FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
State Rep. Pat Harkins
Corbett, Republican legislative agenda veers right
ERIE, Nov. 4 – Last November, as I witnessed the election returns bring in the Republican tide, I discussed the anticipated changes with my friends and colleagues and wondered what it would be like to serve as a minority party member within the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
Until then, my entire four years of service saw the Democrats in control of the Governor’s Office with Ed Rendell, as well as the House, while Republicans held a majority in the state Senate.
A year later, with Republicans in control of the Governor’s Office with Tom Corbett, as well as the entire Legislature, the Republican interpretation of the “message” sent last November is finally being delivered to the people of Pennsylvania and to many other states that welcomed the Republican tide.
The issues that were so important to Democrats, issues that seemed to have strong support from the general public, took a back seat to the right wing agenda. Issues like the Marcellus gas tax, funding for bridge and road construction and repairs, and a jobs plan that would jump start the economy and put Pennsylvanians back to work had to take a back seat to a Republican agenda aimed at addressing voter ID issues, a bill to make English our primary language, the marriage protection amendment and the annual trotting out of the proposed sale of the state liquor store system and the school voucher program.
In the area of education, the ramifications from the budget cuts made by Gov. Corbett last June are just beginning to be realized. In the short term, school districts have been able to balance their budgets through the use of “rainy day funds” and layoffs, but if the economy remains weak, what will happen when the reserves are depleted and the workforce is cut to the bone? This year, the decimation of our prekindergarten and Head Start programs, due to state funding cuts, was avoided, thanks to strong support from the business community statewide. The cuts to higher education were also unconscionable.
As a society, we constantly talk about the importance of our students being able to compete in the global market, yet we seem to fail to recognize the costs associated with that goal.
The message sent last November is also being felt outside the classroom. This past summer, as I drove around the state, I saw first hand the many roads and bridges that are either closed or well on their way to being closed. Hopefully, none will collapse or pose some other hazard to the public in the near future due to our inaction.
Governor Corbett seems to understand the large scope of the transportation issue in that he formed a committee to study its needs and to explore methods of funding. Ironically, the committee came up with the same recommendations we voted on two years ago.
At that time, the House Republicans rejected those recommendations because they called for the tolling of Interstate 80. I voted in favor of that plan two years ago because I drive I-80 every week and see the many out-of-state tractor-trailers that use and abuse the roads. They fuel up their vehicles in New Jersey and drive through Pennsylvania to Ohio. All Pennsylvania receives in return are deteriorating roadways. In the legislation proposed two years ago, I was in favor of a “pass” for those who live and work along the I-80 corridor so they aren’t penalized for their daily commutes.
Corbett’s committee is recommending the installation of “red light cameras” at major intersections throughout the state to raise revenue. These cameras will catch those who run red lights by taking a photograph of their registration plate and sending a sizable bill in the mail to the offender. After much research on this issue I am taking a position in opposition. Rather than imposing hefty fines on the residents, I believe we need to take a proactive approach to the problem as many other states are doing. For example, in the state of Arizona, if a person is cited for a traffic violation the driver has an opportunity to go to "drivers school" at the drivers expense, to forgo points against their driving record. Under this program, the driver becomes better educated in proper driver techniques and the state gains the revenue from the fee paid to attend the training.
The sale of the State Stores, in my opinion, would be irresponsible and reckless. If the stores were privatized, the state would lose the annual revenue generated through product sales. We would also need to address the issues of enforcement, cost and availability.
On the issue of school vouchers, I have been and probably always will be opposed to the program. In order to understand my opposition, please realize that there are 114 charter schools in the Philadelphia area alone. In contrast, there are only four charter schools in the Erie area, and many rural areas of the state have no charter schools. If the voucher program were enacted, you only need to follow the money to realize who would benefit.
The average student throughout the state would not benefit and it would not save private and Catholic schools in our area. Additionally, it would be of no benefit to rural Pennsylvanians who have no charter schools in their area.
Finally, I am not a fan of privatization. Having worked for a private corporation for 25 years I have learned that like the public sector, private corporations have their share of problems. However, unlike government, private corporations are not subjected to the same level of transparency and, as such, they often don't face the same public scrutiny.
I opposed the sale of the Pennsylvania Turnpike to Dubai (United Arab Emirates) and at the time, I thought the proposal was a joke. Are we going to start selling off our assets until we have no more assets to sell?
In closing, I encourage each and every one of you to pay close attention to the issues. Speak out. Express your opinion. Most importantly, don’t forget to vote.