Three people are in the race for the 47th House District on the eastern side of York County.
Republican Keith Gillespie, 59, of Hellam Township, is seeking his sixth term. He's the only Republican in the race.
But he'll face competition in the fall. Two Democrats, Sarah Speed and Shane Richardson, are running.
Speed, 28, is the state director of the Humane Society of the United States and is a licensed attorney.
Richardson, 27, is a substitute teacher from Hellam Township.
Each candidate was asked the following questions.
1. What measures should the state Legislature take to improve Pennsylvania's economy and help create more jobs in the Commonwealth?
Gillespie: Balance the state budget without an increase in taxes or borrowing. Pennsylvania needs to live within its means.
Continue the phase-out of job-crippling business taxes and liability reform. We are beginning to see the results of these efforts with Shell Oil recently announcing their desire to build their new petrol chemical plant in Pennsylvania and local firms expanding their operations.
Richardson: One way the Commonwealth can create more jobs is by simply investing in our infrastructure. If the state invested in public work projects, similar to what the country did during the recession of the 1930s and 1940s, the state could easily create thousands of jobs and solve the problem of crumbling roads, bridges and other infrastructure throughout the Commonwealth at the same time. Throughout the state, there are highways that are in dire need of being repaved, reconstructed or possibly expanded.
The state currently ranks as one of the lowest in the country relative to job creation. We need more focus on technical training and education in order to bring manufacturing back to Pennsylvania. The demand for machinists, welders, electricians and other technical job is incredibly high. Refocusing our work force training to the crafts and techniques that made this country an industrial giant is essential. When you invest in educating our youth and unemployed in these areas, you are producing those skilled laborers in the work force that not only work in Pennsylvania industries but also help keep them here. You are creating jobs and building the economy at the same time.
Speed: The non-partisan Independent Fiscal Office presentation in January reported that unless the state is willing to address both lowering spending and increasing revenue, we face continued deficits up to 2017. Pennsylvania's painfully slow economic recovery is not due to a weak work force or lack of small businesses. It is due to a state government whose focus has become protecting the largest corporations.
What person wants to risk starting or expanding a small business knowing that the state is unwilling to address huge inequities in the tax code that are blatantly designed to foster and protect large businesses to the detriment of small business and the local economy? Yet every Chamber of Business and Industry study confirms that small businesses are the backbone of job creation.
Rather than state government focusing on solutions designed to provide yet another tax break to large corporations such as an additional capital stock tax reduction, I propose a measure designed to benefit small businesses. Providing a loss carry-forward option that large corporations already enjoy to small non-corporate business would do far more to drive investment and job creation. Prudent stewardship requires balance and fairness in taxation as well as expenditures.
2. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation can point to a large backlog of road and bridge projects across the state. How dire are Pa.'s transportation needs? And how should it fund those backlogged projects?
Gillespie: With more bridges and roads then many other states combined, Pennsylvania has needs that require action. Through an extensive assessment, many of those bridges and roads with structural deficiencies have been repaired, closed or removed from service.
Funding could be realized via several means. Tolling of interstates 80 and 95. Both of these roads are predominately pass-through roads, with most traffic being from out of state. Additionally, I-95 is tolled in adjoining states. Funds that are currently being used to maintain those roads could then be allocated or directed to repair and maintain residual Commonwealth roads and bridges. Public/private partnerships have proven quite successful in other parts of the country, and these opportunities should be vigorously explored for Pennsylvania.
Richardson: Pennsylvania is notorious for having some of the worst roads and bridges in the country. Our transportation needs are extremely important not only for the safety of our citizens but also for attracting businesses to our state. In the 47th District, we have a strong road system that includes routes 30, 462, 83 and 74; however, those who have driven these roads know they can be congested nightmares at times. The backlog created by this obstruction deters businesses from locating their plants in our area simply because the infrastructure does not allow them to operate conveniently.
