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State of Pennsylvania November 2, 2010 Election
Smart Voter

The Onorato Plan for Strong Communities

By Dan "Onorato" Onorato

Candidate for Governor; State of Pennsylvania

This information is provided by the candidate
The Onorato Plan for Strong Communities Promoting Smart and Sustainable Growth Pennsylvania's cities, boroughs and towns are the lifeblood of the Commonwealth's economic potential and quality of life. As Governor, Dan Onorato will apply the lessons he has learned from successfully governing the state's second largest county for six years in order to strengthen communities across Pennsylvania. Under Onorato's leadership, Pennsylvania will leverage the untapped potential of its communities to make the state a more attractive place to work, live and raise a family.

Regional vitality is key to economic growth in the 21st century economy, and one of the state's most important responsibilities is to ensure that communities have the tools and resources they need to thrive. The economic fate of all of the Commonwealth's municipalities is deeply inter-related + yet a study by the non-partisan Brookings Institution found a "weakening [of] the state's established communities, undercutting the very places whose assets the state needs to compete in the knowledge economy."

Strengthening these core communities is an economic imperative which reaches into infrastructure, housing, local government reform and community development policy.

Aging assets + from housing stock to highways and bridges + put a strain on Pennsylvania communities and hinder economic and community development. Pennsylvania's infrastructure prognosis is especially stark, earning the state a "D" grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers. According to a 2008 report, about four in every 10 major roads in the state are rated "poor" or "mediocre"; far too many of Pennsylvania's bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete; and the state's drinking water infrastructure needs more than $10 billion of investment over the next two decades. While the needs are daunting, so is the opportunity: both infrastructure and housing investment create immediate jobs while laying the groundwork for long-term economic revitalization. Improving the fiscal health of Pennsylvania's municipalities is also an essential component of strengthening the state economy. The state has 2,562 municipalities and + including local authorities and all other government entities + more units of government than all but one state in the nation. It is necessary to address this fragmentation while preserving the Commonwealth's rich tradition of local control. A report by the Pennsylvania Economy League shows that the alternative is widespread economic distress: "The growing number of municipalities in fiscal decline impacts Pennsylvanians in rural, suburban and urban areas; in the north, south, east, west and places in between. It impacts businesses of all sizes and types. It already impacts over half of Pennsylvania's households. And based on revenue trends, it's only a matter of time until the rest of our municipalities are similarly affected + unless state leaders take heed and take action." A Proven Track Record: As Allegheny County Executive, Dan Onorato has focused on improving quality of life for county residents and delivering a positive environment for businesses to succeed and grow. Onorato's policies helped residents find homes they can afford and keep their homes during tough economic times. He created a first-time homebuyer's program and developed more than 2,700 homes that are affordable to working families and senior citizens on fixed incomes. When the economy went into recession, he created a program with the courts, sheriff and other agencies to help residents who were in danger of losing their homes.

In a recent report, Forbes Magazine concluded that the Pittsburgh region's housing market is "the best place to buy right now," declaring that + despite the national recession + the area has the best housing market in the United States because of "appreciating prices that show homeowners are making wise investments; an affordability rating that gives middle-class families with good credit entry into the market; and a relatively low number of foreclosures."

To ensure that homes remain affordable and to keep communities stable, Onorato delivered property tax relief and fought against an unfair property tax reassessment that could drive residents from their homes. Onorato has enacted six consecutive budgets without a property tax increase, and he increased the homestead exemption that delivers property tax relief by 50%. When the court ordered a reassessment that would serve as a back-door property tax hike for many homeowners, Onorato fought it all the way to the state Supreme Court.

Onorato has also focused on the needs of struggling communities + seeing their success as a lynchpin in his efforts to improve the entire county. Onorato launched Allegheny Together to provide funding to revitalize older core communities + leading to 50 new small businesses in eight historic business districts. He also launched an $18 million initiative to build 10 community centers that bring together county services, neighborhood social services, recreational facilities, computer labs, early childhood, and after-school and tutoring programs.

In addition, Onorato has promoted smart and sustainable growth through his commitment to meeting the region's transportation needs and to using transit-oriented development as a community and economic development strategy. For example, Onorato is making it possible to establish five new mixed-use residential and commercial developments that will take advantage of existing under-utilized access to public transportation.

