WILKES-BARRE — The Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce held its annual Legislative Breakfast Friday, but only two of Luzerne County’s eight state legislators attended.
State Reps. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, and Mike Carroll, D-Avoca, participated, along with Luzerne County Manager C. David Pedri and Luzerne County Council Chairman Tim McGinley.
State Senators Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, and John Yudichak, D-Nanticoke, and state representatives Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township, Aaron Kaufer, R-Kingston, Tarah Toohil, R-Butler Township, and Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake, said they had prior commitments.
The four officials who did make it gave opening remarks and then hosted separate sessions to discuss issues and answer questions from about 75 attendees.
Wico van Genderen, president and CEO of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber, said the Legislative Breakfast has always been a great opportunity for local elected officials to meet with a notable cross-sample of business, student, community and academic leaders.
“This year, we had an energetic session with representation from both state and county government,” van Genderen said. “My special thanks to Rep. Pashinski, Rep. Carroll, Manager Pedri and Chairman McGinley for making themselves available for our annual event and tackling a host of topical issues that affect the region, state and the livelihood of the people in our community.”
Pedri and McGinley gave an overview of the county, including upcoming budget talks. McGinley said the proposed budget is at $140 million, which includes an annual debt reduction line item of $27 million.
“Our job is to control expenses and to operate efficiently,” McGinley said. “We have to pass the budget by Dec. 15.”
Pedri, who noted that the county has seen several natural disaster-like events in recent years, explained all of the county’s 50 departments and their roles.
In the break-out session, Pedri and McGinley discussed the Luzerne County Transportation Authority and its schedule and services. A long discussion centered on county roads and bridges in need of repair.
“It will take millions of dollars to fix them all,” Pedri said. “That’s why county residents will see a $5 increase in their vehicle registration fee, from $36 per year to $41. That will generate $1.4 million and the state will match that amount. That $2.8 million will go to address many of the roads and bridges in need of repair.”
Education and the opioid crisis were major topics for Pashinski and Carroll. Pashinski said he has been advocating for more guidance for middle school and high school students regarding technical and trade careers. He said not every student goes on to college and he noted that sometimes there is a negative stigma attached to non-college career paths.
“A four-year degree is not for everybody,” Carroll said. “We need electricians, plumbers, mechanics, bricklayers and carpenters. Students have to be made aware of these careers and informed of all options.”
Pashinski said many school districts face budget issues that result in a reduction in guidance counselors.
“The key is always funding,” Pashinski said.
He also reported on his efforts with legislation to help grandparents raising grandchildren, many forced into the role due to the opioid crisis.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.