A special election will be held next week to fill the 28th state Senate seat vacated by Mike Waugh. The York County Democratic and Republican committees selected the candidates — Linda Small and Ron Miller, respectively. We submitted five questions to the candidates and asked that they keep their answers to 200 words or fewer.
Question No. 1: Two property tax reform bills were voted on last year in the House. House Bill 1189 from Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, which gives each school district the choice to move from property tax to income and other taxes, passed the House and is awaiting approval from the Senate. House Bill 76, from Rep. Jim Cox, R-Berks County, would completely eliminate property taxes. However, the bill failed a vote in the House. Do you support either of these bills? Why or why not? If you don't support either of these bills, please explain your position on property tax reform.
Republican Ron Miller: I support real property tax reform. I did support HB 1189, as it was the only viable option to advance the property tax issue in 2013. HB 76 was not voted on in the House of Representatives. A version of HB 76 was offered as an amendment to HB 1189, and that amendment was defeated. HB 76 contains serious flaws, with the most difficult to overcome being that its passage would leave more than a $1 billion hole in the state general operating budget. HB 76 remains a work in progress that I desire to vote for when perfected.
The other challenge for HB 76 is getting support for increases in sales and personal income tax to offset the property tax dollars. Some areas of the state will be significantly affected by higher taxes. It is difficult to gain support in the Legislature from those representing areas that currently receive a disproportionately high amount of state education funding. As senator, I will be committed to achieving a solution to the deadlock.
Democrat Linda Small: York County families are feeling the pain of Gov. Tom Corbett's education funding tax cuts. The current system is unfair and unsustainable, but these bills will make things worse. HB 1189 would force working families to pay even more income taxes, and yet may not be able to raise enough revenue to pay for quality schools. HB 76 also shifts the tax burden to workers while giving tax cuts to well-connected corporations. It would result in an additional devastating $2.6 billion cut to local schools.
Tax reform comes when the state meets its constitutional responsibility to provide for education and uses a fair education funding formula. I will fight to bring the state's funding share for education back to 50 percent of the costs and get a fair school funding formula. The current formula unfairly hurts York County schools.
Here is the bottom line. The state can't keep giving new tax cuts to Wall Street corporations and claim there is no way to fund education, then expect York County taxpayers to make up the difference by paying more out of our pockets. When the state pays its fair share, then our property taxes can go back to a fair and sustainable level.
Question No. 2: Should natural gas drillers pay a severance tax? Or is the impact fee sufficient? Why or why not?
Republican Ron Miller: I voted for Act 13 and the impact fee on wells drilled in the Marcellus Shale formation. Estimates that an impact fee would raise more money was debatable based on the amount of gas a well produces and if it is flowing after the well is drilled. The impact fee is on the well regardless of the amount of gas flowing. If a well is drilled and the operator chooses not to flow gas due to market pricing or other variables, a severance tax produces no revenue. Based on the quality of the gas from a particular well, the flow of gas can be partially curtailed or stopped entirely. The most predictable and stable source of revenue is the impact fee where the well owner is obligated to pay the fee whether gas is flowing from that well or no gas is flowing.
Additionally, Act 13 contained significant new funding for environmental programs across the state and upgrades to our environmental regulations governing drilling operations in the Marcellus Shale formation.
Democrat Linda Small: Harrisburg gave politically connected Marcellus Shale drilling corporations like Exxon and Shell a special deal to come into our state. Drilling was supposed to transform the economy, but it has not. Pennsylvania fell to almost last in job creation, it has cut education funding and local taxes are rising. Gov. Tom Corbett and the drillers have been caught exaggerating the number of new jobs created in an effort to justify the deals for the industry. Pennsylvanians subsidize drillers and consumers in other states because we help pay for the severance taxes when we buy gas.
The Marcellus Shale drillers use our roads and water, and they also pollute our air and water. Like everyone else, they need to pay for what they use. Studies show a fair severance tax is better for consumers and taxpayers. Other important shale drilling states like Texas and West Virginia have a severance tax which brings in revenue to invest in education, roads and other public benefits. Once the gas is gone, so are the drillers. Let's not let them leave Pennsylvania worse off than before they got here. A fair severance tax will help make sure that taxpayers reap some benefit from the drilling.
Question No. 3: Last year, the state Legislature approved a $2.3 billion transportation bill paid for by increased motorist fines, fees, and a gas tax that made its way down to drivers in the state. Did you support the approved funding plan? Why or why not? If you did not support it, how would you have funded the necessary infrastructure repairs in Pennsylvania?
