Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Oct. 10th Gubernatorial Debate

Gubernatorial Debate

Incumbent Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell (ER) and his Republican challenger Lynn Swann (LS) debated on Oct. 10th, 2006 in Philadelphia.

I caught the rebroadcast on PCN. These are my notes. As always, I apologize for any errors or misinterpretations.

Moderator Jim Gardner

Q1: Problems in the city are increasing, but Philadelphia’s influence is decreasing. A Democratic governor is often hamstrung by a Republican legislature

ER: I hope governor is the governor of the whole state not just Philadelphia as he has been. 38,000 more Philadelphia school kids are proficient in reading now than before. Better mass transit. Working with the legislature we have gotten things done.

LS: We need change, putting the entire interest of commonwealth at heart. Once elected, the governor should be the governor of the entire commonwealth, stop playing favoritism and stop playing politics.

Q2: Legislature recently heard 100 bills on reducing gun violence.

LS: There are a number of laws on the books currently. We need to enforce current laws. I was recently in Philadelphia speaking to community activists, spent 1.5 hours talking with them. No one ever mentioned guns. The problem is caused by lack of hope and despair, lack of good education, lack of jobs. Create more hope and people will turn away from crime

ER: First need more police. We have put more police on the street. We need better law enforcement and sensible laws to control distribution of guns. Philadelphia should be able to have its own gun laws. We need to stop straw buyers. An ordinary citizen could buy 12 a year, with a once gun a month rule. How would that be a problem?

[Follow up 41 states allow cities to set own gun laws]

LS: The problem is not the gun but the person who has a gun. We need to crack down on straw purchasers.

Q3: Property taxes. Assessments are out of whack. We have a gambling effort that has yet to put money in pockets of homeowners. What will you do?

ER: 5 governors for 30 years have promised property tax relief. I did something. For senior citizens this is a great bill. I wanted to do more. I wanted to raise sales tax, but couldn’t get it through the legislature. We have to keep at it. We need leading Republicans to come out in favor of sensible gun control, 1 gun a month.

LS: ER’s property tax reform for seniors falls short. 1 in 6 get some relief but others don’t. It gives some money back but doesn’t reform the system. My plan ties into purchase price, and is guaranteed not to go up more than 3%. It creates a system of equality, gets rid of assessment.

ER: Everyone gets property tax relief. 60% of seniors would get dramatic property tax relief. LS’s plan is not predictable because it is based on surplus, requires constitutional amendment and so is 3 or 4 years away, based on CA plan.

LS: Only takes 3 years for a constitutional change. Caps property tax based on purchase tax. Has nothing to do with surplus. Only goes up 3%, inflationary hedge.

Q4: State has surpluses right now. People talk about permanent subsidies for police, witness protection program.

LS: Absolutely for that. My crime package calls for another 5,000 police in state. ER’s recent budget offered 0$ for witness protection program. The problem did not happen overnight. We need to work with communities, let law enforcement do their job.

ER: Agree with more police. Witness protection program was funded at around one million dollars. We must control spread of gun violence, up 84% in terms of murder rate. Urges LS to have a press conference with him to support 1 gun a month and slow down straw buyers.

[follow up – one crime bill voted down, to buy ammo must have gun license]

LS: I don’t know what the discussions were, and have not seen bill. If we had more open meetings I would know more. Need more transparency.

Q5: Superior Court Judge wants to return pay raise, even if she gives it back she has to pay taxes on it, and the state’s contribution to pension fund is based on higher pay.

ER: This makes no sense. I tried to work on this with IRS. I said I wouldn’t take raise but I would have to pay taxes on it. Pay raise a mistake. Gov. Ridge gave a pay raise to the legislature. That also a mistake. I should have done what did in Philadelphia and have a citizen commission with open meetings, make recommendations.

LS: It is nice that ER says now that payraise was a mistake. He wasn’t willing to follow up on promise of property tax but give legislators a raise. Shouldn’t ER’s experience have taught him this was not a good thing? That’s why we want good leadership.

ER: LS keep saying we didn’t achieve property tax reform but we did. LS hypocritical, did not back reformers, but legislative leaders who came up with payraise idea. LS said they should be judged on the totality of career not just the payraise.

