In 2005, CF advised against passing Gov. Rendell’s Growing Greener II initiative because far better alternatives than increasing Pennsylvania’s debt load could have been used to save farmlands and clean up the environment.
This week, the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee released their 5 year review of the Growing Greener II bond program. $371.6 million has been spent so far and it is clear taxpayers are not getting a bang for their buck. Growing Greener bonds will result in $253.4 million remain in additional spending, expected to be spent by the end of next year. Here is how the money has been spent:
- $74.5 million to purchase 316 farmland easement projects by the Department of Agriculture.
- $45 million to create 1,500 jobs, cosmetic improvements to 41 buildings, remediate 1 site, and construct 4 new buildings by the Department of Community and Economic Development.
- $148.9 million to purchase outright and easements of 42,357 acres of open spaces by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
- $94.5 million to remediate 46 abandoned mine projects and plug 239 orphaned or leaking oil and gas wells by the Department of Environmental Protection.
- The report also found the Fish and Boat Commission and the Game Commission together have spent $21.1 million, however, the study concluded it was not possible to measures the outcomes of these projects.
Already folks like PennFuture’s CEO Jan Jarrett and Rep. Kate Harper are advocating more Growing Greener bonds–proving that nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program. Yet it is hard to justify the cost with the benefits. DCED has used the money to do multiple sidewalk improvements, improve lighting in City blocks, renovate buildings, and restore historic looks to structures. While all of these are positive improvements they should be left to nonprofit groups and private investors. If the program worked as expected, we shouldn’t need an extension; if it didn’t, there’s no reason to go deeper into debt.
Indeed the burden of debt is ever growing on PA taxpayers. Growing Greener II debt for bonds issued isn’t expected to be paid back until 2029 (that does not include the $250 million still left to be spent).
A better alternate to saving farmlands would be to eliminate the state’s inheritance tax, making it easier for family farms to be passed down, instead of sold. Further, it is far better to reduce Pennsylvania’s high tax climate and allow individuals to donate their money to support land preservation.