Gordner, Masser: State providing tools in blight fight, results will take time
COAL TOWNSHIP - State Sen. John Gordner (R-27) and his legislative counterpart, Rep. Kurt Masser (R-107) both believe promising steps have been taken to address blight, even if the results aren't yet convincing.
Addressing the Brush Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday, Gordner said the state has provided "a lot of tools" that help municipalities better fight the problem, but that it will take some time.
Masser noted passage in June of House Bill 2120, which would close loopholes that have been exploited by parties responsible for blighted properties. The measure broadens liability so owners cannot hide behind shell corporations or a property manager. Also, it would require more from banks and other lending institutions that acquire properties through bankruptcy or other means.
He said it's an example of what legislators have learned from municipal leaders about what they need.
Masser noted a recent conversation with Sunbury Mayor David Persing, who said the city's efforts to purchase and rehabilitate dilapidated properties has shown that such improvements can spread throughout a neighborhood, just as blight tends to spread.
Masser said the blight fight is on track locally to make a big difference, and credited the work of Ed Christiano, executive director of the county housing authority who is leading the county's blight task force. Christiano is a chamber board member and was present at Tuesday's luncheon.
On other issues
Transportation bill: Gordner said he's "still proud" of the legislation despite ongoing complaints about a higher gas tax and registration and licensing fees. He noted all the increased revenue goes directly to transportation funding - not into a larger pot as sometimes occurs at the federal level - and that dozens of local projects will be completed because of the extra money. In stressing the need to fix the hundreds of deficient bridges in the state, Gordner said some 27 million children ride to school each day on buses that cross those bridges.
Medicaid money: Gordner defended Gov. Corbett's rejection of federal money to expand Medicaid, saying the program is not working efficiently and many providers are no longer taking new Medicaid patients. Instead, the governor's Healthy Pa. Initiative, which is awaiting federal approval, would provide funding to allow the 500,000 to 600,000 Pennsylvanians who need insurance to get coverage that providers are taking. Corbett has come under fire for rejecting the federal money, which would pay 100 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion through 2016 and, after that, gradually decline to 90 percent in 2020, where it will remain.
AOAA: Gordner said he's "so excited" about the success of the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area thus far and that he expects the success will grow. One "cool" aspect is seeing the license plates from neighboring states on visitors' vehicles in the parking lot. They are "bringing their dollars" here, he said.
State budget: Gordner said the Legislature passed the state budget on time for the fourth consecutive year, even if Gov. Corbett didn't sign it until 10 days after the June 30 deadline. He reminded that the state cannot operate with deficit spending and therefore struggles each year to produce a balanced budget. He said this year's budget includes more than $10 billion for education, the largest amount of state funding for education ever passed in Pennsylvania.
Drug fight: Masser said he plans to continue educational programs to fight drug abuse, such as what he coordinated earlier this year at local schools. He said lawmakers need to do more, including moving on legislation that would authorize creation of a statewide opioid prescription database to prevent addicts from getting multiple prescriptions.