Our State Government is Broken.

It’s time for a constitutional convention. And thanks to Sen. John Eichelberger and Rep. Steve Bloom that ball is in play. This editorial by Pennlive from the summer nails the reason. Read the op-ed here. In the op-ed the authors also touch upon a number of suggestions. Most (but not all) I agree with. This conversation has been ongoing but it seems like momentum is gathering. This is likely because frustration with state government is at an all time high.

Below are some of the good government structural reforms that I support. All of which could be addressed by a limited constitutional convention. I’ve written about a number of these at length on this blog over the last few years. A state constitutional convention is the mechanism to address all of these and other concerns at one time in a very transparent but also highly efficient way. Constitutional conventions give voters who are frustrated with broken state government the chance to take a very direct role in reform efforts such as:

  • Term Limits
  • Address the size of the legislature. For ex. reducing the size (and cost) of Government begins with eliminating the pointless office of the Lt. Gov.
  • Campaign finance reform
  • Gerrymandering reform
  • Reforming the completely broken and totally backwards state budget process.

These efforts would go a long way to draining the swamp at the state level. And a limited constitutional convention is the way you address them all at once. 

Here are some more resources:
Lawmakers file memos to initiate a Pennsylvania constitutional convention.
Eichelberger and Bloom news conference.

The Opioid Epidemic and an unholy alliance that feeds it.

Earlier this week as an interested constituent I had the opportunity to attend a town hall meeting hosted by PA State Rep. Ryan Mackenzie at the Township Community Center. It was well ran and very informative. Ryan runs a productive town hall. Not at one point did it get political, which was refreshing. It was 100% issues oriented.

A wide range of topics were covered, but there was one that really stuck out for me. We all know (sadly, far too many of us first hand) the issues surrounding our nations Opioid epidemic. I have personally always held the belief that any solution starts at home in local communities. That there is no silver bullet. Certainly, not a Government silver bullet.

I still strongly believe that, BUT it was eye opening to hear Ryan talk about some legislation he’s working on to help address ongoing related issues.

If this is of a concern you to, please take a some time to read the article below. In it reporters investigated the financial relationships between a workers comp law firm, physicians, and a pharmacy where injured workers were sent to fill prescriptions. Yes, it’s a longer read but it thoroughly exposes the connection between crooked Lawyers, Doctors and Pharmacies.

It’s one of the most powerful pieces of investigative Journalism I’ve read. You will be completely shocked at what’s going on in our state.

To address the opioid issue in this state one key strategy is to look closely at the current workers compensation system. Pennsylvania has the third highest average amount of opioids received by injured workers. We are 78 percent higher than the median state. This is completely unacceptable. And in too many cases there are nefarious forces behind that concerning statistic.

‘Talk about an unholy alliance’: Lawyers, doctors and pharmacies.

The Spotted Lanternfly is here. What to do.

How to Eliminate or Control Spotted Lanternfly Adults:

If you find Spotted Lanternflies where they are known to exist, you should try to kill them. (They are here in Lower Mac.) The most effective way to eliminate them is to disrupt their favorite food and hang‐out. In late summer and fall, Spotted Lanternflies prefer feeding on Ailanthus altissima, commonly known as the “Tree of Heaven.” They can be found feeding on other plants and trees, but Ailanthus Altissima is their favorite host. Here’s an excellent resource to help you identify the tree:

How to identify a Tree of Heaven.

Identifying “Tree’s of Heaven” are the most effective way to control lanternflies long term.

If you have a Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus) on your property: please consider reducing the number, then treat remaining “trap trees” with insecticides. This is a longer‐lasting solution than simply spraying insects you see. Click here for instructions on properly IDing

Why the tree of heaven spreads so devilishly and harms Pa. forests.

 

 

More detail about this process can be found at the following websites: Penn State Extension

1.)  What to do if you find spotted lanternfly on your property.

2.)  Mechanical Control: October – July

If you want to kill Spotted Lanternflies without controlling Ailanthus: When there are only a few insects, you can kill spotted lanternflies by swatting or crushing them. For large populations, two kinds of insecticides are widely available that will kill Spotted Lanternfly adults. Contact insecticides kill spotted lanternflies when the chemical contacts the insect directly. Systemic insecticides are absorbed by the tree and kill insects feeding on it.  ALL insecticides must be used as directed on the label. Take the time to read the label carefully and follow the directions. Click the link in next section for more information on chemical treatments. 

