This is a series of six questions The York Dispatch asked the candidates for Pennsylvania House District 92 seats: Chuck Comrey (D) and Michael Regan (R). Regan, 51, of Carroll Township, resigned as the state's deputy inspector general to run for the office. Comrey, 54, of Dillsburg, has been a firefighter in the Harrisburg Bureau of Fire since 1990. Below are their answers, which we asked them to limit to 200 words.
1. Several bills in the state Legislature propose methods of property tax reform, with some calling for a shift from property taxes to earned or personal income tax. Is property tax reform necessary given restrictions that have already capped tax increases from school districts? Which, if any, of the proposed bills do you support and why?
Comrey: I have been informed that these bills (House 1776 and 2230) had been pulled because they did not provide the amount of funds that are currently being provided by property taxes. These are tax shifts. In shifting property taxes to sales tax, 20 percent of funding is lost. The shift could go the expanded sales tax, for an additional 1 percent, on which the Senate is currently having hearings now. To eliminate property taxes, according to Senator Mike Folmer's plan, for every $1,000 of elimination of property tax, a family would have to spend $16,667 in the expanded sales tax items. I am not in favor of any of these bills. If another recession would hit the economy and people slow or stop spending money, we would lose funding for schools. The comments I am hearing from taxpayers are that they want fair, equal across the board taxes. Property owners feel they are "carrying the load" when compared to those who rent. Is this where "earned income tax" comes into the discussion? I believe this is part of the discussion that needs to take place. To reduce property taxes, the state needs control over the funds; this opens a whole new issue.
Regan: We must support dramatic reforms to protect taxpayers, focus funding on students, and ensure teachers have the tools they need to succeed in the classroom. You can trust I'll stand up for local residents while in Harrisburg and put these concerns first. There are various proposals currently being considered to reform property taxpayers. While we still need to see the details to have confidence these proposals can do what they say - eliminate property taxes - we can take the first step and protect senior citizens in danger of losing their homes due to escalating property taxes now. I am looking closely at HB 2230 and HB 1776 to determine their viability, but maintaining local control is essential. I would support a proposal to eliminate property taxes on those 65 years of age or older who meet specific income thresholds. The funding for this proposal would come from gaming proceeds set aside to pay for these costs. I would also fight to force the politicians to honor their promises to use gambling proceeds only for property tax relief - not their pet projects that only hurt taxpayers and waste our valuable tax dollars. The promise of property tax relief was the only reason most people supported gaming in the Commonwealth and must be fulfilled.
2. State budget cuts to education and social services have drawn the ire of school boards and county commissioners. Do you support cuts made as part of the 2012-13 budget? Why or why not? If there's an opportunity to restore some of that funding in the next budget, what should be the top priorities and why?
Comrey: I do not support the cuts to education that happened in the 2012-2013 budgets. I do appreciate what the Legislature restored. That said, we need to find more ways to fund education because good education creates good jobs. If our kids are better educated, I believe that businesses will take note of that and start investing in Pennsylvania again. The loss of service funding affects all of us. Before any more cuts are made in social services, I hope the legislature takes a good hard look at other areas in the budgets to cut. Top priorities for additional funding should go to education for the reason I mentioned above and to transportation. If businesses see that Pennsylvania is maintaining and improving its transportation system, they will start to invest in our commonwealth.
3. What role should the state have in job creation? Do you support large tax breaks to draw companies to your district or the state? What other methods should the state use to improve its economic climate?
Comrey: If the state would fund infrastructure such as bridge and road repair or replacement, I believe the business community would look more favorably on Pennsylvania and start to reinvest in our commonwealth. This would create more jobs from both sides of the issue. As for "large tax breaks" for large corporations, I'm not in favor of that. Shell Oil Company just set up a company in Delaware to take advantage of the "Delaware loophole." People want these corporations to pay their fair share in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania will be giving Shell a $2 billion tax break in I believe 10 years, meanwhile taking advantage of the "loophole." We need to educate our children better than we have been in the past, educating to the new technology, getting these technology businesses to come into our schools to instruct our students and unemployed workers as to their needs. If that happens, maybe some tax breaks are warranted.
4. Do you support the privatization of the state liquor stores? Why or why not? Are there other changes that should be made to liquor laws in Pennsylvania?
Comrey: I do not support the privatization of Pennsylvania liquor stores. The loss of jobs with 8 percent unemployment is something that we do not need at this time. The state liquor stores provide approximately $500 million to the state coffers. Modernization of the state stores I believe would bring in more revenue to the state. Allowing online purchasing and home delivery would increase revenue also.
5. Can you pinpoint a specific area, project or need - specific to your district - that you would like to address if you win the election in November?
Comrey: I would like to see more family-sustaining jobs in the 92nd District. In the Northern York County School District, we have less than 1% of business in the school district. We need more good jobs in all of the 92nd.
6. What issue - other than the ones addressed in previous questions - would you like to tackle if elected? What would you like to accomplish in regard to that issue and why do you consider it so important?
Comrey: I support finding sustainable ways to keep our public emergency personnel employed.
These workers are vital to the safety of our communities. Their funding is very important. As a career firefighter for the last 27-plus years of my life, my brethren and I have felt the "political financial pinch" of administrations to balance municipalities budgets on those workers' backs. It is not safe for them or the citizens that they protect.
We need to put our laid-off teachers back to work. Education is critical to building the job market in Pennsylvania.