Each week throughout the political campaign season, the Sun-Gazette will be asking candidates running for state and federal offices a single issue-oriented question.
Candidates for state offices will consider one question; those for federal offices will take a separate question.
The candidates are:
5th Congress - Glenn "GT" Thompson, incumbent, Republican, and Charles Dumas, Democrat.
10th Congress - Thomas Marino, incumbent, Republican, and Phil Scollo, Democrat
23rd state Senate - E. Eugene Yaw, incumbent, Republican, and Luana Cleveland, Democrat.
83rd state House - Rick Mirabito, incumbent, Democrat, and Harry Rogers, Republican.
84th state House - Garth Everett, incumbent, Republican.
Question: What needs to be done to fund the state's road and bridge problems?
Yaw: "The first thing we need to do is find more money. We somehow need to put more money in the transportation budget. Obviously, under this administration it means getting money from somewhere else. But I'm not sure that would do it. The governor had a transportation commission. It recommended increasing driver's license fees and registration fees. The secretary of transportation said we need to put more money in transportation. Right now, drivers license fees are $28 for four years, and driver's registration is $36 for four years.
"One of the projects we are working on is the Susquehanna Thruway (in Shamokin Dam). That project has been at a standstill for 25 or 30 years now. The project now is $550 million. It would be a true economic benefit for Pennsylvania just with construction projects alone. We are looking at doing the project in two parts. Those are the types of things we can do if we want to do them. The gasoline tax hasn't been raised in 10 or 12 years. A lot of people don't like increased taxes. I don't necessarily favor increased taxes either. But if you have to raise taxes, dedicate them to a specific purpose. A lot of people say we should be out-sourcing more maintenance work such as interstate highways. The secretary of transportation has really taken a look at various ways to address road and bridge problems we have. I think in the Senate one of our priorities is to establish a transportation plan and a transportation budget. For too long we have not faced the problem."
Cleveland: "We should have a severance tax on gas. I realize some of the impact fee is supposed to come from gas drilling. With the amount of damage I've seen to roads, the funding hasn't been sufficient. Also, nobody knows how much everyone is going to get from the impact fee until after the election. So we don't really know. There are also many other things they can do from that money that will not necessarily help our bridges. I don't think a gas tax would be too popular at this point. I think if we had a severance tax it would help a lot of things."
Everett: "Gov. Corbett ran on a distinct platform on limited taxes. The commission recommends a menu on tax and fee increases. That's problematic for someone who ran on a no-new-taxes platform. That is really the fly in the ointment right now. I am not in favor of raising taxes or fees. but it's been shown time and again that we are failing to keep our roads and bridges where they should be. There is talk of taking $500 million out of the motor license fund that goes to state police. Initially, it was for cruisers, now it goes for other state police needs. The problem with raising the gas tax is we continue to have cars with better mileage performance and also hybrids. I don't believe you will see anything happen to it until you see the governor take the lead. The plan is there, the bills are there. We just need some leadership."
Mirabito: "Regarding sources of revenue, a major resource that we could utilize is a severance tax on the extraction of natural gas. Some may argue that the gas industry has paid millions of dollars to repair and rebuild roads in the Northern Tier where the companies are drilling, including in our county. The companies, however, spent these funds either because building an asphalt road was a good business decision and helped the companies to be more productive, or, because the companies involved had damaged the roads.
"A severance tax is fair to our citizens as consumers because for decades we have been paying severance taxes to the other 38 states when we buy their natural gas. Now, as we become an exporter of natural gas within the United States and overseas, it is only fair that our citizens receive these payments from out-of-state consumers. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, in 2010 "more than $11 billion was generated in the United States from severance taxes alone. Between 10.5 percent and 74.3 percent of total state tax revenue came from severance taxes in at least six states - Alaska, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Wyoming.
"As a community we must remember that there is a difference between a severance tax and an impact fee. Almost all states that produce natural gas impose a severance tax for large projects such as transportation infrastructure or higher education; of those 38 states, 21 states also allow local municipalities to impose impact fees with 100 percent of the revenue going to local communities to mitigate the damages resulting from natural gas drilling.
"Indeed, our office conducted an informal poll and learned that over 65 percent of the respondents believed that a severance tax should be used to fund infrastructure repair of our bridges and roads in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center estimates that the state has lost $300 million between 2009 and January 2012 because the state has failed to collect a severance tax on the natural gas industry. This is $300 million that the state could have used to rebuild roads and bridges across our Commonwealth, but instead has been retained by the natural gas industry."
Rogers: "The bottom line is we need to look at new alternatives. The governor did put a commission together to study the problem. Recommendations were made, but it seemed to create some of its own problems with the introduction of new taxes. One thing we can start doing is how we work with PennDOT and streamlining services.
"This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. Both sides agree something has to be done. Look at the Turnpike Commission and put it under control of PennDOT. We don't want to toll Interstate 80. This is a big no-no. Private and public partnerships have to be looked at.
"Times have changed. We have to find more ways of doing things."
Question: Do you feel there should be term limits for members of Congress?
Scollo: "I do think there should be term limits. You get comfortable there in office. I would start with 12 years for House and Senate members. Look at this Congress. Nothing gets done. Big money fuels the politics. We need transparency. We don't have that now."
Marino: "I am for term limits and it should be 12 years for both House and Senate members. If you're in Washington too long you start to lose focus in the real world. Instead, you focus on power plays. You get hung up on the needs of lobbyists."
Thompson: "I think the term limits need to be imposed by the voters. This is an issue I've actually looked at from both sides. I do think it's important that voters make informed decisions. I think the majority of members of the House have only been there three or four terms or less. We have really had a significant turnover. Obviously, there has been legislation in the past for term limits. I guess I agree with the country's founders. They established two-year terms. If there were term limits, one of the unintended consequences, specifically with the House, you would have unelected bureaucrats. The staff would be making a lot of the decisions. They are unelected and not accountable."
Dumas: Dumas could not be reached for comment for this story.