Burns to introduce legislation banning use of tax dollars on ballot questions

Bill will prohibit the use of public funds for all campaign activities

HARRISBURG, May 16 – After learning the City of Johnstown spent thousands of dollars in city funds to advocate for changes to the city charter on the November ballot, state Rep. Frank Burns, D-Cambria, is moving to introduce legislation that would ban the use of public funds to influence voters on election ballot questions.

“I was appalled when I discovered that there is nothing in law explicitly preventing local governments from spending public tax dollars to influence voters on a ballot question – even when that question directly affects that government entity,” Burns said. “To me this is a clear conflict of interest, one which only furthers the distrust some people have in our public institutions. It’s clear these activities need to end.”

Earlier this year, the City of Johnstown was fined $500 for failing to report campaign expenses related to mailers that called on voters to approve several ballot questions. According to reports, shortly before the 2021 general election, then-interim City Manager Dan Penatzer used approximately $2,600 in taxpayer money to send 9,544 mailers urging residents to “Vote YES to Charter Amendments!” that appeared on the ballot. One of the charter amendments in question sought to allow a city manager to live outside city limits.

“Local governments and public officials should not be using public dollars to campaign, especially when it relates to questions that impact that local government,” Burns said. “My bill would still allow public bodies to provide neutral, educational information about ballot questions, but would put an end to this sort of self-serving manipulation of the public purse.”