Proposals to help foundering Pa. cities count on grants, tax incentives

    Democrats in the state Senate have unfurled a long list of proposals designed to help Pennsylvania’s cash-strapped cities.

    As one lawmaker says, the problems struggling communities all across the commonwealth are facing aren’t a mystery. They’re well known: dwindling industry and commerce, a shrinking tax base, urban blight, unsafe neighborhoods.

    The suggestions for revitalizing those local economies and residential areas rely heavily on tax incentives and targeted grants.

    Such moves will require state funding, acknowledges Sen. John Wozniak, D-Cambria.

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    “At this point in time, obviously it’s going to be very, very difficult to access,” he said.

    Other proposals include allowing cities to collect higher fines for certain crimes; nixing certain state mandates to let cities hold onto a bit more of their revenues; and requiring more coordination between local governments and school districts in distressed cities.

    Senate Democrats are also pushing for reforms to the state’s Act 47 program.

    The program, written about 25 years ago, was meant to rehabilitate struggling cities and boroughs.

    But it’s not addressing the needs of the financially distressed municipalities as intended, said Sen. Jim Brewster, D-Allegheny.

    “Act 47 shouldn’t be a fancy funeral for a community. That’s what it is today. It needs to be rewritten,” he said. “It’s local government hospice, is what it amounts to.”

    No city that has ever entered the program has left it.

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