How lawmakers threw Harrisburg a fiscal lifeline in the new #PaBudget | Wednesday Morning Coffee

November 25, 2020 7:17 am

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

We’ve always been of the opinion that the most interesting stuff in any state budget is never included in the actual funding bill that pays for the executive branch, Legislature and Judiciary. Rather, it’s always tucked away into the code bills, those hulking pieces of legislation that effectively serve as the “instruction manual” for the overall spending document.

Take, for instance, the Fiscal Code, which has long been a place where bad ideas have gone to hide. Last week, the Capital-Star reported that lawmakers inserted language limiting the kinds of flags and banners that can be flown from the Capitol. The move was seen as a poke at Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who’s flown flags in support of marijuana legalization and LGBTQ civil rights from the balcony outside his Capitol office. As you might imagine, Fetterman responded …. in the most Fetterman way imaginable.

But as our friends at The ‘Burg report, lawmakers also inserted language into the massive omnibus bill that throws a financial lifeline to Pennsylvania’s cash-strapped capital city by allowing Harrisburg to retain its elevated local services tax for 15 more years and permanently extend its 2 percent earned income tax.

While local residents (and commuters) may not be thrilled about the idea of paying higher taxes for the foreseeable future, city Mayor Eric Papenfuse praised the bill, telling The ‘Burg that the “Legislature helped to secure a sustainable financial future for its capital,” by approving the language.

“With bipartisan support, it extended Harrisburg’s taxing authority, which will now continue even after the city exits Act 47,” which is the law that covers Pennsylvania’s financially distressed cities, Papenfuse concluded.

(Photo by

So here’s what that means, by the numbers.

According to The ‘Burg, the Local Service Tax applies to all workers who have a job in Harrisburg (sorry, commuters). The earned income tax only applies to city-dwellers.

The city now charges $156 a year, triple the statewide rate of $52 a year for its LST. That rate would run until 2030, when it would drop to $104 a year, and then back to the regular $52 a year starting in 2035, The ‘Burg reported.

Taken together, the tax hikes avert the possibility of a commuter tax, state Sen. John DiSanto, R-Dauphin, who voted for the language, told The ‘Burg. It also averts what the city was calling a fiscal cliff, where it faced the loss of $12.4 million a year in tax revenue, The ‘Burg reported. It also will allow the city to refinance its debt and leave Act 47 protection after a decade, the news magazine reported.

“A financially stable Harrisburg is good not only for city residents, but the entire region,” DiSanto told The ‘Burg. “I’ll continue to support policies that support this objective.”

Our Stuff.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, drinking, at 11 a.m. on a weekday? 
Scranton’s other Favorite Son set social media alight Tuesday when he cracked a cold one to celebrate Pennsylvania certifying its presidential election results. Casey’s choice of brew — it looked like a Pennsylvania favorite — sparked endless speculation. Luckily, our Stephen Caruso was on the case.

Speaking of which, here’s the news that sparked that celebratory beer: Pennsylvania certified its presidential election results on Tuesday, cementing President-elect Joe Biden’s and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ win in a critical 2020 battleground state, your humble newsletter author can report.

Slate Belt Rep. Doyle Heffley, a Republican from Carbon County, also is the latest lawmaker to test positive for COVID-19Caruso further reports.

National Correspondent Daniel Newhauser 
goes deep on campaign finance data, explaining how state political parties partnered with Big Money to dump millions of dollars into Campaign 2020.

Immigration advocates want the incoming Biden administration to think big on immigration issues, by not only revitalizing DACA, but also expanding itCapital-Star Washington Reporter Ariana Figueroa explains.

The state Health Department reported 6,669 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, with 81 new fatalities. That brings the total number of cases statewide since the start of the pandemic to 321,070 in all 67 counties. Through Tuesday, a total of 9,951 people have died of the disease, according to state data.

If you’re coming from out of state to visit a Pennsylvania State Park this Thanksgiving weekend, and you don’t have the required negative COVID-19 test result, state officials will send you packingCassie Miller reports.

Philadelphia City Council has pressed pause on a plan to outfit all city police officers with Tasers, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, frequent contributor Charles D. Allen, an Army veteran and professor at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., has some thoughts about America’s place in the world this Thanksgiving season. And opinion regular Ray Landis debuts the first in a series of columns analyzing Pennsylvania’s State Plan on Aging, which can impact the flow of federal aid.

A new group says Philadelphia’s Black-run charter schools are being treated unfairly, the Inquirer reports.
President Donald Trump plans to travel to Gettysburg on Wednesday for a state Senate committee hearing featuring adviser Rudy Giuliani on the fairness of the election, Bloomberg News reports (via the Post-Gazette).
PennDOT says it could be days away from halting work on road and bridge projects across the state after the Legislature failed to approve $600 million in borrowing to pay for them, PennLive reports.
Bar and restaurant owners in the Lehigh Valley say the Wolf administration’s Thanksgiving Eve order to halt booze sales at 5 p.m. is just another economic blow, the Morning Call reports.
If you’re going to a Thanksgiving gathering in Luzerne County on Thursday, there’s a significant chance that one person at the table will have COVID-19, the Citizens-Voice reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:


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A post shared by Jordan Parenti (@jordanparenti)

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley has warned of significant COVID-19 spread in the city, WHYY-FM reports.
With cases surging, Pennsylvania is now rationing its contact-tracing efforts, WESA-FM reports. 
Most court proceedings in Erie County are going remoteGoErie reports.
Former Pennsylvania Education Secretary Pedro Rivera is under consideration for the same post in the incoming Biden administration, PoliticsPA reports, citing NBC News. 
Governors nationwide are announcing assistance to small businesses — along with restrictions, reports.
Politico profiles nine governors and how they’re handling the pandemic.

What Goes On.
Just when you thought you were out … The Senate Republican Policy Committee holds a12:30 p.m.. public hearing on the 2020 election featuring … and we swear we’re not making this up …  President Donald Trump and Trump campaign lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

Heavy Rotation.
We’ll go out this week with the absolutely dreamy ‘Cross My Mind,’ by Arizona, since many of us will be thinking of, and missing, those we care about this Thanksgiving holiday.

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Soccer Link.
may be top of the league right now, but manager Jose Mourinho insists Spurs are still a work in progress, the Guardian reports.

And now you’re up to date.

This newsletter will be off Thursday and Friday, returning to normal service on Monday. From all of us at the Capital-Star, our best wishes for a peaceful Thanksgiving. 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.