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Editorial | Funding Waste Cleanup

Down to the wire, again

In Harrisburg's typical deadline approach to addressing important public issues, lawmakers this week gave last-second approval to stopgap funding for a critical environmental cleanup program.

By doing so, state officials averted the impending shutdown of the state's hazardous waste fund - which pays to clean and safeguard contaminated properties, including nearly 250 in and around Philadelphia.

Another problem solved for now.

But lawmakers ducked their duty to find permanent funding for the work and will have to revisit the issue in a few years.

As often happens, the timing of the legislature's last-minute rescue ratcheted up the anxiety for the communities whose livability relies, in part, on the cleanup of these sites.

The three-year funding plan was approved by the state House on Wednesday - just weeks before the cleanup money was to run out. Up to 130 staffers at the Department of Environmental Protection were bracing for layoffs.

It's great that all concerned dodged a bullet. But the funding is being cobbled together from existing budget accounts until June, and then supplemented with revenue from a statewide business tax that ends by mid-2011.

A classic bureaucratic Band-Aid.

But it could've been worse. The stopgap funding preserves the cleanup of contaminated sites that harm the environment and pose public health risks. It also avoids the absurd idea of stealing money from parks and libraries to fund the hazardous cleanups. That goofy idea was hatched in the Republican-controlled Senate, which suggested raiding the state's Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund for $40 million, or half of its funding.

Now lawmakers have bought themselves plenty of time to find a permanent funding source for the hazardous cleanups. Let's not wait until the eleventh hour next time.

In fact, there was no reason to opt for a short-term fix this time around. An easy solution to the funding dilemma remains Gov. Rendell's long-standing proposal to levy a $2.25 increase in municipal waste-tipping fees.

Other revenue ideas are welcome, short of robbing parks and libraries. But lawmakers need to solve this funding riddle for good, and before another environmental crisis looms.