Legislation to End Pork-Barrel Projects Through State Debt Program Passes the House
HARRISBURG – Passing the state House by a vote of 184-9, legislation to reform a much-abused state funding program now heads to the Senate for consideration, according to the bill’s author, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny County).
The legislation would put new controls in place to curtail mounting levels of public debt for projects funded by the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP). RACP uses borrowed money to fund economic development projects selected by the governor.
“It’s time to take control of the state’s credit cards as we’ve increased our debt by almost 300 percent under RACP over the last several years by approving loans for pet projects,” Turzai said. “Our plan would streamline the process and make it more transparent and accountable.”
According to Turzai, putting Pennsylvania’s financial house in order is a top priority for members of the House. Part of that is controlling spending in the annual operating budget and another part is dealing with the state’s capital budget and the responsible issuance of debt.
Created in 1999 with an initial debt ceiling of $1.2 billion, the RACP debt ceiling has been raised six times since then, pushing it up to $4.05 billion. There are approximately 8,000 RACP projects that have been added to the program’s list since 1999.
RACP provides a list of private or public economic development or infrastructure projects, funded by borrowed money, from which the governor can select recipients of that borrowed money.
Turzai’s legislation would reduce the RACP debt ceiling, initially to $3.5 billion and then incrementally until it reaches $1.5 billion. The bill does not eliminate the economic development grant program, but redefines it and makes it financially viable.
The legislation redefines the program to finance buildings and related infrastructure projects with a total cost of $1 million or more that would generate or maintain substantial economic activity and have a substantial regional or multijurisdictional economic impact. Such projects could include roads, bridges, tunnels, waste disposal, storm water, sewage or water infrastructure, and bridges or roads when part of an economic development project.
Projects on the current itemization list that have not been authorized as of Dec. 31, 2011, would expire. To be awarded from any future itemization acts, a project must comply with all new RACP requirements.
Finally, the legislation would create a new stringent review and approval process within the Office of the Budget. The Budget Office would develop eligibility criteria and establish guidelines for the process.
State Representative Mike Turzai
28th District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Contact: Stephen Miskin