Five Republicans and a lone Democrat are hoping to fill the state 92nd House District seat held by Rep. Scott Perry.
Running are Republicans Scott Derr, Daniel Johnson, Anthony Pugliese, Michael Regan and William Sieg, and Democrat Chuck Comrey.
Carroll Township resident Derr, 45, is an independent contractor with Comprehensive Financial Associates, a financial services firm.
Johnson, 33, of York Haven is general manager at the Holiday Inn in York.
Pugliese, 25, of Fairview Township, had served as director of legislative affairs for the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development.
Regan, 50, of Carroll Township resigned as the state's deputy inspector general.
Sieg, 28, of Newberry Township, recently resigned his position as special assistant to the secretary of the state Department of Transportation to run for the seat.
The Republican who wins that party's primary will face Comrey, 53, of Dillsburg in the November election. Comrey has been a firefighter in the Harrisburg Bureau of Fire since 1990.
The winner of the fall election will fill the seat Perry is leaving open to run for the 4th Congressional District.
The York Dispatch asked the candidates a series of questions. One appears below. For the complete Q&A, go to yorkdispatch.com.
1. What measures should the state Legislature take to improve Pennsylvania's economy and help create more jobs in the Commonwealth?
Comrey: No response.
Derr: First, make Pennsylvania a "right to work" state. This alone would make Pennsylvania more attractive to companies looking to expand, build or relocate. We have got to work to keep businesses from leaving the Commonwealth in search of a friendlier labor environment. Second, work to reduce the corporate tax rate to make us a competitive state. Having the second highest corporate tax rate in the nation, at 9.99%, companies look elsewhere when making investment decisions. We are truly the gateway to the East Coast and geographically we have an advantage when trying to attract companies to move to Pennsylvania. Make us more competitive as far as the labor market and then lower taxes and you have a win-win.
Johnson: Pennsylvania ranks near the bottom on economic performance and job growth. While we know government does not create jobs, it sure does prevent them through high taxes and heavy regulations. Business owners not only pay high property taxes they also pay our ridiculously high corporate tax of 10%, resulting in an economy on life support. How do we fix this? First, we need to eliminate property taxes, not just reduce them, and put that money back in the hands of Pennsylvanians to spend as they see fit. That improves the financial well being of every homeowner in PA and reduces a serious expense for businesses owners who can better spend that money to create jobs and grow. This also improves our state's economy, increases property values, and improves conditions to do business in Pennsylvania. Second, we should eliminate the corporate tax, not just reduce it by a half point each year for 6 years as others suggest. That's too slow. Eliminating it is a decisive action that leads to a positive reaction as we become business friendly. If we loosen the rope of these two killer taxes from around our necks, we can create jobs and fix PA's economy.
Pugliese: As a member of the senior leadership of the Department of Community and Economic Development we spoke to over 38,000 companies this past year, which has given me a thorough understanding of what makes Pennsylvania uncompetitive and unattractive to businesses. The following are certainly not all of Pennsylvania's issues, but a few measures that could be taken that would quickly spur job growth and economic activity would be to reduce the Corporate Net Income Tax to 6.99%. Pennsylvania's current CNIT of 9.99% is the second highest in the entire country, only behind Iowa. Furthermore Pennsylvania is one of the only states that not only has a CNIT which taxes earned income but also has a Capital Stock and Franchise tax, which taxes assets regardless of whether the company was profitable or not.
We need to reduce the CNIT to 6.99% by a half a percent per year and finally phase out the capital stock and franchise tax and proclaim loud and clear that Pennsylvania is open for business.
Pennsylvania was the first state in the nation to implement the Inheritance tax (death tax) and is now one of only eight that still levy's this tax. This death tax is killing our family farms and small businesses. I will introduce legislation to begin the phase out of this outdated and job killing tax.
