This is a series of six questions The York Dispatch asked the candidates for Pennsylvania Senate District 33 seats: incumbent Richard Alloway (R) and Bruce Neylon (D). Neylon is a 59-year-old computer programmer from Straban Township, Adams County. First-term incumbent Richard Alloway is a 44-year-old lawyer who took office in 2009. 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?
Alloway: I strongly support moving away from a property-based tax system and move to a sales tax system. A sales tax system is fairer and more broad-based. Sales tax also has a more direct relationship to one's ability to pay. Just because you own a piece of property has little bearing on your ability to pay. I have cosponsored numerous bills to end our unfair property tax system. I am also an original member of the Property Tax Reform Caucus in the Legislature.
Neylon: SB-584 seems to be setting tax relief based on a homestead or farmstead exclusion that would have to be applied for yearly and would be paid for from revenues from taxation of legal Casinos. This might work until real reform could be made.
I am against the bill Sen. Alloway co-sponsored, SB-1400. This is another of those bills that could possibly have huge unplanned ramifications. Kind of like the "Small Games of Chance" changes that I get an earful about every time I go out to talk to people.. I think we should first try to reform property taxes before we just throw them out. Let's see if we can come up with a way of making the property tax fairer.
The school districts need a certain amount of money to function at a high level. The money has to come from somewhere. How much higher would sales taxes have to go, how many more products would need to be taxed to make up for the elimination of property taxes? Sales taxes are the most regressive taxes there are, those least able to afford the tax are those that would end up with the largest tax burden.
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?
Alloway: Budgets are always challenging whether in Harrisburg or your family's household budget. No one is happy when budgets are cut. HOWEVER, our state government must live with the revenues we have. We cannot debt spend and we simply cannot raise taxes in a struggling economy. If our revenues increase, I am willing to revisit our spending priorities and listen to our community's concerns and needs.
Neylon: I do not support the Education and Social Services cuts.
An educated citizenry is needed for a prosperous future for the Commonwealth. Current businesses need educated and trained people to draw on in order to expand. New businesses are more likely to locate in Pennsylvania if they can find a base of well-educated people. Cutting funds to school districts is not the way to strengthen education. Cutting funds will bring about one or more of the following:
1) Cutting of programs
2) Firing of teachers and increasing class size
3) Raising of school taxes
None of these can be considered a positive by any resident of Pennsylvania.
Could cutting the funds to social services come at a worse time? More people need help during a recession than in boom-times. And, as with the educational cuts, the burden is being shifted to the local governments to make up the difference in needed funds.
We need to restore the classroom funding as soon as possible. We cannot afford to lose a single child.
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?
Alloway: Job creation is a top priority in the Commonwealth. During my first term in office, I've sponsored several job fairs in Franklin and Adams counties. Thousands of job-seekers attended, as well as hundreds of employers.
Despite the slow economic recovery, we have seen growth in the district: Ulta Cosmetics in Chambersburg and Volvo in Shippensburg are examples.
I've supported legislation that would give tax-breaks to various new and small businesses. In this current economic climate, we need to be promoting and encouraging small-business opportunities, not limiting them.
I've also supported legislation that would give employers the option to avoid layoffs, and preserve jobs.
Neylon: The state needs to provide an educated populace and a well-maintained public infrastructure. Infrastructure must include available clean water, good roads and bridges, updated railroads and ports, electricity, fire and police protection, and fast reliable telecommunications. Companies also look at the quality of living when deciding upon location. Things like healthcare and hospitals, libraries, museums, theaters all play a part.
I am not a fan of governmental tax break wars to draw businesses. I think too often government gives away the store and is left with a bad deal for the people of the area. The companies tend to play the governments off of each other, wringing the last drop of blood from the communities. There are other and better ways of job creations.
One concept is "Economic Gardening." Rather than trying to pull companies from other states, we help the local entrepreneurs to begin and grow businesses by helping meet their needs. Anything from research and market analysis, low interest loans, to helping them set up a web page.
A Pennsylvania group, "Ben Franklin Technology Partners," is already involved in a highly successful job creation. And, of course, Harrisburg slashed funding to the organization. They nurture promising technology startups. They are a good investment for the state. We need more groups like BFTP.
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?
