Two Republicans in the 93rd House District will battle it out on the April 24 ballot for a chance to represent their party in November.
Ernie Merisotis will face state Rep. Ron Miller, R-Jacobus, in the Republican primary. Whoever wins that race will meet Democrat Linda Small in the November election.
Merisotis is a 47-year-old truck driver from York Township. He previously lost to Miller in a four-way primary race two years ago.
Merisotis was Miller's closest competition in that election, securing 21 percent of the vote.
Miller, 60, is seeking his eighth term in the state House of Representatives.
Small, 51, of New Freedom, also ran against Miller in 2010 and fell short of winning the seat. She is a former office manager for the county's Democratic Party and is a U.S. Navy veteran.
The York Dispatch asked the candidates a series of questions. Here are their answers.
1. What measures should the state 1. Legislature take to improve Pennsylvania's economy and help create more jobs in the Commonwealth?
Merisotis: Lawmakers must build on last year's success. It's time to end the use of debt for corporate welfare and provide retirement benefits for public sector employees that are predictable and affordable. We need welfare programs that encourage self-reliance rather than dependence on government and corrections reforms to reduce costs and reduce crime.
With the massive debt threatening to bankrupt the state, we must rethink all state spending. Lawmakers should strictly cap the growth of future state spending. They should adopt prevailing wage reforms to lower the inflated cost of government construction projects. And lawmakers must embrace school choice, which saves taxpayers up front, saves children from violent and failing schools, and improves educational outcomes, thus saving on future corrections and welfare costs.
Miller: Pennsylvania has the highest cumulative business taxes in the world. Reducing the tax burden on business would allow employers to be competitive with other states and countries and to create more jobs for Pennsylvania residents.
Reform of our Unemployment Compensation law to disallow collecting unemployment when discharged for willing misconduct or when an employee voluntarily quits will save employers money that can be used to develop more business and create more jobs. The $4 billion borrowed from the federal government to pay unemployment compensation claims is a debt of Pennsylvania employers. We are attempting to pass legislation to help Pennsylvania employers manage this debt in a more cost-effective manner.
Reform of the prevailing wage law is needed. Standardized statewide job classifications will avoid costly labor disputes. Updating the threshold (set at $25,000 in 1963) for prevailing wage will save taxpayer dollars, thus allowing more public projects to be done and more jobs to be created.
Pennsylvania should be a right to work state. This creates a perception for businesses considering a move to Pennsylvania that says "Pennsylvania is open for business."
Small: Pennsylvania must let small businesses and renewable energy companies create jobs. We must create a real free market and stop subsidizing corporations.
End the corporate net income tax loophole that allows 75 percent of corporations to pay no tax while small businesses are stuck paying the bills and playing on a field tilted toward corporations. End the $2.9 billion subsidy Pennsylvania gives fossil fuel corporations each year. After 150 years, fossil fuels should compete in a free market and pay for their pollution.
Then Pennsylvania can grow a 21st-century energy economy based on renewable energy, efficiency and conservation. Good-paying green jobs will increase, and lower energy costs for consumers and businesses will help the economy. With less pollution, health care costs will also lower. Most important, ending fossil fuel subsidies will help slow global warming, which is causing extreme weather and costing taxpayers and businesses.
Pennsylvania must properly fund transportation and infrastructure, focusing especially on mass transit and water/sewer infrastructure. $1 billion in infrastructure funding creates around 30,000 jobs, and it is much cheaper to maintain than it is to let things fall apart. Finally, Pennsylvania must properly fund public education and invest in our children and jobs for teachers.
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?
Merisotis: While Pennsylvania's roads and bridges are in poor shape, Pennsylvania spends more than $61,000 per highway mile, the seventh-highest road spending in the country. Funds are available, but they're not being managed or spent well.
There are more ways to shore up funding for roads and bridges that won't empty the wallets of Pennsylvania drivers. Currently, the cost of state-funded construction projects are ballooned by tens of millions of dollars due to mandates that force private employers to pay workers inflated wages, increasing labor costs upward of 30 percent for the same quality of work. Redefining prevailing wage laws on state-funded construction projects can free up funding that could be used on other badly needed projects.
Miller: The backlog of transportation projects is severe in Pennsylvania, with the focus being on safety and maintenance out of necessity created by loss of highway dollars. Capacity expansion for growing areas like York County is not being addressed due to the lack of funding.
We are attempting to facilitate additional capacity projects, and possibly some maintenance projects for major highways, through passage of "public/private partnership" (P3) enabling legislation. If the public and private sector can participate in major projects using private investment dollars, it will free up limited transportation dollars for routine maintenance and safety enhancement projects.
