Ward plan needs help from Senate
The positive persistence of state Rep. Judy Ward, R-Hollidaysburg, in trying to get a blight-fighting bill through the Legislature should not be overlooked.
However, if the measure fails to gain approval during the current legislative session, Ward will need to employ a different tactic regarding the bill, going forward.
She already should be preparing herself for that possibility, even though there’s no way yet to predict how the process surrounding the bill’s remaining consideration might eventually play out.
In the end, she might have to accept revising what she currently is proposing, to overcome reluctance that blocked her similar measure last session, as well as a previous attempt by former Rep. Jerry Stern when he was serving in the state House seat that Ward currently occupies.
Last session, Ward’s proposal passed easily in the House, but the Senate didn’t vote on it. On April 4, the House passed the measure by a 197-0 vote, sending it to the Senate Urban Affairs Committee, where a “yes” vote would be required before it goes before the full Senate.
Regarding the current bill’s fate in the upper chamber, Ward hasn’t offered a prediction. She chose instead to observe that good bills sometimes go to the Senate to die.
Perhaps what Ward is proposing — and what Stern proposed prior to Ward being elected — is too generous, rather than not being generous enough. The Hollidaysburg lawmaker should have a “Plan B” to substitute, in the event that becomes necessary.
Where Ward’s bill might be unacceptable to some senators — and should be of concern to House members — is not in the tax credits it might provide to developers, but in the amount of tax-free time it would make available to owners of now-blighted properties that would be repaired under the Ward legislation.
As crafted, the bill envisions a three-year tax break, after which the break would diminish by 15 percent each year until the property returns to full taxation. A more reasonable tax break in the eyes of municipalities would be a one-year break, with the tax obligation diminishing by 25 percent over four years.
That would return properties in question to full taxation after five years, rather than after 10.
Meanwhile, the tax credits to developers for bringing properties up to codes should be generous but not excessive.
Conditions governing the tax benefits that Ward currently is proposing are that the renovations would have to add 25 percent to a property’s value, and that local taxing bodies would have to approve the tax breaks — both conditions being acceptable.
Municipalities would be more agreeable to approving the tax breaks if they were more reasonable from an incoming-tax-revenue standpoint, although Altoona City Councilman Dave Butterbaugh told Mirror reporter Ryan Brown that he is willing to accept any state help in refurbishing buildings.
It’s the Senate that holds the proverbial key to whether Ward’s proposal goes to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk or languishes as unfinished business or, worse, is rejected outright.
If Senate approval isn’t forthcoming, or if the governor would refuse to affix his signature upon what the two legislative houses agree, Ward should demonstrate flexibility and additional persistence, to try to resolve points of opposition.