Candidate Forums

51st District candidates talk gridlock, pending legislation in forum

By Mike Tony mtony@heraldstandard.com

Published 10:32 AM EDT

LEMONT FURNACE — The two candidates running for state representative in the 51st Legislative District also discussed at a recent forum approaches to politically driven issues, such as gridlock in Harrisburg, per diems and the presidential election.

Incumbent Tim Mahoney, D-South Union Township, said he can work with Republicans, citing the fact that he spearheaded legislation in bipartisan fashion to expand the state Right-to-Know Law as the prime sponsor of the House version of the bill.

His Republican challenger, Matthew Dowling, though, said Mahoney was “part of the issue of not allowing us to have a bipartisan solution on the budget last year.”

Mahoney countered by distancing himself from Gov. Tom Wolf, something he did often throughout the evening.

“I’m probably Gov. Wolf’s number one nemesis in the House as a Democrat,” Mahoney said. “I voted against the budget. I was a leader of the 11 Democrats that voted against the budget. We ended the crisis.”

Mahoney was one of the House Democrats who voted for the Republican-backed $6.6 billion supplemental 2015-16 budget which Wolf allowed to become law without his signature in March, ending a nine-month-long budget impasse which hampered social services and schools. In October 2015, Mahoney was one of nine House Democrats — all from southwestern Pennsylvania — to vote against Wolf’s proposal to increase the personal income tax and impose a severance tax on natural gas drilling at a time when the budget impasse was three months running.

In other topics addressed at the forum, Mahoney said he takes per diems and is enrolled in the state pension fund, while Dowling said he doesn’t intend to take per diems but will enroll in the state pension fund.

Both candidates said they supported a joint resolution to reduce the size of the General Assembly from the current 203 representative districts to 151, and both candidates also said they supported the idea that an independent citizens commission be created to draw legislative and congressional maps to address gerrymandering.

The men also opened up about who they felt would best lead the country.

Dowling said he would be voting for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in the presidential election, which he said gave him “great pause” because of “the things that he has said (and) the way he has acted.” Dowling said he thought Trump’s policies were in the best interest of the area and that he worried about where Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton “would go” in her four or eight years in office.

Mahoney said he didn’t know who he was going to vote for yet.

“To have our country run by either one of those individuals is scary to me,” Mahoney said.

Candidate Forums

Candidates for 51st Legislative District face off in forum

By Mike Tony mtony@heraldstandard.com

Published Tue Nov 01, 2016 2:15 AM EDT

LEMONT FURNACE — The two candidates running for state representative in the 51st Legislative District answered questions about their views and experience in a forum, discussing approaches to pervasive regionwide issues such as opioid abuse, frustrations with property taxes and blight, and funding for education.

Five-term incumbent Tim Mahoney, D-South Union Township, and his Republican challenger, Matthew Dowling of Uniontown, exchanged perspectives during the forum at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus hosted by the Herald-Standard, Greene County Messenger and The Mon Valley Herald-Standard in conjunction with the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce.

Forum moderator Jim Protin, president of the Mon Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce, asked each candidate what measures they would take if elected to better the portions of Fayette and Somerset counties they would serve.

OPIOID ABUSE

Mahoney, who hosted a House Democratic Policy Committee public hearing on opioid abuse treatment at Uniontown City Hall earlier this month, said elementary-level education needs to be better funded, adding that he believes addicts should receive longer periods for rehabilitation without a long-term reliance on addiction-fighting drugs.

“We’ve lost this war with drugs this generation,” Mahoney said. “There’s just no doubt about it.”

Dowling, a local businessman and veteran community volunteer, stressed that law enforcement agencies need more financial support.

“Early education as well as rehab and treatment are areas we need to focus on,” Dowling said.

The candidates were asked how they felt about methadone clinics in the community.

Dowling said there is no incentive for clinics to get users off of methadone and called for oversight to reduce its use. Mahoney said most of the people that run clinics get rich off of them because they keep users in a program. But, Mahoney added, it is pointless to regulate the location of clinics.

“For us to say we’re going to regulate where these methadone clinics go is asinine because, what makes a difference where they go?” Mahoney said. “They’re there to help our relatives, our friends, our neighbors.”

Mahoney said it is the state’s duty to follow everyone who is on methadone and get them off the drug within 16 months.

PROPERTY TAXES AND BLIGHT

Dowling called for pension reform while “keeping the promise that we’ve made to people that have paid into these systems for years and years because they’ve earned it.” He said reform would save taxpayers “billions and billions of dollars,” emphasizing that spending needs to be more controlled, which in turn could help with reducing property taxes within the state.

