Pa. to receive federal funding to expand broadband access

Federal funding in the amount of $200 million is being provided to expand broadband in unserved and underserved areas of Pennsylvania. 

The Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program was announced Wednesday by Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority Executive Director Brandon Carson. The program will begin accepting applications this May and will provide funding to businesses, non-profits, local government, and economic development organizations. 

Application guidelines will be posted on the authority’s website on April 10, and the application process will open on May 10. 

As many communities in Pennsylvania lack access to high-speed internet and many more cannot afford it, a digital divide has been created between those who have internet access and those who lack access. Gov. Josh Shapiro has made extending and expanding access to broadband across the state and connections more affordable and reliable a top priority of his administration. 

The Pennsylvania Broadband Infrastructure Program is funded through the Capital Projects Fund and will fund line extension and development projects, along with large-scale regional infrastructure projects. 

Projects must deliver upon completion service that meets or exceeds symmetrical download and upload speeds of 100 Megabits per second, prioritization going to fiber-optic deployment. To ensure continued operation, projects must also include a viable sustainability strategy to maintain, repair, and upgrade networks. 

“The authority is pleased to provide this funding to achieve last-mile connections and increase speed for underserved and unserved regions in Pennsylvania,” Carson said in a statement. “This is the first grant program the authority is offering, and we look forward to seeing the impact it makes as we work to close the commonwealth’s digital divide.” 

Program requirements include the following: 

  • Affordability: Applicants must participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program and will be requested to describe and document their digital equity efforts to ensure low- to moderate-income households in the proposed project area will have sustained and affordable access. 
  • Grant amounts: The minimum request considered will be $500,000 and the maximum may not exceed $10 million. 
  • Labor: The Pennsylvania Prevailing Wage Act may apply to projects funded under this program. Prevailing Wage requirements are applicable to grants for construction, demolition, reconstruction, alteration, repair work, renovations, build-out and installation of machinery and equipment of more than $25,000. 
  • 25-percent match: Federal, state, or local funding received by the applicant is eligible towards the match requirement. 
  • Universal coverage: Applicants are required to ensure that all projects either achieve or are part of a plan to achieve universal broadband for the locality or region. 

The application process closes July 10, at 11:59 p.m. Grants are expected by the authority to be awarded by the end of 2023.

Wolf leaves complicated, conflicting legacy for Pa. businesses

Governor Josh Shapiro was just minutes into his inaugural speech on Tuesday, Jan. 17, when he turned to address the outgoing chief executive, Gov. Tom Wolf. 

“Thanks to his leadership,” Shapiro stated, “we now find ourselves in the strongest financial shape in the history of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, allowing us to make critical investments for tomorrow.” 

Supporters of Wolf likely found Shapiro’s praise for his predecessor providing a moment of warmth on a day otherwise chilled by wintry wind and leaden skies. The President & CEO of Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp., Don Cunningham, believed Wolf’s greatest contribution to the state’s businesses and economy to be the reduction of the corporate net income tax from 9.99% to 4.99% by 2031. 

“It’s very significant for those of us to do economic development,” Cunningham said. “He proposed it in his budgets and finally got agreement from Senate Republicans. That’s what leaders do.” 

Not everyone on that gray inaugural day shared Shapiro’s sunny sentiments for Wolf’s impact on Pennsylvania’s businesses. State Senator Scott Martin (R-Berks/Lancaster) said there was “a lot of frustration” the past eight years. The reason being that many of Wolf’s policies were, said Martin, “counterproductive to Pennsylvania tapping into its full economic potential.” 

David N. Taylor, president & CEO of the Pennsylvania Manufacturer’s Association, cites the “deeply disturbing” practices of the Wolf Administration that he says have destroyed an untold number of businesses in Pennsylvania. 

“Governor Wolf, during his tenure, was markedly unhelpful to Pennsylvania’s business competitiveness,” Taylor said. “At every turn, he was pushing for more government, higher spending, and he did a number of specific things that were especially damaging to the economy.” 

One such thing, said Taylor, was the 2017 Tax Cuts and Job Act (TCJA), which changed the depreciation, deductions, tax credits, and tax items that affect business. 

“When the tax policy was changed at the federal level, that was the starting gun for the process of American companies considering where to bring those overseas earnings to reinvest in America,” Taylor said. “Pennsylvania was the only state to say ‘no’.”  

Another point of contention was the additional tax on the production of natural gas in Pennsylvania that Taylor said Wolf called for in his annual budget addresses. 

“Even though he was never going to get that, the fact that you had the sitting governor calling for it rendered our investment environment uncertain,” Taylor said. “If you want to go back and look at when the rigs stopped coming in or when did they start leaving, 2015 was that turning point.” 