Regan: I believe the number one problem facing Pennsylvania, as well as our federal government, is out-of-control spending. A recently released, nonpartisan, comprehensive analysis ranked Pennsylvania 50th for imposing the heaviest overall taxes on established businesses and 49th on newly created businesses. We can never compete for the good paying jobs our families and children need to remain here if this does not change. This will not change as long as our state government continues to spend billions of dollars more than we collect in revenue, which is what occurred under Governor Rendell. To fix this problem, I will use my experience as Deputy Inspector General to find and eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse in order to reduce wasteful spending. And it does exist. I will also fight for and vote for "truly" balanced budgets that do not increase taxes or rely on additional borrowing. As our State Representative, you can count on me to work with like-minded legislators to bring fiscal sanity to Harrisburg, ensure our tax dollars are being spent wisely, and make our Commonwealth more competitive in order to retain and attract the family-sustaining jobs we need.
Sieg: Creating jobs and growing our economy is the top job of state government. We need to create an environment that is conducive to private sector investment in our state and our community. The first thing we need to do is get the state's fiscal house in order. As someone who has worked both in the legislative and executive branch with a focus on cutting wasteful spending and ending waste, fraud, and abuse while increasing efficiencies, I will know on day one what we need to do in that regard. We also must focus on lowering taxes. I will support a bill in the legislature that closes the Delaware loophole that some corporations take advantage of to avoid paying taxes, and using that money to lower the corporate net income tax which is among the highest in the nation. We must work to put an end to over regulation and red tape that often slows down job creation and puts our employees at a disadvantage. We also must pass important legislation like Right to Work so we can protect workers and compete with every state.
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?
Comrey: No response.
Derr: Transportation is a fundamental responsibility of the Commonwealth. Prioritization of funds and finding misuse of dollars is how we begin to fix our transportation problems. Pennsylvania spends more than $61,000 per highway mile. Is there a specific reason we have as many mile markers, roadside reflectors and so many signs? I think we may be able to live with less. I would also work toward eliminating prevailing wage so we immediately recognize a decrease in project cost. Pennsylvania taxpayers should not have to pay more for a project of the same quality, with the same labor because of prevailing wage rules. Last year Pennsylvania spent hundreds of millions of dollars in Corporate Welfare -- this is not a fundamental responsibility of government, transportation is and the Legislature needs to find better ways to spend those dollars to improve our bridges and roads so we are safe in our travels. Let's prioritize our dollars, eliminate prevailing wage and save millions of dollars while improving our roads and bridges. Lastly, a sale of PA Liquor stores may provide up to $2 billion for a one time sale and half of this money should be allocated towards our roads and bridges that need immediate attention. The other half should go directly to our unfunded pension liabilities.
Johnson: Everyone knows our roads are terrible. Repairs take forever, prevailing wage laws increase costs anywhere from 15 to 40 percent unnecessarily, millions are spent "lobbying" in Harrisburg and D.C., plus millions more spent on 'beautifying' the highways and building bike trails -- all the while leaving less money for what counts -- spending on roads and bridges. Yes, it's true and obvious to everyone that we have serious transportation problems -- however, I absolutely reject the notion that the only solution is to tax us even more, or borrow more because we will only get the same result -- bad roads, bad bridges and some politician telling us they need more money to fix it all. First we need to prioritize every single tax dollar and make sure its spent properly on the highways and bridges before we build bike trails and plant flowers. Isn't our safety more important right now? Second, eliminate prevailing wage and its costs and finally allow truly competitive construction project bids. Third, let's look into privatizing rest stops and the turnpike and using public-private partnerships on certain roads which reduce state expenses and wasted resources that can be better spent maintaining our infrastructure. We must demand better results.
Pugliese: Pennsylvania has significant bridge and road funding issues as well as a very limited ability to maintain - let alone expand - transit service. Over the past decade, study after study has concluded that Pennsylvania's ability to meet transportation system capacity and quality needs is constrained by federal, state and local transportation funding sources. We must maximize user fees and ensure their fair collection, I will work to protect the buying power and improve the effectiveness of current user fees. The commonwealth also must continue to aggressively work to ensure that Pennsylvania not only maintains its share of federal transportation revenues, but also maximizes all federal funding sources to support the long-range transportation program.
