State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Making the new rules stick

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Apr 4, 2013 3:43 PM
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Photo by Mary Wilson / witf

The Corbett administration is trying to make an executive branch grant program leaner without having to wait for legislation, citing a need to reduce how much money is given out and based the grant awards on more than a political favor, as has been alleged of past administrations. 

Scroll through a list of projects that have gotten money since 1986 from the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program controlled by the governor’s office, and you see some big numbers: $35 million. $85 million. $185 million dollars.

Sometimes the grants went to train stations and business parks. Sometimes they went to convention centers and stadiums.

The governor’s office is hewing to a new set of rules for the program – tightening its purse strings and professing to use new criteria in deciding where the money goes. The whole thing got a new name, too: the governor’s office calls it the Economic Growth Initiative now, instead of the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program of yore (commonly referred to as R-Cap).

At a Thursday even marking a grant (of the new ilk) awarded to Holy Spirit Hospital in Camp Hill, the governor said he’s been pleased to put a $125 million annual limit on total grant awards. He said the emphasis now is to "pick out very, very deserving projects and projects that brought us economic growth, brought us employment, and had a purpose in public safety or in other areas that are important to the community.”

Rep. Glen Grell (R-Cumberland) agrees that the $3.25 million grant for the hospital’s new electronic data center in his district is a good example of the kind of projects that are getting money now.

“The review of this grant was much more merit-based both in terms of the economic development aspect of it as well as the public safety community safety component,” said Grell.

But he still sees a need for making those changes stick with new law.

“Who’s to say that the next governor may not slip back into less strict criteria?” Grell said.

In February, the House passed legislation to reduce the available funds for the grant program (by limiting how much the state can borrow to cover the costs of loans) and create criteria to award grants based on the number of jobs a project will create and what benefit it provides to the community.

The vote was nearly unanimous. But the push for permanent reforms may have opponents in the state Senate. Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) told the PA Independent scaling back the amount of state grants is unwise when the state wants to help create jobs.

Opponents say it’s unwise to codify such rules when the commonwealth should be helping create jobs.

For now, the governor’s office has just about hit its self-imposed annual limit on grants with the recently announced awards to 54 recipients – among them, a few business parks, many hospital construction projects, and the Philadelphia Zoo, with no single grant exceeding $5 million.

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