Legal advertising in newspapers has long been the venue that local governing bodies have used to inform residents about upcoming meetings, budget sessions and a myriad of other agendas that directly affect taxpayers.

But now the state legislature has taken a big step in helping to eliminate that valuable source of information made available to the public.

The House voted 127-62 this week to link legal ad rates to a fraction of either the papers' lowest commercial rate or what papers were charging their customers on July 1, whichever is lower.

It is estimated that local and state governmental bodies could see their costs to place legal ads in newspaper cut by 25 percent.

While this may sound like a minimal idea to aid taxpayers, it could be devastating to your local newspaper.

The Pennsylvania Newspaper Association estimated the bill would reduce payments to more than 175 daily and weekly papers across the state by a total of about $5 million in the first year.

The measure would encourage governing bodies to place ads online, thereby eliminating this flow of information from many taxpayers who don't use computers on a regular basis.

"It offers no competition," said Jim Haigh, with the Mid-Atlantic Community Papers Association. "It offers no competition whatsoever, and we're opposed. We think that this is a Band-Aid and not a cure for the root cause of legal advertising rates."

The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Hornaman, is described as a compromise designed to lessen the financial impact on newspapers that need the revenue while cutting taxpayers' costs.

Yes, it will cut taxpayers' costs, slightly, but at what expense to local newspapers?

The industry has taken tremendous hits in the past several years, with shrinking revenue from reduced circulation and advertising, as more people turn to the Internet and television as their sources of news. This latest blow would be another blow to the economic stability of newspapers.

But where else, but newspapers would governing bodies reach the greatest number of people?

Doug Hill of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania said his organization and other groups that represent the state's governmental bodies are against the bill. He said it would not help them reach the greatest possible number of people.

"Many legislators acknowledge the drop-off in print readership and the rapid rise in online leadership. But we really aren't coming to terms with that in this legislation," Hill said.

We agree. And passage of this bill would only reduce the flow of information that is so important to all citizens.

Bob Urban

rurban@tnonline.com