This is a series of six questions The York Dispatch asked the candidates for Pennsylvania House District 93 seats: incumbent Ron Miller (R) and Linda Small (D). Miller, 60, is seeking his eighth term in the state House of Representatives.Small, 51, of New Freedom, is a former office manager for the county's Democratic Party and is a U.S. Navy veteran.
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?
Miller: Eighty-eight percent of all property taxes collected for education are collected in 25 of the 67 counties. Sixty-six percent is collected in just 10 counties. York County is one of the 10 counties so property tax elimination is an important issue for us but much of the state residents will pay more in combined taxes if we eliminate property taxes across the state. Funding formula changes made in 1991 have contributed to this inequality so that growth areas of the state, such as York County, have seen property taxes increase dramatically while non growth areas have seen their property tax burden lessened by the unfair funding formula that has not properly accounted for new students. There are approximately 66 representatives elected from the 25 counties that collect 88% of all school property taxes collected in the state. We cannot out vote the 137 representatives, who do not have a serious problem in their districts, and force them to fix this inequity in school funding. Therefore, local options for shifting the tax burden within the counties with high property taxes to fund education and court challenges to force a per student state funding formula need to be considered.
Small: The math is clear, simply shifting from property tax to sales or income tax leads to unacceptably high rates of taxes on individual taxpayers. The current bills flunk the math test. True reform comes from the state meeting its constitutional responsibilities to fund education. The unfair state funding formula that harms growing areas like York County must be adjusted. It should provide 50 percent of education funding as it did in the 1990s when property taxes weren't the burden they are now. Instead state funding is less than 40 percent of the cost so state reps can tell us they held the line on taxes and scold local school boards for raising taxes to make up for the state cuts. There will be no real property tax reform unless corporations pay a fair share. Pennsylvania must end the $2.9 billion a year in subsidies for fossil fuel corporations and close loopholes that allow 75 percent of Pennsylvania corporations to pay no corporate net income tax. Use that money for public education and to lower property taxes. Non-profits renting space pay property taxes through their landlords. Non-profit property owners must start paying property tax just as other property owners do.
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?
Miller: The state has increased public education funding. Any funding cuts are due to the failed unsustainable federal stimulus program.
State funding for social services in York County has lagged due to the unfair funding formulas that do not properly account for population growth. I helped lead the effort by the south central Republican delegation to change the way funding is provided to the counties from the state in a manner that addresses the population served in each county instead of just providing increases based on prior funding levels. We had a minor win that needs constant monitoring and effort in future budget years.
Due to the small number of counties affected by this issue it will be difficult to change the base funding formula for social services. Any effort to restore or increase funding in future budgets must reflect the true needs of the constituents served.
Small: Like not repairing cracks in a home's foundation, cutting investments that prevent even more future spending is a bad idea. The budget cut funding for the mentally ill, homeless, intellectually disabled and victims of abuse. It left last year's billion dollar education cut in place. It's no wonder local officials aren't happy, either local taxes have to increase now to pay for important services, or local taxes have to increase later to pay for problems made worse because of a lack investment now. Balancing the short-term budget at the expense of our families and neighbors is foolish because it will cost us more to pick up the pieces in just a few years. It's especially foolish when the state is throwing money at huge corporations like Shell, which had greater profits last year than our state budget. The claim that we can't afford to help people in need rings hollow when tax cuts for corporations keep growing along with corporate profits. The budget priority should be to help our families and neighbors. Make the best use of our tax dollars by helping people with a hand up and investing in education.
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?
Miller: Tax breaks to attract or retain businesses in Pennsylvania are a tool that can have a short term impact, but the state cannot create jobs that are sustainable in the long term. The role of the state is to foster a tax and workforce climate that allows the private sector to create new jobs and preserve existing ones. During the current session we enacted the Keystone Works Program to help match employers with appropriate unemployed workers in high priority occupations that provide family sustaining wages. We reformed the Unemployment Compensation System to put this program, funded largely by Pennsylvania employers, on the path to fiscal solvency by the year 2019. We also reworked the Uniform Construction Code, and changed the Minimum Wage Act to give employers and employees flexibility in work shift scheduling.
We enacted the E-Verify Program that requires employers wishing to bid on public sector projects to verify the Social Security numbers for new employees through the free federal E-Verify system. With construction sector unemployment around 40%, labor unions correctly pushed for a system to protect Pennsylvania workers.
Much more is in progress to enhance Pennsylvania's job climate.
