York County Libertarian Party

The Three P's: Pluralism, Politics, Power - Why I'm Against Regionalization in York

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If you haven’t already heard, there’s currently a push for centralization of government in York County. Yes, I know – it sounds disastrous, already.

There are few details being let out by the proponents; and that’s not just fortuitous, it’s by design. Here’s background coverage from the York Dispatch’s Erin James.

Just two short years ago, regionalism’s main cheerleader – councilman Henry Nixon – proposed a 22% tax increase for the City of York. I highly doubt his ideas of cost savings would be in line with that of most city and county voters.

As far as costs for the delivery of services are concerned, the Pennsylvania Legislator’s Municipal Deskbook (Third Edition – 2006) states:

…courts have repeatedly emphasized and relied upon two controlling legal principles: (1) that a municipal authority has been granted the exclusive power to fix the rates to be charged its customers (ratepayers), and (2) that an authority may exercise, but not abuse, its discretion in fixing rates, which are reasonable and uniform in the area serviced by its facilities. Similarly, in disputes between a ratepayer and a municipal authority concerning an authority’s possible abuse of discretion in fixing rates, the Legislature has designated the court of common pleas as having exclusive jurisdiction to resolve all such questions.

Despite claims to the contrary, the establishment of a regional authority DOES NOT guarantee savings or efficiency. What it does guarantee is more bureaucratic wrangling and potentially drastic liabilities.

Pluralism

While the actual details of the York Regional General Authority have yet to be pried from the clutches of its recalcitrant proponents, there does exist enough lobbying history to make a determination on this project’s likely course.

The York County Community Foundation has long advocated for the centralization of power in the hands of an appointed few. The foundation lambasted local control in its 2007 Metro-York Recommendations report:

“small box” divisions between school and governmental entities make for inflexible systems, from education to taxation. – Metro-York Report

Fast forward to 2013, and you’ll find that the metrocrats have learned to use coded language and terms such as efficiency, cooperation and savings to mask their actual goals. If you examine their white papers, it’s easy to recognize their true intent. The backers of the York Regional General Authority seek to sidestep the will of York County voters and elected officials through the creation of an appointed, administrative layer of government that will dictate state and federal funding streams, in addition to public policy, without elective oversight.

What the York County Community Foundation calls ‘small boxes’ are actually autonomous, duly ordered, political subdivisions; cities, townships and boroughs. The metrocrats seek to replace our traditional system of pluralism and competing interests with a monolithic, top-down authority that will far exceed the reach of the common citizen. Pennsylvania courts have established this as both precedent and fact:

Although considered to be local authorities, municipal authorities are bodies politic and corporate, created pursuant to the Municipality Authorities Act, 53 Pa.C.S. Chapter 56; they are not creatures, agents or representatives of the municipalities that organize them, but are independent agencies of the Commonwealth.

Municipal authorities are separate legal entities from the political subdivisions that created them and they derive their powers from different statutes. Commonwealth v. Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority, 444 Pa. 345, 348-349, 281 A.2d 882, 884 (1971), and O’Hare v. County of Northampton,782 A.2d 7, 13 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2001)

The establishment of a regional authority will undermine the set of checks and balances inherent within our current structure of government. The very pluralism that allows for local representative government to determine public policy is at stake. Local councils and officials would still exist, but only as emasculated formalities seated in shell form.

Politics

The metrocrats in attendance at the York City council meeting kept referring to the creation of a York Regional Authority as a way to escape from politics and (coded language alert) get things done.

Interesting. In its Metro-York recommendations report, the York County Community Foundation calls for the incorporation of York County municipalities in order to facilitate the following overtly political goals:

In addition to land use, infrastructure and transportation elements, a truly comprehensive plan should address at least two more issues: housing affordability (no matter what their income level… people should be able to have choices for quality, affordable housing throughout the region) and tax consequences

It appears that despite the doublespeak, the proponents of regionalism in York County are most definitely motivated by political aims. When they speak of avoiding politics, they mean avoiding people like myself and others, who challenge them in formal capacities and frustrate their ability to promote and implement their central planning agendas unchecked. Under this regionalism model, just what exactly are ‘tax consequences’ ???

I can’t even imagine what type of punitive measures this band of self-important oligarchists has in wait.

The politics which they seek to ‘eliminate’ are the decision-making powers of duly elected representatives in those small boxes the York County Community Foundation loves to hate.

Power

Councilmen Henry Nixon and David Satterlee insist the creation of a York Regional Authority is ‘only to discuss things’ and ‘save us money’. Both councilmen are on record stating that we should create the authority and let it see what it wants to do.


But, what type of powers does an authority truly possess? What can it really do? Who does it represent? According to the Pa General Assembly’s Local Government Commission:

A municipal authority is an independent agency of the Commonwealth, a part of the Commonwealth’s sovereignty. Defined as “[a] body politic and corporate,” a municipal authority may be said to be an independent corporate agent of the Commonwealth, exercising governmental, as well as private corporate power, in assisting the Commonwealth in meeting the needs of its citizens. Many authorities exercise certain powers and perform certain functions both within and outside the municipal limits of the incorporating municipality, within constitutional and statutory limitations.

The Municipality Authorities Act dictates a broad grant of power so that municipal authorities may accomplish the purposes intended under the act in an efficient and economical manner and for the benefit and health of all the people of this Commonwealth. Pennsylvania Local Government Commission – Pa General Assembly

The Local Government Commission goes on to state the following details:

for reasons of public policy and convenience,a municipal authority is NOT the creature, agent, or representative of the municipality or municipalities organizing it; but rather, it is a separate and distinct entity.


A regional authority would be its own animal, beholden to and empowered by state and federal funding streams aimed at imposing top-down public policy initiatives with no say from the people or elected officials.

I find it hard to believe that an organization as well-funded and researched as the York County Community Foundation missed this important detail. Whether the trojan horse approach is intentionally due to a duplicitous play on the hand of the metrocrats or it is in fact a gross oversight – the condemnation should be all the same.

The only way to limit the proposed regional authority’s parameters is by explicitly including language to define its scope. Otherwise, the public policies of the participating municipalities are left solely in the hands of the appointed bureaucrats comprising the regional authority.

Councilman Nixon should be ashamed of proposing such a broad, sweeping proposition without first examining the potential impacts of its implementation. The York County Community Foundation has much to answer in light of its repetitive disclaimers and assertions that the creation of a regional authority will not undermine local control. (It should be noted that Eric Menzer, chairman emeritus of the York County Community Foundation, is also councilman Nixon’s campaign manager. Nixon is running for re-election)

Same goes for councilman David Satterlee, who said it ‘makes no sense’ that people would claim we are abdicating power to a centralized board of appointees if we incorporate into a regional authority.

We should be working to bring decision making and power back into the hands of the individual in York County, not engaging in trojan horse machinations to centralize power in the hands of a few appointed bureaucrats.

Reject regionalization and preserve whatever semblance of representative government York County residents have left.

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