Fiscal Policy and Governance Committee
The Fiscal Policy and Governance committee develops policy solutions for issues related to the administration and delivery of services to Southwestern Pennsylvania residents. The committee focuses on an array of topics, including land banks, the future of libraries, municipal pensions, and government innovation.
Summary of Current Initiatives
Local Government Finance Initiative
As Southwestern Pennsylvania has grappled with the public health and economic challenges caused by the spread of COVID-19, strains in our governmental systems have become increasingly visible. The statewide closure of nonessential businesses has sent economic shockwaves through the region, especially among our most vulnerable communities. Across Pennsylvania, people, businesses, and communities are facing significant economic stresses and, in many cases, long-term economic impacts.
The personal hardships of our region’s residents are also causing a significant decrease in revenue for many local governments. In 2020, the University of Pittsburgh Center for Metropolitan Studies estimated that Southwestern Pennsylvania municipal revenue losses for 2020 are expected to range from approximately $123 million to $485 million. Many local governments in response to these losses furloughed and laid off employees. For our region’s local governments, these revenue losses will have a profound effect on their financial health and ability to deliver effective municipal services.
Fortunately, many municipalities, which depend mainly on earned income and property taxes, have not yet felt the brunt of revenue losses thanks to stimulus measures from the federal and state government. The 2021 American Rescue Plan Act provided additional funding to state and local governments that should offset many of the revenue losses and expenses local governments have experienced during the pandemic. Longer term issues around potential property tax revenue losses from commercial properties reassessments or a potential drawn out economic downturn could create near term revenue impacts for local governments. This delay in lost revenue provides the region with an opportunity to act before municipalities are significantly impacted.
In response to this crisis, the IOP convened its Fiscal Policy and Governance Committee to formulate a coordinated multi-pronged, collaborative response to the loss of critical tax revenue. The Institute envisions taking on a project that will provide local governments with guidance and resources to help inform their financial decision-making in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The committee plans to examine ways to:
- increase municipal revenue flexibility,
- foster intergovernmental cooperation,
- promote basic municipal government standards,
- and increase local government administrative and budgeting capacity.
Within these areas the Institute will work with its community partners to coordinate technical assistance and educational opportunities. Additionally, the committee will work to create a set of policy reforms to present best practices for municipalities regarding budgeting and municipal shared services, as well as legislative and/or rulemaking changes for the Pennsylvania General Assembly and Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. The reforms will look to improve the long-term sustainability of Pennsylvania’s municipalities.
The issues to be addressed in this initiative are both timely and critically important to our region. Through the delivery of essential public services, municipal governments give us a unique sense of place and community. Through this initiative and the work of our partners, we hope to preserve the vitality and sustainability of Pennsylvania’s municipal governments. The committee will be releasing its recommendations in a report set to be released in early summer 2021.
Ongoing and/or Completed Projects
Voluntary Municipal Disincorporation
Many municipalities throughout Allegheny County are struggling to deliver high-quality municipal services because of shrinking tax bases and state funding cuts. Without these necessary services, residents and businesses are deprived of basic public safety, needed infrastructure improvements, and economic opportunities.
Recognizing this need, the Allegheny County executive requested that the Institute investigate the tool of voluntary municipal disincorporation. This tool allows a struggling municipality to voluntarily dissolve into the country in which it is located. The county would then provide municipal services to the former municipality in exchange for a tax or fee. The theory is that efficient and effective services can be delivered by the county by stretching revenue with economies of scale and by removing administrative redundancies. Disincorporation does not currently exist in Pennsylvania except under the newly revised Act 47 legislation pertaining to distressed municipalities. However, it is an available tool in 38 states, including the neighboring states of Maryland, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia.
Read more about voluntary municipal disincorporation.
Understand the Potential of Land Banks in Pennsylvania
In June 2013, the Fiscal Policy and Governance Committee hosted a forum designed to educate attendees on recently passed legislation authorizing the creation of land banks across the state. The forum provided an overview of the Pennsylvania legislation and offered examples of several land bank models that currently exist in various parts of the nation. The forum was also acknowledged as a starting point for community dialogue. The committee, along with Institute staff, will continue to monitor ongoing activity surrounding the topic of land banks.
The Future of Our Libraries
In November 2013, the Fiscal Policy and Governance Committee partnered with the Allegheny County Library Association (ACLA) and the Carnegie Libraries of Pittsburgh (CLP) to provide a symposium on the future of libraries with a focus on how libraries can keep pace with technological changes and provide services and programs for the future, while also meeting the needs and demands of more traditional patrons. The program addressed dwindling resources and explored the benefits of collaborative, administrative, functional, and structural strategies capable of meeting the needs of consumers and libraries in the 21st Century. Two hundred library affiliates and local government officials attended the forum. The ACLA and CLP are currently in the next phase of their work, which involves a public engagement campaign as well as the establishment of a Blue-Ribbon Commission, created to generate policy and programmatic strategies that will enhance libraries as critical learning and social centers in our communities.
The Fiscal Policy & Governance Committee is cochaired by:
- The Honorable Rich Fitzgerald, Chief Executive, Allegheny County
- Mr. Fredrick W. Thieman, Henry Buhl Jr. Chair for Civic Leadership, The Buhl Foundation
Click here for a complete list of committee members.
The Fiscal Policy & Governance Committee is carefully crafted to be balanced and represent a variety of stakeholders. However, we occasionally have spots available for members in certain sectors who may be underrepresented on the committee. Please contact Briana Mihok at 412-624-7792 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have an interest in serving as a member.
The following publications issued by the Institute are related to the focus areas of the Fiscal Policy and Governance Committee:
- Aaron Lauer, Voluntary Municipal Disincorporation: Creative Solutions for Counties of the Second Class (University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics, 2017)
- Bill Schlachter, Morton Coleman, and Nicholas Anway, Key Challenges and Strategies for Local Government (University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics, 2011)
- What to Do about Municipal Pensions (University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics, 2009)
- Louise Comfort and Carrie Miller, Intergovernmental Communication and Cooperation: Networks vs. Hierarchy in Dynamic Environments (University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics, 2004)
- Louise Comfort and Carrie Miller, The Media's Role in High Risk Conditions: Community "Right to Know" vs. Public Information Management (University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics, 2004)
- Clarke Thomas, Fixing What Ain't All Broke: The Governance Dilemma (University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics, 1998)
- Clarke Thomas, Fortunes and Misfortunes: Pittsburgh & Allegheny County Politics, 1930-95 (University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics, 1996)
- Clarke Thomas, State Mandated Services (University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics, 1996)
- Elizabeth Beck, Election and the Electorate Today (University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics, 1995)
- Clarke Thomas, The Future of American Cities (University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics, 1994)
- Clarke Thomas, Invisible Governments: Pennsylvania's Municipal Authorities (University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics, 1991)