A lawsuit was filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania by three Harrisburg residents hoping to stop a state takeover of the struggling capital city.
Commonwealth Court Senior Judge James Kelley is expected to decide soon on the appointment of municipal finance expert David Unkovic of Montgomery County as Harrisburg's receiver in charge of fiscal decisions.
The city is buried in $317 million of incinerator debt and annual structural deficits as a result of revenue not keeping pace with expenses.
In the suit, the Rev. Earl Harris of St. Paul Baptist Church, city firefighters' union President Eric Jenkins and former mayoral candidate Nevin Mindlin argue that the legislation creating the option of state receivership, Senate Bill 1151, was a "special law" that singles out Harrisburg.
SB 1151, signed into law in October, gave the governor power to declare a fiscal emergency to ensure a third class city's vital and necessary services are funded should its officials fail to approve a recovery plan under the state's Act 47 distressed municipalities program.
The City Council rejected plans in August and September, which propelled the legislation forward.
The suit also argues that the law unlawfully removed a commuter tax from the city's toolbox as a way to generate additional revenue. Other Act 47 cities, including Reading, have implemented the tax.
The legislation should be declared unconstitutional on the basis that it violates the rights of city residents to due process of law and equal protection, according to the suit.