ROBERT SWIFT: Capitol Matters: Final rest for an outdated agency
HARRISBURG - A final nail is about to be put in the coffin for a forgotten dream to build a scenic tourist highway in the Poconos similar to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Pennsylvania Parkway Commission was created in 1941 to explore building a 35-mile scenic road along the rim of the Pocono Mountains from Kresgeville to Milford. This was the brainchild of R. Leroy Dengler, a Pocono resort owner, and Sen. Montgomery Crowe.
America's entry in World War II just months later put the toll road on the back burner as with so many other public works projects. Then a 1966 study determined that the toll road would need state subsidies in order to operate in the black.
That study knocked out whatever remaining interest existed in drawing tourists to the resort area with a scenic highway. In the following years Interstates 80, 84 and 380 were built in the Poconos.
The parkway commission met for a final time in 1966, but lived on in a twilight statutory existence for another two decades.
Then in 1981 Pennsylvania enacted a "sunset" act giving lawmakers a way to keep state government in bounds by periodically reviewing an agency's performance and deciding whether to keep it, reform it or disband it. The moribund parkway commission came up for sunset review in 1987. The Transportation Department gave an updated $800 million cost estimate for building a parkway. Lawmakers decided to terminate the commission. This would have seemed the end of the story. The sunset law itself no longer is on the books.
But now House Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Nicholas Micozzie, R-163, Clifton Heights, says the commission's responsibilities were simply transferred to PennDOT.
He plans to introduce a bill for a complete repeal of the 1941 law authorizing the "Pocono Mountain Memorial Parkway."
State funding for heritage parks is a game of budgetary ping pong.
The current state budget provides $2.2 million in operating funds for the heritage parks, a reappearance for the line item after several years of absence. That was due to lawmakers inserting the appropriation in the final budget bill.
Gov. Tom Corbett proposes to zero out that line item in fiscal 2014-15. Heritage parks will be able to apply for state grants, said Ellen Ferretti, secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Sen. David Argall, R-29, Tamaqua, said he will scramble to find money for the heritage parks.
Rep. Lee James, R-64, Seneca, is introducing a bill to stipulate that state aid under a line item would be distributed equally to the heritage parks and be used for operating costs, marketing, promotion and coordination with other agencies.
ROBERT SWIFT is Harrisburg bureau chief for Times-Shamrock Communications newspapers, of which The Daily/Sunday Review is a part.