LS: ER backed people who supported payraise too. People voted incumbents out. Ed’s chance will come.

Q6: In Philadelphia and other cities the drop out rate remains a serious problem.

LS: Must put emphasis on high schools. Look at what schools that are doing well are doing and transfer those ideas to schools doing poorly. 50% kids in Philadelphia who enroll in high school are dropping out. Create educational zones. Make sure poorly performing schools get the resources they need. We need to talk with teachers and administrators.

ER: PA is one of only 7 states to show good progress in proficiency in reading and math. The achievement gap between minority and majority is narrowing. We need to invest in early childhood education. When they get to high school they need after school tutoring. This program is having tremendous results.

LS: I have two sons, 8 and 10 years old. They are getting a great education. All I have achieved is the result of a great education. As an African American I am embarrassed that of 2200 minority students in Pittsburgh, 29 took advanced placement test, only 3 passed. Not closing educational gap.

[follow up on what does it mean to pass ap]

LS: only 3 got high enough scores to get ap credit

ER: We are making progress. It is a long haul. We are making an improvement by doing smart things. Things are getting better, not rapidly enough for LS or even ER.

Q&7: One million Pennsylvanians don’t have health insurance. What can we do to solve this problem: Cites Massachusetts plan.

ER: Very proud that we have more Pennsylvanians covered by health insurance than before took office. We need to do more than just add them to state plan. Mentions that he must pay out of pocket to get name brand drugs instead of generic. We must let nurse practitioners do more things, for example put in stitches in the emergency room.

LS: Good question. We need reform. Not just adding people and cost. Massachusetts is on a good path, as is Florida. We need reform instead of more taxes. We also need tort reform. 10 hosp in Pennsylvania have closed, another in bankruptcy . ER did not sign Fair Share Act. We only keep 7.8% of the doctors we train in Pennsylvania, in 94 it was 50%.

Q8: Pennsylvania’s readiness for terrorism attack, biological or chemical warfare.

LS: I’m not privy to certain things because I’m not in office and some information is only available to elected officials for security reasons. Pennsylvania received a certain amount of money from Homeland Security. The state has spent about 50% of that. The lt gov, sits at head of FEMA. My lt. gov. candidate, Jim Matthews is well qualified to lead us forward.

ER: We have distributed all the Homeland Security money to 9 regional taskforces which will distribute to municipalities. We have done desktop exercises and get specific training in those issues. We have shown ability to deal with emergencies, such as the response to recent flooding (National Guard, 1200 helicopter rescues). We have responded well to natural disasters.

Q9: Reliable funding base for SEPTA. The Delaware Valley Rail Passengers organization says accumulated mismanagement is a problem and the SEPTA board has little or no practical experience in transportation.

ER: SEPTA was mismanaged in the past. When I was mayor there was a 40 day strike. SEPTA reduced workforce to better levels. Better now. We still need dedicated source of funding. I flexed funding but that doesn’t solve the long run problem. Maybe we should take a higher percentage of sales tax to dedicate to mass transit.

LS: The DVRP report came out in 2004? [yes] Problems well-documented in trying to find dedicated source of funding. Flexing funds only prolonged the problem but didn’t fix it. There are a number of problems and issues to find solution. Transit shouldn’t be so costly that people who need it most can’t afford it. Don’t raise taxes to make it work.

[don’t’ increase fares and don’t raise taxes, how to pay for it?]

LS: We need to see that it is run correctly. Work problem through not put a bandaid on it. Not another commission. Investigate public private partnerships.

ER: When I flexed the money it was because the legislature wouldn’t pass a dedicated funding plan. A transportation reform commission has been working on it for 18 months. We need to make tough decisions. In the end we have to find dedicated funding.

Q10: State recently received an F in college affordability.

LS: We must see that kids can afford college. We must have jobs and opportunities. If there aren’t jobs college students will leave. Greatest export in Pennsylvania is college students. We must invest in new businesses of tomorrow. Between June and the end of Aug we lost 35,000 jobs and added 15,000 more people to unemployment.