Republican Ron Miller: Pennsylvania is seeing a reduction of federal highway funding dollars due to our decreasing percentage of the national population. At the same time, the population of south-central Pennsylvania has been growing steadily, placing burdens on our outdated infrastructure. Providing quality roads and safe bridges is one of the most important duties of the Legislature. The formula used to fund transportation in Pennsylvania was outdated and needed replaced. I dislike taxes, but I believe a legislator has a moral responsibility to lead and make tough decisions. This is why I voted for the transportation bill.
The new state transportation funding model will provide increased funds for safer Pennsylvania roads, bridges and additional funding for each of our local municipalities here in York County. Better roads mean less car repairs and ultimately better traffic flow. For instance, this bill will allow Pennsylvania to rebuild the base of Interstate 83 and expand the lanes through the metropolitan-York area. Additional work also needs done to improve I-83 intersections and exit ramps.
Pennsylvania is the hub of distribution for the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions. A quality transportation system is a necessity to grow jobs in our area and I am committed to this goal.
Democrat Linda Small: We need to be smart about transportation funding. Pay for roads and bridge projects as they are needed instead of letting them crumble so taxpayers have to pay even more to fix them later. In addition to the benefit of well-maintained roads, our economy benefits from proper investment in transportation. Every $1 billion in infrastructure spending supports 30,000 jobs. Gov Tom Corbett and the Legislature failed to pass a transportation bill until last year. The approved plan is a much-needed step in the right direction, but it has the wrong priorities.
Gov. Corbett and the Legislature felt free to raise taxes on drivers while they continued giving special deals to Wall Street corporations, instead of fairly sharing the responsibility of funding transportation among all taxpayers. Verizon and Sprint got tax breaks in the latest state budget, and a $30 million state grant for Comcast to build a skyscraper in Philadelphia was announced in January. Corporate taxpayers should help pay for the transportation system they use, too.
I strongly support funding transportation because it creates good jobs and it is a core responsibility of government. I would have fought for a more fair deal for all taxpayers.
Question No. 4: In January, a bill was introduced by state Sens. Daylin Leach and Mike Folmer that would allow the use of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. The bill was subsequently the subject of a Senate committee hearing on the issue. Should Pennsylvania legalize medical and/or recreational marijuana? Why or why not?
Republican Ron Miller: Based on data from the federal and state level, I have not seen sufficient proof that the benefits potentially derived from smoking marijuana or other types of usage give a greater benefit than what can be derived from a prescription form of the same active ingredients. The issue to me is safety and effectiveness for the consumer. I will continue to monitor the scientific information and listen to the debate but for now I am a no vote on legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational purposes.
Democrat Linda Small: Government should not deny a doctor and patient access to medical marijuana. Both children and adults suffer from terrible illnesses and pain that conventional medicine cannot treat. A relatively new medical marijuana treatment appears to be helping children with severe epilepsy reduce seizures. Government's role should be to make sure that marijuana treatments are effective and appropriate. Let's not deny hope and relief to people because the drug is called marijuana.
Prohibition of alcohol was a government regulation failure. It caused a spike in organized crime and harmed people's lives. It is easy to forget that alcohol is a drug, and alcohol abuse causes a wide range of serious problems. Much like alcohol, prohibition of marijuana has led to violent and organized criminal organizations. Prohibition has imposed enormous costs on our society to maintain a large prison population. It has disrupted countless lives, including children whose parents go to jail for a non-violent crime and then cannot get work after release from prison. It's time to end marijuana prohibition, and regulate marijuana as we regulate alcohol.
Question No. 5: What would be your other priorities if elected to the 28th District state senate seat, and why should voters support you?
Republican Ron Miller: The issue that is often most overlooked is the need to revamp the funding formula for distribution of all state funds including education, social services and senior programs. Growing areas of the state like York County must be funded based on our current population, not based on multi-decade-old census data. This will be one of my highest priorities in the Senate. Additionally, I will be that conservative York County voice pressing for the need to control spending and taxes. My experience in the General Assembly of building consensus among colleagues sets me apart and is a skill set that uniquely qualifies me to be an effective Senator for York County.
Democrat Linda Small: My priority is to restore the American dream and get results for the ordinary American. We need to create good jobs, restore funding for education, and stop unsustainable tax increases. Getting corporate money and special deals out of politics is a key reform. Other issues include raising the minimum wage, access to affordable health care, marriage equality and making sure young adults don't drown in student debt. Protecting our children from the worst of extreme weather and acting on global warming science is a defining issue which must be addressed now. We must use American know-how and the clean, renewable energy technology available today to move away from polluting fossil fuels and transform our economy. We'll lower fuel costs, create true energy independence, and create family-sustaining jobs.
My opponent's policies have not led to the good results he promised. After his many years in public office, the results are in. His ideas don't work. It's time to elect someone who will make a positive change for the district and get results that benefit York County families. That is why I ask voters to support me.