Legislature approves Pa.'s capital budget

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HARRISBURG -- State lawmakers gave final approval last week to $1.68 billion in new borrowing for capital projects, giving a slight boost to the annual charge on state government's figurative credit card.

A related measure from House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, to update rules regarding how those projects are vetted remains unfinished with a handful of session days left, though administration officials say some of the intended reforms already have been enacted.

The bill, known as the capital budget, would boost borrowing for infrastructure projects by about $13 million over the previous fiscal year.

Most of the funding -- $995 million -- will go toward repairing commonwealth-owned buildings, such as state hospitals and prisons. Another $345 million is earmarked for public and private projects through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, with other dollars to be used for transit and bridge projects.

A full project list is not yet available. Jay Pagni, a spokesman for the governor's budget office, said the borrowed dollars were needed by the end of the year to pay for a mix of projects that are under way or others for which the state has committed funding.

Repaying the new debt over the next 20 years will cost state taxpayers at least $2.3 billion, according to legislative estimates.

The measure passed the Senate in June with two negative votes. It drew more opposition in the state House of Representatives last week, garnering a vote of 142-55, with "no" votes from both sides of the aisle.

One of those voting against the measure, Rep. Eli Evankovich, R-Murrysville, said state government should be reforming how such projects are selected at the same time or before continuing to borrow money.

"I think everyone recognizes that short-term bonding can be a necessary part of running any entity," Mr. Evankovich said. "But the way that these revolving debt programs are currently running is not in the best interest of Pennsylvania."

A proposal from Mr. Turzai sought to make a number of such reforms to state borrowing, including lowering the debt ceiling from its current $4.05 billion and making more information about projects funded through public bonding available online.

That measure is awaiting a vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Senate Republican spokesman Erik Arneson said the bill remains under discussion for the chamber's final three session days this week.

Some changes, however, have already been enacted through the budget office itself for its project-selection process. Those revisions "mirrored some significant points" of Mr. Turzai's bill, according to Mr. Pagni.

Those changes will require a more "measurement-based" application process for those applying after June 1, 2012, which will include consideration of a potential project's community impacts, he said. The new selection guidelines are posted on the agency's website, which will also track details of state-funded projects.


Harrisburg bureau chief Laura Olson: lolson@post- gazette.com or 1-717-787-4254.


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