With five people vying for the seat, the 15th Senate District race is one of the more hotly contested state races in the area.
Running are Republicans John McNally, Williams Seeds and Josh First, as well as a Democrats Alvin Q. Taylor and Rob Teplitz.
McNally, 49, is an attorney with the Harrisburg law firm Thomas, Thomas, and Hafer LLP and lives in Dauphin County. Seeds, 69, is a longtime Lower Paxton Township supervisor. First, 47, of Harrisburg is the owner of Appalachian Land and Conservation Services.
Whoever wins the Republican primary will meet either Taylor or Teplitz, depending on who wins the Democratic primary, in the November election.
Taylor, 58, has been a chaplain, a lecturer, a writer and the CEO of his own counseling service. Teplitz, 41, is the chief counsel and policy director for Auditor General Jack Wagner.
Whoever wins the November election will fill the seat that will be vacated by Jeffrey Piccola, who announced he won't seek re-election.
In York County, the district includes Conewago and Newberry townships, plus Goldsboro, Lewisberry and York Haven.
The York Dispatch asked the candidates the following questions.
1. What measures should the state Legislature take to improve Pennsylvania's economy and help create more jobs in the Commonwealth?
First: Reduce spending on unnecessary things.
Exhibit A is prevailing wage requirements, which artificially and dramatically inflate the cost of state projects like road and school construction. Those extra costs are passed to Pennsylvania taxpayers, who thereby lose tens of millions of dollars every year and see their property taxes increase.
Exhibit B is the unsustainable defined benefit packages that state workers and elected state officials continue to receive. New state workers and new elected officials must get the same type of 401(k) retirement fund that private workers get. Defined benefit government programs that pay out tens of millions more than they take in are obviously broken and must be altered.
Exhibit C is welfare fraud and abuse. The Rendell administration took great pride in increasing the number of welfare dependents; evidence suggests that those funds are being wasted. That is your money, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer.
McNally: This issue is Job 1 for the Commonwealth and the country. Legislators must create a business-friendly tax, regulatory and legal environment, focused on job creation and growth, in order to bolster the private sector in its efforts to attract companies to Pennsylvania, give life to small start-up businesses, empower entrepreneurs, and sustain "mom and pop" stores and restaurants. I have fought for small business and working families my entire career and will continue to do so as a state senator.
A business-friendly climate must include reducing the corporate net income tax, streamlining costly and burdensome regulations, and cutting red tape. We also need prevailing wage reform, continued common-sense tort reform, and workers' compensation reform. State officials must work with the federal and local governments to encourage businesses to create family-sustaining jobs. The state cannot go it alone; we must be an active partner in a larger nationwide and global strategy.
The government should not be competing with the private sector, but should seek opportunities to outsource public-sector functions. This will give the private sector more prospects while achieving cost-savings in government. The state needs to be more innovative in stimulating private sector innovation. We need to collaborate with the job-creators to assess and address their needs.
Seeds: Lower the corporate tax to become more competitive with other states. Look at tax reduction incentives statewide and on a local level to entice companies and corporations to move to our state. Eliminate school property taxes.
Taylor: The measures to improve the economy and create more jobs in the Commonwealth are multi-layered and are the following, summarized:
a) Get the national politics of disunity out of the politics of Pennsylvania. The D.C. gridlock has made our residents suffer as the governor tries to follow the lead of the national party leaders in Washington. This has a detrimental effect on the citizens of the Commonwealth.
b) Get a fair deal on the Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction tax. We need to represent the citizens of Pennsylvania and not be a lapdog to the Marcellus Shale industry. A win-win situation exists for all parties on this vast reserve of energy if we meet as honest brokers on behalf of the residents of Pennsylvania. Political contributions to the governor's campaign have been an economic rip-off for every citizen in Pennsylvania, with regards to the current setup and taxation.
Teplitz: The most important issue today is the creation and retention of high-quality, family-sustaining jobs. I will target the billions of dollars spent on so-called "economic development" programs, in which the state -- often unsuccessfully -- attempts to pick job-creating winners and losers. Instead, I'll fight to redirect those funds toward the creation of a better job climate overall in the Commonwealth, with strategic investments in education and training, infrastructure, transportation and tax relief.
