Study Suggests Dozens Of PA Towns Will Soon Qualify For Act 47

May 21, 2020

  On today's program: PA has little recourse to help cities devastated by wage taxes out-of-work employees never accrued; Pittsburgh is slow to adopt plans for future climate migrants; and scientists question whether closing schools was the right call.

A municipality can't go out of business, can it?
(00:00 — 6:10)

A new study finds hundreds of Pennsylvania towns are facing budget deficits due to the pandemic, and there’s not much they—or Pittsburgh—can do to slow the decline. 

Author David Miller, director of the Center for Metropolitan Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, found that of the more than 500 municipalities he studied in the region, many are struggling to collect enough income and wage taxes to support necessary services like police, fire, waste management, parks and recreation and more.

“The financial picture is still bleak,” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto told WESA in April. “There will be a shortfall of tens of millions of dollars this year.” And though the city has an $85 million reserve fund, “We will have heavy repercussions on our next five years. … Large cuts to spending will likely be necessary.”

With so many people out of work, many Pennsylvanians never made any wages to be taxed at all. More recent estimates show Pittsburgh, which took just under 15 years to complete its Act 47 financial recovery plan in 2018, now faces a $127 million deficit. 

Act 47 is administered by the state Department of Community and Economic Development and provides loan and grant funds to financially distressed local governments, as well as technical assistance to plot a course toward recovery. Like Pittsburgh, many towns carry the designation for years, once it's applied. 

Miller says dozens of municipalities will now qualify for Act 47, which he points out has only been used a couple dozen times total since the law was enacted 33 years ago.

“So I think one of the important messages from our work is that it is really incumbent on the state at this point to begin planning and strategizing in terms of dealing with what happens if we have this many municipalities seeking financial support (at the same time).”

Pittsburgh’s budding plan to welcome new climate migrants
(06:11 — 13:10)

Here in the U.S., climate change is predicted to increase sea levels and make storms, hurricanes and wildfires more severe in the coming decades, causing many Americans to look for safer places to live. 

It’s a concept some refer to as climate migration. For The Allegheny Front, Maria Rose follows the Noyes family and reports how the Rust Belt region could become a refuge.

The science behind school transmission and reopening
(13:15 — 18:00) 

The question of when and how to open schools has become a hot political topic, but what does science say about schools and COVID-19?

Keystone Crossroads reporter Avi Wolfman-Arent found out, there are a lot of unknowns. 

 The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.