The referendum asks voters if they support allocating $400 million to help communities throughout the Commonwealth fund necessary upgrades to wastewater and drinking water facilities.
Help is needed for many of Pennsylvania’s 2,200 drinking water systems and 1,060 wastewater systems in order to meet federal and state environmental requirements, ensure clean drinking water, and clean up pollution discharges into our rivers and streams.
In some areas of Pennsylvania, such as the Susquehanna and Potomac River watersheds, there are specific mandates to reduce nutrient pollution from wastewater plants to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay. 184 plants in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are faced with these requirements, at a cost estimated to be over $1 billion.
Wastewater plants in other watersheds throughout Pennsylvania may also soon be required to reduce nutrient discharges as a result of the federal Clean Water Act’s “Total Maximum Daily Load” program.
Many systems are also aging or past their service life and are in desperate need of repairs or replacement. The total cost is substantial. Maintenance, upgrades and replacement costs may reach $20 billion across the state.
In the past, the state and federal governments have been willing partners with local ratepayers in financing water infrastructure projects, recognizing that local ratepayers should not shoulder the entire burden. Unfortunately, despite the need to upgrade our systems, in the last six years both water and sewer funds, totaling over $340 million, have been cut from the state budget. A similar cut of $42 million occurred from the federal budget.
Potential State Help
The General Assembly and Governor Rendell have recognized this problem. In July, two bills were signed into law – Senate Bill 2 (Earll, R-Erie) and Senate Bill 1341 (Musto, D-Luzerne) – which provide a total of $1.2 billion in funding for water and wastewater facilities, flood control measures and repairs for unsafe dams in areas outside Allegheny and Philadelphia counties. Together, these bills, now Acts 63 and 64 of 2008 respectively, will reestablish this state-local partnership to clean up our water.
Under Act 63, $800 million in assistance is already approved and funded through the state’s gaming proceeds. However, Act 64 still needs voter approval to take effect.
The November ballot will include a referendum asking voters whether they approve an additional $400 million, available statewide, for improvements to public drinking water and wastewater systems. This funding would be used for grants and loans to be administered by the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, better known as PENNVEST.
In addition to clean drinking water and cleaner rivers and streams, the investment of $400 million in public works projects will generate good-paying jobs locally and help stimulate Pennsylvania’s slowing economy. It also helps to provide economic opportunities for Pennsylvania’s families and businesses, who depend on sound water and sewer infrastructure to help generate desperately needed jobs and investment.
What You Will See On the Ballot
This is the actual wording of the question to appear on the Nov. 4 ballot:
Do you favor the incurring of indebtedness by the Commonwealth of $400,000,000 for grants & loans to municipalities and public utilities for the cost of all labor, materials, necessary operational machinery & equipment, lands, property, rights & easements, plans & specifications, surveys, estimates of costs & revenues, prefeasibility studies, engineering & legal services and all other expenses necessary or incident to the acquisition, construction, improvement, expansion, extension, repair or rehabilitation of all or part of drinking water system, stormwater, nonpoint source projects, nutrient credits and wastewater treatment system projects?
Thus ballot initiative has broad support, including the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association, Pennsylvania Builders Association, Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts.