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Senate Democrats Fight for Local Officials to Govern
On June 22, 2011
HARRISBURG, June 22, 2011 – State Sens. Wayne D. Fontana, John Blake and Jim Brewster today opposed legislation that would allow a 3-member management board to be put in place in an Act 47 community that does not approve a coordinator’s plan. Although aimed at the City of Harrisburg, the bill as amended in committee still could apply to at least six cities in the Commonwealth.
Sens. Fontana, Blake and Brewster argued in today’s Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee meeting that Senate Bill 1151 would strip local governments of their authority and that the elected officials in these cities should be free to govern, as they were elected to do.
“I am very concerned with the lack of transparency and the rush to get things done and take action on this legislation, particularly when Harrisburg just received the proposed plan last week” said Fontana, Democratic Chairman of the committee. “These actions are just premature. As drafted, there are a number of Constitutional issues that have been raised by this bill, including taking away municipal powers guaranteed in the Pennsylvania Constitution.”
“SB 1151 as proposed by Senator Piccola is motivated by a serious fiscal crisis in our Capitol City. I share my colleague’s concerns and his sense of urgency on this crisis, but I believe the legislation he proposes goes too far in impeding the decision-making authority of the elected leadership of local government in Pennsylvania,” Senator Blake added. “I believe SB 1151, even as amended today, has implications beyond our capitol city and on the future implementation of Act 47 — a law that took years of research and deliberation to establish and which should not be dramatically changed in a matter of days in reaction to the singular circumstances of the City of Harrisburg. I look forward to a better solution to this matter and to working with my colleagues to achieve it.”
Four amendments offered by the Senate Democrats were incorporated into the bill. The revised bill would now require that at least one of the three appointees be a resident of the distressed city and that the county appointee must be a resident of the county when appointed and while serving on the board. Additionally, provisions related to sovereign immunity and conflict of interest provisions were added – and individuals that are public officials or party officials would be prohibited from serving on the board.
“State government should work with Pennsylvania communities that may be facing bankruptcy, and do what they can to assist them, said Senator Brewster, a former mayor of the City of McKeesport. “Helping a community, though, is far different from making the decisions for them and micro-managing, which is what this legislation does. We should not be usurping the role of local governments – especially since the City of Harrisburg has until the end of July to decide upon implementation of Act 47.”
SB 1151 was reported as amended by the committee and now goes to the full Senate for consideration. The Democratic members expect to offer additional amendments on the floor.