Funding for these projects could come from eliminating the mandatory emissions test for vehicles and diverting the $46 fee toward road and bridge improvements. Currently less than 4 percent of vehicles fail the emissions test, thus the state is unnecessarily collecting millions of dollars to tell you that your vehicle is running fine. Redistributing this fee, already being paid by drivers, to fix our infrastructure is a much better investment for the citizens of Pennsylvania.
Speed: Gov. Corbett's Transportation Funding Advisory Commission determined that many of Pennsylvania's highways and bridges are in need of reconstruction, repair and maintenance beyond what present funding can address.
We can begin to address these projects at current funding levels by redirecting present funds within PennDOT by sharing technology with other agencies and by standardizing engineering and construction elements. For example, standardizing the length of all bridges approximating 50' at 50' saves design costs, permits bulk purchases of materials and creates a uniform construction fee.
The commission also recommended removing the cap on the oil franchise tax. The cap was last adjusted in the mid-80s. Because the tax is calculated by assessing millage against the wholesale price of fuel by distributors, it is substantially out of date.
Additionally, the state should consider removing funding of the state police from the highway motor license fund. Municipalities such as those in the 47th District that pay for local police departments should not have their taxes used to supply state police protection to municipalities that do not fund local police. Instead, those funds should be used to improve local roads and bridges.
3. With a focus on highway safety, state government has adopted new rules for teen drivers and a texting ban for everyone in the past year. Are more measures along those lines needed? Would you support a ban on handheld cell phones? A helmet requirement for motorcyclists? Why or why not?
Gillespie: More measures are needed. Another key component should be the ban on handheld cell phones. We need to ascertain if other types of distracted driving, e.g. reading a book/newspaper, combing one's hair, preparing a meal and other examples of inattentive driving are being adequately addressed by current law. If not, then those areas need to be introduced.
Prior to election to the General Assembly and prior to the lifting of the helmet requirement, I worked for over 34 years as a paramedic responding to hundreds of motorcycle accidents. I witnessed firsthand extensive damage to helmets that had the operator not been wearing one the damage seen on the helmet would have been directly received by the head/skull/brain of the operator. I voted against the repeal of the helmet requirement and would support that helmets be required.
Richardson: The new rules for teen drivers are necessary because teens have a sense of invincibility that may lead them to make harmful decisions behind the wheel. Having a learners permit for an extended period of time with more behind-the-wheel training is only helping teens realize the stress and distractions of driving and how to compensate for them.
The ban on texting while driving is a step in the right direction for the safety of everyone on the roads. While it is difficult for the police departments to enforce, many people have stopped texting while driving simply because it is illegal. I believe a ban on handheld cell phones is becoming more necessary because a large majority of the population utilizes them while driving and they can easily be a distraction.
I do not support a full fledged ban on all cell phone use, including a ban on hands-free cell phone usage, because I realize many commuters utilize them for their jobs. I would highly recommend those who must talk while driving utilize a hands-free device.
It's in your best interest to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle, but it should not be mandated by law. Motorcyclists have the option to wear a helmet for their safety and many continue to do so. While riding without a helmet can obviously be dangerous and harmful to the individual rider in an accident, this is a personal decision, not a decision state.
Speed: As the number of drivers on the highways continues to increase ... and especially on roadways that were not designed to safely handle the volume of traffic they now bear on a daily basis, measures to assure safe driving habits are necessary.
It is to York County's credit that Rep. Eugene DePasquale persevered to enact the ban on texting while driving. As some legislators argued while debating the issue, enforcing the texting ban is extraordinarily difficult while drivers are permitted to use handheld cell phones for calls. The distraction of searching the address book for and entering a number is just as distracting as texting.
Many citizens of the 47th District that I have discussed this issue with agree that if a driver can afford a cell phone, they should also be required to utilize an earpiece and or another hands-free system.
The motorcycle helmet issue, on the other hand, creates a danger only to the individual making that choice. I believe the present helmet restrictions and requirements are adequate.
