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How Shapiro wants to fight PA's housing crisis

Plus, governor's money-back plan for permits yields only 1 refund.

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A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.

March 21, 2024 | spotlightpa.org

State-level action to combat Pennsylvania’s persistent housing shortages and rising costs is being proposed on multiple fronts.

Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro wants $80 million for public legal defense against evictions, anti-homelessness initiatives, and a popular home repair grant program. Meanwhile, legislation is pending that aims to spur housing construction amid an estimated statewide shortfall of some 100,000 units.

Nothing is guaranteed, but the size and scope of the problem make doing nothing unpalatable for lawmakers in both major parties

Also this week, Spotlight PA released its guide to the Democratic and Republican candidates for attorney general. We also have the latest on their fundraising.

Finally, Shapiro is proposing a performance-based funding model for four state-related universities — Lincoln, Penn State, Pitt, and Temple — while calling for a 5% increase in state support. Details are still being ironed out.


TRUSTING ELECTIONS: Join us on Tuesday, April 2, at 6 p.m. ET on Zoom for a live Q&A with Al Schmidt, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of State. Register for the event here and submit your questions here or to events@spotlightpa.org.


» 5 takeaways from Spotlight PA’s event on education transparency and holding public school officials accountable

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Few refund requests made under Shapiro’s permitting money-back initiative 

Decreasing wait times for the thousands of permits, licenses, and certifications issued by state agencies has been a top priority for Gov. Josh Shapiro, who says Pennsylvania needs to “move at the speed of business.” 

The Democrat last year launched an initiative to refund application fees for state permits or licenses if an agency takes longer than the recommended processing time to reach a decision.

Between Nov. 1, 2023, when the refund system went into effect, and March 19, 2024, only one refund request was approved, said Manuel Bonder, a Shapiro spokesperson. 

Another request is under review, while 30 have been denied, mostly because an application was incomplete or submitted before the program started. 

The recommended processing times, established by the governor’s office last year after consulting with state agencies, range from more than 500 days for some types of environmental permits to just one day to self-certify as a small business with the state Department of General Services. (You can find a full list here.) 

The recommended times are a baseline and could be lowered in the future, Bonder said. 

Roughly 40% of the permits and licenses covered by the money-back system are issued by the Pennsylvania Department of State. During budget hearings, Secretary of the Commonwealth Al Schmidt, head of the agency, told lawmakers that wait times in some cases have fallen by half, PennLive reported

The refund system is “a nice gesture by Shapiro, but it doesn’t solve anything,” said Greg Moreland, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business. A refunded application fee doesn’t come close to the amount of money that companies can lose because of permitting delays, he said. A better approach, Moreland argued, would be to authorize third parties to sign off on licenses and permits to reduce the workload for state agencies. Charlotte Keith, Spotlight PA

🤔 NEXT QUESTION: Are you on top of the news? Prove it with the latest edition of Great PA News Quiz: March Madness moment, Biden’s US Steel warning, and a 'sanctuary' city
» AP: House speaker pushes for same-day registration, early voting

» HUFFPOST: McCormick profited from China policies he helped shape

» MORNING CALL: Pennsylvania’s population is stagnant

» NPR: Philly is giving renters cash to offset rising costs

» POLITICO: Biden voices opposition to U.S. Steel sale

» PUBLICSOURCE: Push to cut 1000s from Allegheny Co. voter rolls

» WITF: Report shows great need for children in care of counties

Spotlight PA’s “All Sun, No Shade” beach towel is selling fast! This is a limited-edition item - once supplies run out, it won't be available again! So place your order ASAP!

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org.

MENTAL MATH (Case No. 248): Using only your mind: Take 1,000. Add 40 to it. Now add another 1,000. Now add 30. Add another 1,000. Now add 20. Add another 1,000. Then add 10. What is the correct total? 

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