Alloway: As the new chairman of the Senate's Law and Justice Committee, this is an issue that we'll be monitoring closely. The committee oversees state liquor issues.
I've carefully studied all proposals. It's important to me that alcohol is handled properly and that it's controlled. I don't want alcohol getting into the hands of our youth.
I'm against opening the system up, completely. I don't feel it is good public policy exposing booze to the wrong people.
Neylon: I currently am not for the privatization of the state liquor stores. I have read a lot about it and have come to the conclusion that selling them would probably not accomplish anything that the proponents claim it would.
The figures I have read for the expected on-time sale seem kind of inflated. I see a claim of 2 billion dollars for the sale of the liquor stores. That makes each of the 620 worth, on average, $3,225,606. I am having a hard time swallowing that. And even if they are talking about just the 1,200 liquor licenses, that comes to $1,666,666 per license.
I am also a little flummoxed with the 1,200 liquor licenses. Is there truly such a huge pent-up demand for liquor that we need to double the number of liquor outlets? I have yet to run into anyone who has said, "I was going to buy a bottle of rum, but the State Liquor Store was just too far away."
I don't really understand what problem will be solved by selling the liquor stores. I am open to other viewpoints, but I am not for selling without good reasons.
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?
Alloway: Transportation will continue to be an issue in the district. We must come up with a plan that will subsidize our crumbling roadways, bridges and infrastructure, without burdening our taxpayers.
Prevailing wage is an issue that I've monitored in both counties. I've co-sponsored legislation that would modernize the law.
Agriculture is an area that I am always looking to protect and promote in my district. We were able to keep cigarette tax revenues allocated toward farmland preservation in this year's budget. We also passed legislation eliminating the farmland inheritance tax.
Neylon: I would like to start an "education caucus" for the 33rd district. The caucus would be made up of representatives from each School Board, the respective Superintendents, as well as the top teachers and perhaps some other selected experts. Our school districts are separate and very independent, but our education system is under pressure to perform at a higher level with a lot less and we need to take advantage of the entire knowledge and experience available district wide. The caucus could also serve as a method to communicate with the public, to generate publicity on hot issues.
I would meet regularly with this caucus, to identify common problems and issues, as well as to discuss a district wide strategy in how best to move forward toward our common goal, a superior educational system. This would be a place to discuss common problems and come up with creative solutions. This would also be a place we could identify future problems before they can become critical. This would help the individual school districts immensely. No longer would they have to go it alone or accept an expert's recommendation without corroboration.
They could come to the district wide caucus and ask the group.
The caucus could serve as a forum where "expert speakers" from other regions, or States, or the Federal government could come to discuss ideas. This could be a place where we could learn from each other and where new ideas could be discussed.
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?
Alloway: I'll continue to look at property tax reform, and eliminating the inheritance tax.
As chairman of the Senate's Fish & Game Committee, I support legislation that would reduce the cost of a Pa. hunting license. License sales have plummeted in recent years, especially among youth; and many sportsmen are trying to provide food for their families, especially in tough economic times.
Education is an area where I'm committed to ensuring that dollars are not lost to waste or mismanagement. We have seen unnecessary buyouts of superintendent contracts. I have supported and introduced legislation that would prevent a similar waste of resources by voiding a school-district superintendent's contract, when the school board votes to remove that individual from office.
Neylon: The Affordable Care Act includes many important and much needed reforms into the healthcare system. No more lifetime caps, the insurance companies have to spend at least 80% of premiums on actual health care, no more denial due to preexisting conditions, free preventive care, all these things are huge to the average Pennsylvanian.
I think now is the time for Pennsylvania to take the next step, a single payer healthcare plan for every citizen of Pennsylvania. There are many plans as to how to get there. I think it is long past time to start studying them and craft a Pennsylvania healthcare plan. We need to see healthcare as a right in our society. No one should ever have to declare bankruptcy over medical bills; no one should every die due to inability to pay for healthcare.
I have many relatives in Canada. Canadians love their Universal Single Payer healthcare system. One of my cousins said Canadians would revolt if their healthcare system was taken away. So Americans who say Canadians don't like their healthcare system are woefully ignorant or lying.
Pennsylvania can come up with a uniquely Pennsylvania Single payer system. The time has come.