State’s fiscal picture shows ray of sunshine

News from Harrisburg last week provided grounds for Pennsylvania residents to feel cautiously optimistic about the commonwealth’s financial prospects for the 2018-19 fiscal year that begins July 1.

Unlike the budget exercise for the current fiscal year, which was haunted from the start by a roughly $2 billion financial shortfall, the news last week was that state lawmakers will have about $32.65 billion to spend over the next 12 months — $650 million (about 2 percent) more than what was targeted for 2017-18.

Meanwhile, the state’s Independent Fiscal Office had set its final official revenue estimate at about $34.5 billion — a number $226 million lower than what the IPO had estimated in November, but still higher than the projected 2018-19 spending amount announced last week.

It’s impossible to compile totally accurate available-revenue numbers until after a budget year ends, but it appears certain that the fiscal sun finally has broken through the dark, overcast money skies that had dogged the state.

But financial news wasn’t the only good news emerging from the state capital. As reported in Wednesday’s Mirror, Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday signed two bills targeted at helping municipalities deal with blight.

That’s an important development for cities like Altoona and Johnstown, as well as every other city, borough and township in this state.

One of the measures will shorten foreclosure on abandoned properties by about 240 days, which will help cut down on deterioration to those properties before, hopefully, they can be repaired and again become community assets.

The second measure signed by the governor deals with land banks. Among its provisions is approval for redevelopment authorities to also function in a land-bank capacity, having the power to acquire properties before they go to tax sale auction.

The aim will be to convey properties to developers able to improve them instead of running the risk of the properties being purchased by tax sale bidders who might allow the properties to deteriorate further.

Mayor Matt Pacifico hasn’t yet reached a conclusion on whether it would be preferable for Altoona to assign land bank responsibilities to the existing redevelopment authority or create an independent land bank, but he said a proposed ordinance to create a city land bank in whatever form would be presented to the city council this summer.

Now that the two laws are signed and waiting to take effect, it’s important for leaders of all municipalities to begin pondering what steps they will take once the laws’ effective dates arrive.

Blight not only is unsightly, eroding the values of other properties while attracting rodents and other pests, but it’s also dangerous. Blight is a virtual invitation for arson, besides posing hazards for anyone who might enter such a property.

Some deteriorated, purportedly off-limits properties sometimes become havens for drug activity and other crimes. Meanwhile, blight spreads, as people who formerly demonstrated pride in their homes and yards lose interest in making improvements because of what’s happening around them.

Regarding the new land bank law, Pacifico said, “the beauty of this bill is we can do what’s best for us.”

The beauty of a more harmonious budget-preparation process is that it doesn’t stymie lawmakers and the governor from doing other important work.

State residents need to hope that good-news weeks continue to dominate the state’s governmental landscape.

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