A Vision for Pennsylvania's Future Dan Onorato sees community development and infrastructure investment as core components of his economic growth strategy. As Governor, Onorato will:
1. Strengthen Pennsylvania's downtowns and residential neighborhoods;
2. Protect taxpayers and make government more efficient and effective; and
3. Invest in job-creating sustainable infrastructure.

Strengthening Pennsylvania's Downtowns and Residential neighborhoods: Dan Onorato's experience in public service has been dedicated to building successful and stable communities. As Governor, Onorato will:

  • Make available quality homes within the reach of hard-working families. Hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania families struggle to find safe and affordable homes, and every dollar invested in housing generates between $1.62 and $2.28 in economic activity. Onorato will create a Pennsylvania Housing Trust Fund to increase housing options for working families + which will clear the way for an estimated $35 to $40 million in additional federal funds. Onorato will also be a strong supporter of the work and programs of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.
  • Help prevent foreclosures during tough economic times. Just as he has done as Allegheny County Executive, Onorato will bring together the courts, non-profit agencies and the legal and financial sectors to work on behalf of Pennsylvanians who are at risk of losing their homes. Onorato will aim to establish effective foreclosure prevention programs across the state based on successful models. Onorato will also support the Pennsylvania Homeowners' Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program. In addition, he will ensure that the Commonwealth's regulatory power is used to protect homeowners and he will expand efforts to provide financial counseling to potential homebuyers and encourage responsible lending practices.
  • Invest in the Commonwealth's historic central business districts and neighborhoods.Onorato understands that the success of metropolitan and rural areas depends in large measure on the vitality of their core communities. He will emphasize the importance of "tipping point" strategies that bring together key local partners to simultaneously address traditional revitalization, business and residential attraction, transportation planning and investment, educational improvement and public safety. Onorato will work to protect and grow the valuable Main Street and Elm Street programs as budget conditions allow.
  • Fight blight and work to revitalize struggling communities. Onorato will create land bank authorities and pursue other strategies to eliminate blight, attract private investment and get properties back on the tax rolls. He will also ensure that state laws both encourage repairs to properties when they are needed and that they provide appropriate incentives and tools to address abandoned property + including exploring ways to expedite the process of establishing a clear title for truly abandoned properties. In addition, Onorato will support local efforts to turn abandoned property that is not needed or is unlikely to be developed in the near-term into community assets such as neighborhood gardens and urban farms. Building on his successful remediation of 1,500 acres of brownfields as Allegheny County Executive, Onorato will pursue brownfield restoration statewide in order to return blighted land to productive use.
  • Establish a historic preservation tax credit. Onorato will make Pennsylvania one of the dozens of states that offer a historic preservation tax credit. This credit would protect and restore historic structures that can serve as a lynchpin in preventing communities from slipping into blight and in restoring neighborhoods with strong building stock but suffering from neglect. As described in his Plan for Sustainability, Onorato will support the establishment of a historic preservation tax credit as part of Growing Greener 3.
  • Use tourism and art/culture to promote local economic development. Tourism is one of Pennsylvania's leading industries, and Onorato will champion efforts to encourage tourism and ensure that rural, suburban and urban communities benefit from its economic impact. Onorato will also strongly support arts and culture, which can drive tourism,serve as regional economic anchors and improve quality of life for Pennsylvania residents.
  • Leverage the important work of Pennsylvania's non-profit and social service organizations. Onorato will pursue strategies that empower non-profit agencies to be successful in their community development and human service work and that signify that they are a key partner with the state. Onorato supports the establishment of a 2-1-1 hotline so that Pennsylvanians can connect to the services they need in their communities - just as nearly every other state in the nation has done. Protecting taxpayers and making government more efficient and effective Dan Onorato has made reforming government and improving efficiency hallmarks of his tenure as County Executive and his campaign for Governor.