Lists of Chemical Treatments.  Penn State Extension is currently testing to determine which insecticides are most effective in controlling adult spotted lanternflies.  Preliminary results show insecticides with the active ingredients dinotefuran, imidacloprid, carbaryl, and bifenthrin are effective at controlling the spotted lanternfly.   Neem oil and insecticidal soap provided some control, but results varied, and insects sometimes took several days to die.

Other items of interest.
Some good news. State Farmland Funding Update. 
Want low taxes? Preserve Farmland

STATE FARMLAND FUNDING UPDATE

FARMLAND FUNDING UPDATE
Very good news as of this morning. I’m happy to report the proposed $27M taking from the Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Fund did NOT happen. The revenue package that passed this AM (Thursday) no longer included previously targeted easement money.

For Lehigh Co. this means our remaining committed funds are SAFE. So, the 13 holdover 2017 County Farms that were in danger of losing their funding will now move forward with preservation. And we remain in excellent shape to continue to move down the 84 farm waitlist over the next two years.

I want to thank the Association of farmland preservation directors for providing the factual information to back up our argument that the funds targeted were indeed not “surplus” but rather funds already committed and encumbered towards the intended goal of preserving farms! I’m hearing that our advocacy made a big difference.

I want to personally thank PA State Rep. Ryan Mackenzie for taking the time to listen. He met with me last Saturday and heard our concerns. Today, he reached out to let me know the “raid” was off. And later it was confirmed by the Dept. of Agriculture and State Association of Farmland Preservation Directors. Again, this is very good news for our community!

The goal of a no tax increase and debt free budget is important. I am rooting for that. We are taxed enough in this state. That is a goal I completely support. When this issue was initially brought up I said there has got to be a way to do that without impacting the critical farmland preservation program. Turns out there was! And I thank the Taxpayer Caucus for keeping their eyes on the prize but also listening to constituents. Government works best when elected officials are in tune with the people.

While this isn’t completely over yet we’re in very good shape. The budget process continues. Now the Senate and House must agree on a final package. I understand the State Senate is still proposing a budget that includes debt. I’m hopeful that is avoided in the final package.

Farmland Preservation Funding Letter

Rep. Ryan Mackenzie
Ryan Mackenzie <rmackenzie@pahousegop.com>

State Rep. Ryan Mackenzie,

I found this published list of targets that confirms your intent to raid designated farmland preservation funding. While I appreciate your work to deliver a revenue package without a tax hike, I need to argue strongly against targeting the Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Fund. Largely because the preface and many assumptions laid out in your budget overview are incorrect. Specifically two of the criteria in the outline establishing why programs are targeted do not apply to our program. 1.) “There would be no impact to operations of the fund.” and 2.) “Funds showed recurring unused balances.” As a strategy this makes sense. But these criteria do not apply to the Conservation Easement Program. In short the facts are: Less farms would be preserved in the immediate future and the program does not carry unused funding. 

First, this budgeted money has been coming from a dedicated revenue source, (cigarette tax revenue), since 1993. A second dedicated source was added in 2005. These funding sources have been in, and ought to remain in a silo.

Second, as I understand it, the crux of this budget is to target special funds that essentially “squirrel away” money beyond what is needed to operate for the current year. However, the agricultural easement program carries an encumbered balance by design. In fact the enabling legislation was drafted specifically to allow for that.

The reason is obvious to anyone familiar with the program. As I certainly hope you know, preserving farmland can easily take more than a year to accomplish. A typical farmland preservation transaction across the state includes an application, an appraisal, title work, surveying, preparation of a sales agreement, approval by the county and state preservation boards and then settlement before any money is spent.

Consequently, prior to the recent August meeting of State Land Preservation Board, there was a balance of approximately $58 million of unspent state preservation funds. That includes funding from 2015, 2016 and 2017. State law allows three years for these funds to be spent. The $58 million balance is encumbered money. It is not a surplus.

