Lawmakers seek audit of projects that received PENNVEST funding
● By Steven Hoffman
State lawmakers are calling for Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale to conduct a financial audit of the 118 nonpoint source projects approved by the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST) board of directors.
At a June 11 meeting of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, members discussed HR 948. State Rep. Martin Causer, the prime sponsor of the resolution, is a Republican whose district includes parts of Cameron, McKean, and Potter counties. The broad issue is the 118 nonpoint projects approved by the PENNVEST board of directors, but there is a particular concern about a $50 million loan that the state made to a New Hampshire-based private timber company to purchase timberland in northwest Pennsylvania. The funds for the loan came from a taxpayer-subsidized state program that is, by law, required to fund improvements to water and sewer plants in Pennsylvania.
Causer and State Rep. John Lawrence have been among the state lawmakers who have called for an audit of PENNVEST’s approval of funds from the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund Program to benefit a politically connected New Hampshire company, Lyme Timber Company. PENNVEST facilitated the land purchase for private investors, which included a one-percent interest rate and generous repayment terms for the private timber company.
Causer noted at the June 11 committee meeting that there had been a four-hour meeting three months ago concerning the issue. He also explained that Pennsylvania has a lot of infrastructure needs, and many municipalities across the state have water and sewer needs where the $50 million in funding could have been utilized. There is a lot of competition to receive state grants and loans, and the number of applications often far exceeds the amount of funding available. Lyme Timber Company was the only company that knew the opportunity for a low-interest loan was available. Would a Pennsylvania company have been interested in such an opportunity?
To Lawrence, it’s an issue of fiscal accountability, which is always important.
“I think it’s a good idea that we’re taking a closer look at these transactions,” Lawrence said at the committee meeting.
The state legislature can’t order the audit so it is a request for an audit, a necessary step to keep the process moving forward. The committee approved HR 948 by a unanimous vote.