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?
The Pennsylvania Constitution requires us to support a thorough and efficient system of public education and under the current administration we have not met that burden. Tom Corbett’s nearly $1 billion cuts to public education have led to higher taxes, less educators, larger class sizes, and have been harmful to our children’s futures. This not only affects our state’s ability to attract jobs but it is a question of priorities Studies have shown the importance of education, especially early childhood education, to deterring people from entering the criminal justice system. The more the state invests in education the less it will need to spend on corrections and welfare in the future.
We should not forget the Governor’s cuts to higher education which have caused substantial tuition hikes putting college out of the reach for many middle-class families. Increasingly a college degree is required to obtain a well-paying job but we are still making it harder and harder for our children to afford it. When the overall cost of tuition for a public school is compared among all 50 states, Pennsylvania ranks as the fourth highest and Pennsylvania received a grade of F for affordability by the The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. We need to address the rising cost of higher education so that our students and their families are not continually overloaded with debt.
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 have always been a supporter of the Costing Out Study and I will continue to be. The Philadelphia School District which educates 11% of the state’s schoolchildren (and half of the state’s poor children), unfairly received 39% of the Governor’s cuts to public education. I have seen firsthand the impact of failing to adequately fund public education. Our schools are opening today and they are a shell of their former selves: a barebones staff, larger class sizes, and very few assistant principals and counselors. We need to restore the funding to our public schools.
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)?
I voted for legislation that would have implemented the Medicaid expansion. In addition, I was very vocal in my attempt to save the adultBasic Healthcare program, even proposing to use the legislative slush fund to pay for it. In response to the Commonwealth Court ruling that Gov. Corbett acted illegally when he ended the program, I have proposed a bill to reinstate the adultBasic program. This would, until we opt-in to the Medicaid expansion, would restore low-cost health care to thousands of needy Pennsylvanians. As we continue to work to implement other parts of the ACA, all state-level controls should reduce costs, foster competition, expand access, lower the number of uninsured, and improve delivery. Our goal must remain to provide affordable health care for everyone, but we should implement the ACA with the understanding that changes may be necessary to fix adverse unintended consequences, should they arise. The Obama Administration recently delayed part of the ACA for this very purpose. President Clinton recently endorsed the same goal: implement the ACA by making changes that make it better as we learn more.
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?
A rising tide lifts all boats. Competition between regions of the state will not create jobs, we need to work together. A good example is the Port of Philadelphia. Ships come in from all over the world to unload their goods, like fruit and coco from South America, but too often they leave empty. With agriculture being our number 1 industry I would like to see them loaded back up with corn from York County and apples from Adams County. It would mean jobs for Philadelphians and new markets for mid-state farmers. It would require a Governor who is working every day to increase trade opportunities for Pennsylvania products across the globe. But to be successful we need to must invest in our infrastructure and invest to the level recommended by the Governor’s own Advisory Commission.
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?
Parts of our tax code have been in place for decades and I believe that it is time that we examine our entire code to ensure overall fairness and accountability. We must also make sure that our tax code doesn’t significantly undercut our state’s ability to achieve added economic growth. In addition, we need to work to improve the collection of revenue that is already owed by providing local governments more collection tools.
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?
We need to invest more funding in our public transportation systems. Many times public transit is a person’s sole means to get to work and many senior citizens rely on it to visit the doctor, friends, and loved ones. In addition, the presence of public transit makes our communities more livable for working-class people and more attractive to young college graduates, which helps us retain our best and brightest. This past summer I voted on the Senate’s Transportation Bill which would have provided an additional $510 million for public transportation.
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?
We need to invest in infrastructure because it will create good paying jobs and spur economic development. Pennsylvania has over 5,000 unsafe bridges and roadways that in dire need of repair. We also have roadways that are unable to accommodate daily traffic levels, causing long delays and lost revenue for our businesses. We must not wait until after next year’s election or after another tragic accident to invest in the long-overdue repairs, upgrades and construction of our roads and bridges.
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?
We need to provide the technical assistance and financial incentives to municipalities so that they can realize the benefits of increased cooperation and shared services.
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?
Though I support greater regional cooperation I hesitate to support any plan that takes power away from democratically elected local officials and gives it to boards that don’t have to answer to the voters.
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?
I support a statewide severance tax and will use the funds generated to reinvest in Pennsylvanians. Governor Corbett allowing the gas companies to reap the profits from our natural resources without paying their fair share is one of the most deplorable aspects of his time as governor.