Mahoney noted that he co-sponsored the Property Tax Independence Act — House Bill 76, which would eliminate all school property taxes across the state (with the exception of those retained to retire current debt) and replace those taxes with funding from the personal income and sales taxes. House Bill 76 was referred to the state Finance Committee on Oct. 6.

Subsequently, Mahoney advocated for school district administration consolidation, which he has pitched locally and statewide for much of his time as state representative.

“If we were to go into a countywide district that I’ve been talking about for the last six years, we would save $56 million every year starting the first year it’s in,” Mahoney said. “That would take your property taxes down over half of what your school taxes are.”

At a February town hall meeting, Donna Brightman, president of the Washington County, Maryland, Board of Education, joined Mahoney, and it was noted that Brightman’s single-administration district spends $56 million less on public schools than Fayette County’s six school districts while educating about 5,400 more students.

Mahoney attributed blight to what he said was the majority of properties in Connellsville, Brownsville and Uniontown becoming rentals since city residents can’t afford their taxes. Mahoney said the issue came back to the school boards.

Dowling said the best cure for blight is economic growth.

“If we get jobs back and people come back, the blight goes away,” Dowling said.

EDUCATION FUNDING

Mahoney said education funding could not be increased anymore and said Harrisburg lobbyists are paying for flyers against him, claiming that school board associations are donating money to the Republican Party to make sure he doesn’t get re-elected.

Dowling said a school funding formula created and adopted in June by a bipartisan commission studying the issue mostly “got it right” but criticized Gov. Wolf for not following the formula. Dowling also questioned Mahoney’s focus on consolidation.

“When you put (school consolidation) as a bill that’s going to go through and force that upon everyone, then the entire state is going to be forced to follow that plan,” Dowling said. “Right now, school districts could get in a room and have a meeting and consolidate if they want, but forcing them is the same as forcing an unfunded mandate across the entire state.”

Mahoney noted a 2011 court decision against a school consolidation referendum that he said he tried to put on the ballot “through a little backdoor loophole” but added he was still trying.

“All we have to do is get six school boards to agree to it,” Mahoney said.

Dowling said he believes consolidation would only work for parts of the 51st Legislative District.

“As I’ve been meeting voters out in Turkeyfoot and Meyersdale, they’re faced with class sizes so small that they have to eliminate the arts,” Dowling said. “They want consolidation there. But if you go to the Albert Gallatin School District, you’ll hear a much different story.”

The district includes the City of Uniontown; Georges, German, Henry Clay, Nicholson, South Union, Springfield, Springhill, Stewart and Wharton townships; and Fairchance, Markleysburg, Ohiopyle, Point Marion and Smithfield boroughs in Fayette County.

It also includes Addison, Elk Lick, Lower Turkeyfoot, Summit and Upper Turkeyfoot townships and the boroughs of Addison, Confluence, Garrett, Meyersdale, Salisbury and Ursina, in Somerset County.

Election Day is Nov. 8.

Candidate Forums

Drugs, tax reform discussed in 52nd District forum

By Steve Ferris sferris@heraldstandard.com Updated Oct 27, 2016

Both candidates running for the 52nd District seat in the state House of Representatives agreed that drugs are a problem in the area, but have different views on fixing it.
Republican Rep. Ryan Warner, R-Perryopolis, is facing a challenge in his run for a second term from Democrat James Mari, the tax collector in North Union Township. They discussed a variety of topics in a recent forum hosted by the Herald Standard and The Mon Valley Herald Standard at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus.
Warner said the supply of opioids should be addressed, and he does not believe methadone or suboxone treatments are the best ways to treat addicts.

“We’ve become way too lax in our society for prescription drugs in general,” Warner said.
He supports a bill to require monitoring when people try to get refills of certain pain killers to reduce the supply of drugs on the streets.Many addictions start with the use of those drugs, he said.
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Methadone and suboxone are more addictive and have longer lasting withdrawal symptoms than heroin, he said.
“We’re just feeding them one drug and it takes longer to get off of that,” Warner said.
Mari said parents and schools should educate their children about the dangers of drug use.
He said he would work with police to combat drugs and supports longterm
rehabilitation.
“It takes a short time to get addicted, but it takes a lifetime to heal,” Mari said.
He said methadone and suboxone help, but are not cures.

