Wednesday, August 24, 2005

PA House Bill No. 1358

The problem, or at least one of the many problems, with economic development in the city is the availability of suitable land to develop. Potential developers are often stymied by property that is (a) contaminated, (b) has clouded or disputed title, or (c) is held has a lien for nonpayment on a debt (typically taxes and water payments). These problems are particularly egregious in the less affluent sections of the City of Pittsburgh and are often a major hold up to effective development by community groups or other organizations.

The city has undertake a two pronged approach to solving this problem.

First, in areas that are already part of a redevelopment area, properties can be acquired through the URA's powers of emminent domain. In this case we're talking about what would otherwise be voluntary sales, if not for the problems listed above. One of the benefits of Emmient Domain, in this case, is that it wipes away all the problems with the title to a property. [The URA is also exempt from liability under Pennsylvania Law should it undertake environmental remediation for the purposes of conveying to a third party.]

Second, the city itself, in conjunction with the local community organizations, has been using the Treasurer's Sale process to identify and acquire vacant properties which are delinquent on their taxes. Back liens are paid off by the taxing bodies and the Water and Sewer Authority so that title can be conveyed free and clear.

Of course, the City is broke, so there's little public money to pay for all of these things.

Enter PA House Bill No. 1358, The Blight Remediation Act sponsored by the formerly loyal Democrat Michael Diven, which would provide working capital to the City of Pittsburgh and Philiadelphia to acquire, clear title on, and raze "Blighted" Properties, which would then be conveyed to developers for improvement. These redeveloped properties would have 50% of their municipal taxes put back into working capital fund, and the cycle repeats.

So broke city gets money to clear out crap... sounds good right?

Well, there's the catch about the creation of a Blight Remediation Board at the state level to oversee who gets which properties and which projects can use this program. This board, like the wildly successful Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, is made up by an appointment from the governor, by the minority and majority leaders of the Senate House, and by the minority and majority leaders of the State Senate. Today, that would be 3 Democrats and 2 Republicans.

But let's say that a Republican is elected governor? Would that not give the Republicans the foothold they have so desired in the City of Pittsburgh and allow them a large measure of control over the spoils of redevelopment (or the restrictions thereof)? Worse yet, this is being controled, not from the ground level in Pittsburgh, but from an appointed board in Harrisburg! Out goes the control that the community groups used to have in the Treasurer's Sale and in comes a nebulous (corruptable?) third party. I wonder which contributors... er... developers will have an easier time getting through this process.

Something smells fishy here.

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