I’m sympathetic to Laura Vecsey and Mike Sturla’s transparency-based critiques of Tom Corbett’s proposal to consolidate Harrisburg’s disparate economic development programs into a single $2 billion Liberty Loan Fund. If the program is poorly-designed, which I think we should expect given the Governor’s track record so far, this could easily turn into a slush fund for Mr. Corbett’s campaign contributors.
But I do want to push back on the idea that having this pot of money under the legislature’s control is a much better idea. “Economic development” is far too vaguely defined as a concept, and is often a crap shoot. Leaving it up to legislators, who want to bring home the maximum amount of pork to their districts, to say what does and does not count as economic development ensures that the funds will not be targeted well, and will instead be spread thinly and evenly across the state.
But the state’s GDP comes overwhelmingly from its metro regions: Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, followed by the Lehigh Valley, Scranton and Harrisburg. That’s where the economic development money needs to be going. You’re not going to create another high-output metro region by building highways to nowhere through the PA’s rural counties, so it doesn’t make sense to send any economic development money to those places. Those funds should be targeted toward the goal of increasing output and productivity in the regions that are driving the state’s economy.
Taking the pot away from rural legislators could be a good way around the existing political economy problems if the Governor chooses to do the right thing and spends most of the money in the largest metro regions. The fact that the Team PA Foundation, who are strident advocates for investing in metros, seem to have a favorable view of the Liberty Loan Fund, is encouraging. I would like to think that Team PA is setting the Corbett economic development agenda, but it’s too early to tell whether this is what the administration has in mind.