4. Residents have long complained about property taxes, though in recent years, Act 1 has succeeded in stemming the rapid increase in school property taxes. Does the state need property tax reform? Why or why not? And, if so, how would you approach the issue? Should property tax relief be restricted to homesteads (a homeowner's primary place of residence) or provided for all property owners? Why?
Gillespie: As a result of the funding formula change in 1991, most parts of the state do not have an issue with property taxes. In some cases their taxes have been significantly reduced, while locally ours have nearly tripled.
Recently I have offered my support to a legal challenge to throw out the formula as this has been one of the drivers to the ever-increasing property tax situation. We need to fix the formula for equitable distribution of the state's resources or eliminate the tax by switching to another way to fund education.
I am in the final stages of researching and drafting a bill to eliminate school property taxes for homesteads and farmsteads by expanding the base of the sales and use tax as well as an adjustment to the personal income tax. We are also looking at a plan to eliminate school property taxes for those age 65 and older and under an income threshold by use of the gaming dollars and other revenue.
Richardson: Pennsylvania needs property tax reform. Our current property tax situation is causing people to lose their homes, resulting in a shrinking tax base, which causes a tax increase for those still owning a home. I see something fundamentally wrong with this situation.
The state must contribute 50 percent of the cost of education in order to reduce property taxes. When the state cuts education funding, as it has under Gov. Corbett and supported by Rep. Keith Gillespie, the cost of education falls on the backs of the local taxpayer. By closing the "Delaware Loophole," Pennsylvania stands to collect $300 million to $700 million per year, which would provide the funds necessary for the state to contribute its fair share to education.
Property tax relief should be restricted to homesteads because Pennsylvania needs to strive to keep people in their primary residences, hence keeping them in the state. If we want to get Pennsylvania's economy back on track, it all begins with property tax reform. When property taxes are lowered, people have more discretionary income that can be spent in our state, which will lead to an improving economy and ultimately to job creation.
Speed: Property tax reform has eluded the Legislature for nearly half a century and is not likely to occur under the Corbett administration. Proposals offered by local legislators recycle the very same ideas voters rejected by a nearly 5 to 1 margin when Gov. Casey attempted to modify property tax allocation. Furthermore, Gov. Corbett has often repeated his no tax pledge (for example the enactment of a Marcellus Shale "fee" not a "tax"), which prevents him from signing legislation increasing sales or income taxes.
It may be possible to achieve property tax relief by addressing the funding of public education, which accounts for two-thirds of property taxes. Although adjusting the state school subsidy formula is long overdue, legislators should not be misled into thinking that adjusting the formula alone will reduce all property taxes -- primarily because the formula would have to be fully funded by the state to do so and, secondly, readjusting the formula will relieve taxes in some districts and lead to increases in others. As we focus on how to relieve property taxes, prudent stewardship requires that we fairly balance the tradeoffs and make reduction for primary residences a priority.
5. State funding for education, and especially higher education, has declined under the Corbett administration. Do you agree or disagree with the approach the administration has taken toward education funding? Explain your answer. What changes would you recommend in terms of funding education?
Gillespie: For many years, and for each and every one of those years, increased funding by the state was appropriated to higher education, yet tuitions continued to rise.
Approximately 80 percent of the cost of operating the schools are salaries and benefits of the instructors. The residual is paid out to ancillary staff, building and ground maintenance, debt service and other nominal expenditures. In this recession, as so many individuals are doing and have done, there needs to be a freeze or reduction to these excessive outlays.
The recent reduction and proposed allocations are scant percentage points of the total education budget. Most Pennsylvania households have had to sacrifice far beyond the single percentage points that these institutions will temporarily face. When I hear of some staff working 12 hours per week while enjoying a salary of $100,000 per year, that is wrong.
