Gov. Tom Wolf visited three Columbia properties in varying stages of blight Wednesday as he touts his plan to help rebuild the state’s infrastructure by imposing a severance tax.
In the governor’s hourlong tour, he visited two vacant hotel properties —Hotel Columbia and Hotel Locust on Locust Street — as well as the empty Columbia Market House on South Third Street and a single-family townhouse at 304 Cherry St. undergoing redevelopment.
It was a listening tour for Wolf, who mostly nodded and strolled around the three properties while flagged by at least a dozen men in suits and about as many reporters.
After his last property tour on Cherry Street, he touted the need for his infrastructure plan dubbed “Restore Pennsylvania.”
The plan includes investing $4.5 billion over the next four years on a range of infrastructure projects including high-speed broadband, roads, stormwater management and blighted structures through increased investment in land banks.
Wolf called the severance tax proposed to fund the plan a “great opportunity” to help communities like Columbia.
“We Pennsylvanians pay a severance tax,” Wolf said. “We pay it to Texas because they pay a severance tax and they fold that into the cost of their product.” Pennsylvania is the only gas-producing state in the nation without a severance tax.
Wolf’s plan is opposed by representatives of the gas industry who note an existing impact fee already generates hundreds of millions of dollars annually for infrastructure projects and is approaching $1.7 billion in revenues since 2012.
“Imposing additional energy taxes will cost consumers, hurt local jobs, especially among the building and labor trades, and negatively impact investment needed to safely produce clean and abundant energy that’s ushering in a new era of manufacturing growth,” said Marcellus Shale Coalition president David Spigelmyer.
Tour demonstrates need
The Lancaster County Land Bank Authority was launched in 2016 and has worked in conjunction with the Lancaster County Redevelopment Authority and the Columbia Economic Development Corp. to help redevelop the three structures toured by Wolf.
“These are exactly the kinds of places that we need to hold onto and restore,” Wolf said, "and make it so that young families and people can come back to good places like Columbia.”
The three locations were picked to show Wolf the scale of the issue of blighted properties across places like Columbia, said county redevelopment authority Executive Director Matthew Sternberg.
“One question about blight is how do you stop it before it gets more pervasive,” he said.
"We’ve found that if you take the worst house in an otherwise decent block and turn it around, it keeps the blight from spreading,” Sternberg said.
In the case of Hotel Locust/Columbia, he said, it's a long-term project that will likely reach eight-figures to fully redevelop and could use all the state help it could get.
“If (Restore Pennsylvania) comes to fruition, it could be a great help,” he said.