This hearing provided both committees with valuable information and insight into ways that we can improve and expand economic development in Pennsylvania in order to preserve and create jobs, attract potential employers and businesses to the area, and remain competitive with neighboring states such as New Jersey and New York,” Argall said. “The goal is to create more jobs in Pennsylvania and I think that is a priority that is shared no matter if you are a Republican or a Democrat.”

“I think we can agree that the permitting process is necessary, but perhaps there are ways we can streamline, and in some ways expedite our efforts,” Boscola said. “In dealing with this issue, I think we also need to not only examine state permitting, but also take a good look at local permitting and its interaction and impact as well.”

More information, including an agenda and testimonies, is available on Senator Argall’s website at www.SenatorArgall.com

The Senate Majority and Democratic Policy Committees team up to review suggestions from the private and public sector on ways to improve the state’s economic development efforts during a public hearing at the state Capitol

Ward Unveils Measure Allowing Local Governments to Eliminate Property Taxes, Choose Taxing Option with Voter Approval

Harrisburg – Sen. Kim Ward (R-39) today announced a proposed Constitutional amendment to ultimately grant any local government in Pennsylvania the option, with local voter approval, to eliminate property taxes and choose from alternative taxing options to make up for the loss revenues.

The measure, co-sponsored with Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-42), would cover counties, municipalities and school districts.

“This measure is aimed at bringing about property tax elimination in areas that believe it is needed, but holding harmless the taxpayers and school districts in parts of the state that don’t think paying more in income and sales taxes is the best answer for them,” said Ward.

As a proposed Constitutional amendment, the legislation must be passed by the General Assembly in two consecutive sessions and approved by voters in a statewide referendum.

If successful, the amendment would allow for enabling legislation to ultimately permit any local government, with voter approval, to eliminate property taxes and replace the lost revenue with the enactment or increase of any of the following taxing options to be levied only within that political subdivision: personal income tax, sales and use tax or any tax authorized under the Local Tax Enabling Act.

“While no one likes property taxes, the decision as to whether they need to be remedied or not should be done locally, not by Harrisburg via a one-size-fits-all solution, which continues to be considered within the state legislature.  The idea of Harrisburg doling out almost all education funding sets up the very real potential that taxpayers in many parts of the Commonwealth would see funding for their schools sent to other districts without any local say,” said Ward.

CONTACT: Geri Lynn Sarfert gsarfert@pasen.gov  (717) 787-1640

 

 

 

 

Senate passes measure to prevent spread of blight

HARRISBURG – The Senate unanimously passed a proposal today authored by Senator David G. Argall (R-Schuylkill/Berks) to shorten the timeframe in which property owners must bring their property into compliance with property maintenance codes.

Under current law, owners whose property is in violation of codes have 18 months to bring their property into compliance or demolish the structure. Senate Bill 942 would shorten that timeframe to 12 months. Municipalities may also enforce shorter compliance than 12 months if the timeframe is established in their property maintenance code.

“Blight is a pervasive problem that can spread block by block, so it is critical to ensure we prevent that problem before it starts,” Argall said. “I’m hopeful that this additional tool will help local municipalities address the problem as quickly as possible.”

The measure was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Proposal would provide another weapon in arsenal against blight

HARRISBURG – The Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee unanimously approved a proposal by Senator David G. Argall (R-Schuylkill/Berks) on Monday to shorten the timeframe when property owners must bring their property into compliance with property maintenance codes.

Under current law, property owners have 18 months to bring a property into compliance or demolish the property. Senate Bill 942 would shorten that timeframe to 12 months. Municipalities may also enforce shorter compliance than 12 months if the timeframe is established in their property maintenance code.

“Blight is contagious and can spread block by block,” Argall said. “I’m hopeful that this additional tool will aid local governments in their war on blight.”

Media Advisory – Roundtable Discussion Will Focus on Neighborhood Revitalization, Blight

HARRISBURG – Senator Scott Wagner (R – York County), Chairman of the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee, will host a roundtable discussion on blight and neighborhood revitalization in Monongahela on August 11. The discussion will take place after members of the Committee, along with local officials, go on a bus tour of blighted properties in Donora.

In April of this year, Senator Wagner held a public hearing in Washington County on blight and revitalization, after which the Senator proposed a bus tour of blighted property in the area. Wagner said, “This bus tour will be a great opportunity for members of the Committee and local officials to see with their own eyes the blight problem in our Commonwealth.”