As cars become more fuel efficient, the revenue for maintaining our transportation infrastructure declines and it becomes more difficult to expand capacity. If public/private partnerships do not supplement the revenue shortfall, it is necessary to re-examine how we fund transportation, and comprehensive funding system changes need to be adopted.
Small: PennDOT reports 6,000 structurally deficient bridges and an average bridge age of 50 years. Poor roads cost taxpayers extra in vehicle maintenance. If not addressed, the bridge/road $2.5 billion backlog costs may more than double by 2020. (The total transportation deficit is over $3 billion.)
When Pennsylvania neglects infrastructure, it fails to support the tens of thousands of jobs needed to maintain roads properly. That hurts the economy and lowers tax revenues, so Pennsylvania must find the money to keep our roads and bridges safe.
First, stop subsidizing large corporations. Pennsylvania just made a deal with Shell to bring a cracker plant to the state, yet Shell's profits last year were larger than Pennsylvania's budget. If Pennsylvania puts that money into roads and bridges, it will create more jobs and benefit all Pennsylvanians.
The state has not changed fees for license and registration for years. Updating them to reflect inflation will raise funds.
The state should look at savings in areas like alternatives to prison for non-violent offenders, and use that money for transportation as well. Pennsylvania must maintain mass transit to reduce wear on roads and support workers and businesses.
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?
Merisotis: While I do support the ban on texting, I do not support banning handheld cell phone use. We have too many intrusive laws on the book, and I am concerned about the never ending loss of our freedoms.
A government big enough to give us everything we want is big enough to take away all our liberty. It is for this reason I would not want to mandate the wearing of helmets.
Miller: I will support a ban on handheld cell phones, but I remain convinced the use of a handheld cell phone is no more dangerous than many other activities, such as eating or drinking, while driving. All drivers need to accept responsibility to focus on safety first.
I voted against the motorcycle helmet repeal. It makes no sense to me that we require a car occupant to wear a seat belt while riding in a steel cage but do not require a motorcyclist to wear a helmet.
Small: When deciding what laws are necessary, my criteria includes whether an individual faces the risk alone and how much danger others face as a result of an activity. Is the person an adult making his own informed decision?
In the case of motorcycle helmets, the risk is centered on an adult making an informed decision. I do not believe we should change the current law. Crash statistics before and after mandatory helmet laws clearly show the risk for death and serious injury is greater without helmets. It is a poor decision to ride without one. But the state should not and does not regulate every potentially dangerous activity for adults.
A handheld cell phone ban would protect innocent bystanders from those whose actions endanger not only themselves but others outside of the car. I support a cell phone ban, as studies show that talking to someone not in the car by cell phone significantly increases the risk of crashes.
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?
Merisotis: Act 1 has not limited the growth of property taxes. The Pennsylvania Taxpayers Cyber Coalition website (www.ptcc.us) explains in detail why Act 1 doesn't work.
It's time to eliminate property tax. House Bill 1776 and Senate Bill 1400, the Property Tax Independence Act, will do that instead of HB 2230, which is yet another tax shift bill.
I support the elimination of property tax for all property owners, knowing that a reduction in taxes paid by businesses will give our economy a much-needed boost.
Miller: The severity of the property tax burden varies widely across Pennsylvania. Growth areas of the state, like York County, are negatively impacted by a funding formula that has not accounted for student increases since 1991.
Several attempts have been made to pass total abolishment of the use of property taxes over the past decade. Each has failed, whether limited to homesteads or including all properties, with approximately 60 representatives from the growing areas of the state voting for the legislation.
Therefore, property tax reform means different things depending on where you live in Pennsylvania. I'm hopeful two votes will be taken this year.
The first would be on legislation to totally eliminate property taxes, either on all property or just homesteads, on a statewide basis. I'll vote for that legislation, but history indicates it will fall far short of the 102 votes required for passage in the House.
Therefore, the second vote should be for a plan like the one put forth by Rep. Grove to allow a county to have some discretion in how it address the property tax issue. This proposal may have a better chance of passage.
Small: The unfair state funding formula that harms growing areas like York County must be a priority for our representatives. The state Legislature must meet its constitutional mandate to support education instead of steadily lowering funding to less than 40 percent of the cost. 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, Pennsylvania Republicans ignored their own costing-out study of 2007 and cut state public education funding by a billion dollars last year. They crowed they held the line on taxes and scolded local school boards when they cut programs and raised 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.
