The 400 Million Dollar Question

Originally posted at the Capitol Domes, a new blog from the Central Pennsylvania Business Journal.

How will you vote on November 4?

No, I’m not talking about the race for the White House. Nor am I talking about the Congressional or state House and Senate races. I’m talking about the “Water and Sewer Improvements Bond Referendum.”

I know, I know, it’s not sexy election stuff, but how you vote will determine whether you will put my children into further debt.

Right now, the average citizen in Pennsylvania has a state and local government debt burden of nearly $9,000. But Harrisburg wants to add more. $400 million more.

Here’s the question you’ll see on the ballot:

Do you favor the incurring of indebtedness by the Commonwealth of $400,000,000 for grants and loans to municipalities and public utilities for the cost of all labor, materials, necessary operational machinery and equipment, lands, property, rights and easements, plans and specifications, surveys, estimates of costs and revenues, prefeasibility studies, engineering and 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, storm water, nonpoint source projects, nutrient credits and wastewater treatment system projects?

Most likely, voters will overwhelmingly approve this measure, just as they have in the past. You see, Harrisburg politicians are OK with asking for your approval of more spending on questions like, “Do you want clean water?” Who can vote against that?

But Gov. Rendell and the General Assembly never ask us if we want to go into massive bonded debt to pay $45 million for a soccer stadium in Chester County, $35 million for a baseball stadium in Lackawanna County, $250 million for a cargo airport in Hazle Township, $12.5 million for a 200-room lodge in Tioga County, or a slew of other pork barrel projects. They just do it like they did last July when they borrowed more than $3 billion on the taxpayers’ credit card.

My friend Eric Epstein, despite agreeing that we’re already too far in debt, says he’s voting “yes” on the measure. Why? Well, he doesn’t trust our elected officials to redirect money away from stadiums and other pet projects to take care of these core infrastructure issues.

Personally, I’m voting “no” because I’m tired of allowing them to not take responsibility for failing to prioritize the spending of our money. I’m saying “no” to more debt and telling them to use the billions of dollars of debt they’ve already strapped my kids with.

So, how are you voting? Before you answer, get some more background on the measure here.