Property tax reform, education

Warner said property taxes should be reduced or eliminated — and noted the most recent legislation would replace property taxes by raising sales and income tax rates.
Replacing revenue generated by property taxes with revenue from higher sales and income taxes is a massive tax shift, he said. “We’re looking at a $13 billion tax shift here,” Warner said. Mari, who has been a tax collector for 10 years, said House Bill 76 would eventually eliminate property taxes. He said raising the sales tax is fair because everybody would pay it. The candidates were asked if taxes on casino revenue are helping to reduce property taxes. Warner said the state’s underfunded pension system is eating up the casino money.
“The problem is that the majority of the money for education is going to a faltering pension system,” Warner said. Mari said gaming should be expanded to include military veteran organizations, clubs and other establishments. Warner said solving the pension problem would solve the education funding problem. “I believe, economically, it is the biggest financial problem we have,” Warner said about the pension fund. The pension plan is $7 billion out of balance, he said. “The tax dollars aren’t making it to the classroom,” Warner said. Both men said they would be willing to study school consolidation if it would save money. However, any consolidation plan should protect the jobs of teachers and other employees, Mari said.

Candidate Forums

52nd candidates discuss government reform

By Steve Ferris sferris@heraldstandard.com Updated Oct 27, 2016
The men vying to represent the 52nd Legislative District agree that the state House has too many members, and its size should be reduced. While Democrat James Mari said he hasn’t studied the resolution that would reduce the number of House members to 151 from 203, he said he supports reducing the size because it will save the taxpayers.
Incumbent state Rep. Ryan Warner, R-Perryopolis, said the number of House and Senate members should be reduced and voted for a bill that would do that.

Any reduction should be done carefully to make sure rural areas are represented, he said.
Pennsylvania has the largest full-time Legislature in the county. Texas is a larger state, but its Legislature is part-time, he said. Both candidates said they would support having an independent commission of citizens set legislative and congressional district maps.
Warner said his district includes half of East Huntingdon Township and the other half is in another representative’s district. Mari said he would also support a plan to provide the area with fair representation.

Per diems and state pension

Warner said he doesn’t take the state pension, nor accept per diem payments for travel or lodging. He said it was difficult to decide against joining the pension plan because he has family, but he promised he would not enroll in the pension plan or accept per diems or a vehicle from the state when he ran for his first term. The pension plan available to legislators is greater than the one for state employees and teachers, he said.
Democrat challenger James Mari, a tax collector in North Union Township, said Warner accepts reimbursements for mileage and lodging, which he contended is the same as accepting per diems. Mari did not say if he would accept per diems or enroll in the pension plan if he was elected. Warner said getting reimbursed for expenses is not the same as accepting per diems. Reimbursements for travel and lodging expenses documented on receipts saves tax dollars, he said. Per diems can be greater that the actual costs and lawmakers who accept them pocket the extra money, he said.

Partisanship

Warner said legislators must be able to disagree without resentment, and understanding the point of view of other lawmakers is the key to bipartisanship. Mari said too much emphasis is placed on party affiliations. “We need to throw the ‘Ds’ and ‘Rs’ away,” Mari said.He said he works with all taxpayers when they need help with their taxes and legislators must work for all state residents. Warner said he is a Republican because he believes the government should be smaller and less intrusive. “I believe the government that governs less governs best. … I just think our federal government has gotten way too big,” Warner said. He said the federal government should be involved only in issues involving the U.S. Constitution and states should be left to handle everything else.
Mari said he is a Democrat because it helps working class people and is supported by unions, which built the country. The men were asked to reveal who they’re going to vote for in the presidential election. Warner said he will cast a vote for Trump, though he doesn’t support everything Trump says or does. “He’s an outsider. He’ll bring something fresh to the equation,” Warner said. He said Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton would put coal miners out of work and called the National Rifle Association her greatest enemy.
Mari said both candidates have presented good ideas, but he wanted to watch the third debate before deciding who to vote for.
The forum was held prior to the third presidential debate.

Candidate Forums

Candidates for 50th discuss issues at forum

WAYNESBURG — In an atmosphere of civility, the two candidates running in the 50th Legislative District squared off in a forum last week and fielded a host of questions ranging from the opioid crisis to property tax reform, from municipal blight to legislative gridlock, and from educational funding to pensions and per diems. The two participants — two term incumbent Pam Snyder, D-Jefferson, and her Republican challenger, Betsy Rohanna McClure, a registered nurse from Franklin Township — engaged in a back and forth exchange during the one-hour forum sponsored by the The Mon Valley HeraldStandard,
HeraldStandard and the Greene County Messenger held at Waynesburg Central High School.
Moderator of the event was Christopher Whitlatch, chief executive officer of the Mon Valley Alliance, and the questions he asked were designed to elicit specific responses to relevant issues affecting the legislative district that includes all of Greene and parts of Fayette and Washington counties. “First, there is no magical piece of legislation that is going to fix this problem,” Snyder said, when asked about solutions to the opioid crisis.
She said she was one of four state House members to serve on an opioid taskforce, and while there is so much more to do, there came agreement there has to be education, prevention and treatment. Snyder said she visited all seven school districts in the 50th and spoke to middle school kids. “I wanted them to understand and see the importance of
making good choices, of being leaders instead of followers,” she said. “This is all about communities and kids — educating our kids, making sure we have prevention. And for those who falter, making sure we have treatment.” McClure said as a school nurse, she is on the front line of this. “First, we need jobs and opportunities. If there are more opportunities for people, they will hopefully stay away from drugs,” she said. McClure believes the education process begins in the elementary schools. “We can’t wait to start in high school. That will be too late.”

