Monday, January 25, 2010

LWV Event in Abington

Last Thursday the League of Women Voters of Abington – Cheltenham – Jenkintown, along with the Rydal Meadowbrook Civic Association held the annual LWV legislators’ forum.

State House Reps. Rick Taylor(D-151), Josh Shapiro (D-153), Larry Curry (D-154), Brendan Boyle (D-170), and State Senator LeAnna Washington (D-04) attended.

The League had three prepared questions and then took written questions from the audience. I’ve attended this event a few years ago and, as always, found it very informative.

These are rough notes and should not be taken as transcripts. Apologies in advance for any errors or misconceptions.

Q1: Will next year’s budget be adopted on time and will the legislature be pressured to make serious public policy decisions that should be made independently of budgetary considerations?

RT: Thanks for holding the forum. It was a regrettable moment. We need to do better. We should start the process in earnest earlier, perhaps moving to a biennial budget. I don’t’ believe in penalties, such as docking legislators pay, though voluntarily gave up salary until budget passed. Penalties will lead to a bad product [budget].

JS: It was a debacle; there was no excuse for the delay. How much more can you realistically cut and now much revenue can you realistically raise. Does think the legislators should not be paid if the budget goes over schedule and voluntarily gave up his own pay. We should tax Marcellus shale extraction.

LW: Thanks. By law we should finish the budget by June 30th. Gaming was the only revenue source we had. WE should have done marcellus shale the same way.

LC: Hard thing to live through. Budget season began in the state senate. The GOP said no tax increase.

BB: Thanks. 1) enormity of the problem, 12% deficity, 2) divided government; Democrats control the House, Republicans the senate, 3) obstinance of leadership of both parties.

Q2: What reforms, if any, would you propose to make the legislature operate more efficiently?

BB: campaign finance reform. disagrees with recent Supreme Court decision. 16 states have public financing of elections.

LC: fundraising is the least pleasant aspect of the job. We need spending and contribution limits. Some legislators talk too much on the House floor, but you can’t limit free speech.

LW: legislation is online now. Senators and senate employees pay a percentage of their health insurance. The senate doesn’t have debate and discussion.

JS: 1) greater transparency, 2) reduce cost of legislature When he was on the commission on reform they passed a lot of reform legislation. A lot of irresponsible spending practices have gone way. Now the chair of the audit committee. You can see where the money goes. There is $200 million in the legislative leadership accounts. Should be returned to the general fund.

RT: Shapiro hit on a number of his points. Legislature is a deliberative body, not built to be inefficient. Rewards seniority not merit. Should elect committee chairs and empower chairs. Now leaders control what legislation gets to the floor to be voted on.

Q3: Please provide your thoughts on how the state constitutions comment on the environment (see Article 1, section 27) should guide legislative decision making on environmental issues.

LW: guided by mandate. we should take a serious look at the Marcellus shale situation.

LC: water issues because of Marcellus shale.

JS: one of the most progressive parts of the constitution. worked to pass growing greener 2, fund to clean up hazardous sites. How to deal with Marcellus shale, ensure safety of environment. voted to tax Marcellus shale.

RT: economic development vs environmental protection.

BB: very strong believer in energy independence. Marcellus shale is a great opportunity but must protect the environment. cant keep cutting DEP. Mentions Delaware and Chesapeake River watersheds.

Audience questions

Q: As Montgomery County legislators, do you support the expansion of commuter rail to avoid parking garages?

LW: alludes to proposed Jenkintown SEPTA station parking garage. SEPTA said she supported it and she doesn’t.

JS: absolutely should support commuter rail

Q: paper trail for elections?

JS: yes

RT: yes

LW: yes

BB: yes, implicit in right to vote is right to have that vote counted.

Q: small business and health care costs

LW: introduced legislation to classify businesses with 250 or less employees as a small business, up from current 150.

