Education, employment, transportation and energy - that's what Democratic gubernatorial candidate John R. Hanger focused on to get Pennsylvania back on track at the first of a series of meet and greets Tuesday hosted by the Lycoming County Young Democrats at the Genetti Hotel.
Hanger, 56, of Hershey, has been on two statewide agencies. From 1993 to 1998, he was commissioner of the Public Utility Commission, and from 2008 to 2011 was secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection.
Hanger told the group of 20 his top priority is education as Pennsylvania ranks 49th out of 50 states in job creation. He emphasized education is the No 1 driving factor to fix the economy.
"The surest way to destroy jobs is to attack schools and education," Hanger said.
Tremendous layoffs of educators, increased class sizes and canceled courses, combined with Corbett cutting funding to state universities by 22 percent, has "created a huge education crisis," Hanger said.
Hanger said he doesn't support failing charter schools, citing that 70 percent in the state are not meeting math and reading federal standards. Yet, he said, Corbett is giving $700 million a year to these failed charter schools.
If he wins office, Hanger said he will defund failing charter schools, and restore the $1 billion Corbett cut from public education. He wants to make the cost of education a 50-50 partnership between the state and taxpayers, rather than the 68 percent now on taxpayers' shoulders.
Key to his education reform is his zero-tuition college plan, which would provide high school graduates two years of community college or one year at a public university at no tuition cost. Upon graduation, they would pay back 1.2 percent to 2.2 percent of their incomes back into the fund for 15 years, Hanger said.
"We want to make it so you don't have to be born or married into wealth to go to college," Hanger said.
As he linked education to job creation, he listed job numbers over the last three years in the state. In 2010, 87,000 jobs were created; 46,000 jobs were created in 2011; in 2012, 35,000 were created; and 5,000 were created over the last six months, he said.
As the nation has been growing 2 million jobs a year, he said, the state has been declining, even amidst the natural gas industry boom. He noted the state needs 6.5 million jobs to be at full employment, whereas the gas industry's jobs stand at 2 percent. This means many industries need to be nurtured. "Not simply gas," he said.
With transportation, 145,000 jobs could be created fixing roads and bridges, he said. "This governor has missed three construction seasons without a transportation plan," he said. "He's putting privatizing liquor ahead of job creation."
Hanger said he is "uniquely qualified" to be governor with his expert energy experience. All energy industries need to be strongly regulated, he said. He would ban outdoor storage of drilling wastewater and pits, require pollution-control equipment and enact a "real" drilling tax.
As far as the pension crisis, he wants to see how Act 120 pans out before he takes action. The act cuts pensions substantially for new state employees.
Clyde Peeling, 71, owner of Reptiland, also is on the Amphibian and Reptile Advisory Committee to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. He and his wife, Dianne, have concerns about the environmental impact of natural gas drilling or fracking. Small creatures face possible extinction with this environmental disruption, and amphibians act as the first warning sign of pollution as their skin is permeable, he said.
Bill Osborn, 59, of South Williamsport, said he's concerned that many pre-schools are being closed, which he called the foundation of society. He called Corbett purely business-minded, rather than fair-minded toward the middle class.
"The trickle-down theory hasn't trickled down enough," Osborn said.
When Tara Knight, secretary of the county Young Democrats, asked Hanger if he would support the marriage equality bill, he said he would.
"It's a question of individual liberty. ... For far too long, lesbian, gay and transgender people have been treated in ways that denies their humanity," Hanger said. "With equal strength, I support the right of a church not to marry people they don't want to marry," he said.