Local municipalities across the state are facing a broad spectrum of challenges including economic development, taxation, crime, education, and the rising costs for personnel and the delivery of social services. In an attempt to alleviate these communities of some the impact of aging and distressed communities so often face, the Pennsylvania Senate Democrats recently announced our Growth, Progress, and Sustainability (GPS) plan to help transform our neighborhoods and achieve sustainability for the future.
Since 1987, 27 municipalities, including Pittsburgh, have been declared “financially distressed” under Pennsylvania’s Act 47. Under this designation, the state provides loan and grant funds to these financially distressed local governments as well as technical assistance to formulate financial recovery plans. Of those 27 communities, only six municipalities have had that designation lifted. As budgets across Pennsylvania tighten on every level, more and more communities have expressed how difficult it is to get out from Act 47 and the need for long-term financial and economic solutions.
The Senate Democrats began crafting the GPS plan with a focus on developing new policies that foster cooperation between various aspects of government while addressing and strengthening the core of distressed and struggling communities. As Pittsburgh continues to come out of Act 47, our city must also look for ways to maintain growth and economic development and I feel as if our GPS may address some of the circumstances we currently face or may face in the future.
In the coming months, the Senate Democrats will be hosting a series of town hall meetings and round table discussions with local and county leaders across Pennsylvania to talk about some of the solutions and provide a foundation that so many communities have express they need. Some if the areas we will be focusing on are:
- Economic development.
- Rebuilding the local tax base.
- Urban blight.
- Crime/public safety initiatives.
- Education and workforce development.
- Modernizing and streamlining local government to reduce costs.
- Act 47 and how to avoid or get out of the program.
On Dec. 18, we held our first round table discussion in the City of Harrisburg. This is just one of many communities throughout the state that is in the midst of an extreme debt crisis. Government and community leaders there expressed what we have been hearing for several years now: cities across the state are facing huge obstacles to provide government services at a time when tax revenue and tax bases are shrinking. Local communities need enabling legislation from the state that will provide real incentives and allow local officials to rebuild cities once again before circumstances become untenable.
Time and time again, I have heard how local officials have possible long-term solutions but they need the state to give them the ability and the authority to enact these changes. In the coming months, as the Senate Democrats travel across the state with our GPS initiative, I will work with my fellow legislators and local government officials to enact meaningful legislation that provides tools and mechanisms so that our local leaders can fix current problems and prevent future crisis. After all, local leaders are truly the ones that understand our communities and know what is best for the citizens living in our neighborhoods.
Senator Wayne D. Fontana
42nd Senatorial District