The roundtable discussion will be held at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers of the Carroll Township Municipal Building at 130 Baird Street. Local elected officials, housing and redevelopment officials, and statewide housing organizations have been invited to participate.

The conversation will focus on state and local efforts to prevent blight and to remediate properties that have fallen into a state of disrepair. The roundtable discussion is a public event, and community residents are invited and encouraged to attend.

CONTACT: Robert Ribic (717) 787-3817

Senate passes Argall’s blight demolition funding proposal

HARRISBURG – The Senate approved legislation today to give counties a new option to finance the demolition of blighted and abandoned properties, according to the bill’s sponsor, Senator David G. Argall (R-Schuylkill/Berks).

Senate Bill 486 would offer counties the option to levy up to an additional $15 fee on deeds and mortgages recorded in the Recorder of Deeds office. The new revenue would be used exclusively for demolition funding within that specific county. The measure passed the Senate by a vote of 49-0.

“Blight is not the kind of problem that can be solved with a one-size-fits-all approach. Every community faces its own unique challenges in dealing with the cost of remediating abandoned and blighted structures,” Argall said. “Over the past several years, the General Assembly has given counties and municipalities numerous weapons to fight against blight. This bill is a continuation of the process to provide a broader menu of options to fit the needs of each individual community.”

The legislation was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Legislators, Supporters Discuss Bills Promoting Waterfront Development


Senator Vulakovich

Senator Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny) and Representative Tom Killion (R-Delaware) hosted a press conference Tuesday (June 2) in the State Capitol to promote their legislation (Senate Bill 282 and House Bill 457) that would establish a Waterfront Development Tax Credit as a way to encourage private investment and spur economic development, environmental improvements and public recreational enhancements.

Senator Randy Vulakovich and Representative Tom Killion co-hosted a press conference Tuesday to promote their legislation that would establish a Waterfront Development Tax Credit

The proposed Waterfront Development Tax Credit would be capped at $10 million annually and would be available to individuals or businesses that contribute to non-profit waterfront improvement organizations. The tax credits would support specific waterfront development projects, such as:

  • streets and public rights-of-way;
  • waterfront parks, gardens and open spaces;
  • access to public utilities, erosion control, storm water management and other environmental projects which promote economic development;
  • water transportation facilities for use by the public, including water transit landings and boat docking;
  • amenities including infrastructure and recreational projects.

“Our waterways are truly valuable resources and they hold tremendous untapped benefits for the Commonwealth. Pennsylvania’s waterfront areas offer opportunities for economic development and public recreation which contribute to the livelihood of the community, as well as to the quality of life of residents and visitors,” said Senator Vulakovich. “These bills provide a way for organizations and private investors to work together to restore those areas in ways that will benefit the entire community.”

“I believe that the Waterfront Development Tax Credit will provide the opportunity for Pennsylvania to set a nationwide standard of how to capitalize on the potential of waterfront sites to attract investment into the state to generate long-term value through public-private partnerships,” said Representative Killion.

The legislators were joined at the press conference by Riverlife of Pittsburgh and other supporters of their efforts to enact legislation establishing a Waterfront Development Tax Credit.

Since the inception of Riverlife in 1999, Pittsburgh has seen the investment of about $130 million directly in 10 riverfront projects and more than $4 billion of additional adjacent investment in the form of corporate headquarters and office buildings, hotels, sports and entertainment complexes and residences.

Contact: Nate Silcox (717) 787-6538

More information about state issues is available at Senator Vulakovich’s website, www.senatorvulakovich.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SenatorRandyVulakovich.  

Senate Appropriations Committee approves Argall’s demolition funding proposal

HARRISBURG – Counties could have another option to finance the demolition of blighted and abandoned properties under legislation approved today by the Senate Appropriations Committee, according to the bill’s sponsor, Senator David G. Argall (R-Schuylkill/Berks).

Argall’s legislation, Senate Bill 486, would give counties the option to levy up to an additional $15 fee on deeds and mortgages recorded in the Recorder of Deeds office. The new revenue must solely be used for demolition funding within that specific county.

“This provides a much-needed option for counties to levy local funding to remediate blighted properties,” Argall said. “This measure will provide another weapon to continue the war on blight.”

The legislation heads to the full Senate for its consideration.