Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski stopped in Williamsport Monday morning to begin his "Putting Pennsylvania Back to Work" jobs tour as part of his bid for the Democratic nomination for governor.
He met with five community members at Panera Bread to learn about local issues and discuss opportunities to create a revitalization similar to one his efforts have created in Allentown, bringing in more than 4,000 jobs.
Alison Hirsch, vice chairwoman of the Lycoming County Democratic Committee, said while the natural gas industry's boom creates jobs locally, the bust cycle hits hard, as well.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed Pawlowski, center, of Allentown, speaks with a group of community members and business owners at Panera Bread Monday morning as he starts his jobs tour.
"How do we deal with it when they're gone," Hirsch asked. Education is key. "We must have an educated workforce."
Pawlowski agreed and said workforce training is important to meet that need.
When asked what his stance is on natural gas hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, he said at this point, it's impossible to "put the genie back in the bottle," so it's necessary to work with the industry, but with increased regulation and oversight. He claimed the lack of such actually inhibits gas companies to come to the state.
"If we just have this wild west approach to drilling, we're going to regret that," Pawlowski said.
He also said he would institute a 4-percent severance tax for natural gas, saying it would bring in $1.4 billion, and put a moratorium on drilling on state lands, he said.
John Mussare, chairman of the committee and local business owner, said taxes are a real issue, and agreed with Hirsch about education.
Pawlowski asked whether lowering business taxes by a percentage point would have a positive impact.
When Mussare said he didn't think it would, Pawlowski said to lower it any more than that would leave too large a gap. Pawlowski said many other states have higher sales or income taxes, whereas Pennsylvania's tax structure is based more on business and property taxes.
Business owner Scott Brion, of Jackson Township, said public sector employment is vital for this rural area, as the larger employers are the school districts, and cuts to education severely hurt this area.
Mussare said the gas industry has driven rent higher, but with wages remaining stagnant, workers move out of the area out of a need for sustainable living.
When Pawlowski asked if raising minimum wage could be a viable solution, he received mixed reactions.
Mussare said the current minimum wage is not a sustainable wage, but Chris Benson, vice president of the Young Democrats of Lycoming County, said as he works in management, it would affect companies' bottom lines drastically.
Williamsport resident Erin Hubbard said it's not possible to raise a family or live on minimum wage. "People wonder why so many people are on welfare," she said.
Benson countered by saying if minimum wage is raised, jobs will disappear, and magnify the quandary. He added it's a local issue and one government should stay out of.
Pawlowski said it's crucial to put together a comprehensive job strategy, as he sees a lack of one in Gov. Tom Corbett's administration, calling it a "lack of leadership." He said Pennsylvania went from seventh to 49th in job growth in three years, whereas in 1 1/2 years, he's encouraged economic development that brought more than $1 billion in new investments to Allentown, resulting in thousands of jobs.
He helped turn an $8 million budget deficit into a $14 million surplus with no tax increases, he said, and by increasing the police force size, crime rates decreased by 26 percent.
"That's the kind of leadership Pennsylvania needs," he said.
He said the Democratic Party needs a moderate Democrat in order to win, and said he is fiscally conservative and socially progressive.