Richardson: The state funding cuts for education under the Corbett administration are an embarrassment to our students and to our state. Education is the foundation for everything in a person's life, and it opens doors that would otherwise be kept shut. The lack of funding to K-12 public schools is a detriment to our educational system. It causes teacher furloughs and program cuts that are negatively affecting your sons and daughters. When China is doubling down on education, Pennsylvania is turning its back on our youth. Pennsylvania schools should be leading the pack, not trailing behind.
The cuts to higher education are making it increasingly more difficult for students to attend college. Students are graduating thousands of dollars in debt and are unable to find jobs in the Commonwealth, causing them to flee for other states. As a graduate of Millersville University with both my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I understand the importance of reasonably priced, state-funded institutions. I chose Millersville because of its long, renowned history for teacher education as well as its affordability. Cuts to the PASSHE schools, as well as the state supported colleges, will only drive up tuition costs, driving away potential students.
Speed: Neither throwing money into education nor slashing funding and leaving students and districts to sink or swim will correct the underlying problems plaguing public education.
The Legislature and the governor must address the inefficiencies and waste inherent in a system of 500 separate school districts. Returning to a county or regional superintendent system could decrease administrative cost for every local district. Moving to a statewide teacher contract funded entirely by the state and making the state responsible for negotiating it would prevent "leap frog" negotiations from district to district. Shifting to "pay for performance" contracts with private providers can guarantee goals are met or the taxpayer doesn't pay.
There is a reading program pioneered with senatorial grants that has helped districts as diverse as Hazleton and Union City dramatically improve reading scores and lower special education costs, and it comes with a guarantee: If the targets are not met, the district does not pay. Less than 25 percent of our districts have taken advantage of this program. Pennsylvania's resistance to change what does not work to what does work must be overcome. It starts with the Legislature.
6. Why should voters cast a vote for you on Election Day? What qualities make you best suited for the position?
Gillespie: Proven leader. Next in line for a committee chairmanship. Have established excellent relationships with both chambers and both sides of the aisle resulting in having legislation passed.
I am respected for my frank honesty, integrity and non-partisan approach to solving issues. My broad life experiences and unique emergency services and health care background have prepared and enabled me to be a resource and the go-to person in many incidences.
I lead by example, drive my own vehicle, refuse per diems and practice fiscal control and discipline.
Richardson: As a leader in Harrisburg, I will work tirelessly and diligently for the people who elect me, not for my own personal interests. After reaching out to thousands of voters in the 47th District, the message is clear: career politicians and lobbyists are ruining our system at the state Capitol.
As someone who has lived in York County all my life, went to school in the Eastern York School District, attended Millersville University and now works in classrooms throughout the county, I understand your concerns. I have witnessed first-hand the issues facing our community. It is time to elect a lifelong resident of the 47th District to represent this area. It is time to elect someone who will stand up to the establishment. I am the person for the job.
A vote for me is an assured vote for someone who will go to Harrisburg to represent your interests, not my own. I will be a familiar face in the 47th District as I will continue the conversations I have begun with you long after I am elected. If you want a hard-working Harrisburg outsider that provides a local choice for a local voice, I ask that you vote for me on April 24.
Speed: As a mother and the daughter of a public school teacher, I understand the difficulty of securing safe and affordable childcare and quality education. This experience will ground my decisions in addressing changes in school funding guidelines and teacher licensing.
As a member of a military family, I understand the sacrifices demanded of our service members as they navigate the pain of deployments and the stress of relocation. This experience will guide my work to lessen the burden on military families.
As a local volunteer emergency responder, I understand the emergency preparedness needs of a growing community, how to plan for disasters and how effective government can mitigate public safety concerns. This experience will guide the drafting of resolutions calling for statewide education on emergency preparedness and legislation that encourages businesses and families to prepare to engage in community planning.
As an attorney, I understand the complexities of the law and how to read, explain and most importantly write clear and constitutional legislation addressing the evolving needs of Pennsylvania.
These life experiences have honed my skills, made my education meaningful and guided my career. I am and will remain dedicated to public service as a citizen and hopefully the 47th District's next state representative.