Jon Anzur, vice president of public affairs for the PA Chamber, called Wolf’s record on working with the business community “a mixed bag.” 

At the beginning of Wolf’s first term, he had what Anzur said was “a very adversarial” relationship with the business community. The issue at the heart of the impasse were business-related, a tax-and-spend approach not in line with the business community. 

“As Wolf went along,” said Anzur, “rather than treat the business community as an adversary, he treated it as a partner.” 

Supporters of the Wolf Administration point to what they see as life-changing investments in the people of Pennsylvania and the building of a business-friendly climate via the following actions: 

  • Collaborated with 430 companies to create and retain close to 194,000 jobs. 
  • Diversified state contracting so that diverse, small, and veteran businesses comprise 20% of Pennsylvania’s contractors. 
  • Eliminated the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax. 
  • Launched Manufacturing PA to link job training to career pathways. 
  • Partnered with the private sector to address the worker shortage. 
  • Placed Pennsylvania on track to a Corporate Net Income Tax rate of 4.99%. 
  • Reformed Occupational licensure to cut red tape, help workers, and strengthen the workforce. 
  • Distributed grants to help more than 10,000 small businesses and the hospitality industry survive the pandemic. 

“He did some things that were very focused on what we need to do to grow the economy,” Cunningham said. 

At the same time, Wolf’s handling of COVID-19 came under criticism. A state audit called the business waiver program confusing and inconsistent, declaring that it created for Pennsylvania companies an unfair playing field. 

Martin agreed. “Direct competitors, even in my own district, one would get a waiver to stay open and their direct competitor would not,” he said. 

Taylor recalled Wolf’s shutting down of businesses being done without the okay of those whose livelihoods were affected by the decision. 

“There was no outreach to say, ‘How will this play out in the real world?’” Taylor said. “You would think any leader would want to have the most comprehensive overview information as to how will this play out… Governor Wolf didn’t reach out to anyone.” 

Like many politicians, Wolf leaves behind a legacy that is complicated and conflicting. Supporters say it abounds with innovative programs, people-driven policies, and investments aimed at creating a more prosperous Pennsylvania. The Rainy Day Fund, dangerously low when Wolf took office, now stands at an historic $5 billion, and his administration secured a $5.3 billion budget surplus, albeit aided with federal funding. Still, Wolf is the first governor since 1987 to hand his successor a surplus. 

Critics call Wolf’s business policies catastrophic and see the former governor, in Taylor’s words, “hurling down thunderbolts from on high” during the pandemic, preventing citizens and their enterprises from adapting to the circumstances, forcing them to “sit back, do nothing, and watch their business die.” 

Martin likewise believed Wolf’s policies made the pandemic worse, and that Pennsylvania’s businesses have not fully recovered. 

“Businesses continue to struggle and some no longer exist because of the policies he put in place,” said Martin. “It had a lasting impact.” 

Cunningham noted that Wolf was operating in real time and trying to find the balance between keeping people safe and keeping businesses open. 

Good and bad, Wolf’s two terms provided what Anzur termed “an evolution in office,” the former governor finding “common ground to move the ball forward for Pennsylvania.” 

York County asks for public help on prioritizing transportation projects

Over $300 million in federal, state and local funding is being allocated to transportation improvement projects in York county for the next four years and the county agency in charge of approving the funding is asking for the public’s help on what projects to target first.

The York Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (YAMPO) released a survey Wednesday asking people to choose which bridge and road repairs it should ask PennDot to work on first in the coming months.

The projects in the survey include:

  • Lewisberry road resurfacing
  • Blue-Gray highway reconstruction
  • 462/624 intersection improvements
  • East Prospect St and Freysville Rd. intersection improvements
  • Red Lion Avenue bridge in Felton Borough
  • US 30 and Big Mount Road intersection improvements
  • Bannister St. and Adams St. intersection improvements
  • King Street cycle track
  • Heritage Rail Trail Extension phase 4
  • North George St bike and pedestrian improvements
  • Exit 19-22 North York widening

The county has received a total of $308 million in funding for 53 projects in York County, all of which are documented in the draft plan for the organization’s transportation improvement program.

YAMPO’s draft plan is currently open for review by the public. The plan assigns $50 million to maintain 31 bridges throughout the county, $55 million for nine road projects and $2.6 million to replace outdated buses.

The plan also allocates $165 million for the resurfacing and widening of Interstate 83 from East Market Street to the North George Street Interchange and $4 million to bike lanes and rail trails.

Roughly $219 million of the funds are from federal taxes, $89 million are from state taxes and $330 thousand come from local taxes.