Corbett cuts community development funds

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The second largest cut in Corbett’s budget is to the Department of Community and Economic Development, which would see a $114 million cut. The department has been criticized as a vehicle for politicians to garner votes by funding pet projects with “walking around money,” that is doing little to develop local economies.

In his address, Corbett said a business owner would need a “Sherpa” to find his way through the DCED bureaucracy. No more.

“Where once there were 127 programs, there are now 56. I think that’s a manageable number and a better way of keeping track,” he said. “Additionally, we have straight-out eliminated line items that produced little more than spending. We have set a goal. We’re looking for results. We’re looking for new jobs, not votes.”

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said the cuts would negatively affect programs designed to invest in neighborhood business districts and to reclaim properties after demolition.

“It will certainly impact any project in the pipeline,” he said.

However, Ravenstahl said Corbett’s decision to continue the tax credit program for the Pittsburgh Film Office, which the mayor lobbied extensively for, will continue to benefit the city by drawing more Hollywood movie productions to the city.

Yarone Zober, Urban Redevelopment Authority board chair, said the agency is in “reactive mode” because it will not have a definitive idea of what priorities may need to be shifted until the budget process is complete.

“At this point everything in the pipeline is going forward, but we’ll have to see about future projects,” he said. “Presumably, residential recovery projects in the Hill, North Side, the Hill Top communities like Beltzhoover—when they come to us with proposals, we may not have the funds.”

Rob Stephany, authority executive director, saw both pros and cons in the DECD cuts. He said the budget would eliminate funds for Elm Street and Main Street beautification programs, which are supposed to stimulate development in business districts and adjoining residential neighborhoods. Both programs received $720,000 for the current fiscal year.

The budget would also cut programs for infrastructure development and housing redevelopment that recently garnered the URA more than $5 million.

But while there may be losses in the short term, Stephany said he is intrigued by Corbett’s proposed plan to foster both competition and cooperation among development groups via a $25 million competitive grant pool.

“For this year I think its okay but going forward it’s underfunded. But the idea of a fund without myopically restrictive regulation is great for groups working at the grass-roots level whose projects may not fit into these restrictive smaller funds he plans to merge,” said Stephany.

While he supports the governor trying to reduce the $4 billion debt that has accumulated over the last decade of deficit spending, Stephany said, on the other hand the cuts to DCED are “close to an evisceration of development support from the state.”

“I think the Liberty Fund idea is insightful and can be beneficial,” he said. “I think the governor wants to invest in the future, but right now with small amounts of money.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpitts­burghcourier.com.)

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