As Governor, Onorato will:
  • Fix the state's broken property tax assessment system. The current patchwork + where some counties have not assessed since as far back as 1958 and others are forced to do so on an artificial timetable + hurts vulnerable communities and pits one county's economic development interests against another. Onorato will stop unfair reassessments by ensuring assessment rules that protect Pennsylvanians and are consistent and uniform. Onorato will insist on homeowner protections, and he will ensure that reassessment is never used as a tool for back-door property tax hikes or as a source of government windfalls.
  • Assist distressed municipalities. Onorato believes that for too many struggling communities, becoming an "Act 47" distressed municipality is a permanent sentence rather than a pathway to recovery. As Governor, he will emphasize technical assistance for municipalities that are on the verge of being labeled distressed and he will work with local officials and other stakeholders to revamp the current state law and ensure that distressed municipalities have additional tools, expertise and resources to turn-around their local governments. In addition, Onorato will work with local elected officials and the non-profit community to ensure that tax-exempt non-religious institutions are making reasonable and fair contributions to their communities.
  • Encourage shared services and voluntary consolidation. Onorato believes that local government reform is essential to improving Pennsylvania's fiscal health. He will provide leadership and financial incentives to encourage far greater use of shared services and voluntary consolidation that cuts bureaucracy and saves taxpayers money, while encouraging the inclusion of core communities in these regional collaboration efforts. Onorato will use the Shared Municipal Services program and other tools to help achieve this goal. He will also address barriers wherever they exist, such as outdated laws and the current patchwork of pension systems.
  • Encourage multi-municipal planning. Onorato will provide incentives that encourage local decision-making based on regional planning and that result in smart and sustainable growth. As budget conditions allow, he will strengthen and expand the Land Use Planning and Technical Assistance Program as an important tool to support multimunicipal planning efforts.
  • Provide flexibility to local communities. Onorato recognizes the need for local revenue sources that reduce the burden on property taxes. He will support efforts to provide local communities with needed flexibility.
  • Ensure that the state is a leader and a partner. As Governor, Onorato will ensure that state policies promote smart and sustainable growth. Onorato supports the role of the State Planning Board, and will expand the use of the Keystone Principles that guide state agency decision-making on grants and other investments to ensure that they do not encourage blight and waste of taxpayer dollars. Onorato will align environmental, economic and community development investments to revitalize core communities and first-ring suburbs while preserving needed green space and the rich cultural landscape of the agricultural economy. Investing in job-creating sustainable infrastructure Infrastructure is essential to connecting Pennsylvanians, to improving safety and quality of life, and to enabling businesses and communities to thrive. Several studies + including by the Pennsylvania Economy League and the Transportation Funding & Reform Commission + have highlighted the magnitude of the problem Pennsylvania faces and the urgent need for solutions.

Dan Onorato will explore all options necessary to improve Pennsylvania's infrastructure, such as eliminating waste, public-private partnerships and dedicated funding.

As Governor, Onorato will:

  • Increase investment in Pennsylvania infrastructure. Pennsylvania businesses and residents depend on reliable and efficient infrastructure, and the viability of the state's communities is at risk if infrastructure needs remain unmet. Onorato will promote investment in: o highways and roads; o bridges; o public transportation; o railways and rail freight; o drinking water and waste water systems; o dams; o ports; and o aviation.
  • Advance smart transportation policy. Onorato will improve Pennsylvania's infrastructure in a manner that encourages smart growth. He supports a "fix-it-first" policy and will pursue programs like the Pennsylvania Community Transportation Initiative that focus on established communities. Onorato will also encourage and provide incentives for transit-oriented development and freight-oriented development and will emphasize the importance of public transportation and of transportation system connectivity and capacity. In addition, Onorato will encourage communities to consider "complete streets" that are walkable and bicycle-friendly and that promote safe travel for all modes of transportation.
  • Encourage innovation and attract private-sector investment. Onorato will ensure the efficient investment of public infrastructure funding and he will promote public-private partnerships that enable the state to complete projects that would otherwise be unfeasible.
  • Advocate for appropriate federal funding. Onorato will champion Pennsylvania's infrastructure needs in Washington, D.C. He will be an advocate for a greater level of He will be an advocate for a greater level of federal resources to achieve regional priorities, including for aging highways and to improve high-speed rail.
  • Expand the role of infrastructure in the state's economic development strategy. Onorato will link marketing of Pennsylvania ports, rail freight and other infrastructure into business attraction and incentive packages in order to drive down logistic costs, make the state more competitive and take advantage of the Commonwealth's location advantage.

DAN ONORATO: STRENGTHENING PENNSYLVANIA COMMUNITIES As Allegheny County Executive, Dan Onorato has improved the quality of life and business climate in Southwestern Pennsylvania by emphasizing community and neighborhood development strategies. Onorato will expand Pennsylvania's economy by building on his proven track record of smarter government and sustainable growth.

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