Building One Pennsylvania convened four Issues Assemblies around the state in August 2011 at which the following issue agenda was ratified and voted upon to determine how each region prioritized the issues. Click here to see the results.
Building One Pennsylvania
Agenda for Building Sustainable, Inclusive, and Economically Competitive Regions
In Pennsylvania as in many parts of America today, there is growing recognition that too many of our metropolitan regions have developed in a manner that is economically, socially and environmentally unsustainable.
Contributing are several decades of federal and state transportation and housing policies and government spending that have facilitated the movement of jobs, residential development and high-income workers away from core communities and into formerly open space.
Simultaneously, Pennsylvania’s highly fragmented system of local government – with its over-reliance on local property taxes as a source of revenue – has encouraged local jurisdictions to compete for job growth and the middle- and upper -income tax payers who provide a stable tax base to support schools and other public services. As a result, resources are drained from older municipalities, causing a growing number of cities, towns and older suburbs to suffer from shrinking tax bases upon which to support schools and municipal services, skyrocketing property taxes, and deteriorating infrastructure.
According to the Pennsylvania Economy League, 39 cities, 228 boroughs and 8 first class townships are in the worst stage of municipal decline, while hundreds of municipalities are not far behind.
The implications for our state are enormous. Not only has public investment to create outer ring suburbs been costly and inefficient, it exacerbates tensions among seniors and families with school age children, among races and ethnicities, among long-term members of established communities and newer residents.
And yet, change is possible. A consensus is emerging that all of our communities and neighborhoods are vital, that our cities are worth saving, that our diverse older suburbs should be valued as vital centers of middle class prosperity and opportunity, and that our newer suburbs can better manage their growth while deriving economic and social benefits from more inclusive policies.
Moreover, it is becoming increasingly clear that we are far more interdependent than we had thought. In today’s global economy, metropolitan regions are the relevant economic unit. Firms make location decisions based on evaluations of greater metropolitan labor and housing markets, school and transportation systems, and not simply on evaluations of local areas. At the same time, the scope of many important public policy concerns— such as congestion, pollution, and other environmental issues— exceeds local boundaries and affects entire regions.
Local approaches that deny this interdependence are no longer viable. Bold regional action, with strong state and federal backing, is needed to reverse Pennsylvania’s municipal and economic decline and promote more coherent, sustainable, inclusive and economically competitive metropolitan regions.
Building One Pennsylvania will work to revitalize our communities, reinvigorate local economies and promote regional opportunity and sustainability by addressing the following issues:
Financing of Local Government (School and Municipal)
- Distribute state funding for schools through a formula that is sensitive both to the demographics of students as well as the demographics of communities. This formula should recognize that there are different costs associated with meeting the educational needs of students with special needs, of limited English proficiency, or children who come from poverty. Likewise, a school formula should recognize that no school district should have to disproportionally tax itself in order to provide a quality education that meets the needs of students. State aid should be tied to measures of accountability and efficiency.
- Create similar formulas for municipal aid based on economic demographics and tax capacity.
- Establish regional tax bases for regional assets and priorities. For instance, all consumers of federal, state and county services that are exempt from property taxes must share in the cost of those services.
- At the state and federal level, infrastructure investment, if driven by smart growth and inclusion criteria, will strengthen older, fiscally strained towns while further helping to stabilize property taxes.
- Pennsylvania should target state and federal investment (including housing, transportation, infrastructure) to promote housing and economic diversity in all communities, i.e., promote construction of “market rate” housing in older communities and a full range of housing options in communities that offer access to jobs and good schools.
- Organizations with a regional perspective (for example, Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs)) should develop regional housing plans that will encourage counties and municipalities to better diversify their housing in order to achieve a greater regional balance. Such a housing plan should be connected to economic plans for job growth, the de-concentration of poverty, regional mobility, as well as better educational outcomes.
- A statewide system of school funding, as noted previously, should encourage economic diversity in school districts. Communities that achieve this diversity should be backed/ insured by a system of school funding that rewards them, rather than penalizes them.
- Adopt performance measures in state and federal transportation funding bills that will direct funding for local roads, mass transit, and trails toward urban areas and older suburbs. At the federal level, pending reauthorization of the Federal Transportation Act is an immediate policy opportunity to achieve this.
- Create incentives for MPOS to strengthen connections between transportation funding and regional planning for inclusion, economic growth and environmental sustainability.
- Prioritize state and federal water funding to replace and rehabilitate aging infrastructure.