Recognizing that there is not an endless supply of investment capital, I will work with the General Assembly to pass legislation authorizing public-private partnerships and direct Penn DOT to identify potential applicable projects.
We should explore the feasibility of selling real public assets to support a transportation trust fund with investment returns enhancing the annual transportation program. The state must also evaluate what transportation needs can be better done by the private sector.
Regan: Without quality infrastructure, we cannot bring jobs to Pennsylvania. However, considering the difficult economic times we face, I do not believe we should be increasing gas taxes when people are already struggling to deal with high energy costs. Another important consideration: Transportation in our state receives taxpayer money to the tune of approximately $60,000 per highway mile, which is higher than 47 other states. I would support efforts already being considered in the House Transportation Committee to address the immediate highway, road, and bridge needs. The Infrastructure Future Fund Act would take every penny derived from selling the state liquor system to fund improvements to our roads and bridges. I would also support changing how Pennsylvania has funded road construction in the past to find more creative methods to improve our roads, including exploring private-public partnerships. I also believe we need to put the focus on the roadways and bridges we already have and postpone new construction proposals unless proven absolutely necessary. We must ensure PennDOT spends every dollar wisely because we can't solve our problems with increased user fees or taxes.
Sieg: Having spent the past year working in Governor Corbett's administration as a special assistant to the Secretary of Transportation, I know first hand the challenges Pennsylvania faces when it comes to our infrastructure. There is no doubt that we need to tackle the backlog of deficient bridges and roads here in Pennsylvania. Transportation and infrastructure is a basic function of government and it is one that we need to prioritize. I applaud Governor Corbett's TFAC commission which studied ways which to fund these projects. I do not agree with raising the gas tax with $4 a gallon gasoline. Our reliance on the gas tax as the major funding mechanism for transportation puts the state at a long term challenge due to more fuel efficient cars. We need to find efficiencies in state government and prioritize our spending. We also must explore the potential for public and private partnerships in education, which would allow us to partner with the private sector.
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?
Comrey: No response.
Derr: We currently have laws that address careless and reckless driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued staggering facts that showed eating while driving was as or more distracting than using a hand-held cell phone. I don't think the answer is to establish new laws and close our restaurant drive-thru's. In so many instances we need to enforce the laws, not create new ones. I am not in favor of more laws and I would not support a ban on handheld cell phones. Wearing a helmet is the decision of the rider and any passenger on the motorcycle with the exception of a minor. We do not need government to be any more intrusive than it already is. We should have more freedoms and liberties, not less.
Johnson: Apparently personal responsibility has taken a long vacation for some drivers, however, the solution is not to create many more laws. If we aren't careful, advocates for "more laws" would ban listening to the radio or occasionally glancing down at the speedometer! Distracted driving in Pennsylvania is a crime and we should rigorously enforce that very broad law. Let's increase distracted driving penalties and fines which would be more effective than bans. Additionally, I do not support a ban on handheld phones because millions use cell phones responsibly and we would be punishing those who are responsible. When it comes to a motorcycle helmet law requirement, I would remind everyone that there IS a helmet requirement for every rider under the age of 21 and for those with less than 2 years riding experience. Although helmets may or may not help in an accident, many other things can go wrong that a helmet would not help in an accident. I support groups of responsible bike enthusiasts that are focused on motorcycle education and reducing accidents through motorcycle awareness and training programs such as A.B.A.T.E. of PA who do just that. More laws and bans aren't the solution.
Pugliese: At this point I believe the General Assembly and governor have passed the necessary regulations to protect the safety of Pennsylvanians while traveling. I would not support a ban on cell phones and would oppose a requirement forcing motorcyclists to wear a helmet. I believe that we must weigh the need to protect our citizens with not taking away Pennsylvanian's freedoms. I believe implementing a helmet law and banning cell phones would be taking a step too far and therefore I would oppose these measures and promote the need for personal responsibility.
