All Roads Lead to Harrisburg

Posted by By at 11 January, at 11 : 03 AM Print

If a city is the sum of it’s parts, then we have to acknowledge Harrisburg’s fiscal equation can not be balanced simply by adding and subtracting political players. Harrisburg – like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia – has debt challenges that won’t go away by extending actuarial tables or shifting debt payments to the next generation.

The common denominators creating excruciating debt load on local, state, and federal government are the irrational demands by adults for increased services and lower taxes simultaneously. This does not excuse fiscal negligence, voodoo economics, or the main streaming of pension Ponzi schemes.

It is not just politicians that have bonded us into indentured servitude. We have been willing accomplices. We can not continue to graze at an all-you-can eat government buffet without paying a price.

The national pastime has shifted from baseball to blame ball, but we hit a wall. Productive citizenship means being held accountable, taking responsibility, and participating in tough decisions. There’s enough guilt to go around. It’s time that we acknowledge we all played a role in the decay of civics and civility. We need to embrace belt tightening, fiscal disincline and shared sacrifice.

Stop the finger pointing. It solves nothing. I’m not interested in playing the Steve Reed vs. Linda Thompson, zero-sum blame game. Rather than retrace the road of how Harrisburg got to the intersection of Blame and Economic Boondoggle, we must acknowledge that nobody wins if Harrisburg fails.

Harrisburg is our regional anchor. The City experienced substantial and positive gains over the last three decades, but the bills are past due. We didn’t get here overnight, and we’re not going get out of this quandary simply by changing administrations and exchanging diatribes.

Harrisburg’s eye-popping financial gaps have to be closed. State funding for the school district is unsustainable, the incinerator is a financial albatross, and the City’s infrastructure is fossilized.

City Council, Dauphin Country, the Mayor and the Receiver will have to suit up and wear the same uniform if we are to find long term solutions. Harrisburg and the County need to look at all options including selling and leasing assets, cutting and freezing spending levels, adopting defined contribution pension plans, and collaborating to form P3 partnerships.

For it’s part, the City must come to terms with the reality that some of its assets will have to be liquidated to pay down its debt. Act 147 is neither a panacea nor a poison pill, and all options must be on the table including Home Rule. The City doesn’t have the luxury to demand the terms of economic triage.

But the Commonwealth has to do more than expropriate the means of political patronage. The state must consider the real costs on municipalities for tax-free roosting.

A book end to Act 47 should include an increase in state contributions for municipalities who have at least 15% tax exempt properties within their municipalities. The Tax Exempt Property Municipal Assistance Fund was first introduced in 2007-2008 by Rep. Robert Freeman (D-Northampton), and is set to reemerge this year. A dedicated revenue stream would be derived “from the 18% liquor tax (‘Johnstown Flood Tax’) to provide funding to municipalities with high levels of tax exempt properties.”

But part of problem that afflicts Harrisburg is psychological. We must openly acknowledge and confront the cultural quagmire that pits Harrisburg against outlying areas and outdated perceptions.

Folks who enjoy Harrisburg’s resources need to understand that visiting museums, sporting events, or participating in holiday celebrations, take a toll on bridges, roads, security and utilities.

The county can help facilitate regional partnerships, foster aggregate municipal approaches to resource planning and purchasing, integrate crime prevention and emergency services, and coordinate branding and marketing efforts.

The bottom line is that Harrisburg is the anchor municipality for our region. We can not afford to ignore or desert the City in its hour of need. The region will be hard pressed to flourish if the City collapses.


Eric Epstein, Cofounder
Rock the Capital
4100 Hillsdale Road
Harrisburg, PA 17112

Photy by dougtone
This post was written by:
- who has written 382 posts for Rock The Capital
Eric J. Epstein is RocktheCapital‘s coordinator and a community advocate for good government for over 25 years. Mr. Epstein is also Chairman of the Three Mile Island Alert, Inc., a safe-energy organization founded in 1977; President of EFMR Monitoring Group, Inc., a non-profit economic development corporation established in 1977, and Chairman of the Stray Winds Area Neighbors (SWAN), a smart growth association organized in 2005. Mr. Epstein was a Visiting Assistant Professor of Humanities at PSU-Harrisburg (1992-1999) and co-authored the Dictionary of the Holocaust, which was released by Greenwood Press (1997) - Email Eric Epstein

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