To the extent that direct state financial assistance continues, I will set a priority on developing and nurturing small, locally owned businesses and using my experience from tough audits to make sure the recipients create and retain the jobs they promised -- and to make sure they pay back our money if they don't.
The new Marcellus Shale energy resources present a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build an industry that will create thousands of jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil while at the same time help address our state's multi-billion-dollar budget deficit. Unfortunately, the politicians are letting this opportunity slip away. I will make the out-of-state gas companies pay their fair share for using our resources while maximizing the job creation possibilities that this new industry offers.
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?
First: Pennsylvania is known as the Keystone State because of its geographically central location, connecting the Eastern Seaboard to the mid-western interior and beyond. Some of America's longest, most traveled highways pass through Pennsylvania, and our highways are critical to the success of private commerce, logistics and ordinary citizens.
The backlog of billions of dollars is real and must be paid off. Far too often, new road construction is treated like an economic development program, with the huge operations and maintenance costs ignored up front, yet borne on the backs of future generations. Pennsylvania must freeze new road construction until it gets a handle on fixing the roads and bridges we already have.
McNally: The needs are great, and they grow greater as years of neglect produce a cumulative effect. However, current revenue streams are not the automatic answer. The gas tax is the chief source of funding for roads and bridge projects, but as gas prices climb upwards of $5 a gallon, raising the gas tax now would be ill-advised and poorly timed, and would be devastating for drivers in this economy.
We need to reprioritize our transportation funding system to shift dollars away from failing public transit systems in Philadelphia and toward roads and bridges. I will advocate strongly for local projects instead of sending money to Philadelphia. I also support streamlining the operations and administration at PennDOT and the Turnpike Commission. While I do not see the need to toll additional roads or lease the Turnpike, I think we should continue to pursue the automation of the toll collection system to save money and look for other out-of-the-box cost-cutting solutions. The state needs to cut costs and re-prioritize so that additional dollars can be shifted toward failing roads and bridges.
Seeds: We in Pennsylvania experience more freeze-thaw cycles than any other state. We need to do a better job of maintaining our existing roads and bridges. We need to better prioritize our project needs and cut out "bridges to nowhere."
Too much money is going to Philadelphia and SEPTA (South-Eastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority). We need to keep more of our transportation tax dollars here in Central Pennsylvania.
Taylor: We need to make improvements to our roads to reflect our need to invite the motoring public and industry to travel our highways. Our highways are noted as being the worst. Therefore, you cannot have tourism and industry, if your roads are not suitable for travel. We can fund those backlogged projects by the following:
a) Getting a fair deal on the Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction tax.
b) Making adjustments to the federal fuel tax and making priority choices on those roads industry and tourists use, to cover highway improvements and maintenance.
c) Better usage of casino revenue funding allocations.
Teplitz: Our transportation and infrastructure needs are serious and urgent, with thousands of roads and bridges in poor and unsafe condition. Drilling in the Marcellus Shale, while presenting a great opportunity to create jobs, is making our problems worse.
Legislators often seem more concerned about who a road or bridge is named after than whether the public will be safe traveling over it. We can no longer kick this can down the road, no pun intended.
I know firsthand where the waste, fraud and abuse are in government programs from my experience in the Department of the Auditor General. As state senator, I will use my experience to reduce the cost of state government and direct the resulting cost savings to other areas, such as addressing this critical issue.
We must also make sure that state government is pro-active -- investing in quality construction and proper maintenance up front and not wasting our limited resources on unnecessary projects.
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?
First: The nanny state model is un-American. Laws, laws and more laws that intrude deeply into individual liberty are the wrong solution sought by people who want a zero-risk society. Zero risk does not exist. Every day, free Americans make their own choices about what to eat, where to drive, and how fast to go. That's the nature of a free society.
Motorcyclists who decide to assume more risk for themselves by riding without a helmet are entitled to assume that risk. If texting while driving is actually demonstrated to result in statistically significant undue harm to others, then I would consider some sort of ban, but I remain concerned about the potential for creating too much law enforcement intrusion into private lives.
GPS units and phones are handheld, too. Will every GPS user get pulled over, with more potential consequences to follow? Is that really the America we want to live in?
