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Cumberland County lawmaker offers Act 47 amendment

The state House this afternoon passed an amendment to a bill put forth by Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin County, that would give the commonwealth the power to implement an Act 47 recovery plan for distressed third-class cities that fail to do so.

Cumberland County Rep. Glen Grell’s amendment to Senate Bill 1151, which the House could vote on tomorrow, would empower Gov. Tom Corbett to declare a fiscal emergency and direct the secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development to create an emergency action plan to ensure the city’s vital and necessary services are funded.

It also would give the governor the option to petition the Commonwealth Court to appoint a receiver for the city in the event the City Council fails within a month of the declaration to adopt a fiscal recovery plan.

Piccola‘s bill was drafted in response to Harrisburg’s fiscal crisis, which includes at least $310 million of incinerator debt.

The council in July and August rejected plans crafted by a state-appointed Act 47 team and Mayor Linda Thompson.

“We have tried to encourage the parties to resolve this impasse on their own,” Piccola said at a news conference today.

Once appointed by the court, the receiver would have the ability to create as well as implement a long-term recovery plan for the city, Grell said. However, that plan cannot include a commuter tax.

Nonresidents who work in Harrisburg already are paying a local services tax, Grell said.

The Grell amendment also includes a four-member advisory panel. That group would comprise the mayor or a mayor’s representative, the City Council president or the president’s representative, and appointees of the Dauphin County commissioners and governor, Grell said.

The original version of the bill had three members that were appointed by the governor’s office and the county commissioners.

Lawmakers are required to wait 24 hours before taking action on an amended bill. If the House passes Senate Bill 1151, it would then go to the Senate for concurrence. The Senate is not back in session until Oct. 17, according to its calendar.

Should Harrisburg’s leaders iron out a settlement on a recovery plan, lawmakers still will move on the Act 47 bill, Grell and Piccola said. The proposed bill gives the law “teeth,” Piccola said.

The receiver would be appointed for two years, Grell said. The court could extend that appointment for another two years, if needed, he added.

In an emailed statement, Thompson called the amendment and pending takeover of the city “regrettable but necessary.”

“Now we’re going to get approximately the same plan, but without the guaranteed funding and with little or no control over its implementation,” she said.

The mayor is planning her own news conference today to address the proposed legislation, said Robert Philbin, an office spokesman.

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