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Democrats vying for Wagner's Senate seat debate education, budgets
Two Democratic candidates seeking to fill the seat being vacated by state Sen. Scott Wagner recently debated at an event held by the York County Young Democrats.
West York Mayor Shawn Mauck and Judith McCormick Higgins, a 17-year member of the Eastern York School District Board of Directors, participated in the Thursday, April 26, event.
Mauck and Higgins are running for the state’s 28th Senate District seat, which hasn't been held by a Democrat since 1994.
The debate was moderated by Shane Coolbaugh, YCYD organizer, and state Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City. It was held at Marketview Arts, 35 W. Philadelphia St.
Education funding: The candidates began the debate with a question about education funding cuts and how they would ensure those cuts don't occur again.
"First and foremost, the (Gov. Tom) Corbett administration did us no justice in the tragedy they did to school funding," Mauck said.
Mauck said that recreational marijuana legalization and a subsequent excise tax would provide $300 million to $500 million in new revenue to the state, along with an estimated 30,000 jobs. It also would reduce costs to the state budget by $100 million, he said.
He also said that he did not support a sales or income tax increase.
"I believe there is a better way to do it," he said.
Higgins was more skeptical about the role marijuana legalization could play in funding education, citing Colorado, a state that legalized marijuana with the intention of taxing it for the same purpose.
However, not enough money went to education, and teachers in the state are now walking out because they are underpaid, she said.
She said it was dangerous to rely on taxing one commodity for funding and that it was better to obtain it from a variety of sources.
Senior citizens: The candidates were asked to weigh in on whether York County's Pleasant Acres Nursing and Rehabilitation Center should be privatized.
Mauck said he was against the privatization of the facility, as York County's senior citizens need a viable safety net.
"Right now, that's Pleasant Acres," he said.
Higgins agreed, saying that York County is a "very low-income place" right now.
"I am very concerned about the ability of senior citizens to be secure and safe," she said.
She said that she recently looked into a nursing home for a relative and was shocked when she discovered it would cost $185,000 a year.
"That's buying a house a year if you're in a really nice neighborhood," she said.
Higgins said that county nursing homes are vital for senior citizens who can no longer take care of themselves and might not have adequate family or financial resources.
"It needs to be there," she said.
Budget deadline: The candidates were then asked if they supported Gov. Tom Wolf's call to halt the salaries of state legislators and top executive officials if they don't meet the state's June 30 budget deadline.
Higgins said that it's difficult for school boards to create budgets when they don't know how much funding they will receive from the state.
“It’s a moving target,” she said. “You want to talk about craziness. Try figuring out how to fund education when you have no idea how stingy the government is going to be in what they’re giving.”
She agreed with Wolf's proposal and said that the budget should be available for review 30 days before the deadline.
Mauck also agreed with Wolf's proposal, saying that budget stalemates cost the state millions of dollars.
"That's your money they're wasting," he said.
He said that when there is a budget impasse, nonprofit organizations and school boards have to take out bank loans to continue operating, and the taxpayers pay the interest.
"Municipalities don't get a choice. They have to get their budgets done on time. Same with school districts, or they're held accountable," he said.
Higgins clarified that it's becoming increasingly common for school districts to take out loans because they have to pay teachers and support staff.
She said that they don't do this because they are being "silly or unthinking."
"It's because they have no choice," she said.
The debate was the first held by the YCYD, according to Coolbaugh.
The primary election is May 15.