State Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, is running for his fifth term in the 84th House District in Lycoming County because he said he wants to continue to fight for his constituents on some key issues.
The state budget tops the list from now to mid-June. The House has gone through each line item and will assemble a proposal, and the Senate will do the same.
"In order for us to get 102 votes in the House and 26 votes in the Senate, and something the governor is willing to sign is quite an exercise," said Everett, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee.
His overall goal in the budget procedure is to balance spending with projected revenue and to ensure the revenue numbers are "realistic assumptions" to avoid a deficit.
Everett listens to individuals' concerns on issues such as education, social welfare, the environment and more, and then "we synthesize it all together and come up with a budget that we think is a fair deal for everybody involved, given the amount of revenue we have," the Montoursville native said.
This "fair deal" is far tougher than before 2008, as Everett said the "economy in Pennsylvania has never recovered since then" in terms of revenue, with increasing expenses.
The pension problem continues to perpetuate, but Everett wants to turn it into something more manageable - as he calls it now "unsustainable." Over the next 25 years, he projects the bill to be at least $45 billion, while the annual budget hovers around $29 billion.
"Every year we don't do something, that $45 billion gets bigger," he said. "None of the ways (to address it) are attractive or fun; it's not just a reform issue, but a funding issue."
He recognizes the need to protect retirees and current workers in the retirement systems, but approach a workable solution with new hires.
On the health care front, the Affordable Care Act hits Pennsylvanians on the Medicaid bullseye. The act calls for putting more people on Medicaid, he said, but called even the current model unsustainable, as one out of six Pennsylvanians, or 2.2 million, already receive Medicaid benefits, which is higher than many other states.
About 75 percent of the Department of Public Welfare's $27.6 billion budget - including state, federal and other funds - goes to Medicaid, he said. The department's budget constitutes 39 percent of the state's annual budget, with Medicaid the No. 1 cost driver, growing by almost $500 million a year, he said.
Medicaid costs now constitute 30 percent of the state's general fund budget.
"The point is, we have to get health care costs and health care under control," Everett said. "Between pension costs growing and these costs growing every year, it's going to push out other things we'd like to do like education, environmental programs and more because these are mandatory costs. Something's got to give."
One constraint looms over the whole financial process: Gov. Tom Corbett ran on a no-tax-increase platform four years ago.
"We got one guy who can veto the budget, and there's no way we'll ever have enough votes to overturn the veto," Everett said. "The reality is there's not going to be any major tax increase to fund these things in this current administration. That's the paradigm we live in now."
As a fiscal conservative, Everett said he only would look to a tax increase as a last resort.
Everett sees kindergarten through 12th-grade and higher education as most important.
"If we don't have an educated workforce, we're dead in the water," he said.
Regarding property tax reform, he supports the concept, but the solution must generate enough revenue to replace all property taxes in the state; otherwise, "I can't vote for something that doesn't work," he said.
He wants to modernize state beer, wine and spirits sales for customer convenience.
With Marcellus Shale, a debate on a severance tax will happen, as all the gubernatorial candidates favor it, he said. While there is a clause in the state's oil and gas law (Act 13) that does not allow both a severance tax and an impact fee to co-exist, the law could be amended to allow both, but at lower amounts to keep the state competitive, Everett said.
"We need to keep ourselves fairly in the ball game - make sure we get paid, but we want to stay in the game," Everett said, as the gas companies can walk away and go to surrounding states.
He also wants to simplify regulations businesses must go through to open.
Finally, he wants to incentivize volunteer firefighting; incentivize natural gas expansion for accessibility while being environmentally responsible; and watch what develops on the flood insurance rates' front.
Everett graduated from Penn State, retired from the Air Force at the rank of lieutenant colonel, graduated from Penn State's Dickinson School of Law at Carlisle, served as a solicitor in the area and was elected as a representative in 2006. He serves on the state government, environmental resources, energy, game and fisheries committees.