Regan: I support the currently enacted laws in Pennsylvania, which provide stricter rules for teen drivers and ban texting while driving. The safety of our youngest and most inexperienced drivers is of critical importance, and the new laws are aimed at accomplishing this by placing limits on teen drivers as they learn and become more experienced. Also, studies have shown the deadly link between texting while driving and fatal accidents. I am a motorcyclist, and while I recognize the inherent dangers of motorcycling and choose to wear a helmet, I believe that, at age 21, motorcyclists should be able to make their own decisions in this regard.
Sieg: I would need to see specifics for the bills that you mention, but my feeling is that the state should take a limited approach to government and stick to core functions. Obviously public safety is one of those functions, however I do not believe that state government should focus on fiscal discipline, job creation, education, and transportation.
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 homeowners' primary place of residence) or provided for all property owners? Why?
Comrey: No response.
Derr: It is difficult to determine if Act 1 has really provided any property tax relief to my family and my neighbors. If it had not been enacted it concerns me how much our taxes may have been increased. However, I can tell you that gambling dollars have not provided us the tax relief we were promised. Unfortunately, before the ink dried on that legislation, those dollars were pirated before it was signed by Governor Rendell. Those funds need to be "re-designated" for the purpose they were originally intended -- education. Property taxes don't need reformed, they need eliminated. Property tax is one of the most unfair taxes we have because it is based not on your ability to pay it, but on what you own. Ideally, to be in a situation where all property tax would be eliminated would be best, however the first place we need to make this a priority is for homesteads.
Johnson: First, Act 1 was NOT successful in holding back increased property taxes. It was supposed to save homeowners a few hundred dollars by taxing casinos. It did nothing to solve school funding problems, or increased school costs and hasn't stopped rising property taxes. YES we need property tax reform -- we also have to address costs and quality of education. 100 school districts will declare financial distress -- meaning the state will have to step in but property owners will have to foot the bill. I am the only candidate who advocates for a complete elimination of this tax; returning approximately $10 Billion to the people. Education is a fundamental responsibility of any state -- so why are property owners the ones who pay the bulk of the expense? That's not right. We fix that by eliminating property taxes and relying on our state sales tax -- which was originally enacted in the 1950s to pay for Education. It still is the "PA Education Sales Tax." This removes the burden off a select few and allows for more taxpayer control. Eliminating it creates 130,000 jobs, improves property values and ensures fixed income families won't lose their home if they can't pay their taxes.
Pugliese: I was proud to work on the recent legislation that limited local government's ability to increase taxes year after year. However, I do believe we must to more to protect our citizens, especially our seniors on fixed incomes from the rising school and property taxes. Recently two members of the general assembly have proposed legislation to eliminate property taxes, Rep. Cox and Rep. Seth Grove. At this time I believe Rep. Grove's legislation is the most responsible plan and would support his efforts if elected.
Regan: We must support dramatic reforms to protect taxpayers, focus funding on students, and ensure teachers have the tools they need to succeed in the classroom. You can trust I'll stand up to the politicians in Harrisburg and put these concerns first. There are various proposals currently being considered to reform property taxpayers. While we still need to see the details to have confidence these proposals can do what they say -- eliminate property taxes -- we can take the first step and protect senior citizens in danger of losing their homes due to escalating property taxes now. I would support a proposal to eliminate property taxes on those 65 years of age or older who meet specific income thresholds. The funding for this proposal would come from gaming proceeds set aside to pay for these costs. I would also fight to force the politicians to honor their promises to use gambling proceeds only for property tax relief - not their pet projects that only hurt taxpayers and waste our valuable tax dollars. The promise of property tax relief was the only reason most people supported gaming in the Commonwealth and must be fulfilled.
