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: For years, many people have called for some kind of property tax reform in the state. Do you agree we need some kind of reform? If so, what is your plan?
"The biggest reform we can do is cut and control spending. We don't have a revenue problem; we have a spending problem. Specifically, there have been some bills introduced to eliminate property taxes. Two thirds of all property taxes come from school taxes. If we eliminate property taxes, that means the money is going to be controlled and will come from Harrisburg. That will mean much less local control. Not that that's bad. But people need to understand that. If you are going to eliminate property taxes, you have to have some other kind of other tax. It's a tax shift. I'm not saying other options are bad, but other taxes can be very dependent on the economy. It really is one of those things you need to look at and consider for all the ramifications."
"I think we need property tax reform. But I think we have to be careful about how we do it. In California, they passed Proposition 13. That had unintended consequences. I think that it shouldn't all be on the property owners. We have to find ways that spread the burden so it doesn't all fall on property owners because other people use the services too. In Williamsport we are taxed fairly high already on income taxes. I don't really know what the answer is. The most regressive tax we have is the sales tax, particularly if we extend it to food. We don't want to bankrupt our public schools. We don't want vouchers."
"Rising property taxes are a problem for many in our community, especially seniors on a fixed income. I believe that we need to take action now to deal with this problem. Historically, Pennsylvania has used property taxes to pay for education. Property tax relief has been discussed for almost 30 years now with little effect. I am a co-sponsor with a Republican colleague of House Bill 1776, which deals with this issue by providing alternatives to the local school property tax, except in situations for paying on existing debt. The legislation increases the personal income tax a very small amount and increases the sales tax by 1 percent to 7 percent. The bill also expands the base of the sales tax.
"Currently, a portion of the proceeds from the Pennsylvania Lottery go towards the Property Tax and Rent Rebate program which sends benefits to seniors, widows, widowers and people with disabilities making $35,000 or less. Through my legislative office, we have assisted many people with this program. I will continue to fight for property tax reform to reduce the burden on our homeowners."
"I do agree we need some type of reform. There was a bill in last year that called for just that. It called for eliminating or significantly reducing real estate taxes. It called for increasing by 1 percent some items on sales tax. It would only affect homestead properties. This would have been great for retirees. When you have a tax designated to relieve real estate taxes such as gambling revenues, let's leave it to do that. Not spread it to other needs. We are already up in arms about how our education has been cut. We need to start looking outside of the box at efficient use of revenue we have. Let's look across the board. Where else can we cut spending?"
"I was a co-sponsor of House bill 1176, but we couldn't get enough votes for it to get it out of the Finance Committee. One of my colleagues has been pushing it. It's basically the same bill that (state Rep.) Sam Rohrer pushed. It raised the sales tax by 1 percent and it includes more items that would be taxed. It excludes food. It also increased the personal income tax by 1 percent. I thought it was a good bill. It would eliminate property taxes for home owners. On the other hand, right now the way money is sent to school districts is favorable to those below the state median income and those with declining enrollment. That includes Lycoming County schools. Here, we get a higher percentage of money per student from the state, so that is a good thing."
Question: What is the single biggest concern you are hearing from people, and what are you telling them needs to be done to resolve the issue?
"The number one issue is jobs. I don't know too many ills that cannot be resolved by a good family-sustaining job. Some 23 million people are either unemployed or underemployed. It's not rocket science. I just encourage people to look at the dozens of bills we have passed, many of which are sitting in either House, due to Sen. Reid's lack of leadership. These bills have addressed taxes, regulations and energy costs. America is becoming the least competitive place because of the tax rate. The President wants to raise tax rates by allowing the current tax rates to expire at the end of the year. Regulations are increasing costs. Finally, there's energy costs which are usually the single biggest costs for employers. Gasoline prices are pushing $4 a gallon."
"The biggest concern I have heard from people has been jobs. The way the other side is depicting that is unemployment. And it's not that. It's under-employment and underpaid jobs. Too many people are working in jobs without a future. We need to develop alternative forms of energy and alternative forms of economic development. Why can't we have light rail? Why can't we make windmills, solar panels? Why can't we create real jobs? Those are the kinds of jobs that pay well. Kids can train for those jobs. And they don't have to go to Seattle or other places to get jobs. As far as low pay, the answer is collective bargaining. I will do what I can to support labor. Collective bargaining is the process by which pay is raised. It's not through some benevolent owner.
"A lot of people are talking about natural gas and the billions of dollars in the industry. One thing that is missing is that industry is not sustainable. All fossil fuels at some point get used up. When you are talking about sustainable energy, you have to talk about things that will be around for our grandchildren."
"The very number one issue, and we have taken a poll on this, is the debt and economy. The debt and the economy have people very concerned. One of the first things we need to do is stop this ridiculous spending. We spent $1.6 trillion more than we took in last year. We need to downsize Washington. We do that through attrition. I don't want to fire anyone or lay them off. The exceptions to that are the military and law enforcement. That is where we start. We employ more than 3 million people in the federal government, and that doesn't include the military.
"The pay rate is above what people earn in the private sector. We need to keep taxes low and lower them for the middle class. We also need lower corporate taxes. We have one of the highest rates in the world. We also need to get rid of the tax loopholes. Go to a flat tax. You want to create jobs but eliminate those in Washington. The government doesn't create jobs. It creates regulations that impede jobs. When we reduce costs of running Washington, that money goes back to private sector."
"The number one issue is jobs. A major reason I entered this race is because Congress could use more business sensibility. As a small businessman myself, I know what small businesses need to succeed. They need a simpler tax code and less burdensome regulations. They need a "Made in America" tax break so they can compete with foreign competition. They need a modern transportation and energy infrastructure. Let's invest in clean energy alternatives and natural gas and ensure that we are building and maintaining our roads and highways.
"Second, we need to make sure we are fighting for the jobs we already have in the district. Congressman Marino voted for a Defense Appropriations bill that would cut funding for the Tobyhanna Army Depot and result in hundreds of layoffs. Then again, he voted for the sequestration bill that would not only cut funding for the Tobyhanna Army Depot but threaten the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Airport with closure and bleed thousands of federal jobs across Pennsylvania. We can't reduce unemployment if our first move is cut the jobs we already have. In Congress, I will fight for a better private sector business climate and advocate stridently for the tenth district's federal jobs."