off by 3.6% this year, in spite of a state budget that balances the books by reducing public education funding by $1.1 billion. The state has imposed "draconian" cuts in funding to Ben Franklin Technology Partners', located in Bethlehem, too. According to State Senator Pat Browne, dwindling state revenues make these cuts necessary. "We have been in a trough, a serious trough," he laments to a reporter. What the good Senator fails to point out, however, is that he dug the hole about which he now so sadly complains. He helped draft legislation that gives major tax breaks to well-heeled entrepreneurs, so that those on the brink, can continue to suffer.
All in the name of hockey.
Back in 2009, Browne and State Rep. Jennifer Mann, in a bi-partisan thumb of the nose to those of us who struggle making ends meet, slipped a little piece of language into a Fiscal Code update, which was supposed to clarifying the definitions of "little cigars" and "cigarettes." $28 million - that's a lot of cigarillos - is buried in an infrastructure line item for something brand new - the "Neighborhood Improvement Zone." To be fair, that program is available for any local government with a population between 106,000 and 107,000 in the 2000 census. It's certainly nobody's fault that the only local government fitting this bill just happens to be Allentown.
Aside from the outright grant, what's really repulsive about this is that taxes that should go to the state, to pay for things like schoolbooks and Medical Assistance, will instead be funding a J.B. Reilly development, helping him get richer.
Senator Browne, incidentally, was a tenant in J. B. Reilly's building at 8th and Hamilton. He's now a tenant in J. B. Reilly's building at 7th and Hamilton. Just a coincidence, I'm sure.
Lehigh Gas has already abandoned Bethlehem to move into this brand new neighborhood zone, depriving the state of whatever tax money is generated by the 70 people it employs.
There go a few more schoolbooks.
How much state tax revenue will be lost every year? That's hard to say. It depends on how many businesses move in. Some say $10 million per year, but I suspect the final figure will be much higher. Helpful as ever, the state has set up a web page to make it easier for businesses in that district to help J.B. Reilly. Who knows how long this NIZ will last.
To be frank, the NIZ is NUTZ.
I'd like to tell you about Reilly's campaign contributions, but the state site seems to be inoperable since it was "improved."
Noon Update: While the NIZ does provide for dollars that could be used to offset new development costs in the zone, the rules for their use - as Michael Molovinsky has aptly pointed out - were only revealed after the "yellow peril" retailers were displaced. Besides, if you really read the rules and guidelines, the ACIDA - or perhaps the new "super" authority being created - can be quite arbitrary in their dispensing of NIZ dollars. ACIDA, for example, is the same authority that approved the lease with the Brooks Group for the Arena without even seeing it.