By Tom Wolf
I have a vision for Pennsylvania.
I want our commonwealth to have vibrant towns and cities with new development, opportunities in rural and disadvantaged areas, and a modern, interconnected commonwealth.
For a long time, Pennsylvania was at the forefront of American industry. We’re home to America’s first suspension bridge, hospital, business school and oil well. The Pennsylvania Railroad once reigned the rails, and our technology brought television into the homes of millions of people worldwide.
But after decades of neglect and disinvestment, the wear and tear of time is starting to show on our infrastructure.
Years of budgetary constrictions has translated into crumbling roadways, eroded streambanks, dilapidated state parks, and stagnant brownfields.
In communities like Johnstown, Erie, Bethlehem, Pottsville, Reading and Scranton, the work that propelled the Industrial Revolution and drove wartime efforts left behind blighted neighborhoods and dangerous chemicals.
Pennsylvania has an estimated 300,000 blighted structures. Just in Cambria County there are approximately 1,800 blighted properties – that’s 1.3 blighted buildings for every 100 residents.
In Lackawanna County, estimates to demolish its 1,700 blighted homes comes to between $17 million and $26 million. And this is just residential properties. Demolishing or remediating a single industrial site can cost millions.
That’s money our cash-strapped communities just don’t have. And every year that properties sit blighted, local governments and school districts miss out on tax revenue.
Our communities need a major funding infusion to help with blight. But, few revenue sources to fund blight remediation projects, and the funding sources available, like Community Block Development Grants, often put limitations on the type of work that can be completed.
The same issues arise when communities try to clean up brownfields or contaminants.
Communities like Upper Dublin and Willow Grove are struggling with PFAS, industrial chemicals once thought safe but now known to cause health issues.
Across the state, Pennsylvania families are coping with lead exposure from our aging housing stock – 70 percent of which was built before the 1978 ban on lead paint.
Removing these contaminants is costly, but necessary to keep Pennsylvanians safe. Yet, our commonwealth lacks a dedicated funding source to pay for large-scale environmental cleanups.
Families don’t want to live places where their children could get sick. Businesses don’t want to operate next to abandoned buildings.
If we want Pennsylvania to be a great place to live and work, we need to make investments in our communities.
That’s why I’m proposing Restore Pennsylvania.
Restore Pennsylvania can help communities of all sizes across the state tackle major, much-needed infrastructure projects. This ambitious program can help Pennsylvanians with other problems they face every day and put our commonwealth at the forefront of competition in the modern economy.
Restore Pennsylvania can transform underutilized and abandoned former industrial and commercial sites into desirable properties by infusing Pennsylvania’s Brownfields program with much-needed capital.
Restore Pennsylvania can enable new environmental projects and new recreational opportunities across the commonwealth, including infrastructure and maintenance in state parks, local water quality improvements, dam maintenance, and funding for new hiking, biking and trail projects.
Restore Pennsylvania can assist communities with removing contaminants, including lead paint from schools and public buildings.
Restore Pennsylvania can provide funding for flood prevention that will protect against severe weather and save homes and businesses in flood prone areas across the state.
Restore Pennsylvania can bring high-speed broadband – a need in today’s economy – to the more than 800,000 Pennsylvanians who lack fast, reliable internet.
Restore Pennsylvania can help communities remove dangerous, unsightly blight and return properties to the tax rolls by supporting demolition and renovation funds.
Restore Pennsylvania can help upgrade our “four-digit” back roads, expand roadways to meet the transportation demands of growing businesses, improve our public transit systems, remove contaminants and develop green infrastructure.
To pay for Pennsylvania’s needed infrastructure investments, I’m asking for a commonsense severance tax that is in line with every other major gas producing state. Just like in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Alaska, out-of-state consumers of our precious natural resource would pay our residents for what they’re taking.
It’s time for us to stop saying, “I’m sorry for the problems you’re facing, there’s nothing we can do.”
We can do something. We can raise $4.5 billion and put it directly into our infrastructure.
We can remove blight. We can rebuild bridges and roads. We can redevelop brownfields. We can expand internet access. We can develop attractive sites for businesses to use. We can prevent future floods.
With Restore Pennsylvania, we can position our commonwealth for success.
Tom Wolf, a York County Democrat, is the governor of Pennsylvania. He writes from Harrisburg, Pa.