Senators Call for Greater Transparency in Mandatory Taxpayer Funding of Newspaper Advertisements

HARRISBURG – Sens. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) and Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) announced forthcoming legislation to require newspapers to disclose the cost incurred by local governments due to mandatory legal advertising and posting of public notices. The legislation was unveiled during Sunshine Week 2024, which is a week when newspapers across the nation celebrate transparency in government.

The senators point to the fact that since Sunshine Week was first recognized nationwide in 2005, news predominately came from newspapers and broadcast television. Phillips-Hill and Aument point to a Pew Research Center study that shows newspaper circulation has dropped by more than half during the last 17 years.

“Mandatory advertising by governments at all levels serves a purpose to keep people well-informed of actions and proposed actions by their government – but at a steep and hidden cost to taxpayers,” Phillips-Hill said. “We gather and receive our news much differently than we did nearly two decades ago, but local governments and school districts still must adhere to a near century old law that predates sunshine week. We are seeing local governments of all sizes face growing expenditures to meet these requirements with zero transparency in the pricing.”

“Most Lancaster County residents don’t know that their hard-earned taxpayer dollars are currently subsidizing our local newspapers due to an outdated mandate,” said Aument. “This Sunshine Week, we want to bring greater transparency to this process so that taxpayers and local governing entities alike are aware of how their tax dollars are being spent. This information will better inform legislators and the public as we consider if current law needs modernized to better meet the needs of taxpayers and reflect that the way we receive and consume news has changed.”

In 2006, the Local Government Commission compiled data on costs incurred by counties, school districts, townships, and boroughs to comply with state law regarding mandatory posting of public notices and legal advertising in newspapers. With more than 61% of all local taxing authorities responding to the survey, the report found an average statewide expenditure in excess of $18 million. Adjusting that figure for inflation, local governments currently spend more than $28 million in mandated advertising.

Phillips-Hill and Aument argue that taking this commonsense step will allow both taxpayers to see how their hard-earned dollars are being used. It would also provide public officials, who are required to place these advertisements, with greater transparency in costs incurred by other governmental entities.

Increasing transparency in critical areas, such as how the General Assembly operates, has long been a goal for newspapers. The senators believe it is time for the same transparency accountability in every ad paid for with taxpayer dollars in newspapers across the state.

The senators are currently seeking support for their measure and will be introducing the bill in the coming weeks.

VIDEO (Phillips-Hill)
AUDIO (Phillips-Hill)

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