Just because the timing is awkward, Pennsylvania voters shouldn't turn their backs on a Nov. 4 bond referendum that, as one advocate says, amounts to a "vote for clean water."
By authorizing the borrowing of $400 million for grants to municipalities for water and sewer improvements, citizens will be making an investment in the state's future - bolstering its infrastructure and protecting the environment, while at the same time creating jobs.
In Philadelphia, the one in five residents who get hit by property damage from sewage backups and flooding could see firsthand benefits from these investments.
The initiative builds on the state's recent proud heritage of investing in its natural assets. In 2005, voters didn't shy from a $625 million commitment toward the Growing Greener II projects.
This past summer, Gov. Rendell and state lawmakers recommended that another installment payment be made toward catching up on the water and sewer work.
While the bond issue will aid some of the 2,200 water and 1,100 sewage-treatment systems, the state earmarked an additional $800 million over the next 10 years for grants and loans for flood-control projects and dam repairs. Those funds will come from gambling revenues, after tax relief.
Taken as a whole, these so-called green investments should redound to the state's economic benefit. The projects themselves mean short-term job growth, but their impact on creating healthy, sustainable communities will enhance the long-term competitiveness of the state. For one, they're a natural complement to the state's growing stake in clean energy through wind turbine manufacturing.
In suburban areas, wise investment in upgrading existing water and sewer systems - rather than extending utilities across corn fields - will preserve open space and fight sprawl. In turn, transit systems newly strengthened with robust funding will be able to serve those communities better in ways that save commuters on energy and travel time.
Would Rendell and lawmakers prefer to run this bond referendum at some other time? You
. The tightened credit markets amid the national financial turmoil present special challenges for any borrowing to meet critical government needs.
But the state easily can afford to add to its relatively low debt burden, while also protecting its double-A bond rating, Rendell says. These projects will have to be done sooner or later, but later means higher costs - and a greater threat to a clean environment that Pennsylvanians value.
Any other time, this bond referendum would be a routine "yes" vote. Now it's also about a vote of confidence in better days ahead.