ER: In 9 out of the last 10 months Pennsylvania has broken its record on the number of jobs. We have increased subsidies to community colleges. State colleges have held tuition increases to 2 and 3%. The average grant is now $3,000. We’ve done a good job so far but need to do more.

Q11: Within days of the Amish school shooting Inquirer reporters could walk into schools. Would you support uniform safety rules? What other solutions?

ER: Yes, I would support both. Schools violence is more than just a person coming in and killing people. In last 2 years incidents involving guns gone down. Incidents of sexual misconduct and problems in elementary schools are up. We need to put troubled kids in alternative schools. We must also do something about bullying.

LS: Yes, there should be standards across states. The basic fundamental thing a government should do is make people safe. We must move forward. We need talk with community groups and to young people about behavior. Young people having babies and single parents who don’t know how to parent. We must work with faith-based group and community groups. I was on the board of Big Brothers and Big Sisters. I have seen what an effect a positive role model can have.

Q12: State money to cultural groups. We have built sports stadiums but the Philadelphia zoo is losing its elephants. Should state be doing more? Cites NJ support of the Camden aquarium and Maryland’s support of their zoo, where our elephants are going

LS: A circus without an elephant is not a circus. A zoo without elephants is not a big zoo. Education and quality of life is not just about schools, but we need culture and arts. We need a well rounded diverse culture. We should look and find ways for the elephants to stay.

ER: The arts and culture produce more economic activity than sports. In Philadelphia we have given over $100 million to arts and cultural groups. States has grants for this. We must do more. I am working with Sen. Conti and others to give surplus that LCB has to arts and cultural organizations around the state.

Q13: PA legislature is the 2nd largest legislative body in the US and has 253 members. Why do we need so many lawmakers.

ER: We should reduce the size of the legislature but do it when redistrict. We also need term limits. Citizen soldiers not professional legislators. Need citizen redistricting to make competitive districts.

LS: I think governor just endorsed me with his citizen soldiers comment. It is very difficult for someone who has been in public service for 25 years but has not led charge for reform. Sen. Pippy introduced proposal to reduce size of legislature. We can’t wait for redistricting.

Q14: Is gambling a good way to improve jobs and growth?

LS: I don’t know that gambling will produce large number of jobs. If gambling is going to be an economic engine then adding a PA middleman distributor of machines will increase costs. Gaming commission says only about half money that ER thinks will come in.

ER: Gambling can be a help. It will stabilize 30,000 jobs in the horseracing industry. It will add another 30,000 jobs. It has brought in developers of a shopping mall near the track. 5% of gaming revenues go to economic development proposals. Gaming commission says it will not only meet but exceed expectations.

Q15: Global warming, carbon dioxide from coal plants. Do you believe in global warming a problem or an exaggeration.

ER: Global warning is a serious problem. We have been aggressive in handling the problem. We have adopted stronger mercury standards than federal. Pennsylvania sportsmen endorsed the higher standards. We have higher standards for emission standards for cars. We must do something about air quality.

LS: We must take care of the environment. Sometimes it is difficult to raise state standards higher than federal standards. Emissions standards will increase the costs to consumers. Instead of regulatory actions, we need to get business to help resolve problems. Possible effctive and productive. Don’t create adversarial relationship.

ER: LS incorrect again. 10 states including NY and NJ have higher emission standards and it does not increase the costs of cars. Things can coexist. California created 2nd highest job growth in nation and they have higher car standards.

LS: I asked people in the automotive industry; they said cars would cost more.

Q16: English as official language

ER: It is a bad idea. Government should put forms out in any language possible.

LS: We are a nation of immigrants. You can often find direction in many languages. English only is shameful.

Closing statements.

ER: I dedicated my entire life to public service, as a district attorney, mayor and governor. This experience has afforded me the opportunity to see what government can to help people. Today life in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania is better than it was 15 years ago. I have worked across party lines. Working together we accomplished a great deal. Together we can can continue to work for a better Pennsylvania.

LS: It is a great opportunity to be able to run for governor. I ask for your vote. If you are better off now than 4 year ago, and agree with policies put forth in last 4 years, then vote for Ed. If you think we need to move forward vote for me. Reform and Results.

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