JS: For years I introduced legislation to allow small businesses to work together to form pools for health care. Has passed in the House.

Q: movement for more gun control in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania generally

LW: introduce 1 handgun a month for Philadelphia with an opt in for the rest of the state, will introduce each year. People like to hunt and she likes deer meat. People in the western part of the state don’t like gun control.

LC: difficult to get the bill going.

RT: Been working with CeasefirePA, lost and stolen guns, too many straw purchases. Believes in the right to own guns and hunting.

LW: Lynn Abraham had begun to support legislation, closed down gun shops that were lax on straw purchases

Q: 2010 census, redistricting by nonpartisan independent commission?

LW: yes, ethics laws changed some things of the past.

BB: yes, he represents the most gerrymandered district, looks like the letter C. not correct way to conduct democracy.

JS: HB 1805, and LC”S HB 619 bills, key is to take politics out of it, better policy.

LC: must be careful with HB 1805, talks about legislative reapportionment that doesn’t mention congressional districts, HB 619 does.

Q: SB 935, same sex marriage

JS: Three years ago he voted against a bill in the house to do away with same sex unions, including domestic partnerships. PA has to be catch up with the times, and be compassionate.

BB: It is legal to discriminate in the workplace and housing on the basis of sex orientation. This is wrong.

RT: We recently celebrated Martin Luther King Day, a day of service. Think of same sex marriage as a civil rights issue.

LW: Government should get out of people’s bedrooms.

Q: Adult Basic [state health program], waiting list is growing

JS: We are in limbo with Adult Basic, waiting to see what Congress does. 2 problems 1) less money available, and 2) federal matches set to expire at the end of the calendar year. We can’t continue to use Adult Basis to be insurer for the poor, can’t afford it.

LW: universal health care is important. Preventive medicine saves money.

RT: There has been a 40% increase in the uninsured since he took office.

Q: extraction tax

LC: some opportunity before floor vote, helpful. in legislature felt some pressure to pass tax, rebuild DEP.

JS: all 4 House members voted for it, not a tax on people but on companies. Sent to the Senate. GOP leadership did now bring it up for a vote. Look at their campaign finance reports and see who is donating to them.

LW: everyone needs input on what legislation is voted on.

BB: theme – need for govt reform. Instead of extraction tax someone came up with the arts tax and taxing small games of change. Those did not pass.

RT: Proudest of his vote against the arts tax. All forms of tobacco should be taxed. Instead of Marcellus shale extraction and tobacco tax we got table games.

Q: greater transparency with disclosure of lobbyists

JS: already voted on it, on the PA Secretary of State site.

Q: number of signatures required for third party candidates to get on the ballot

BB: not fair. Pennsylvania has very restrictive requirements for this. There should be some requirement but it should be reasonable.

JS: agree

RT: bring back the Bull Moose Party!! [this was a joke]

Q: given the judicial scandal in Luzerne County, should we elect judges?

JS; merit selection is gaining steam

RT: We want the best quality people in the judiciary, support merit selection but might not be realist, campaign finance reform

BB: RT;s bill on public financing for judicial elections. Teddy Roosevelt came up with campaign finance reform to address a scandal. That is a pattern – scandal, reform, unintended consequences.

Q: tax increase, teacher’s pension fund

JS: pension system in PA, in 2011, 2012 will have a deficit. Is that the question? [yes] This is a 10 billion dollar problem, fundamental restructuring of government, no answer yet. Sponsored legislation, passed twice in the House to keep pension money out of Iran and Sudan. It is in the Senate now, but sitting, not being acted on

Q: 2 top priorities

RT: unemployment and job creation

JS: jobs, jobs, jobs, health care system for small businesses, use of hand held cell phones and texting while driving

LW: jobs jobs jobs and job training

LC: jobs and job training, poisons chemical in making of plastic bottles

BB: spurring economic growth in the sate. getting more regular ordinary Pennsylvanians involved in state and local government.

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