Pennsylvania voters OK property tax measure, elect judges
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania voters approved a constitutional amendment that could eventually lead to property tax cuts, elected a Republican justice to a full term on the state’s highest court and filled open slots on a pair of lower-level appeals courts in a low-turnout, off-year election.
The most closely watched race was for Supreme Court. Justice Sallie Mundy beat Allegheny County Judge Dwayne Woodruff, a former Pittsburgh Steelers player, to win a full 10-year term. Her election meant Democrats were unable to add to their 5-to-2 majority on the high court.
Two other incumbent justices were retained for another decade in up-or-down retention votes.
Mundy, a resident of Tioga County in the state’s northern tier, was a Superior Court judge when Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf nominated her and the Republican-controlled state Senate confirmed her to replace Justice Michael Eakin. Eakin stepped down early last year, nearly three months after being put on paid suspension to await an ethics trial for his role in a salacious email scandal.
The constitutional amendment gives legal authorization for state lawmakers to pass a law to let local governments exempt the full value of homes from taxes, replacing what had been a 50 percent cap on cuts.
The amendment itself did not reduce any taxes, and the Legislature may struggle to find revenue to replace the property taxes that currently generate billions for schools and other purposes.
Lower down the ballot, three Democrats won seats on Superior Court, with two Republicans vying for a fourth open seat in a race too close to call.
Philadelphia judges Carolyn Nichols and Maria McLaughlin, and Beaver County Judge Debbie Kunselman were elected. More than 3,000 votes separated Allegheny County District Judge Mary Murray and Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman, both Republicans, with Murray holding the edge. Four other candidates also vied for the open seats on Superior Court, which hears intermediate appeals in criminal and most civil cases.
A Democrat, Philadelphia Judge Ellen Ceisler, and a Republican, Delaware County Judge Christine Cannon, were the top vote-getters for two open seats on Commonwealth Court, downing three other candidates. Commonwealth Court is responsible for lawsuits involving state and local governments and regulatory agencies.
For many voters, the real interest was in local races, including mayor, district attorney, county executive, judges, local councils and boards. Turnout was a far cry from a year ago, when the state was a presidential battleground and featured a closely watched U.S. Senate race.
Philadelphia’s next district attorney will be Democrat Larry Krasner, a man whose career as a civil rights attorney led him to sue the city’s police department.
In York, Democratic Mayor Kim Bracey lost to the city council president, Mike Helfrich, a fellow Democrat who won the Republican nomination on the same day this spring that she beat him in the Democratic primary.
And in Allentown, the incumbent mayor, Democrat Ed Pawlowski, won a fourth term while he faces federal corruption charges, allegations he denies.
The Erie School Board is getting what’s described as the first openly transgender person to be elected in Pennsylvania. Clinical therapist Tyler Titus, a Democrat, won one of four open seats.