Sieg: Over the past few months I have knocked on thousands of doors, and property taxes are an issue that has been a topic a majority of the voters has brought up. I believe that we absolutely need property tax reform, and I am the one candidate who voters can count on to go fight for real reform. Of all the proposals out there I really like Seth Grove's approach to property tax reform. For the past several years, plans which mandated statewide tax increases (income or sales) have been defeated by wide margins in the Legislature. The challenge with these plans is that they lead to large tax increases and force the decisions on education funding away from local school districts and to state Bureaucrats. Representative Grove's approach is a county-by-county decision-making process that allows voters to vote on if they want to raise sales or income taxes to offset property taxes. One size fits all has not worked, and I think this approach which includes voters gives us our best chance at property tax elimination.
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?
Comrey: No response.
Derr: The education funding issue shows how Pennsylvania is not competitive when it comes to attracting businesses to the Commonwealth. We have our graduates leaving the state for better opportunities elsewhere. If the state provides a competitive place to do business then these businesses will provide good paying jobs and we can retain a quality work force here. Right now, our schools and universities need to do more with less, and teachers, parents and students will need to work together to accomplish the goal of providing our kids with a quality education. Again, as I stated above immediate tax relief can be provided in the form of eliminating prevailing wage laws. It is the quickest way to reduce expenses on projects over $25,000 to our schools.
Johnson: Despite billions spent on Education, scores have stagnated, graduation rates aren't great and costs continue to climb --while we see our property taxes increase. With those results, does pouring more money in seem like the right solution to you? If this were a business -- would you invest in it? When it comes to funding -- let's eliminate the property tax and use our sales tax to fund schools. It relieves the burden on property owners while generating a revenue stream on consumption from goods and services, including out-of-state businesses and tourists visiting Pennsylvania. Costs need to be reduced as well. We need to address prevailing wage to ensure that construction / improvement projects will be at fair market bids while cutting needless debt and expenses. School choice will prevent families from being forced to send their child to a failing school just because of their ZIP code. The resulting competition will drive improvements between schools. Let's not handicap school boards either -- let's permit incentives for teachers who deliver results. Offer someone a bonus for meeting a goal and they will work to achieve it. Lets reward those hard working teachers who deliver and drive performance forward.
Pugliese: Education is approximately 1/3 of the total state budget. This means that to remain solvent, fulfill our legal obligation to balance a budget, and stay true to the commitment to taxpayers and not raise taxes, we must evaluate how we target our education dollars to ensure accountability and a high quality system that serves all of Pennsylvania's students in all levels of education (early childhood to higher education). In no way does "evaluating" the system imply less of a commitment to education. In fact, it implies that the state needs to be more accountable to taxpayers by educating our future workforce in a manner that is sustainable.
Regan: My wife and I chose to send our four children to local public schools. I understand and support the need for a quality education and supported the Legislature's past restoration of the block grant funding that was not included in the Governor's budget proposal. However, we do need to consider some facts. Pennsylvania's taxpayers spend $26 billion a year on public education. This amount is an increase of 50% over the last 15 years while student population has declined 10%. Like so many budget debates, the current battle over school funding always revolves around providing more dollars, without any thought put toward controlling expenses. The funding fight is important for the short-term stability of our schools, but we need to make important changes. I will support reforming the prevailing wage laws. I will support reforms to the state pension system that cost far more than the retirement plans of the private sector. I will also support changes to the school funding mechanism that has not changed since 1991 and that is based on formulas that just don't work anymore. These changes must maintain local control, protect taxpayers, and reduce our tax burden -- not add to it.
Sieg: Education funding is a fundamental function of state government and I believe that we need to make sure we adequately fund education. School districts found themselves in trouble when they over relied on stimulus money that they knew would go away. Governor Corbett has presented two budgets with record spending for education from a state contribution standpoint, but it seems many school districts are more interested in partisan politics than accepting the tough times that so many of our families face. I would fight to make sure we have a fair funding system that took into account population growth. I will also fight to make sure we spend what we need to, and I would have supported increasing the basic education subsidy like the legislature did last year.
