Lawmaker talks taxes, pensions at town hall

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette State Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, middle, answers question following the town hall meeting at the White Deer Community Park Monday. This was the first of five meetings, which Everett will hold at different locations.

WATSONTOWN — On a warm and humid August evening, the heat from the discussion occasionally matched the temperature of the room at the White Deer Community Center.

Several dozen people, including retirees and senior citizens, turned out for the first of several town hall meetings being held by state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, whose district includes parts of Union County.

Taxes and pensions seemed to be foremost on the minds of people questioning Everett Monday evening.

Wes Metzger, of New Columbia, said it was wrong taxpayers continue to have to pay the pensions of retired state workers.

“You want me to pass a bill to take away pensions of all school and state employees?” Everett asked.

He went on to explain that the state Constitution prohibits such action.

An angry Metzger insisted the law could be changed to allow it.

Everett said the generous pension system for state employees came about well before he was a lawmaker when the stock market was doing well. After the recession of 2008, the state and the public school districts were faced with big pension debts, which they will continue to pay off for years to come.

Public sector unions, which represent state workers and favored generous pensions, dominate Pennsylvania politics, he added.

“I am not anti-union,” he said. “But public sector unions are way over the top.”

At the outset of the meeting, Everett went over the state budget. He revealed a pie chart showing 38 percent of the state’s general fund goes toward education spending. Another 37 percent of the general fund is spent on health and human services.

He noted that state education spending continues to rise.

The $1 billion no longer allocated to districts represented annual federal stimulus money. School districts were told the money would eventually dry up and were warned not to expect it for planning budgets.

“Some districts listened. Some did not,” he said.

One Milton Area School District resident complained that his property taxes have increased by 30 percent in the past five years.

He said he was a senior citizen on a fixed income and simply couldn’t afford to keep paying higher school taxes.

Everett said rising property taxes are among the biggest concerns he hears from seniors.

But he noted doing away with property taxes, which bring in $14 billion for the state, would only result in finding other revenue sources such as raising the income and/or sales tax.

Many of his colleagues in the state Legislature, he noted, are against raising the sales tax.

Other residents complained that their local school board is not properly representing the people.

“Do you want a big school board in Harrisburg to tell you how to do it?” Everett asked.

Ken Flewelling, a retired corrections officer, complained that the Milton Area School District spends far too much per student.

“Everyone in this room is sending the same message,” he told Everett.

Another resident complained about people using ACCESS cards for wrongful purchases.

Everett briefly touched on other matters.

He noted that the state needs to become business friendly.

Statistics often place Pennsylvania in the lower 10 states of places where businesses consider locating, he noted.

Everett’s next town hall meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Picture Rocks Volunteer Fire Co.