So rubber to the road, how will removing this money impact Lehigh County? Right out the gates, we have 13 farms totaling 700 acres that are holdover applications from last year. The preservation of these farms is dependent on dedicated monies waiting to be spent. If this revenue is cut from the budget, most of these farms will not be preserved. This will certainly anger not only the current program applicants who are anxiously waiting to be paid for selling off their development rights, but it will create distrust and doubt among other farm owners who are considering joining the program. It will also be a betrayal of the county taxpayer who have committed money to the program on the promise that the state will also ante up.

The Lehigh County program currently has almost $2.2 million worth of farmland development rights approved by the State Board but waiting to receive the participating checks from the state. Another $1.3 million in development rights purchases are in the county preservation pipeline.

This totals almost $3.5 million worth of county development rights, most of which will not be preserved if your proposal to cut the dedicated state contribution is enacted.
The state money is not just “sitting there”. It is already encumbered and allocated to be spent for the farmland preservation goals supported consistently by supermajorities of PA voters. Every single dollar allocated will be spent to that end.

In conclusion, I encourage you to come to our next county farmland preservation board meeting to learn more about the process and how the proposed budget directly impacts our preservation efforts and runs completely contrary to the county’s preservation efforts and progress. I’ve also included a list of resources for you below that demonstrate the broad public support for farmland Preservation in Lower Macungie and other communities you represent but also the greater Lehigh Valley.

Ron Beitler
Treasurer – Lehigh Co. Agricultural Preservation Board
Vice President – Lower Macungie Twp. Board of Commissioners
RonBeitler@gmail.com

Resources:
Southwest Regional Comprehensive Plan
Renew LV farmland preservation survey
Lehigh Co. Farmland Preservation Board

State House preparing a Raid of Farmland Preservation funding

Supporters of Farmland Preservation. Please take a moment to read this.

Neighbors,

Because of the predictability of a stable designated revenue stream, Pennsylvania has distinguished itself as a national leader in farmland preservation, having preserved more farms and more farmland than any other state in the country. As a member of the Lehigh Co. Farmland Preservation Board we receive updates of the ongoing process to resolve PA’s budget shortfall as it relates to the program.

The latest we’re hearing is that a revenue package being discussed in the House would not only raid the Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Fund (a dedicated stream of cigarette tax revenue) but could also retroactively take funding away from Counties that’s already been allocated in this and prior years. This is the only state funding source for preservation. 

In addition to targeting the dedicated revenue source, we have been warned the legislature is also targeting the fund balances. Prior to the August State Farmland Board meeting, there was a balance of approximately $58 Million of State funds. That includes funding from 2015, 2016 and 2017. Understanding why there is a fund balance is important. The State Board is permitted, by law, to spend those funds over three years. Since preserving a farm can take more than one years time the law was written to give Counties three years to spend state funds. While this makes it look like the money is a “surplus” or “just sitting there.” it’s not. That money in Lehigh Co. is allocated to farms ready to be preserved. The process just takes time. Again, once a farm is selected and an offer is made to a landowner it’s only the beginning of a long process that must be completed before the “check goes in the mail” so to speak. A typical transaction often includes an appraisal, title work, survey, agreement by lien holders, approval by the county and State, as well as time for the farmer, their family and advisors to fully consider this permanent decision. Frequently, it takes more than a year to complete the preservation of a single farm.

Remember, not only is all this money already allocated to farms Lehigh Co. we also have an extensive wait list. So in short, robbing this funding will mean less farms preserved over the next few years. This is extra concerning right now because of the current multi-year commitment from Lehigh Co. to fund our local municipal match program. All the work to secure local funding and planning done by local municipalities could be up-ended. Lower Mac has already and likely will continue to take advantage of the municipal match program. But that opportunity would be limited if the coffers are raided. This would directly hurt a lot of collective and collaborative efforts between Lehigh County and municipalities like Lower Mac, Upper Mac, Lower Milford and Upper Milford.

I wanted to get this information out ASAP. Moving forward, next week I will spearhead a letter writing campaign to state leaders asking them NOT to RAID preservation funding. This crisis has been largely self created through decades of mismanagement of the state budget. The state house returns to session on September 11. (yes they are taking a break in the middle of a budget crisis). During that time, they need to hear this is unacceptable. 

Sadly, raiding dedicated funding sources is unfortunately not a new scheme. As many of you know the state legislature has been doing this for years with the gas tax. (which of course was just increased) by dipping into it for now many purposes beyond from it’s original intent.