Any reforms that don't address maintaining a predictable share of state funding won't solve the local tax problem. Changing from property tax to sales tax keeps the burden on local taxpayers and simply shifts the tax.
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?
Merisotis: The administration has no choice but to make some tough choices given the current economic conditions. K-12 funding is mandatory and therefore deserves the priority over higher education in state spending.
We need to give the local school boards the ability to exempt themselves from wasteful and unfunded mandates such as prevailing wage, which caused a project for the South Western School District to go from $84,504 to $126,825 (a 50 percent increase) for the same roof repairs with the same workers.
I fully support HB 1776 for the elimination of property tax. HB 2230 and other tax shift schemes are at best only Band-Aid solutions to a problem that has grown for decades and needs to be addressed now.
Miller: Education cannot be held immune from cuts in economic crises like the state has faced over the last two budget cycles. Increased state funding for higher education has not stemmed the rise in tuition costs for higher education. Higher education needs to respond to the reality of the current economic climate.
Eventually, more of the funding for higher education will be directed to students with less flowing directly to the institutions of higher education. Students and their families will be able to decide which institution provides the best value for the state aid and personal dollars they spend for education.
Increasing state dollars for basic education has not resulted in fewer tax increases for taxpayers at the local level. Due to the constitutional mandate to provide a thorough education for all students, it is difficult to shift funding from school districts. However, if we accept the principle the money should follow the student, more money should flow to schools with growing student populations and less money to those with shrinking student populations. This would significantly balance the property tax issue for areas of the state that are growing, like York County.
Small: The governor cut education funding, then created a commission to study it. That is a backward approach. Education funding is an investment in our people and the key to Pennsylvania's competitiveness in the marketplace.
Higher education has been cut by one-third since 2008. The fat is out of the system, and the cuts are causing tuition hikes for students already burdened by high education costs and a difficult economy. Pennsylvania must make education a priority, with a goal of making education truly affordable.
Ways to afford this include making corporations pay a fair share of taxes and help fund their future work force. Ending the $2.9 billion in fossil fuel subsidies will free dollars for education. Taxing cigars and smokeless tobacco and closing loopholes like the Amazon sales tax and Delaware loophole will raise a billion.
Experience shows that investing in education creates higher-paid workers and helps the economy. Not investing in education lets people fall through the cracks, resulting in lower productivity and higher costs for things like prison. Gov. Corbett's 2013 budget spends twice as much on prisons as higher education. That is backward. Cutting education is shortsighted, penny-wise and pound foolish.
6. Why should voters cast a vote for you on Election Day? What qualities make you best suited for the position?
Merisotis: I am not a career politician. As a former small business owner, I see that Pennsylvania needs to make changes in the way the state is run, including: eliminating property tax, reforming the Pension system (I personally will not take the pension), eliminating prevailing wage, making Pennsylvania a right to work state and fully protecting the Second Amendment.
Pennsylvania is only one of four states that have a full-time legislature. As long as career politicians continue to control the Legislature and enrich themselves with perks and fat pensions at the expense of the taxpayers, this state will continue down the road to ruin. I am running to bring positive and lasting change to Harrisburg.
Miller: The diversity of my experience in private industry and public service is an asset for me to represent the residents of York County and all of Pennsylvania. My 25 years in private industry as the safety and environmental manager for Adhesives Research, service as a member on the Dallastown school board and the York County School of Technology operating committee and service on a board that became the Workforce Investment Board for York County have prepared me to understand a wide array of issues.
Representing the interests of many people requires a thorough knowledge of the district and county and proven ability to analyze issues and make informed votes. I offer my diverse life experiences at various levels of private and public service to represent the best interests of the residents of the 93rd District.
Small: As a retired Navy weather forecaster, I know that our country and state can do great things. I am not taking any money for my campaign, so I am accountable to the voters, not special interests.
I am running because Pennsylvania is ready to move to a 21st-century green energy policy to create jobs, revitalize the economy, end harmful pollution and stop the worst of global warming.
We can restore funding for public education and health care by asking huge corporations to pay their fair share, and then lower property taxes. We can bring back a true free market and help small businesses and renewable energy create jobs, instead of subsidizing corporations and fossil fuel companies. We can protect and expand the rights of all Pennsylvanians, including women and the LGBT community, and support unions and workers.
We need politicians to fight for the middle class and the poor, the 99 percent who built America, and not just reward the corporate lobbyists. We need leaders who know that the extreme weather Pennsylvania and the country are experiencing means we must stop using fossil fuels now or our children will deal with an unstable world of dustbowls, rising seas and dying oceans.