WILKES-BARRE – Northeastern Pennsylvania's legislative delegation showed more consensus than division during the League of Women Voters of the Wilkes-Barre Area's legislative breakfast.
The event Saturday morning gave area residents the opportunity to meet their elected officials who serve in Harrisburg and hear their stances on some of today's most relevant issues confronting the state Legislature.
Participants included senators Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, and John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, as well as representatives Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake; Mike Carroll, D-Avoca; Sid Michaels Kavulich, D-Taylor; Phyllis Mundy, D-Kingston; Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre; and Tarah Toohil, R-Butler Township.
Rep. Gerry Mullery, D-Newport Township, was scheduled to attend but was unable due to a last-minute conflict.
The lawmakers were united in their opposition to Gov. Tom Corbett's plan to privatize the state lottery and in urging caution in privatizing state liquor stores. They also agreed Pennsylvania's government needs to address gun control and to make it more difficult for the mentally ill to obtain guns, and all said they support at least civil unions for same-sex couples.
On their priorities as legislators, however, they named a wide variety of issues, often influenced by the congressional committees on which they sit.
This is where each said their focus will be this year:
• Baker: An on-time balanced budget is always a priority. Continuing to expand jobs in the business climate … I look forward to working with Rep. Toohil as we try to adopt the child abuse task force report. I'm continuing my efforts on pipeline safety and we'll be looking at class one pipelines, and issues before our committees including the establishment of a state disaster relief fund. Pennsylvania is one of 25 states that currently does not have that.
• Yudichak: I have two priorities; they're plain and simple. It's job creation and it's safe communities. … Job creation is about education and it's about energy development … the Marcellus Shale play here in the northeast and in the southwest is very important to the future of Pennsylvania's economy and is going to be important to job creation …
(On) safe communities… we have to do more in terms of regionalization, in terms of finding a way to get our communities to come together to find the appropriate resource level to deliver law enforcement in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
• Boback: My legislative priorities include looking at anti-bullying legislation. I have some that I've already authored … It's very, very dangerous when children bully one another, not only face to face, but also through the media. …
On gaming oversight… we're looking at small games of chance for our associations such as the VFW and the American Legion. These are groups of men and women who are trying to be self-sustaining and give back to the community, so we need to make sure there is legislation that's going to govern these bars, where they'll be able to make a few more dollars to give back to the community that's near to them.
… I'm looking at legislation, too, that will make it equitable for a brick-and-mortar building, such as the public school systems that we support, … to what we give our cyber and charter schools. Right now there's a great differential.
• Carroll: Transportation is something that I will pay close attention to over the next coming months. The governor has made a decision that he's going to advance a transportation funding proposal to us in February, and from our perspective that's really vitally important not just for the state but for our millions of people because of the network that we have that we rely on.
• Kavulich: I'm a member of the finance committee. Tax issues and tax policy in Pennsylvania … is so inequitable, we must do something about that, from the citizen paying the property tax all the way up to the business taxes that are imposed on businesses …
I'm a member of the agriculture committee. Agriculture is our number-one industry in Pennsylvania, and it is part of my legislative priority in my next term … to do what I can to make sure that that industry continues to thrive, which is so important to Pennsylvania.
• Mundy: The tax policy in Pennsylvania … is headed in the wrong direction. We are spending money in the state budget through tax credits, tax breaks and tax incentives that we need for core functions of state government like education, and I do not believe that trickle-down supply-side economics is the job creator that some would have you believe. And so tax fairness with regard to tax reform and overall tax policy in the commonwealth is my top legislative priority, especially as it relates to job creation.
• Pashinski: I'm going to work hard on trying to get our governor to stop the austerity budget … There are pots of money out there that he could be tapping. The Marcellus Shale should be taxed; that's worth $300 to $500 million. The Delaware Loophole should be stopped; that's worth hundreds of millions of dollars …
(One of) my top priorities is going to be to reduce health care premiums. Until we reduce the costs we're still going to have a problem …
When it comes to education, there is $300 million that is being misappropriated to the charter system. We're going to work hard to get that money so that we have a formula that appropriates the appropriate amount of money to the charters and also that we don't shortchange our public schools.
I'm going to work hard for fair and honest elections. Some of the proposals that are coming up: the voter ID legislation, restrictions on voting and now the changing of the Electoral College are un-American, undemocratic and I will work very hard to change them.
• Toohil: In Pennsylvania our numbers of reporting (child sexual) abuses is very low and it's estimated that the abuses are actually very high. …Going forward in the next two years, I'm going to be working a lot with (the) children and youth and judiciary (committees) on reforming the mandated reporting and reforming children and youth (services) in Pennsylvania.