Education funding is on minds of Dems

An emphasis on education and a call for fairness were the themes for many of the local and gubernatorial candidates at the Lycoming County Democratic Committee’s Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner Saturday evening at the Holiday Inn, 100 Pine St.

State Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, 83rd Legislative District incumbent, said he voted against the past three state budgets because of the deep slashes to education funding, he told the crowd of 170.

The poorest, most rural areas of the state most deeply were hurt, he said. “We need to stand up and fight against it,” Mirabito said.

He called on the humanity that he said unites all. “People deserve an opportunity to succeed, a helping hand – not a hand out – because we all need a helping hand, because none of us is omnipotent,” Mirabito said.

January 1964 was the start of the war on poverty, when one in five children lived in poverty, he said. Programs such as Head Start, Medicare, Medicaid, college work-study programs, STEP, VISTA, food stamps and more were initiated and “brought profound changes to people’s lives,” he said.

However, the U.S. has the highest first-day infant death rate among industrialized countries, he said.

Mirabito hotly contested the state’s natural gas drilling impact fee law, alleging Pennsylvania has the lowest gas tax in the nation. “That bill sold out people of rural Pennsylvania,” he said, saying he voted against it.

He said it generates $200 million a year, and claimed 53 percent of the funds stay local, while 47 percent go out of the area.

Mirabito argued 38 states have both an impact fee and a severance tax – “That’s the norm,” he said.

He also pounded on corporate greed, saying “it’s wrong” that CEOs get pensions in the millions while employees get far less.

Mirabito is being challenged by Republican Jeff Wheeland, a Lycoming County commissioner.

Scott Brion, candidate for the 10th U.S. Congressional District held by U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, R-Cogan Station, said he supports the “safe and transparent development of natural gas.”

He’s running to “fight to stop the senseless political grandstanding,” criticizing the vote of Marino to “shut down the government.”

Brion said he stands for the foundation of individual liberties, such as women’s reproductive rights. “Government needs to stay out of our bedrooms, our emails and our phone calls,” he said.

“I can bring more liberty and less bickering to Washington, D.C.,” Brion said.

“I come from Liberty, Pennsylvania. We stack lumber, firewood, milk cows, bale hay, drive trucks,” and help people out, regardless of party, Brion said. “U.S. Congress could learn a whole lot from a place like Liberty.”

Kristen Hayes, a candidate for the 84th Legislative District seat held by state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, said she brings a “unique” set of skills to the table with her past nine years of volunteering experience. “I can relate, I’ve been there and I’m still there,” she said.

She emphasized politicians are public servants who “need to create change.”

“Why me? Why not?” she asked, saying she can mobilize people.

She advocates the Toxic Substances Control Act reform.

Michael Fedor spoke on behalf of gubernatorial candidate Rob McCord, state treasurer, calling McCord a “champion for collective bargaining rights.” The main reason McCord is running, Fedor said, is to restore funding to education. Fedor said Gov. Tom Corbett cut $1 billion in public education funding, and McCord aims to restore $1.3 billion in funding.

Investing more in education will requires less investment in prisons later on, he said.

McCord also advocates a $10.70 minimum wage.

Julie France spoke on behalf of gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf, former state revenue secretary, also highlighting the need for education funding.

State Auditor Gen. Eugene DePasquale was the keynote speaker, and his take-away message was, “As Democrats, we can’t let these kids fall through the cracks.”

The average cost of educating a child in a public school a year is between $10,000 and $12,000, while the cost of a state inmate per year is $35,000, he said.

“Where do we want to put our money?” DePasquale asked.

Public education funding must be restored, he said, “so every child, regardless of where they’re born, has an equal opportunity. It’s not about equal outcome, but equal opportunity. That’s what the Democratic Party is all about.”

The late Richard “Rick” Gahr received the posthumous Lycoming County Democratic Committee Service Award. Gahr was a state Democratic Committee Person. His wife Peg Gahr, and his brothers Patrick and Tom Gahr, accepted the award on his behalf.

Gubernatorial candidates Katie McGinty and Allyson Schwartz did not have representatives at the meeting.