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Punt's bill goes to bat for bases

July 06, 2003|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - A multibillion-dollar economic stimulus package authored by State Sen. Terry Punt, R-Waynesboro, sailed through the Pennsylvania Senate on a 49-0 vote, was passed in a House finance committee 27-2 last week and heads to the House this week where it is expected to pass, Punt said.

Of particular interest to Franklin County is $2 million in Punt's amendment to Senate Bill 10 to develop a statewide strategy to retain Pennsylvania's 12 military bases, including the Letterkenny Army Depot north of Chambersburg. The nation's military bases are bracing for another round of reviews by the Base Realignment and Closure commission.

"We need a statewide strategy like some Southern states," said L. Michael Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corp. "Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas are all very aggressive in their strategy for BRAC. In Pennsylvania, individual bases compete against each other. We have depots fighting depots," he said.

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"Preparation for BRAC is arguably the most important economic development issue facing the Commonwealth," Ross said.

Pennsylvania, and especially Franklin County, have felt the negative impact. The state has lost more than 16,000 jobs, including 3,400 at Letterkenny, he said.

Punt said the $2 million will pay for economic and environmental impact studies, encroachment studies, community and regional interaction with military bases and infrastructure and job training needs at or near the bases.

Punt, chairman of the Senate Community and Economic Development Committee, said his stimulus package will put vital economic development money into the economy quicker, more efficiently and with less impact on the state's general fund because most of the programs it pays for will be self-financing.

Proceeds from earlier projects will be recycled into new ones, he said.

Ross said Punt's amendment would infuse up to $2 billion of new money to foster and accelerate economic growth across the state.

"Essentially, the Punt Plan is in response to and a refinement of Gov. Ed Rendell's economic stimulus package," he said.

The primary differences are that Punt's proposal allows for new programs to be paid for as needed without predetermined caps and re-establishes and expands the Small Business First Fund program, a funding source that has been used extensively in Franklin County in support of small businesses, Ross said.

"It will give us more local control and make it easier for us to close loans," Ross said. "One of the things we've found with Terry is that we have a hand-in-glove relationship with him. When we go to him for help, he always responds."

Ross pointed to Punt's ability to bring state money to Franklin County.

"Look at his track record - funding for the (Pa.) Route 16 improvements, $900,000 of infrastructure funding to develop the Wharf Road Industrial Park, $2 million to study and prepare for the widening of I-81, $23 million to widen (U.S.) Route 30, funding for the Capital Theatre project and support of the more than 350 projects that have had direct FCADC involvement," Ross said.

Projects such as Target, Ingram Books and Food Lion distribution centers and the Tom James Co. are examples of how Punt's support have proved invaluable, he said.

Punt specified that his bill is for all of Pennsylvania. Projects in Franklin County must compete statewide.

"Each project has to speak for itself, but it never hurts when I endorse one," he said.

His amendment increases capital redevelopment assistance by $500 million and includes $500 million for water and sewer projects. It provides $100 million each for hospitals and medical facilities, site development projects and loans to create jobs in distressed areas.

It also provides $30 million in venture capital loans, plus a long list of smaller financial assistance projects.

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