ROBERT SWIFT: Capitol Matters: Distressed about distressed
HARRISBURG - Chronic fiscal problems are seen as the underlying reason for pushing 10 more Pennsylvania municipalities into fiscally distressed status during the past decade.
Altoona, Reading, New Castle, Nanticoke, Plymouth Twp., Pittsburgh, West Hazleton and Greenville cited having a budget deficit equal or greater to one percent during several years and having spending exceed revenue for several years in their granted requests for distressed declarations under Act 47.
Reading, New Castle, Nanticoke, Pittsburgh, West Hazleton and Greenville also cited a deficit equal to 25 percent of revenues in their requests.
They are among the 10 municipalities that entered the Act 47 program since 2002.
These particular nuggets are offered by state Treasurer Rob McCord in his quarterly publication, The McCord Report.
Municipal officials can cite among 11 separate criteria when applying to enter the state program. None of the recent entrants mentioned the criteria of missing payroll for 30 days or missing payments to creditors. Harrisburg is something of a special case citing default on a bond payment and failing to resolve a claim relating to one-third of a city fund. This is related to a massive incinerator debt.
Of the 27 municipalities declared distressed since the program started in 1987, six have been able to leave it mainly because they resolved management issues that were a catalyst for fiscal problems.
Devastated steel towns counted for eight of the first 10 municipalities to enter the program during the late 1980s, but since then the program's geographic reach has broadened to include mid-size cities such as Scranton, Johnstown, Altoona and Reading.
The only period when municipalities didn't enter the program was during the dot com boom of the late 1990s when state and local governments were flush with tax revenue.
Mr. McCord has provided a snapshot of Act 47 data while a special task force works on a comprehensive rewrite of the law that governs fiscally distressed municipalities.
The 20-member Act 47 Municipal Fiscal Distress Task Force hopes to develop legislative recommendations and issue a report by year's end. The task force which includes Sen. John Blake, D-22, Archbald, operates under the umbrella of the Local Government Commission, a legislative research agency.
While offering no specific proposals at this time, Mr. McCord said it's important to restore the Act 47 cities and prevent newcomers to the program because they serve as regional hubs of economic activity. He is a potential Democratic candidate for governor next year.
Finding dedicated state funding for mass transit agencies looms as an obstacle to passage of a transportation funding bill.
The Senate-approved $2.5 billion transportation bill would levy a $100 surcharge for moving traffic violations beyond the current schedule of fines and surcharges. The revenue estimated at $75 million in the first year would go to boost aid for several dozen mass transit agencies.
House Republican lawmakers are opposed to the surcharge.
They have heard complaints from both constituents and law enforcement, said Stephen Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-28, Pittsburgh.
"Tickets are about safety, not raising money," he added.
ROBERT SWIFT is Harrisburg bureau chief for Times-Shamrock Communications newspapers, of which The Daily/Sunday Review is a part. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.