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?
One of the key planks in the Pawlowski Platform is a drive to restore and promote funding for public education. The cuts made during the Corbett years have weakened our state, damaged our public schools and threatened the future of one of our strongest assets – our young people.
I also support HB/SB 76 as well as other options to provide the proper funding not just our public school system but also our higher education system. One of the things that bothers me is the fact that in 1990, we spent $90 million on prisons and today we spent $1.76 billion. Imagine if just half of that went to education, instead? Ben Franklin said it best: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
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 am very much in favor of updating and restoring the Rendell formula. As the father of two children in the public school system in Allentown, I know very well the impact of Governor Corbett’s funding cuts on urban districts and I disagree with his overall philosophy on public education. We must find ways to promote public education to ensure that all of our children receive the education they deserve, that the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs are supported to prepare students for 21stCentury jobs, support our vocational-technical schools and the provide the training and coordination needed to help prepare our high school students for similar programs in our colleges and universities.
2. 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 copyMaryland’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 support a single-payer system. In lieu of that, I support Rep. Freeman’s bill to allow workers and businesses to buy into the SWIF. Health care may be the single most important issue facing Pennsylvania and American families. I will look at all of the available alternatives to see that Pennsylvania residents and families are able to provide for themselves and their children.
3. 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?
As mayor of Philadelphia, Ed Rendell knew the importance of creating jobs and economic development, and as Mayor of Allentown, so do I. Restoring our economy and bringing/creating jobs in Pennsylvania is one of the main planks of the Pawlowski Platform. Working with leaders from both parties, I have done more of this, and have been better at this, than any candidate in the race today – including the incumbent. The Allentown Story is based on the Neighborhood Improvement Zone, a special taxing district that allocates all state and local taxes (excluding property taxes) to redevelopment aimed at bringing jobs to the urban core.
It is so successful that within a year there will be close to 4,000 new jobs in Center City as a result of this new zone. They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, as the state Legislature has approved an amended version – the Community Reinvestment and Improvement Zone – to help smaller cities throughout the Commonwealth share in the success achieved by Allentown during my administration.
4. 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?
A Constitutional convention at this time with the radical right running Harrisburg would be disastrous. But we must make changes. Unbelievably, at least 72 percent of Pennsylvania’s corporations pay no income taxes, thanks to loopholes. We must cure this unfairness and take steps to ensure that our residents do not suffer from tax inequity because our largest and most successful businesses pay little or no income tax. If we can close these loopholes and provide a just mechanism that ensures these corporations will pay their fair share of the levies required to support our roads, bridges, infrastructure and educational systems that they benefit from, there may be no need for a Constitutional amendment.
We have to find an alternative to our property taxes, which are among the most regressive of all taxes, so that cuts from higher levels of government do not force communities and school districts to further burden property owners who are at risk of losing their homes when this happens.
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?
Our urban centers are also our revenue centers. The taxes generated by companies and individuals provide a lion’s share of the revenue that supports so many other services in our Commonwealth. The simple fact is that if we can support mass transit so that it can easily transport employees to and from these businesses, the returning tax benefits will more than recoup the costs of the existing systems.
In addition, the reduced pollution and fuel consumption created by increased support for and expansion of mass transit opportunities for our residents will pay dividends in so many ways to our residents throughout the Commonwealth, whether they live in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Bloomsburg, Sharon, Butler or Nanty Glo.
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 definitely support it. Our roads and bridges are our lifeline. If we cannot fix and maintain them we cannot possibly hope to compete with other states in attracting business, economic development and jobs. But more than that, it is a safety issue. We can no longer risk the lives of Pennsylvania residents. We must – MUST – do more to improve not just our roads and bridges, but also the sometimes century-old gas lines and water and sewer pipes that provide such integral service to our residents and businesses.
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?
Many of our municipal finance problems result from the devastating pension crises facing our communities. Pennsylvania is home to 25% of all public pension plans in the country. We must, simply must, address this on a state level with Legislative involvement to remove or at least mitigate the burden on our municipalities and school districts and consolidate some of these pensions. We are the only city in Pennsylvania to date to have resolved our pension issues – but not all cities have the same options as Allentown.
We created a partnership with the Lehigh County Authority to resolve our pension obligations without unduly penalizing or burdening our rate payers. In addition, we protected the collective bargaining rights of our employees and retirees and instituted a protective project labor agreement to maintain salary fairness for future capital improvements.
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?
There is no doubt that our local governments need more tools at their disposal to protect environmentally sensitive or culturally/historically sensitive lands. I will work with our Legislature as well as the Borough and Township officials and local organizations to determine the best way to help them protect their lands in a way that maintains property rights and community heritage.
We must strengthen incentives and penalties to promote smart growth in Pennsylvania. We must also recognize that there is no cookie-cutter legislation that fits all regions of our state, and that we need to leave more flexibility up to local governments.
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 4 to 5 percent sales/severance tax that will generate up to $1.2 billion to $1.7 billion a year for the commonwealth. One of my first acts will be to create a task force to conduct a study on the Marcellus shale/natural gas industry with an eye to creating a fair and equitable severance tax that will provide much-needed revenue to our Commonwealth while protecting the property and income rights of land owners affected or targeted by natural gas companies.
I will also impose a moratorium on all related activities on state lands until that study is completed. In addition, the Pawlowski Administration will take all possible steps to increase and improve oversight of the drilling sites and pipelines resulting from our abundance of natural gas. There are more than 80,000 miles of pipeline proposed in a state that consists of only 40,000 square miles. Our homeowners are finding themselves on the wrong end of court rulings due to out of date laws. We must make sure that access to this tremendous natural resource is provided in a way that protects our greatest natural resource – our environment.