Much of the battle over the 28th state Senate seat has played out on television and in campaign mailers, but the three candidates squared off in person Thursday morning for a debate of policies.
Minimum wage and property tax reform were among issues tackled in an hour-long event aired live on moderator and host Gary Sutton's Newsradio 910 WSBA show at 11 a.m.
Some questions were listener-submitted, but Sutton said he didn't accept live callers because he didn't want any of the candidates in the hotly contested race to get "sandbagged."
While supporters of Republican nominee Rep. Ron Miller, R-Jacobus, and Republican write-in candidate Scott Wagner have exchanged barbs over the course of the campaign, discourse was civil but occasionally tense as Sutton steered the debate toward policy issues.
Democratic nominee Linda Small, who hasn't sponsored any of the attack ads for which Miller and Wagner have been criticized, took a seat in the studio just hours after learning she is now the subject of an ad.
The ad, paid for by the York County Republican Committee, warned that a vote for Wagner translates to a vote for "radical," "extremist liberal" Linda Small, who "obsesses over global warming."
The Navy veteran has vowed to stick to the issues in her campaign, and she didn't address the ad in the studio. But she concluded the debate by saying she learned in the military that "sometimes the loudest people weren't the ones with the best solutions."
When she went home after the debate and got her mail, she found a similarly themed mailer from the Republican Party of Pennsylvania in her mailbox, she said.
The issues: The candidates have opposing views on increasing the minimum wage, with Small in favor of $10.10 per hour and the Republicans taking a more conservative approach. Small said the boost would help struggling families, reduce demand for food stamps and decrease poverty.
Wagner, who owns Penn Waste trash disposal service and employs more than 300 people, agreed the current $7.20 per hour needs to be increased, but he said $10.10 per hour is too much. He would like to see a minimum wage in the $8-to-low-$9 range, he said.
Miller also said $10.10 is too high, and increasing the minimum wage will have an inflationary impact. He believes between $8 and $9 is fair, he said, adding legislators should revisit minimum wage more often so the increases won't be as drastic.
Property taxes: Wagner said he wants to completely eliminate property taxes and backfill the lost revenue by increasing sales taxes and possibly expanding the number of items taxed. While people say they don't want to pay taxes on food, they might not realize the extra tax would actually be less than they're paying in property taxes, he said.
Miller said he has voted to eliminate property taxes, but the legislation doesn't get enough votes to pass. Local property taxes are forced to compensate for inequity in the state's current education funding formula, so some parts of the state benefit from a system that negatively affects Yorkers, he said.
Small responded that voters need to elect people with a different way of looking at the situation; that the funding formula should be fair and equitable. The state's level of education funding needs to be increased, she said.
Something different: Sutton asked the candidates what needs to change in Harrisburg.
Miller, the only incumbent legislator on the panel, said he has voted to reduce the size of the Legislature and has supported other reform.
While people complain that Harrisburg moves too slowly, he said the system is designed to prevent legislators from doing "bad things quickly," and it's appropriate, even though it's frustrating to him, for government to move slowly.
Small said Harrisburg legislators need to better understand what they do actually "affects real people." The Legislature allows education cuts at times when property taxes are increasing and the state is losing teachers, she said.
Legislators also need more tenacity, continuing to press forward on issues longer than they do now, she said. They need to "forget some of this partisan nonsense" and work together in bipartisanship to accomplish goals, she added.
Wagner said legislators should be limited to two four-year terms, just like the governor and the president of the United States.
Members of the state House spend all of their time worrying about being re-elected because the terms are too short, he said.
There are also too many legislators and too many staffers, he said.
A straw poll conducted on Sutton's show Friday will determine the winner of the debate, Sutton said.
— Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.