Fiscal Reality Demands Debt Reform
By Dave Hickernell, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Oct. 21, 2013

Last week was a pretty productive one in Harrisburg, with fiscal responsibility topping the list. As we continue to face a sluggish national economy, the Commonwealth finds itself in the same situation many Pennsylvania households are in – making the difficult choices needed to live within our means.

In this vein, the House last week approved House Bill 493, legislation I voted for aimed at bringing debt accrued under the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) in line with the fiscal realities of today.

Just as families must watch their spending as they pay off their credit cards, so too must the Commonwealth become serious about not incurring more debt just to make payments on that which we already owe.

RACP provides grants to local communities for the acquisition and construction of regional economic, cultural, civic and historical improvement projects. The funding may be used for the design and construction of facilities that are economic development projects which generate substantial increases in employment, tax revenues or other measures of economic activity.

There is no doubt that the RCAP program over its 13-year existence has been instrumental in helping spur economic development. But, its rapid expansion in that time – the debt ceiling has more than tripled from $1.2 billion to $4.05 billion – has made the program unsustainable in today’s economic reality.

House Bill 493, will immediately reduce the RACP debt ceiling from the current $4.05 billion to $3.45 billion. The bill does not eliminate the economic development grant program, but redefines it to make it more financially viable.

Decreasing the Commonwealth’s debt load and reforming RACP is an important step in bringing integrity and transparency to the way Pennsylvania does business.

Also passed last week was a measure intended to protect the privacy of people who report suspicious and illegal activities to the police. In this online information age, the names of those who make a 9-1-1 phone call to the police – an act many of us once believed would be kept private – may be able to become known by criminals who may threaten honest citizens for sharing information with the authorities.

House Bill 1041 gives an exemption from the state’s Right-to-Know law for records containing identifying information to an individual calling a 911 center unless a court rules it would be in the public’s interest to disclose the information. The measure, which now goes to the Senate for consideration, is designed to protect the identity of a caller to prevent cases of retribution against informants and to ensure the public has a sense of safety and privacy when reporting a crime or other emergency.

Also last week, Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law a bill I strongly supported to extend the state’s Children Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through 2015. The re-authorization of this law contains a new provision eliminates the current six-month waiting period before a child can enroll in the program.

CHIP provides quality, comprehensive health insurance coverage for routine doctor visits, prescriptions, dental, eye care and much more to uninsured children and teens who are not eligible for or enrolled in Medical Assistance. The program, established in 1992, was set to expire Dec. 31 of this year.