McNally: As a father, I was happy to see these new laws enacted. I am eager to see how their implementation and enforcement progresses over time. If these measures have dramatic life-saving results, as I believe they will, I would consider other safety measures.
As a lawyer, I have seen the devastating after-effects of head trauma, and as a father, I always insist that my children wear bike helmets before leaving the garage on their bikes. If a bill to reinstitute the mandate for motorcycle riders to wear helmets came before me, I would support it.
This bill would protect not only motorcyclists but the taxpayers who bear the cost of extensive rehabilitation associated with major head injuries. But new mandates would not be my priority in office. I continue to believe we need better enforcement of the laws already on the books, such as the speeding laws.
Right now, the state police have a very low complement of troopers. I would prefer that they concentrate on catching speeders, unsafe drivers and violent criminals. While I would consider expanding mandates in the name of safety, we must see how our new laws play out and do a better job of enforcing existing laws.
Seeds: I will support a ban on handheld cell phones. Statistics show a high percentage of accidents occur because drivers are inattentive because of the use of handheld cell devices.
I personally would not ride a motorcycle without a helmet, but I do not believe we need a helmet requirement.
Taylor: Current measures are adequate and laws are improving, but 10 hours of training and community service at a medical facility as part of the driving requirements will give real-life exposure to accidents and dangers of distractions while driving.
No ban on handheld cells phones are needed, but training that says "pull over, phone and prevent an accident while saving a life" would be more practical. We have rest areas along highways and scenic areas; maybe a phone pull-off area would address our driving needs now and in the future.
Helmets are for safety, but as a motorcyclist myself, the freedom to ride comes with a price. Again, a personal decision each for rider.
Teplitz: I agree with York Rep. Eugene DePasquale that distracted driving is a critical public safety issue, and I commend him for his efforts on this issue. We must ensure that drivers are traveling safely -- for their own benefit as well as for the benefit of others. The state should review driving safety rules on an ongoing basis as new technology emerges and be prepared to adjust accordingly. Therefore, I support the recently enacted ban on texting for all drivers. I also support proposals to prohibit driving while using a handheld cell phone.
Although I opposed the repeal of the state's longstanding mandatory motorcycle helmet law, I am pleased that young motorcycle riders are still required to wear helmets in Pennsylvania. I appreciate the concerns of some riders about the impact of helmets on vision, hearing and comfort. However, the data clearly show that helmets prevent injuries, save lives and reduce health care costs -- and, most significantly, that injuries and fatalities have increased since the repeal.
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?
First: I want to eliminate all property taxes. Property taxes have every single Pennsylvania homeowner and landowner essentially renting their property from the government, a patently unfair situation that is completely at odds with our founding constitutional principles.
Property taxes are used as a bottomless well by an education system unwilling or unable to change its model to fit the times and society. Older homeowners on fixed incomes have lost their homes and all their equity over a relatively small amount of owed taxes.
Revenue presently gained from property taxes can be made up a variety of ways, and we need to have this discussion. Options include presently untaxed sources, such as legal and architectural services, expensive clothes, non-basic foods (e.g. excluding milk, bread, cheese), etc.
McNally: As I am knocking on doors campaigning, many people have told me about the high tax burden they face, often being forced to choose between paying their property tax or for their heat or medicines. This is a disgrace.
The current property tax system is antiquated, inequitable and unforgiving for those on limited and fixed incomes. Senior citizens who have lived in their homes all their lives but who are now on fixed incomes are hurt the most by the current system.
I look forward to working with Rep. Seth Grove and others to enact a meaningful, comprehensive, fair and flexible plan, allowing local governments to respond to local needs. Voters also have a strong distrust of government, and they fear that local tax reform is a clever disguise for a local tax increase. I understand that fear and will work to restore faith in the system through transparency and accountability.
Leading by example, I released my tax returns for the past five years and will post my Senate office's government spending for all taxpayers to view. By shifting the tax burden to those most able to pay, I hope taxpayers can feel less burdened by financial pressures.
Seeds: The state needs property tax reform, including the elimination of school property taxes. Property tax relief should be for all properties.