6. Why should voters cast a vote for you on Election Day? What qualities make you best suited for the position?
Comrey: No response.
Derr: The coming years are not going to be easy. Our Commonwealth faces serious issues regarding our economy, infrastructure, education, and an underfunded pension obligation that is about to hit all of us in the pocket. We need a legislator who is willing to tell people the truth about where we stand economically, not just someone who has the desire, but someone who has the financial and business skills that understands these issues. I am the only candidate with 20 years of private sector experience. I am the only candidate who is a small business owner. As a small business owner I know what it takes to operate a budget, not just manage one. I am a Certified Financial Planner certificant, and I have a B.S. degree in Finance. This is not a career choice for me, but rather a decision based on my concern for our Commonwealth. I will not take a pension, a state car, or per diem, and think all the candidates should do the same and lead by example. You can't ask the taxpayer to make sacrifices and not make them yourself. As a Marine Veteran, I felt a calling to serve my country and look at this role in much the same wayJohnson: What kind of Pennsylvania do we want? More of the same politicians delivering below average results or someone with a new vision to get Pennsylvania off the bottom and back up where she belongs! I have no family ties to politicians or lobbyists and I haven't spent my life in government living off your tax dollars. Like you, I have been in the real world raising a family while forging a successful career of 19 years by turning around failed businesses using common sense solutions. To fix the problems in Harrisburg, we need proven experience turning around difficult situations if we want to turn the economy around and create jobs. As a recognized leader in Pennsylvania's 2nd largest industry, I know how to move us forward. I'm not interested in pensions, pay raises, perks or per diems. I'm not a career politician either. In fact I am the only candidate who supports term limits with 3-term limit on myself. I don't want to lower taxes, I want to ELIMINATE them and the burdens put on our backs. For my family and yours, I ask for the chance to do what I do best - turn things around and fix Pennsylvania.
Pugliese: I believe I am the best candidate to be your state representative because people are tired of candidates running for office making promises and then not living up to those promises. I have reduced my department's spending by over 35 percent. When I joined the department of Community and Economic Development we had 127 programs, within the first year as a senior leader of the department I helped reduce those 127 programs to 56. In regards to WAMS, I oversaw the elimination of all WAMS in Pennsylvania, saving taxpayers over $48 million. So while my opponents will make promises, I will show you what I have done because I do believe, like many of you, that actions speak louder than words. Furthermore, as the Director of Legislative Affairs for the Department of Community and Economic Development, if you were a Senator or Representative in Pennsylvania and had a business or economic development question, I was the individual you would have contacted. I helped advise the General Assembly on what the commonwealth needs to do in order to get the economy back on track and help Pennsylvania create more good family sustaining jobs.
Regan: Like many of my neighbors, I believe we need citizen representatives who have the courage to go to Harrisburg and change government -- not be changed by the politicians or trappings once there. I want to continue to serve and to use my leadership skills and experience balancing budgets and controlling costs to protect local taxpayers, reform state government, and create a positive environment for local job creators. I've stood up to dangerous criminals -- you can trust I'll stand up to the politicians in Harrisburg and put your concerns first again. And I can always be counted on to protect our strong Pro-Life, Pro-Family, and Pro-Second Amendment values.
Sieg: This district needs someone who will go to Harrisburg and fight for this community. I am the only candidate who has worked for both the legislative and executive branches of state government. I am also the only candidate who has worked on cutting state spending, including working with a commission that identified $450 million of wasteful spending.
In addition to any professional qualities, I think my perspective makes me the strongest candidate. As a husband and father of a young son with another baby on the way, I know what working families face every month. My wife Betsy and I are like every family here in this district. We stay on a budget, we work hard to provide for our family, and we are always trying to set a good example for our boy Will, and we will do the same for our newest arrival. Being the father of two, I think it is immoral the way government continues to saddle our future generations with more debt and less opportunity. As your State Representative, I'll fight for your family like I am fighting for my own.