CLEARFIELD – Gov. Tom Wolf visited the Clearfield Area Junior-Senior High School on Wednesday as part of his Restore Pennsylvania initiative.
According to the governor’s Web site, the initiative is a plan to address the commonwealth’s critical infrastructure needs.
“His vision for Pennsylvania includes vibrant towns and cities with new development, opportunities in rural and disadvantaged areas, and a modern, interconnected commonwealth,” the Web site states.
Items the plan intends to address include mitigating flooding, expanding broadband Internet, addressing blight, remediation of contaminants, as well as encouraging green infrastructure and working on transportation projects and encouraging business development.
Wolf began his visit in Clearfield by talking with students in Donald Billotte’s 11th grade AP history class.
He asked the students about their broadband access and they said that when they are at school, their access is good. However, several students noted that their Internet access at home isn’t very good at all.
One student said that her family can only be on the wi-fi one person at a time, and even then, web pages take a long time to load.
Some of the students said they often come early to school to do work on the computers. The computer labs at the school are open one hour before classes start and three hours after school; however, the students said they usually have after-school activities.
Wolf explained that he sees reliable, high-speed Internet access as a necessity for students to reach their full potential.
He added that other issues in the initiative also affect students in different ways and that we all depend on each other to make our world the best it can be.
Wolf then visited the school library to explain Restore Pennsylvania to local government officials including members of the school board, representatives of other school districts, the county commissioners, community development specialist, representatives of Clearfield Borough and Clearfield Revitalization Corp., Penn Highlands Healthcare and North Central Regional Development Corp.
He reminded those present that students are the future and if they do not have the tools to accomplish all they have the potential for, it is detrimental to everyone and it is the responsibility of those in positions of leadership to do everything they can at every level.
He also noted the other issues, such as recent flooding, blight, infrastructure issues and so on and how difficult it is to say to someone that there is nothing you can do when they have an urgent need.
“There is something Pennsylvania can do,” he said.
Wolf explained that Pennsylvania is the only natural gas producing state that does not have a severance tax, and the one he is proposing is three times less than the one in Texas.
He said we all pay the severance taxes in other states when we use plastics, propane, gasoline and so on.
“We pay for the infrastructure in other states.” Under this proposal, Wolf said, 80 percent would be paid by other states. The tax would be on top of the already levied severance fee and would not be part of the general fund.
According to the governor’s Web site, “Restore Pennsylvania would be funded by the monetization of a commonsense severance tax that the Independent Fiscal Office has determined will be primarily paid for by out-of-state residents.
“The plan will invest $4.5 billion over the next four years in significant, high-impact projects throughout the commonwealth to help catapult Pennsylvania ahead of every state in the country.”
Wolf added that he has given much thought to the plan and that he has no plan B and no one else has been able to come up with a plan to pay for the infrastructure needs of the state, as well as take care of other needs in the commonwealth.
Following Wolf’s remarks, Clearfield Superintendent Terry Struble briefly spoke about ways Clearfield Area School District is working to help every student, regardless of income or address.
All Clearfield Area students are eligible for free breakfast and lunch, and elementary students are sent home every weekend with backpacks filled with food.
School nurses have clothing available for students in need, and the district provides K-12 base mental health evaluations and also provides drug and alcohol counseling.
Struble said Clearfield has some of the best extracurricular programs in the state, regularly achieving district and state titles in sports, music, art and science.
Students can also get an Associate’s degree through Penn Highlands Community College before receiving their high school diploma, and all students are required to take at least one dual enrollment class prior to graduation.
He said the need for access for all students to all of these programs as well as the needed infrastructure is something the district sees every day. “Learning occurs 24-7,” Struble said, adding that the governor’s proposal is a huge step up.
High School Junior Madilyn Domico also detailed the issues faced by students who live further away from town and how the initiative will help.