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Representative Jerry Stern speaks out on passage of Pennsylvania economic stimulus package

Representative Jerry Stern (R-Blair) is speaking out about the House passage of a $1 billion economic stimulus package for Pennsylvania.
The package is designed to create new jobs in the state’s top industries along with promoting economic opportunity in the state’s rural areas. Some other highlights of the package include promoting old industrial sites for new uses and providing venture capital for start-up companies.
“I have particular interest in the First Industries Program, which is included in the package and geared specifically toward agricultural and tourism development. The program has set aside $100 million over four years in financial assistance for projects related to the agricultural industry in Pennsylvania.”
Funds amounting to $40 million have also been set aside for tourism as part of the First Industries Program.
“I have worked to make sure this program, unlike many other economic development programs, therefore, does not leave out sectors of the agricultural industry,” said Stern. “I am proud to report this is truly applicable to all areas of agriculture and the program is broad enough to offer opportunities for a wide variety of agricultural-related projects across the state.
Stern also spoke about another component of the stimulus package involving funds to the Department of Community and Economic Development for military base-related issues.
“Also, as subcommittee chairman for Military Facilities and Veterans Homes, I am pleased to have additional funding dedicated to the Base Retention and Conversion Pennsylvania Action Committee,” said Stern. “The funds will be used to develop a strategy for economic impact studies and infrastructure needs assessment, as well as other purposes related to the potential for military base closures.
“This package is a solid addition to the other economic development initiatives we have already passed to stimulate job development in Pennsylvania,” said Stern. “However, there are still many long-term changes that need to be implemented if we are to remain competitive in the global market.”
The Legislature approved the $1.1 billion in bonding on Wednesday to help companies expand and municipalities attract businesses, moving a large chunk of the $2 billion in borrowing that Gov. Ed Rendell first proposed last year an important step closer to reality.
Before the bill passed the Senate on Wednesday night, the Republicans who control that chamber held it up for a few hours until they received a concession from Rendell to review the prevailing-wage rules for projects financed with state funds.
The $1.1 billion would be issued over at least four years. Of that, about $1 billion would be low-interest loans distributed directly to businesses and loan guarantees to banks, venture-capital firms and municipalities or public development agencies.
The legislation singles out the manufacturing, biotech, high-tech, agricultural, and tourism sectors, among others, for help.
While Republicans have expressed discomfort with the potential cost of the borrowing, even the highest estimates of how Pennsylvania’s annual debt payments could rise were well below the level considered prohibitive by the credit-rating and research firm, Standard & Poor’s.
Rendell and other Democrats characterize the borrowing as an investment that would pay for itself.
The bonding, they say, would leverage billions more in economic investment by businesses and municipalities, resulting in an improving economy and a broader tax base to share the cost.
Another part of Rendell’s proposed $2 billion in borrowing advanced Wednesday when the House passed a separate bill that would raise the state’s debt ceiling to help fund more public improvement projects, such as museums or parks, by $640 million to $2.2 billion.
Senate Republicans said they would not consider that bill until Rendell compromised on the prevailing-wage rules that business advocates say balloon the cost of state-financed construction projects.
The extra $640 million would be distributed as grants and would mean a taxpayer obligation of $920 million over 20 years or so, House Republicans said.
The other portion of Rendell’s $2 billion proposal is pending voter authorization on the April 27 primary ballot. That portion, $250 million in borrowing to help finance municipal water and sewer projects, will likely be split between grants and loans.
(The Associated Press contributed to this article.)