Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, who proposed the initiative earlier this year, aims to improve Pennsylvania’s economic competitiveness, enhance the state’s infrastructure, designate funds to mitigate environmental damage and allow for more ease of access to the internet in households. The initiative would commit $4.5 billion over the next four years to such programs.
“These are all projects that we know our citizens want, and implementing them would lead to an increase in localized neighborhood initiatives, as well,” Reynolds said at the April 16 meeting.
If passed, the Restore initiative would be relevant to the city of Bethlehem for a number of reasons, one being an opportunity for disaster mitigation. Reynolds used the Monocacy Creek in North Bethlehem as an example, and referenced its history of flooding issues. The initiative would designate funds toward preventing future floods.
In his resolution, Reynolds told state representatives, including Wolf, that this is the action local communities want.
“I thought that it was the right thing to do,” Reynolds said. “We applauded what the governor proposed, and we all want it to come to fruition.”
However, questions arose regarding the funding mechanisms for such a proposal.
“To allow Pennsylvania to be competitive economically, one would think that it would require a public investment,” Reynolds said. “Funding these initiatives is always tough.”
The proposed solution to such challenges is an auxiliary law which would apply a tax to industries in Pennsylvania that harvest natural gases for their operations through the process of fracking. Wolf said not a single cent of the $4.5 million allocated will come from individual Pennsylvanian taxpayers.
Since there is no current state law which penalizes companies for fracking, Reynolds said he is confident that they can accumulate funds and discourage fracking at the same time.
“If companies want to frack, then taxpayers should benefit from it,” Reynolds said.
Not only will the Restore Pennsylvania initiative not cost citizens money, but the long-run effects of the projects within the program will help citizens retain their income, according to a recent report by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The report said that each household in Pennsylvania loses approximately $3,400 annually due to infrastructure deficiencies, which Reynolds references in his resolution.
“The cost of deteriorating infrastructure takes a toll on a family’s disposable income,” said Robert Vidoni, a representative of Pennsylvania’s Economic Development Committee. “And we are optimistic that this initiative will put money back in the pockets of those households.”
One Lehigh student is optimistic about what the project can do for Pennsylvania’s communities.
“I think Pennsylvania is pretty old fashioned in many aspects and this initiative could benefit residents in many amazing ways,” said Annie Karras, ’21, a Pennsylvania resident. “Many conflicts will be solved through Wolf’s vision. I also think that the governor is smart to tax industries more heavily in order to diminish some of the environmental damage which they are responsible for.”
Karras also referred to neighborhoods which do not have easy access to the internet, and said that the initiative could make those areas safer and more efficient.
If Reynolds’ resolution passes in the coming council meeting, a formal letter will be sent to both the Pennsylvania General Assembly and local elected officials in the Lehigh Valley from the city of Bethlehem urging the governing body and elected individuals to support the Restore Pennsylvania initiative.