To the Members of the Senate:
Last week, the House passed House Bill 1822 with A05143 –an amendment that would freeze any new spending from a targeted list of special funds until emergency disaster declarations related to COVID-19 are terminated.
While more than 100 state special funds exist, only 16 are impacted by this amendment. The majority of those 16 appear to focus on agriculture, conservation, and community development.
We understand that Pennsylvania and the nation are operating in a crisis situation and that there will be tough economic times ahead. Targeting these funds does not mitigate that crisis and, in fact, could add to it.
Revenues from these funds permit state and local agencies to address imminent threats to public health, address infrastructure needs, and leverage private and federal funds. Revenues help to create jobs through the projects that are funded and the entities that are supported. The ability to access these funds may also permit Pennsylvania to be shovel-ready on infrastructure projects should a federal infrastructure bill pass … making federal investments more likely and attractive.
Historically, the demand for these funds outpaces the source; freezing or eliminating these funds will have a negative impact on local communities as well as small businesses that benefit from the contracts made available from this funding. Investments in addressing maintenance and safety needs ensures that public places remain open for visitors at this critical time.
It is unclear how long some level of the COVID-19 emergency disaster declaration will last. Hence, by freezing these funds—and potentially pulling from them—we could be removing funds necessary for economic stimulation through investments in parks, forests, and community recreation.
Now, more than ever, Pennsylvanians are turning to our community and state parks and forests for stress relief, family time, and fitness. This heavy use is occurring at a time when staff and volunteers are limited. Our public lands, the property of all Pennsylvanians, cannot absorb this heavy use without funds to mitigate damage and to be ready for when we can be back to “business as normal.”
History has shown us that during tough economic times, people stay local for their vacations. By permitting these funds to meet their intended purpose, we invest in the recovery of Pennsylvania, post COVID-19.
For example, a study commissioned by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) on American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) job creation found that transportation enhancements (trails, walking and biking) projects create 17 jobs (design, engineering and construction) per $1 million spent, more than any other type of project—including pavement widening and new highway construction.
Furthermore, we know that for every $1 in taxpayer money invested in a state park over $12.40 comes back to the state in tax revenue. Tax revenue will be critical to the recovery process.
The targeted funds are used to address issues that communities across the state are struggling with every day, such as flooding, drinking water protection, and more. These funds were also put in place with a commitment to the voting public – and in some cases through a referendum vote.
It is unclear why only these funds were targeted, yet it is hard to deny that the bill will have a significant impact on economically vital environmental programs.
We urge you to reconsider this amendment and to consult with the agencies associated with the funds to fully understand the impact of freezing these special funds.
Thank you for your consideration.
Marci J. Mowery, President