Stay tuned for more information on this and how you can help.

Thank you,
Ron
Lower Mac Commissioner.
Lehigh County Farmland Preservation Board.

The Kirby Farm in Lower Macungie Twp. was preserved this year in part with state funding. The same funding that has been targeted by the legislature to balance the budget.

 

Charlottesville.

Not as front and center in the broader conversation are that two state troopers died yesterday in Charlottesville. Their deaths are no more or less tragic than anyone else’s but the circumstances surrounding them ought to be discussed.
 

Lt. Cullen and Trooper Burke died yesterday while performing their jobs in response to White Nationalist scumbags who decided to interject themselves in a LOCAL issue. More specifically, a LOCAL decision to relocate a statue ( important to note – built 60 years after the end of the civil war and during the height of Jim Crow laws) and rename a city park.

 
This group of mostly organized outsiders descended on a college town to agitate. They did so armed with chanting and torches. The outsiders were then predictably met with counter protesters. (Mostly local college students but also including out of town club wielding “antifa” members). Because of this catalyst and subsequent predictable chain of events – the town and state were forced to spend large sums of taxpayer money and dedicate resources including manpower to logistics and crowd control. While performing part of that duty two troopers died yesterday.
 
The city should have DENIED any permits for this event. While you have the 1st amendment right to be a scumbag in this nation, you do not have the first amendment right to command taxpayer resources for your protection because of the style in which you choose to express those rights. For example, when it includes an organized march, chanting and torches.
 
Apparently as early as Friday night demonstrations which included the white nationalists chanting “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us” were deemed by local law enforcement as unlawful assemblies. Bottom line is when a point is reached that the manner in which you choose to exercise your free speech becomes a public danger, then there is a public obligation to protect the community including the lives of the first responders. Whether on the fringes of the right (white nationalists) or the left (antifa for example) an organization that incites or promotes violence in public spaces should be labeled as domestic terrorists and prevented from organizing.

*Update
It appears the community did try to address the issue and move the rally prior to the event but a federal judge intervened. 
A federal judge on Friday granted an injunction allowing the far-right Unite the Right rally to be held in Emancipation Park in the shadow of the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.” This seems to me like an unfortunate interpretation of “fire in a movie theater“. Free speech does not include that which would be directed to and likely to incite imminent lawless action. (riots, violence) The moment this permit was granted that exact scenario became likely. 

Aug 3rd agenda preview – Lower Mac Board of Commissioners

FYI I’ve been very busy with work and new baby lately so this week since we have a very short agenda I decided to do the preview on facebook live. You can check it out here!

Hope folks find these previews useful. (FYI, you should not need a facebook account to access since my page is public). If anyone has trouble accessing let me know. As always any questions let me know at ronbeitler@gmail.com.

Here is the link to the agenda including details.

Topics include:

  • Proclamation for the retirement of Sharon Colson! (Happy Retirement!)
  • Intermunicipal liqour license transfer (Outback steak house)
  • Letter from Lehigh County Authority about stream monitoring
  • Manhole maintanance bid award
  • Update on proposed Cedar Crest and Minesite traffic signal (9:30)
  • Firefighter tax credits (10:30)
  • Dragonfly Ln.
  • Budget workshop schedule

No more subsidies for farmland development projects.

For the last few years, it’s been the philosophy of the current Board of Commissioners to not accept dedication of new public roads in neighborhoods built on farmland. The latest examples are the Stone Hill Meadows project and the proposed 17 lot estate plan over on the Farr Tract. The township is done taking on long term financial responsibilities for new infrastructure liabilities. The same goes for stormwater facilities.

Note: This doesn’t impact projects approved before last two years. Only new ones. If you live in a neighborhood built before this year and you have roads still maintained by the developer and the township is meant to take them over that’s still happening. This is only on new projects moving forward. 

New neighborhoods built on farmland must now have internal private roads maintained in perpetuity by newly formed resident HOA’s consisting of folks who buy homes in that neighborhood. This reflects the townships evolving smart growth philosophy. The township desires to guide new growth away from our remaining farmland and towards existing infrastructure and appropriate corridors where investments have already been made.

