Senate Democrats: New Economic Development Plan Excludes Certain Municipalities

HARRISBURG, July 1, 2013 — Senate Democrats today decried a Senate Republican-led measure to deprive municipalities of a unique opportunity to drive local investment and revitalize underdeveloped areas.

A proposal that was amended into the Tax Code bill associated with the 2013-‘14 state budget (House Bill 465) authorizes City Revitalization and Improvement Zones (CRIZ) for eight third-class cities with populations above 30,000.

CRIZ designations would enable new investment in local economies by redeveloping eligible vacant, blighted and/or abandoned properties for commercial, exhibition, hospitality, conference, retail community or other mixed-use purposes.

However, the measure, approved on a party-line vote, excludes 45 of the state’s 53 third-class cities as well as the City of Scranton.

Sen. John Blake (Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) attempted to amend the CRIZ legislation in the Senate Appropriations Committee to include all third class and 2A cities in the program.

Blake said City Revitalization and Improvement Zones impose virtually no cost for the state, is limited in scope to two designations per year and provides strict controls and reviews to ensure proper implementation. Additionally, Blake said the annual CRIZ designations would be approved by the governor’s Budget Office, the Department of Revenue and the Department of Community and Economic Development.

The senator added that he believes the limitation on cities’ participation in the program was arbitrary – preventing an equitable playing field where all of Pennsylvania’s small cities could compete in a merit selection process. Blake’s amendment failed, again, on a party line vote.

Sen. Rob Teplitz (Dauphin/York) said the Republicans’ plan to exclude Harrisburg, despite the city being within the population parameters for inclusion in the program, was a shameful tactic that deprives it of an opportunity to compete for assistance through the program.

Sen. Jim Brewster (Allegheny/Westmoreland) said the CRIZ program has the potential to do more.

“There is a great need to generate economic activity and jobs in all third class cities, and a selected few should not be favored above others,” Brewster said. “Economically struggling cities in my district should have access to funding tools to help them create jobs.

“All cities should have a chance to participate and compete fairly,” Brewster said. “The program should be inclusive and tax dollars should not be doled out based on politics.”

Sen. John Wozniak (Cambria/Centre/Clearfield), who has been working with a bi-partisan Third Class City Caucus, said the legislation should have given preference to Act 47 (financially distressed) municipalities.

The Senate Democrats agreed to return in this fall to work on expanding the CRIZ program statewide to all of Pennsylvania’s small cities.

 

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Media Contacts:

Mark Shade (Sen. Blake) – 717-787-9220 or mshade@pasenate.com

Elizabeth Rementer (Sen. Teplitz) – 717-787-5166 or erementer@pasenate.com

Tim Joyce (Sen. Brewster) – 412-380-2242 or TJOYCE@pasenate.com

Blake Weighs Good & Bad in State Budget

HARRISBURG, July 1, 2013 – After giving careful consideration to the $ 28.37 billion budget approved Sunday by the state Senate, Sen. John Blake said he voted against the 2013-’14 spending plan.

“There are several important line items in the budget that signal good news to Pennsylvanians but they are outweighed by investments that are not there or are insufficient,” Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) said.

The good news, Blake said, is the budget increases Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s appropriation by $8 million to $87.3 million and includes $2.5 million for a mobile crime unit that is important for Northeast PA. He said he also likes that the budget delivers much needed funding for strategic upgrades in technology for Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s office.

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Additionally, the senator said he applauds the $150,000 increase for regional cancer institutes, the reappearance of state support of the Civil Air Patrol, additional support for Heritage Parks; more money for three new state police cadet classes; and increases in commitments to serve veterans and their families.

However, Blake listed several other areas of the budget that, taken together, were reason enough to vote against it.

“A major reason is this budget simply does not go far enough in helping our children in public education,” Blake said. “It flat funds special education, misses the opportunity to help distressed school districts and still underfunds public schools all over Pennsylvania that continue to struggle with the $1 billion in cuts rendered in the governor’s first budget. These are cuts that have resulted in massive teacher layoffs, increased class sizes and higher local property taxes.”

With the 2013-’14 budget, Pennsylvania holds its special education funding at $1.026 billion despite extraordinary pressure on local school districts to meet rising costs and responsibilities in this area.

Other shortcomings of the budget, according to Sen. Blake:

  • Insufficient funding for proven job-creation programs at the Department of Community and Economic Development, or DCED;
  • No additional investment for Scranton, Carbondale and other struggling PA small cities;
  • The budget will carry forward an estimated $500 million in unspent funds left to the discretion of the Governor that could have helped meet some pressing and more immediate needs;
  • It includes budget gimmicks and shifting of funds for nearly $90 million in spending that is not obvious to PA taxpayers; and
  • It unnecessarily delays Medicaid expansion, which will delay $150 million in federal aid to relieve state spending.

 

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Blake: Smoke and Mirrors Budget Proposal Fails on Job Growth

HARRISBURG, February 5, 2013 — State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today released the following statement regarding Gov. Corbett’s proposed $28.4 billion budget.

“Today the Governor expressed optimism for our state but there was little in his budget – or in his policy priorities – to convey confidence or optimism to the people of Pennsylvania”.

“We should be focusing our energy and our resources on jobs and economic growth – but these issues are not foremost in the Governor’s spending plan. Pennsylvania currently ranks 34th out of 50 states in job growth and steep declines in sales tax revenues evidence further deterioration in consumer confidence. There is little in the Governor’s budget, or in his policy priorities, that will change this economic trajectory.”

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“As it relies upon one-time, unconventional revenue sources, the Governor’s budget is speculation at best and it is not focused on our long term economic vitality. The Governor proposes to balance the budget with $50 million from an ill-advised lottery privatization; a speculative $100 million plus from so-called “pension reform”; and $1 billion for public education – but only if we put 5,000 state workers out of a job and set up 20,000 new retail outlets to dispense alcohol across the state.”

“The Governor also noted today that we need to work together to provide access to greater and affordable health care. With 500,000 working class Pennsylvanians without health insurance and forced away from preventive care and into the highest cost access point to our health care system – emergency rooms – we simply cannot afford a budget proposal that leaves an estimated $675 million in federal assistance on the table.”

“Fortunately, the General Assembly will have a say in the final 2013-14 spending plan for this Commonwealth. The Governor’s budget, as a starting point, has us pointed in the wrong direction. We can and we will do better.”

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