Small: Pennsylvania must meet its responsibilities to maintain infrastructure, fund education and support the true job creators, small businesses, rather than subsidize corporations which transform taxpayer dollars into ever larger profits. Every $1 billion in infrastructure spending supports 30,000 jobs. PA has over 6,000 structurally deficient bridges. Addressing the $2.5 billion backlog in roads and bridges will create jobs now. Supporting education will help keep teachers and education professionals on the job. In 2011, over 14,000 education jobs were cut. Those job losses have a ripple effect on local economies as well. If the state does its job and funds education, more good jobs will be created.
To create jobs, we must stop subsidizing large corporations. Shell's profits last year were larger than Pennsylvania's budget, yet they were given a multi-billion dollar deal to build a cracker plant. Shell can take care of itself. If the same state investment went to support renewable energy, transportation infrastructure and education in the area, taxpayers would end up with more jobs, safer bridges, educated children and strong small businesses.
Making state government a net zero energy user by 2020 will also create needed jobs, a healthier workforce and a 21st century business climate.
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?
Miller: I support the concept of removing Pennsylvania from the distribution and retail sale of alcohol. Whether this occurs or not, the debate and hearings have fostered an atmosphere such that the PLCB has made significant changes that are benefiting consumers. Of major concern is that a switch to the private sector is fair to consumers and does not result in tax increases in other areas to compensate for lost revenue to the general fund.
Small: State-run liquor stores are a very effective revenue producer for Pennsylvania taxpayers, returning nearly $500 million to the PA treasury in 2010-2011. They support good, family-sustaining union jobs, which helps our economy. They do a good job ensuring underage people do not buy alcohol. Since it is highly unlikely the state would get full value back when privatizing the system, the taxpayers would be the losers if we were to go that route. Privatizing often "saves" money by cutting wages and benefits from workers, with more money going into individual pockets of owners. If the system is privatized, Pennsylvania workers will lose. There will likely be fewer jobs, with lower wages and fewer benefits. There is a real risk to taxpayers of losing value to special interests in the political wheeling and dealing when deciding how to divvy up the system. I won't support a transfer of a strong taxpayer asset to private interests that makes taxpayers losers.
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?
Miller: I will continue to work on all issues but will highlight transportation and environmental issues. Transportation funding and project delivery will remain a high priority in my position serving on the York Area Municipal Planning Organization. As Chairman of the Pennsylvania Delegation to the Chesapeake Bay Commission I will work to assure we meet the federal mandates for improving water quality while doing so using the most cost efficient strategies for agriculture, municipal wastewater, and other contributors of excess nutrient loading to the Bay.
Small: Our region gets an "F" in air quality from the American Lung Association. This means that young children with developing lungs have their health impaired by going outside on some days. I want to end the $3 billion in PA subsidies for polluting oil, gas and coal corporations. I want to increase parent awareness that our subsidized oil, gas and coal industry corporations have treated us like the tobacco companies in knowingly exposing our families to health dangers. In the United States, over 35,000 deaths a year and 1.4 million cases of asthma are caused by soot pollution alone. Children exposed to high levels of pollution suffer drops in lung function similar to those in homes with smoking parents. Air pollution is linked to loss of mental capacity, depression, strokes, heart disease, and cancer. The oil, gas and coal corporations have bought politicians to help keep the truth from American parents so that the corporations can continue to profit. PA can clean our children's air by moving to clean renewable energy and efficiency. We will create good jobs in the process, and lower our energy costs too. Best of all, it will improve our health and increase productivity.
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?
Miller: I'm working on amending the Agriculture Security Law to change inspections of preserved farmland to every two years instead of annually and remove most of the certified mail notification requirements. York County should not be forced to bear the cost of annual inspections. This money can be better used to preserve additional agricultural lands and enhance our agricultural heritage.
I'm also prime sponsor of legislation to establish construction standards for Pennsylvania well drillers. Protecting our groundwater sources is vital and Pennsylvania cannot remain one of the few states not to have minimum standards for water well construction.
Small: By the time a toddler today turns 40 years-old, we will have more smog days, a permanent dustbowl in the U. S. southwest and more extreme weather if we continue business as usual. 98 percent of scientists say global warming is here now, and the problems it brings are many. Pennsylvania is the world's 18th largest economy; we can help clean this up.
We must end the state's $3 billion in fossil fuels subsidies each year and embrace renewable energy and efficiency to create a 21st century economy. We can look backward and keep pollution causing tens of thousands of deaths and millions of illnesses each year, or we can look forward and clean the air. We can create jobs with a new economy based on clean wind, solar, hydro and efficiency. We can put money back in consumers' and taxpayers' wallets. We can take the $3 billion in fossil subsidies and use it to restore state funding for education and lower property taxes. We can let renewable energy companies and small businesses have a level playing field to create jobs.
PA must become a net zero energy user by 2020 to fight global warming. Let's clean up for our kids.