Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Burg View: The state must regularize its annual payment to Harrisburg.

Where state and city meet.

Bruce Weber isn’t typically known for his serenity.

By his own admission, he’s a worrier, which is probably the correct disposition when you’re Harrisburg’s budget and finance director.

However, even by a calmer standard, the recent struggle over the state’s annual payment to Harrisburg was a nail-biter.

When asked recently what would happen without the state payment, which, in recent years, has represented about 8 percent of the city’s general fund, Weber thrust his hands into the air, making a “who knows” gesture. Without it, Harrisburg’s budget would have a massive hole in it.

How would it be filled? Who knows?

Back in February, Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed 2017-18 budget contained $5 million to Harrisburg for services in lieu of taxes. Then it was stripped out, in its entirety, by the state Senate. At the last minute (i.e. this week), the money suddenly reappeared, thanks to the Herculean efforts of state Rep. Patty Kim and Sen. John DiSanto. This is no way to run a city—or a state.

I’m not going to address the issue of exactly how much the payment should be. Is $5 million a year a fair figure for an entity that owns 42 percent of Harrisburg’s land yet pays no taxes, but still needs 50 buildings and 30,000-plus workers and visitors served and protected each day?

It’s probably in the ballpark, although city Councilman Ben Allatt, citing New York’s greater payment to its capital of Albany, argues it should be much more.

Whatever the figure, it’s time for the state to own up to the fact that it depends upon Harrisburg for fire protection and other services—and that those services cost money to provide. Moreover, Harrisburg, still financially fragile, cannot afford to wait until halfway into its own fiscal year to learn whether or not it’s going to receive a state payment—and, if so, how much.

Therefore, we call upon the state to enter into a long-term agreement with the city to provide a knowable, mutually agreed-upon annual payment, which would not be subject to the vagaries of partisan politics and the whims of politicians.

Doing so would allow the city to budget responsibly, while fostering a more respectful and beneficial bond between city and state. It also might help calm Weber’s nerves—and ours.

Author: Lawrance Binda

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