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05/19/2024 12:39 AM
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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2023 - 2024 Regular Session


Posted: March 14, 2024 01:28 PM
From: Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill and Sen. Ryan P. Aument
To: All Senate members
Subject: Sunshine Week: Transparency in Mandated Advertising
Sunshine week is celebrated every year to renew our focus on transparent and open governance at all levels.  


As part of our state’s sunshine laws and the laws governing our local governments, cities, boroughs, townships, school districts, and counties are required to place sunshine notices and legal advertising in newspapers of general circulation within the county.  


According to a Pew Research Center study, when sunshine week went nationwide in 2005, weekday circulation of U.S. daily newspapers was more than 53 million newspapers, and Sunday newspaper circulation exceeded 55 million newspapers. In 2022, Pew estimates weekday and Sunday newspaper circulation each dwindled to less than 21 million newspapers.   


During the first nationwide sunshine week in 2005, popular social media platforms looked very different than they do now. Facebook was called “The Facebook” and limited to college students on select campuses. Twitter was still a year away from launch. Today, households are more likely to have an account with either platform than they are to have a subscription to a local newspaper. The way people engage with government has changed in the advent of websites, social media, and robust communications efforts across government of all levels.  


We continue to see many newspapers consolidate and move to a more digital focus and cut back daily print circulation as the way news is gathered and shared is constantly evolving.  


Despite newspaper circulations dropping by more than 50% during the last 17 years, local governments and school districts are still required to comply with state law to provide public notice in printed newspapers. This mandated advertising is extremely expensive to local governments of all sizes – and the cost continues to rise.  


Blair County, for example, spent $176,853 on required advertising in 2021, and $215,431 in 2022. According to the Pennsylvania Municipal League, the City of Lancaster spent $72,690 in required advertising costs. The Pennsylvania State Association of Townships Supervisors found that Fawn Township in York County was quoted $38-48 for an advertisement in a weekly newspaper but requires more than a week’s notice, while the same advertisement in a countywide newspaper costs $91-116.  


As the legislature grapples with ways to help governments at all levels address unfunded mandates that contribute to rising property taxes, we have heard from local government leaders concerned about skyrocketing advertising costs required by local officials to comply with state law under the Sunshine Act.  


To increase transparency as to the cost citizens of local governments and school districts are paying for mandated advertising in newspapers, we will be introducing legislation that will require all legal advertisements and public meeting notices posted in a newspaper of general circulation to disclose in the corner of the advertisement the cost incurred by the local governmental entity to publish the mandated advertising. 


We have seen newspapers call for greater transparency in government spending such as legislative expenditures. After all, as the Pittsburgh Tribune Review Editorial Board put it in its advocacy for expenditures of lawmakers to be made public, “That’s information the people should have without being pushed to file Right to Know requests.” We agree and posting that dollar amount in each advertisement will let a little more ‘sunshine’ in on how your hard-earned tax dollars are used.  


We hope you will join us in cosponsoring this pro-transparency legislation.