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Senate Sends Bill to Increase Support for Housing Program to Governor
The Senate last week gave final approval to a House Bill that would increase state support for a program that promotes housing affordability and rehabilitation in communities across the Commonwealth. I introduced the same measure in the Senate as Senate Bill 566. Click here to watch video of my remarks from the Senate floor on Senate Bill 566.
House Bill 792 would dedicate a portion of funds raised from the state’s Realty Transfer Tax (RTT) for use by the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund (PHARE) for projects across the state. The legislation does not increase the RTT rate, but solely changes how the revenues under the existing rate are used.
House Bill 792 now goes to the Governor for his signature and enactment into law.
Currently, PHARE’s only revenue is from Act 13 impact fees and those monies may only be spent in Marcellus Shale counties. Revenues generated through impact fees provide resources for home repairs, new construction, rental assistance, home rehabilitation and demolition.
The economic case for strengthening PHARE – which has already proven its power to help alleviate blight, reduce homelessness, create jobs and drive economic activity – is compelling. But the broader good that we have the opportunity to offer vulnerable residents, families and communities, is even more profound. Across Pennsylvania, we see blighted and abandoned properties overwhelming the housing market. PHARE funds can be used to remediate blight as well as develop homes within reach of low-wage workers and people on fixed income.
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, there is a statewide shortage of 266,000 rental homes that are both affordable and available to households earning about $20,000 or less. The National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that 270,000 Pennsylvanians are homeless, including those living doubled up with friends or family.
Senate Passes Legislation to Establish Fund for ATV Activities
The Senate recently approved legislation that would ensure that funds received through the registration, certification and enforcement of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) in Pennsylvania are used specifically to support ATV activities.
Senate Bill 648, sponsored by Sen. Pat Stefano (R-Fayette), requires that monies generated through ATV-related operations are placed in a restricted account to be used for a variety of purposes including the construction and maintenance of ATV trails and acquisition of equipment, supplies and interests in land.
Currently, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources does not separate expenditures related to ATV and snowmobile operations. As a result, these funds are being disproportionately allocated between user groups. While ATV operations contribute $1.4 million of the $1.6 million in the current fund, 80 percent of the total funding is allocated to expansion of snowmobile trails. The bill now awaits consideration by the House of Representatives.
Senate Approves Bill Assisting First Responder Fundraising Efforts
Legislation intended to assist local first responders in their fundraising efforts was unanimously approved by the Senate last week.
House Bill 138 would allow first responders — after getting local approval — to fundraise on local roadways, with programs such as those where firefighters collect donations in a boot. The bill returns to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments.
Agricultural Anaerobic Digester Legislation Introduced
Legislation that I’ve introduced is a common-sense, win-win for both farmers and the environment.
Many in the agricultural community employ anaerobic digesters for environmental compliance purposes— choosing to burn methane to produce renewable energy rather than releasing the methane into the atmosphere. Energy generated by the digester is utilized on the farm, and excess energy can be sold back to the utility.
Recently the Public Utility Commission (PUC) issued a proposed rulemaking which intends to place caps on the amount of energy customer-generators sell, at retail prices, back to the utility. Farmers who employ methane digesters fall into the category of customer-generators. I believe this to be an unintended consequence of the proposed rule, but the PUC has no means to separate agricultural operations from that category under their regulatory authority. Senate Bill 844 would prevent the PUC from defining any cap on renewable energy produced from biologically created methane in anaerobic digesters processing manure, municipal organic solid waste or sewage sludge.
Joint Hearing on Assessing Government Spending & Accountability
A joint public hearing by the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate State Government Committee looked at ways to better assess government spending and programs.
Testimony was provided by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, Philip Durgen, and Inspector General Grayling Williams.
Local Housing Improvements Receive Boost from Shale Impact Fee
The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) recently awarded $90,000 in grants for housing improvement efforts in Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties.
A grant of $25,000 was awarded for Beaver County’s Rental and Utility Assistance Program. Butler County’s Supportive Housing Opportunity Program received a $25,000 grant and $40,000 was awarded to the Lawrence County’s Housing and Rehabilitation and Blight Removal Program.
The grants are funded under the Marcellus Shale impact fee legislation, Act 13 of 2012, which allocates certain amounts from the impact fee into PHFA’s Housing Trust Fund (PHARE) to address the need for affordable housing in counties where producing nonconventional gas wells are located.
The PHARE program provides an excellent way to invest the Marcellus Shale
impact fee revenue to improve the availability of affordable housing in areas
where drilling is taking place. These grants will help a number of at-risk
individuals and families in Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties secure and keep
housing. This state investment will assist the counties’ efforts to increase and
improve their affordable housing opportunities even as they enjoy the economic
benefits provided to our region by the shale industry.
2016 Governor’s Award for Local Government Excellence
Have local government leaders in your community demonstrated exceptional dedication to improving services through innovative projects or initiatives? Each year, the Governor’s Center for Local Govt. Services presents the Governor’s Awards for Local Government Excellence in recognition of successful undertakings that serve as inspiration or as best management practices for local government officials throughout Pennsylvania.
Nominations for the 2016 Governor’s Award for Local Government Excellence are now being accepted through December 1, 2015. Visit www.newPA.com/lgawards to learn more about the judging criteria for each category, view previous winners, and submit a nomination.
Stay Safe this Halloween
Twice as many children are hit and killed by cars between the hours of 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Halloween compared to the same timeframe on any other day of the year, based upon information from Safe Kids Worldwide. Parents of trick-or-treaters can reduce the risk for their children by taking a few steps of precaution while not taking any of the fun out of Halloween.http://www.cdc.gov/family/halloween/
Domestic Violence Awareness Month
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month in Pennsylvania. There were 141 domestic violence-related deaths in Pennsylvania last year -- both victims and perpetrators. You can find help, or learn about what you can do to prevent violence and help victims, here: http://www.pcadv.org
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