Legislators upset $3.5 million in expired stimulus funding not replaced
“It’s a cut in an expiration of funds that were there from prior budgets that is now ending,” said Krancer. “That budget influx came in (2008-2009). It boils down to if these localized projects, in specific townships, (whether) the local officials will prioritize them and deal with them. The state taxpayers are simply not able to do that at this moment.”
Flood control projects would lose $3.48 million under Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed budget, which was announced last Tuesday. Representatives at the committee hearing argued local taxpayers would not be able to afford to pay for flood control on their own.
“Isn’t the state taxpayer the same as the local taxpayer?” said state Rep. Matt Smith, D-Allegheny. “Pushing it down to the local end there could be a situation where municipalities would have to raise taxes … where they’ve historically relied on the state for it. I’m worried about the local taxes going up.”
Krancer responded by turning the question around on Smith.
“Why should the taxpayers of the entire state pay for a very particular project in a very particular township?” said Krancer. “At the end of the day the main (money) is still there in terms of dam safety and flood control. There are, again, choices that have to be made, and folks will be asked to prioritize in an appropriate fashion given this stressful time of revenues and the overall economy.”
State Rep. Joseph Markosek, D-Allegheny, pointed to the state’s 86,000 miles of rivers and streams and the recent floods to support his argument this is not the time to reduce local flood control funding.
“I just think it’s very dangerous at this point in time, with all the floods and the bad weather and the miles and miles of waterways,” he said. “It’s a huge potential for flooding, and we’re cutting back on such an important project.”
State Rep. John Sabatina, D-Philadelphia, was the first to broach the topic.
Krancer said funding for flood control projects at the local level could be refocused through the capital budget’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Project funding.
“The dam safety program is not affected, and the overall flood control program that we have will continue to exist,” he said. “The larger projects are not going to be affected. They’re going to be in the capital budget to the extent they’re deemed appropriate. What’s going to be affected is these very small, very localized projects.”
There is $43.36 million in the RACP budget for flood control projects.
Smith also brought up legislation that he and state Rep. Kate Harper, R-Montgomery, introduced to require construction projects built with state government dollars — either new or retrofits — would have to meet environmental standards, a “green building mandate” reported last month by PA Independent.
Krancer refused to comment on legislation he had not seen, but he invited legislators to send his department bills to review.
The question of Marcellus shale drilling, and the issuing of state permits to drill, also was raised. State Rep. Scott Perry, R-Cumberland pointed to a three-week waiting period before new drilling permits could be issued, though when he called the department on behalf of his constituent, it was handled in “five minutes.”
Marcellus shale is a formation of natural gas found in about 60 percent of Pennsylvania, and in West Virginia, Ohio and New York. It has been the primary non-government source of new jobs in the state since the recession began. Last year, the Legislature failed to pass a severance tax though an extraction fee has been proposed in the current session.
“For those folks and for municipalities trying to get permitting done, I’m heartened that you feel there’s adequate staff to do those things in a timely fashion now,” said Perry. “I’m hopeful that you’ll monitor that situation, and if it continues to go awry, or goes further awry, that you will make the adjustment and, if necessary, come to see the Legislature to … help you speed up the permitting process for everyone involved.”
Krancer reported 5,000 Marcellus shale inspections last year, with a projected 7,200 for 2011-2012. There are 78 inspectors, paid for by drilling permits instead of through the general fund. First entry permits cost $2,000 with a sliding scale for drilling based on the depth of the drilling.
The acting secretary also responded to a recent New York Times article that claimed Pennsylvania’s water was radioactive and said monthly inspections are conducted to monitor the state’s water.
“The stream monitoring network is monthly, and that was put in last year specifically (to test for radiation),” said Krancer. “In any event, we will be asking the water suppliers who are in that area to do the same thing.”
The department’s budget was cut from $147.1 million to $139.9 million in the proposed spending plan, but would also receive $268.6 million in federal funds.