1. Under Tom Corbett, the state’s share of education funding has dropped from 44 percent to 32 percent – well below the national average of 48 percent. What do you think is the right ratio of state-to-local funding? Could you support HB-76/SB-76 – the bipartisan bills that would make state government responsible for 100% of education funding?
I believe that public education is a shared responsibility between the state and local school districts. The driving principle behind state involvement should be the guarantee that every student regardless of who he or she is or where he or she lives should have access to a quality education. Pennsylvania should provide, on average, half of the statewide cost of classroom instruction as well as a significant portion of the cost of special education and other supplemental education programs.
2. Tom Corbett and the Republicans immediately abandoned Ed Rendell’s hard-won education funding formula, which increased state money for districts who serve larger populations of economically-disadvantaged students. The effect was to take much more money from poorer school districts than from wealthier ones. What is your view of the Rendell formula, and would you pledge to use it again?
I believe that it is past time to restore the funding formula for basic education in order to ensure that every Pennsylvania student has access to a quality education, regardless of who he or she is or where he or she lives. I would return to a funding formula that accounts for the wealth available in the local community, the cost of instruction and the number of students being served. There should be adjustments for such factors as high concentrations of low-income students and students whose primary language is not English. Too much of the new funds available from the state for basic instruction in the 2013 budget have more to do with who is representing a school district in the state Senate than they do with who that school district is serving. That’s simply wrong.
3. Congress opted not to create a federal public insurance option in the Affordable Care Act, but they gave state governments lots of flexibility to do basically anything that will reduce costs more than the ACA envisions. Which state-level cost control ideas do you support? Should PA follow Vermont’s lead and adopt a single-payer insurance system? Should we copy Maryland’s successful all-payer rate setting policy? Do you support HB 1526, Bob Freeman’s public insurance option bill that allows individuals and businesses to buy into the State Workers Insurance Fund (SWIF)?
First, Pennsylvania should participate in the Medicaid Expansion under the Affordable Care Act and it should organize its own Insurance Exchange. I believe that Pennsylvania should create a publicly available charge master, as California has done, which would include not only the charges for services, but the range of payments actually received for those same services, thereby allowing consumers to make informed decisions about their health care. I believe that the state should look at minimum medical loss ratios for health insurers and should restore Governor Rendell’s initiative to review the reserves of insurers and dedicate some of that money to ensuring available and affordable health care.
4. About 78% of Pennsylvania’s GDP comes from the top 5 largest metro areas (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Lehigh Valley, Harrisburg and Scranton), and more than half comes from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh alone. How can state government help our large metro economies grow and create even more jobs?
We need a multi-level strategy to rebuild our cities and towns. The basic elements of this strategy would be to:
1. Invest in public infrastructure—transportation, water and sewer, energy and telecommunications;
2. Invest in education and job training, including expanded support for public education; expanding opportunity and access in higher education and enhancing job training and apprenticeship programs;
3. Support Research and Development, Technology Transfer and Entrepreneurship;
4. Build on Pennsylvania’s strengths by supporting regional economic clusters, and our historic strengths in food processing, manufacturing controls, natural gas, nano-technology, metals, manufactured housing and pharmaceuticals as well as our incredibly strong anchor institutions, our colleges, universities and health systems (Pennsylvania is a net importer of college students and medical residents, for example.); and
5. Establish a Green Economy Strategy, focusing on developing alternative energy, clean energy production and green building supply chains.
All of this would be bound together by a clear strategy that would guide all state grants, loans and investments:
1. Preference for Brownfield and Grayfield development;
2. Preference for projects where the infrastructure exists to support the project;
3. Preference for reuse or adaptation of existing buildings and facilities.
5. PA has one of the top 10 most regressive state tax codes in the nation. Will you support an amendment to the state Constitution to allow a progressive rate structure for the income tax?
