Pennsylvania’s annual budget process is ripe with problems. Members of the General Assembly are typically given a day to review hundreds of pages of proposed spending, and accounting gimmicks hide the size of spending increases. One of the tricks used to disguise spending is the use of “special funds.” Special Funds frequently become part of the shadow budget with minimal accountability over the spending. One bill gaining traction is the House would add to the problem. HB1410 purports to address a vacated military base that has polluted the water system for the surrounding area.
HB 1410 establishes a Keystone Opportunity Zone around the “qualified former Military Installation.” It allows the municipality to establish a “qualified authority” to fund military installation remediation. The legislation provides a formula to collect a percentage of taxes (CNI, Sales & Use, Personal Income Tax, Realty Transfer Tax, & Local Taxes,) to fund the authority.
HB 1410 directs the State Treasurer to create a new Special Fund known as the Military Installation Remediation Fund to collect monies. Note that the Commonwealth has 36 environment-related special funds. Specifically, Pennsylvania has a safe drinking water special fund, an industrial sites cleanup fund, and a hazardous sites cleanup fund. Any or all of those funds could be utilized for a remediation project such as this if authorizing legislation was passed to allow qualified former military installation projects to be eligible for the monies in these various special funds.
Finally, HB 1410 directing the State Treasurer to establish restricted accounts within the special fund for each qualified former military installation. The funding can be used for funding transportation infrastructure, economic development costs, payment of debt service for construction, infrastructure, site preparation, etc. In other words, it can become a slush fund for pet projects. Raising additional concerns is the provision that allows the State Representative and Senator in that municipality, or an adjacent one, to serve as a board member of the established authority. The Representative who introduced the legislation, Todd Stephens, just so happens to meet the qualifications to sit on the board.
HB 1410 addresses a problem with questionable methods, and grants the board, and potentially select members of the General Assembly, overly broad discretion in what projects to fund. It runs the risk of becoming one more shadow budget item.