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The race to find a fix for PA’s child care crisis

Plus, consolidation again urged for State College region.

This is The Investigator, a free weekly newsletter with the top news from across Pennsylvania.
A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.

May 9, 2024 | spotlightpa.org

Since the pandemic began, about $1.8 billion in federal stimulus funds have been targeted at stabilizing Pennsylvania’s child care industry.

But providers tell Spotlight PA they are still desperately struggling to stay afloat and keep workers, issues that have created problems for families and employers. They’re asking for $284 million in new and recurring state funding for an initiative dedicated to teacher recruitment and retention.

Also this week, Pennsylvania’s state-owned plane cost taxpayers $410,000 last year as it flew Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro and other state officials.

Finally, a nonprofit that does not disclose its donors paid more than $12,000 for Shapiro to attend multiple sporting events last year, raising questions about who underwrites the outings and their interests in state policy.

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» Penn State offers to pay Commonwealth Campus employees to resign amid budget cuts

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» Elk County residents look for ways to bring birth services back after Penn Highlands shutters maternity unit

State College area encouraged to consolidate almost 3 decades after failed attempt

As DuBois and Sandy Township work through the yearslong process of consolidating into a new city, 80 miles southwest a consulting firm commissioned by State College recommended it also explore the idea of fusing with neighboring municipalities.

The firm was hired to look into problems facing downtown State College businesses, and identified consolidation as a way to grow the region’s economy.

Municipal mergers and consolidations can help to increase government efficiency and reduce costs.

Pennsylvania established a uniform system for how local government boundaries could change in 1994. Since then, 17 mergers have been proposed in Pennsylvania, of which 11 received approval from voters. By comparison, only two out of 13 consolidation initiatives have passed during the same time. 

One of the failures occurred in the State College area.

In 1995, voters weighed in on a proposal to replace College Township, Patton Township, and State College with a new local government and rejected the pitch. 

Evan Myers, State College Borough Council president, was part of the commission that recommended consolidation nearly 30 years ago. 

Myers said the municipalities would be more efficient and have greater purchasing power if they had combined. A larger community with more diverse land-use options also made sense for planning and growing the area, which was experiencing a steady increase of population and needs for public services at the time, he said.

But the public was not properly informed of the rationale or merits for the union, and their skepticism was not addressed before the referendum, Myers told Spotlight PA. 

David Price, a former local journalist and longtime Centre Region resident, was one of the skeptics. He wrote an article in a local magazine prior to the consolidation vote that enumerated reasons to oppose the move. 

But he said he’s remained interested in the idea of consolidation since then.

Price does not believe a larger government would save taxpayer money, and said that the current level of cooperation among the municipalities — primarily through the Centre Region Council of Governments, which is an association of six governing boards that has no taxing authority — is more palatable, because the public is resistant to change.

“If we had a magic wand and could wave it and wake up tomorrow morning and be consolidated, there would be some benefits here in the Centre Region,” Price told Spotlight PA. “But the chaos and angst and dislike among people to get from where we are today to where we could be, I think, would be so disruptive and so negative that the end gain would not outweigh the hell that we would have to go through as a community to get there.”

Doubts about the move are understandable, Myers said, but he believes it is possible to ensure local representation and efficiency even in a bigger government.

Although consolidation is “just talk right now,” and he does not know if there is political will to undertake another attempt, Myers said he still believes in the potential benefits. 

“I agreed with [the reasons to consolidate] then, and I agree with them even more so now,” Myers said. Min Xian, Spotlight PA

🤔 NEXT QUESTION: Are you on top of the news? Prove it with the latest edition of the Great PA News Quiz: High-flying governors, commencement plans, and fizzy water goes to court

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