The State College Borough Council is in the process of reviewing its 2013 legislative priorities — a list of issues and concerns on which the borough and Pennsylvania Municipal League will work together to lobby the state and federal governments for support, State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham said.
The priorities, some of which have been lobbying points for 15 years, include actions to help reduce financial strain on the borough through granting authority to levy new taxes, Goreham said.
“Restrictions on local taxes are pretty strict,” Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said. “The proposal is to expand where cost is driven locally,” such as sales and alcohol taxes.
Gaining the legal authority to levy tax on the sale of alcohol has been a priority for years because many of the incidents the State College Police Department respond to are related to alcohol, though there has been little movement forward on this priority, Fountaine said.
Goreham said that other legislation has been passed in recent years that helps to address the alcohol concern, including an increase on maximum fines for minors convicted of alcohol-related offenses. A separate alcohol prevention fee has also been proposed, but Goreham said she doubts the proposal will pass.
Borough Council President Don Hahn said even if the borough is granted the authority to levy an alcohol tax, there is no guarantee that the tax would be enforced.
“If you raise a per-drink tax, you get less interest in going to bars,” Hahn said. “At the same time, it doesn’t really affect those who organize parties and may not do as good a job at carding.”
Hahn said that the borough will also support legislation to expand the local earned income tax to include “personal income,” meaning retiree income would be included in income taxes.
Many of these priorities overlap with the legislative agendas of both the Pennsylvania Municipal League and the National League of Cities, both of which the borough is a member of, Hahn said.
The Municipal League releases an annual report called the Core Communities in Crises report that analyzes the financial status of “core communities” — areas such as State College that include a mix of residential, retail, and industrial uses.
“Essentially, the core community report is to trying to address the tax base issues regarding core communities and the fact that so many are in financial distress,” Hahn said. He added that this report is the basis for many of the tax priorities of the borough.
Hahn said that the borough will also continue to support legislation that funds the Community Development Block Grant program — a federal government grant for low-income cities which State College qualifies for because of the often low income level of students.
The block grant, which has “been subject to cuts almost since it started in the [1970s],” doesn’t specify for what the grant must used and is often used by the borough for infrastructure repair such as roads and sewage, Hahn said.
Fountaine said it was difficult to predict which priorities may see action or legislation in the coming year.
“We’re still pretty new in the year with where things are in terms of legislation,” Fountaine said.