State Legislature Discusses How to Fund Broadband Expansion

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During last week’s budget hearing, the Pennsylvania Senate Appropriations Committee and Dennis Davin, secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), discussed broadband expansion and funding. The Tri-County Sunday reported that Devin said expanding broadband, including rural areas, could be partially funded by Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed $3 billion Back to Work PA program. The program expects to obtain funds through a severance tax on the extraction of non-renewable natural resources such as natural gas. 

State Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill questioned Davin and DCED’s commitment to broadband, stating, “I don’t see much reference to broadband in your agency’s priorities.” She based this statement on documents DCED supplied, reported the Sunday.

Davin countered that broadband is “hugely important” and needs “significant resources to make a bigger dent.” According to Davin, his department has not estimated how much funding will come from the severance tax. DCED is currently working with a $5 million budget for broadband, based on prior allotments from the state legislature, reported the Sunday.

This factor brought up doubts from State Sen. Cris Dush, who was hesitant to back another tax. He recalled other state-imposed taxes, like hotel occupancy and gaming, fell short of delivering the expected revenue.

“There’s these huge projections and minuscule returns on these taxes,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why many people are pushing back so steadfastly against the severance tax. It also opens up the gate to severance taxes on every other thing in the commonwealth that comes from the ground.”

Another option might be President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief act, of which Pennsylvania is slated to receive $7.3 billion in federal funds over the next two years. One of the uses outlined by federal officials includes broadband, according to the Sunday.

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