After a failed attempt by three Harrisburg residents to stop the state takeover of the debt-ridden capital city, seven city officials today filed a federal lawsuit against Gov. Tom Corbett and William Lynch, the city's fiscal overseer.
The previous suit was thrown by Judge John Jones, who said only the city had standing to challenge last year’s change in the Act 47 law, which was accomplished through Senate Bill 1151.
The new suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs include five members of the seven-member City Council — councilors Patty Kim and Kelly Summerford are not included — along with Controller Dan Miller and Treasurer John Campbell.
The argument is that SB 1151 violates equal protection guarantees and that Harrisburg should be treated like other municipalities in the commonwealth’s financially distressed program.
“The commonwealth intentionally deprived Harrisburg of the benefits afforded other cities of the third class under Act 47,” the suit reads, which alludes to the law’s removal of a commuter tax as a way to generate additional revenue.
City officials are seeking injunctive relief in their request to have the court declare the law unconstitutional. The plaintiffs are represented by Paul Rossi, an attorney from Kennett Square. Rossi filed the previous federal suit.
The legislation authored by Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin County, and amended by Cumberland County Republican Rep. Glen Grell 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 Act 47 program.
The change also created the option of receivership, which Corbett and the state Department of Community and Economic Development exercised.
The court-approved recovery plan, which Lynch took charge of after the March 30 resignation of David Unkovic, the city’s first receiver, calls for the sale or lease of city assets, increasing the earned income tax by 1 percent and renegotiating contracts with the city’s three unions.
A large portion of the debt comes from the city’s incinerator. That debt is more than $326 million.