Property taxes should only be used to pay the costs associated with access to, use of and protection of a person's property.
Taylor: The state does need property tax reform. With our ever-changing economy and the recession, the Commonwealth has not kept up with these changes that impact our family incomes or the new technology or different types of educational learning processes. However, with the reform, there should not come an open season on all types of new taxation upon the citizens.
Property tax relief should be for all property owners. With looking at new funding priorities and casino revenue and lottery, we can find ample funds in the existing budget to deal with rising property taxes. We need new leadership to think out of the box, be creative and utilize all resources in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, for the citizens of Pennsylvania, first.
Teplitz: The Corbett administration's draconian cuts to state funding of public education have directly led to property tax increases at the local level. I believe the Commonwealth has a responsibility to provide every child with the opportunity for a quality public education. As state senator, I will work to improve the system of funding it.
We must explore how to reduce our reliance on property taxes and move toward other sources of revenue. However, the complete elimination of property taxes may not be realistic. While I am open-minded about property tax reform, any change must alleviate, not exacerbate, the funding inequities in public education and must receive the support of all stakeholders.
I have spent most of my career promoting fiscal responsibility and exposing the waste, fraud and abuse of public funds. I will use my experience to reduce the cost of government and direct the resulting savings to other areas in order to keep your taxes as low as possible. I will also continue to fight to ensure Pennsylvania homeowners receive the property tax relief they were promised when casino gambling was legalized in Pennsylvania.
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?
First: I concur with the Corbett administration's approach to balancing a budget that had been out of control for the previous eight years. Someone had to be the adult in Harrisburg, and Tom Corbett took on that role.
Higher education has increased tuition every single year for decades, usually at rates far higher than the CPI or simple inflation. That is piggish. Higher education pays administrators outrageous sums of money (usually hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, each) far beyond the actual value of their contributions to Pennsylvania, and administrative overhead and bureaucracy are rampant at every single school. Start cutting there. Something must change.
The education model is broken and must be reformed to fit the budget realities that taxpayers face in their lives.
McNally: As a parent of three young children and an advocate for the long-term benefits of early education, I would welcome the opportunity to devote more money to education. However, reality invades.
Pennsylvania has a balanced budget amendment, preventing us from spending more than we take in and forcing state and school districts to make tough choices. We must give school districts freedom from some of the most onerous unfunded mandates. In fostering local control, we can better empower local school boards to listen to their citizenry.
Act 1 prevented school districts from raising taxes above a certain limit and helped to prevent costs from being passed along from the state onto local taxpayers. I believe the closed loopholes in Act 1 will bear fruit. I see merit in Gov. Corbett's "block grant" approach to funding, allowing school boards to have greater flexibility in how they spend the money they receive from the state, instead of it being restricted into very strict silos.
I support the consolidation of administrative resources, increasing school district purchasing power through bulk purchasing, and improvements to the prevailing wage, along with pension reform and tenure changes.
Seeds: I agree in theory, but we must eliminate the unfunded mandates put on schools. We must change and roll back our pension system, and its escalating costs. We must explore all avenues to improve educational levels in our schools.
Spending more and more money on the present system has not improved our test results. Funding should not include property taxes.
Taylor: State funding for education has declined under Gov. Corbett's administration. I disagree with the administration's approach toward educational funding. The most important issue is education, with employment.
The governor's assault on education has a negative influence and domino effect on the average person in the community. Students lack prepared teachers for the global marketplace, while teachers face wage restrictions and furloughs. Jobs follow quality education; educationally struggling communities will lose good citizens. There will be more crime, and larger tax-funded prisons will be the alternatives to those business-destitute and cash-strapped communities. People want opportunity, economically stable communities and good schools to educate their families.
These are the largest problems facing Pennsylvania, all tied into the economy, jobs and education. Education is our best investment as citizens; we return and contribute to the community's tax base.
Teplitz: I am outraged by the Corbett administration's approach to education and will vigorously oppose it as state senator. Every public school should have the resources needed to provide an opportunity for the best possible education, and those resources must be viewed as what they are -- investments in our collective future, not mere expenses to be tolerated.
