More than 6,500 unfunded mandates have been imposed on Pennsylvania's local governments over the past 30 years.
Township officials, tired of seeing millions of tax dollars wasted every year, came together recently to urge state lawmakers to change the system so that municipalities can put that money to better use, namely to improve roads and other infrastructure.
Close to 4,000 local leaders attended the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors' 91st annual Educational Conference in Hershey, April 21-24. While there, they continued their campaign to eliminate the mandates, which Harrisburg and Washington pass on to local governments without accompanying dollars.
During the conference, hundreds of township officials traveled to the state Capitol building in Harrisburg to meet one on one with lawmakers.
And this time around, local leaders had some considerable ammunition: a 186-page state report released last year that declares unfunded mandates are crippling Pennsylvania's municipalities.
The study, developed by a Senate task force commissioned to study the problem, urged lawmakers to reverse current mandates and analyze the financial impact before passing future ones.
Sen. John Eichelberger, chair of the Senate Local Government Committee, led the task force and also spoke at PSATS' annual conference.
When it comes to unfunded mandates, PSATS members are targeting the state's prevailing wage, which can add up to 30 percent to public project costs; its outdated legal advertising requirements, which if reformed, would save municipalities $23 million a year; and a proposed per-capita fee for state police protection, which would impose a huge financial burden on municipal taxpayers.
"Lawmakers need to know that we're on a mission to either eliminate or reform all of the unfunded mandates, including the prevailing wage, that are weighing down townships and taxpayers, and we're not going to stop until we succeed," PSATS Executive Director David M. Sanko said. "As someone once said, 'You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it' – and we're in this for the long haul."
On April 15, the week before the Association's conference in Hershey, PSATS and several other organizations representing counties, boroughs and school districts rallied in Harrisburg for prevailing wage reforms.
Soon after, the state House Labor and Industry Committee approved two significant changes to the law.
One would increase the outdated $25,000 threshold that activates the prevailing wage requirements for municipalities.
Another would remove road maintenance projects from the law's reach.
"Whether it is a new roof on the township building or a road resurfacing project, prevailing wage in its current form artificially inflates the project costs. At the end of the day, it just costs taxpayers more money," said Sam Cressler, a supervisor for Southampton Township in Franklin County, who participated in the rally. "All we want is some fairness, common sense and balance restored to the system."
Every level of government – local, state, and federal – is feeling the financial squeeze. The economy isn't helping, but neither is the rising cost of fuel and materials and decisions being made in Harrisburg and Washington, Sanko said..
"Townships need relief," he said, "and lawmakers have the power to give it to them by backing off on unfunded mandates that do little more than waste tax dollars at a time when communities can least afford it."
The Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors represents Pennsylvania's 1,455 townships of the second class and is committed to preserving and strengthening township government and securing greater visibility and involvement for townships in the state and federal political arenas.
Townships of the second class cover 95 percent of Pennsylvania's land mass and represent more residents – 5.5 million – than any other type of political subdivision in the commonwealth.