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Gas tax, wages of interest at summit

March 19, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A panel of state legislators told Franklin County and local officials not to expect any relief from Pennsylvania's prevailing wage law anytime soon during a municipal summit Thursday at the Franklin Fire Hall.

"You need 102 votes in the House and they aren't there," Rep. Pat Fleagle, R-Franklin, told about 70 representatives from the county's 22 municipalities and county government. He said the prospects are dimmer now than in the past because, while Republicans still control the House and Senate, the governor is a Democrat.

"If you surveyed the people in this room, you'd probably find that's one of the most important issues," said Greencastle, Pa., Borough Councilman Harold Duffey.

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The law requires that workers on projects funded with state dollars be paid wages based on averages in the state's largest cities.

Those wages kick in on projects of more than $25,000.

Sen. Terry Punt, R-Franklin, said the Senate has previously passed measures to raise the limit to $250,000. Those efforts either failed to clear the House or were struck down by court challenges, he said.

Punt estimated the law adds as much as 30 percent to the cost of government construction projects in the area.

Punt said changing the state law would have a limited impact as long as the federal Davis-Bacon Act remains in effect. That law regulates wages paid for projects involving federal funds, and many government construction projects are paid for with a mix of federal, state and local dollars.

Among other items discussed at the summit:

  • Gasoline tax.Punt said no gasoline tax increase is on the horizon this year. He said neither Gov. Ed Rendell nor the Legislature has any enthusiasm for a tax increase "primarily because of the high price of gas at the pumps right now."

    If there is pressure for higher gasoline taxes next year, Punt said he wants to see 2 cents on every gallon go directly to municipalities for their road projects, rather than be doled out by the state.

  • Radar. Radar for municipal police also is not a priority for legislators, Punt said.

    Only Pennsylvania State Police can now use radar to enforce speed limits, a tool Waynesboro Borough Manager Lloyd Hamberger said some local departments want.



Punt said some legislators are unwilling to support such a change for fear it would be used as much to collect revenue from speeders as to enforce the law.

Wastewater subsidy


Antrim Township Administrator Teresa Schnoor asked Fleagle if there was any chance the Legislature would revive Act 339, an annual operations subsidy for wastewater treatment plants. Schnoor said the township lost about $100,000 in state funding for its plant. Washington Township Manager Mike Christopher said repeal of the act cost that township about $120,000.

Fleagle said there was little chance of reviving the subsidy, which previous governors had tried to cut out of the state budget before Rendell succeeded.

Farmland


Two bills aimed at preserving more farmland have been sponsored by Rep. Stephen R. Maitland, R-91st. Maitland, whose district is primarily in Adams County, said one would allow townships to buy farms that are up for sale, retain the development rights and resell the land with the provision that it remain in agriculture.

The other legislation is tied to the Clean and Green Act, which allows the owners of some farmland, agriculture reserves and forest reserves to have lower tax assessments as an incentive not to develop. The bill would amend the act to add a $2,000-per-acre "conversion fee" if farmland is resold for development in addition to existing back taxes and penalties for taking land out of the program.

The conversion fee would be used by counties to pay for farmland preservation, Maitland said.

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