New subdivisions built on large parcels of farmland are no longer a desirable outcome in our township. Preservation is now the highest priority. Where we cannot preserve for whatever reason, developers must now take into consideration the full cost of maintaining roads themselves in perpetuity when figuring out financial considerations. Note: While we are no longer taking ownership of new roads, we are still requiring all new private roads be built to township engineering standards. We’re just finished with assuming new long term obligations.

Therefore in an effort to be entirely up front it’s important developers and landowners understand and account for this when considering due diligence for projects in Lower Mac.

The underlying rationale and basis for this viewpoint is the fact that new residential development costs us more in new liabilities than it produces in new tax revenue. When a subdivision is built the township gets new revenue. But the problem is with certain types of greenfield (built on farmland) projects – new costs always exceed new revenue. This includes items like road repair, sewer maintenance, and increased demand on public schools. Studies show a residential subdivision typically costs a community 1.30-1.40 in new liabilities for every 1.00 in new revenue. This is of course a losing transaction. The easiest way to address this at least in part is to refuse any new infrastructure we’re not under obligation to take.  And for the past year and moving forward we aren’t.

Further to this end I also want to explore ways we can ensure homebuyers considering units in new projects are informed of the responsibility they are entering into when they buy into a neighborhood with private infrastructure maintained by an HOA. That prime responsibility being the perpetual maintenance obligations of all new internal infrastructure. There are ways the township can accomplish this by requiring by ordinance notification during a purchase process. Realtors for whatever reason often don’t do a good job elaborating the long term maintenance obligations and new homeowners are caught flat footed.

To be clear, Lower Mac has a number of wonderful thriving and financially resilient HOA communities. Over the years many developers have proactively chosen HOA arrangements and sought private road networks for a host of reasons. This is especially prevalent in our fantastic over 55 communities. The overwhelming majority of which have rock solid long term finances and plan accordingly for the future to maintain their communities. One however in the past few years has made overtures to the township to “take over” their internal private road network. The answer from the township was of course no. Again, at this point in our growth evolution Lower Mac is finished taking new roads.

#Nonewroads

 

HB1285 would enable Lower Mac to completely eliminate residential property taxes

A currently proposed state constitutional amendment – in the form of HB1285 – would enable Lower Mac to completely eliminate residential property taxes for qualifying homestead properties.

Note: This is not the same issue as SB76 – School property tax elimination. That’s the Bill to completely eliminate school property taxes by shifting funding to increased sales and income taxes. That’s a separate conversation with unique and different pro’s and con’s. 

While SB76 addresses school taxes, it does not address any reform of local township taxes. To that end HB1285 would allow Lower Mac to expand our current reduction program and entirely eliminate municipal property taxes for residential homes in in the township. Therefore, in addition to SB76 I also support the constitutional amendment to expand the Homestead Exclusion.

If you recall, when I came into office one of the first major proposals I made was to institute the homestead exclusion. We did it to the max allowed over a two year phase in. The result was reducing and in some cases completely eliminating the township property tax for homeowners. 90% of residents over a two year timeframe got a reduction. HB1285 would allow the complete elimination. Something I would then immediately argue for should the amendment pass.

It is a long and tough process to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution. It takes a majority approval of two consecutive sessions of the General Assembly followed by an approval of the majority of voters. HB1285 has now been passed in two consecutive sessions, so I believe the next step is the voters. (I am confirming my understanding)

How would this work:
Currently, for some unknown reason the state Constitution only allows exclusion of 50% of the median assessed value of residential properties within the taxing district. Lower Mac has instituted that to the maximum currently allowed. While that has provided relief, it remains un-necessarily capped by the state. HB147 fixes that and amends the state Constitution to allow municipalities to entirely eliminate qualifying residential property taxes. Commercial and Industrial users including ultra impactful warehouses and also investment properties would still be subject to the townships very low property tax millage. (one of the lowest in the County)

This has been used successfully on the municipal end. With Lower Mac being a prime example. If this were to pass at the earliest possible point I would begin the budget conversations to eliminate residential property taxes entirely in Lower Macungie.

Here is a link to my original argument for initiating the homestead program originally. The program has been a success giving residents a needed break. While our taxes are already some of the lowest in the Lehigh Valley, we have to be aware of the cumulative impact including taxes from other governing bodies we can’t control. We must remember we don’t levy taxes in a vacuum.