As state senator, I will improve the system of funding public education so that it is equitable, stable, fiscally responsible, accountable, transparent and in the best interest of all stakeholders. At the basic education level, Pennsylvania must focus on targeted investments in proven reforms like early childhood education, smaller class sizes, tutoring, and before- and after-school programs.
At the post-secondary level, we must make higher education affordable for Pennsylvania students who attend Pennsylvania schools. I will promote a program modeled after the successful HOPE Scholarship Program in Georgia, which would pay tuition at state-owned universities for all students who graduate from high school with at least a 3.0 grade point average. Students choosing to attend other colleges and universities, community colleges or vocational-technical schools would also be eligible. This would stop the "brain drain" problem and help keep our young people here in Pennsylvania.
6. Why should voters cast a vote for you on Election Day? What qualities make you best suited for the position?
First: First of all, I am not a lawyer. Because of my diverse work and volunteer experience, I am the most qualified of the three candidates.
A Penn State University degree in government, with federal government service in Washington, D.C., state government in Harrisburg, and voluntarily serving on the Dauphin County Planning Commission and chairing the Harrisburg Tree Restoration Task Force have trained me in the ways of government, so I know what needs to change.
My extensive private sector experience as a national nonprofit conservation leader and as a small business owner taught me what it takes to make the economy run and what government should not do. I will not take a state car, per-diems, state pension, or state health care. I am an award-winning "hook and bullet" land conservationist, lifelong hunter and fisherman, NRA member, and my campaign platform has been God, guns and austerity, values that Central Pennsylvania voters best relate to.
McNally: Southcentral Pennsylvania has always been home for me. I was educated in our schools and played team sports in our parks. Today, my wife and I want our three young children to see their future here, just as we did.
But for all this region has to offer, the current path and reach of government is getting in the way of job creation and prosperity. During these trying economic times and when faith in government is at an all-time low, we need a fresh voice of reason and integrity that focuses on getting Pennsylvanians back to work and restoring honor to and confidence in government.
I am not a politician. I am a leader. I believe elected officials must take the "service" in public service to heart. Pennsylvania needs leaders with the courage to make job creation a priority, demand transparency and accountability from government and change the culture at the Capitol.
I have never run for or held public office, but I have spent my career fighting on behalf of families and small business. It is my pledge to take that experience and provide public service that is principled, policy-based and results-oriented in a way that taxpayers win.
Seeds: I am the only candidate within both parties that has proven experience serving the public in areas such as budgeting, planning, zoning, public safety and transportation. I have acquired vital people skills only learned through listening to the people who elected me.
I am against increased taxes and legislative pay increases. I am for term limits and cutting the growth and size of government. I will work full time and have no other job. I will work for the people, not the lobbyists and special interests.
Taylor: Voters should vote for me because I am like them: an ordinary citizen who wants education for my children, a nice community for the taxes I pay and a good-paying job to support our families.
I would be in the area where they live, meeting with them as part of my plan for open government. I would be their voice on issues that concern them and their families. Voter should choose me if they want a leader who will lead as I stand up for their interests.
Government is local, and it is about "We the People." People make government work, but those candidates they choose on Election Day to represent them. So, if they want a leader who will represent them, on April 24, vote Alvin Q. Taylor, 15th District - PA Senate, No. 1 ballot position.
Teplitz: I have spent most of my career working with Bob Casey and Jack Wagner to protect your hard-earned tax dollars and make government programs work better. I want to take that experience to the state Senate, so I can continue fighting for my friends and neighbors in Central Pennsylvania. Every day, I'll focus on creating jobs, strengthening our schools, keeping taxes as low as possible, and bringing fundamental reforms to state government.
On that last point, I am the only candidate who has fought for transparency, accountability and reform in all areas of government. As state senator, I will pursue a comprehensive reform agenda including: reducing the size of the Legislature and subjecting it to annual audits; instituting non-partisan redistricting; strengthening and enforcing open records and open meeting laws; and eliminating secret, no-bid public contracts. We need to hold another state constitutional convention in order to directly involve the general public in the process of bringing these and other reforms to state government.
Finally, I am humbled and honored by the endorsement of York County Commissioner Doug Hoke. As state senator, I will follow his example of bipartisan leadership and tireless service for families and taxpayers in York County.