I believe that it is time to revisit Pennsylvania’s Tax Code, starting with a systematic review of the literally hundreds of tax expenditures. While Pennsylvania has relatively high corporate tax rates, because of these exemptions and deductions, the actual rates paid are often dramatically lower than the imputed rates. Tax expenditures that don’t serve some measurable public purpose should be eliminated. Our tax structure overall should be progressive, supporting middle income families and family wage jobs.
6. SEPTA, PAT, and other transit agencies are seeing record high ridership, but they still face large funding shortfalls, because such a large share of their funding comes from federal and state transfers. The geography of political power in Harrisburg and Washington does not inspire much hope that our transit networks will ever be generously funded, let alone expanded. If these actors won’t step up, do you think it’s time to give county governments more autonomy to fund transit? Which of the following local revenue options would you be willing to consider: value capture? road fares? regional sales taxes? regional income taxes?
I do not believe that mass transit should always be bound by county boundaries, in fact, I would try to encourage more regional transportation that extends beyond county lines, particularly in the area of rail transportation. That said, I think the state needs to support the entirety of our ground transportation network, not just our bridges and highways. I support significantly increasing state funding for transportation. I believe that a smart, sustainable transportation policy would encourage county and regional planning to develop alternative transit systems and networks and that the state has a role to play in encouraging this activity. Transportation infrastructure is key to economic vitality and quality of life.
7. Ed Rendell established a Fix-It-First policy for infrastructure spending that was recently embraced by President Obama in this year’s State of the Union address. Tom Corbett’s Transportation Funding Advisory Commission reversed course and brought back to life a lot of undead capacity expansion ideas, even though vehicle miles traveled have been declining. Where do you stand on the Fix-It-First policy?
As noted above, I support a policy of fix it first, both in terms of infrastructure development and in terms addressing brownfield and grayfield redevelopment over greenfield development. I would endorse the concept of smart, sustainable transportation that was developed by the Rendell administration, which emphasized traffic calming, considered non-vehicular transportation and encouraged mass transit.
8. The Detroit bankruptcy has prompted some soul-searching about PA’s own municipal finance problems. With about 41% of PA residents living in a distressed municipality, it seems clear that the state municipal finance policies aren’t working. Organizations like the Team PA Foundation and the PA Economy League have argued that one key reason for the widespread distress is too much fragmentation in local government. PA’s 4,562 municipal tax bases and 501 school district tax bases are too small, and leave local governments too vulnerable to small changes in migration. What would you do to help reduce fragmentation?
I would support at a minimum efforts to regionalize services, such as fire, police, purchasing, transportation and planning. I think we should begin to develop a strategy that would encourage communities to consider consolidation. But I think that that is only part of the problem. I believe that my proposal to target state funding toward redevelopment rather than greenfield development would be a significant component of this strategy. I believe that the state should encourage consolidation of municipal pension plans and implement joint purchasing of employee health benefits. And I would support the Landbank concept that would assist municipalities to address the very serious problem of blight and vacant properties.
9. PA’s Municipal Planning Code makes Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) recommendations advisory-only, and does not require our 4,562 municipalities to develop their land use plans in accordance with the broader region. Critics say rendering MPOs toothless encourages municipalities to discount the negative economic and environmental impacts of their land use and development choices on their neighbors. Do you support changing the Municipal Planning Code to give MPOs’ regional plans the force of law? What else can state government do to lean against environmentally destructive land use and development patterns?
I think it is time to re-evaluate the municipal planning process, which could include expanding the authority of MPOs and counties in local zoning and planning efforts. I am a strong supporter of regional planning. And, I would work to encourage brownfield remediation and redevelopment further to support economic vitality and quality of life. I believe that smart, sustainable transportation policies will also serve to protect our cities and towns.
10. The PA Democratic Party platform officially supports a severance tax on natural gas drilling. If PA had a severance tax rate as high as West Virginia’s, we could raise between $800M-1B for the general fund – over four times as much as the Republicans’ “local impact fee” generates. Will you support a statewide severance tax?