Property tax reform

McClure said she would be in favor of the elimination of property taxes but questioned where the money comes from to fund schools. “We can’t have other taxes rising,” she said. Snyder said property tax reform and education funding are linked. “Property taxes have to be reduced, but you have you have a sustainable source of revenue to fund out public education system and take the burden off property tax owners,” she said. “I would never vote to cut school funding,” McClure said. She said bringing more jobs to the area would bring more people to help with the burden of the property tax. Snyder suggested that the state doesn’t pay its fair share of the public education system. “They have been negligent,” she said.

Pensions, per diems

Snyder said she does pay into the state pension system. “My opponent says she will not take a pension, but she already has a state pension as a school nurse. I am not doing my job for my pension. I am doing it to protect other people’s pensions,” she said.

With respect to per diems, Snyder said she is reimbursed for hotels and travel back and forth to Harrisburg. “I am reimbursed. I wish I didn’t have to be,” she said.
McClure said she would work to eliminate those per diems. “Many legislators from Fayette and Washington counties do not take per diems.” Each candidate was asked why they became a member of their respective political party, and whether they would tell the audience who they will be voting for in the presidential race. “The Democratic Party has always stood for the working class,” Snyder said. “I believe in the middle class, and I believe in the American dream.” Snyder described the presidential election as an “embarrassment,” and said right here, right now, “I am an undecided voter.” McClure said she has been a Republican all her life. “I believe in less taxes and freedom,” she said. “I became politically active because of health care. “The Affordable Care Act has been an intrusion,” she said. Her vote will go to Donald Trump, she said. No matter who is elected to lead the country, Snyder said when one of her constituents has a problem, they won’t call Trump or Hillary Clinton to fix it. “They will call Pam Snyder, state rep, to fix it,” she said.
The district covers all of Greene County, East Bethlehem Township and Centerville in Washington County and Brownsville, Luzerne and Redstone townships and Brownsville and Masontown boroughs in Fayette County. The 50th includes Albert Gallatin, Bethlehem Center and Brownsville school districts in Fayette and Washington counties, and all of the districts in Greene County.

Election Day is Nov. 8.

Candidate Forums, Uncategorized

Candidates in 49th Legislative district square off

By Christine Haines chaines@heraldstandard.com Oct 14, 2016

MONESSEN — When voters head to the polls Nov. 8, those in the 49th Legislative District will elect a new state representative for the first time in more than 30 years. Democrat Alan Benyak of Charleroi and Republic Donald “Bud” Cook of Coal Center are vying for the seat held by Rep. Peter J. Daley since 1983. Daley, D-California, announced earlier this year he would not seek an 18th term in office.

Benyak, an attorney, and Cook, an emarketing and promotions consultant, recently discussed the issues facing the district at a public forum sponsored by The Mon Valley Herald Standard, the Mon Valley Alliance and the Greater Rostraver Chamber of Commerce.

One of the biggest issues facing not just the region, but the state as a whole, is opioid addiction. “People are dying every day,” Cook said. “At http://www.votebudcook.com we have a whole plan out there that addresses the drug problem.” Benyak said that he can see drug deals, and at times drug use, from his office window in Charleroi nearly every day, and each time he calls the authorities. “We need to treat these people because it is something that will be with them their entire life,” Benyak said. Benyak said he supports pending state legislation to allow charges to be brought against anyone who provides illegal drugs that cause injury to another person. “The U.S. attorney’s office is overwhelmed,” Benyak said of the need for the state legislation.

Property tax reform and blight

Benyak said he is a supporter of property tax reform, shifting to a 1 percent increase in the sales tax. That would allow people to pay taxes based on what they are able to spend, not on their place of residence, he said. Cook said the previously proposed property tax independence act is simply a tax transfer, shifting from property tax to a sales tax.
“That’s not a solution,” Cook said. “Now the government has its hand in your pocket 365 days a year instead of one. I think we need to address the blight in our area that has taken away a lot of the property tax.” Benyak said blight is a serious problem in the legislative district. “The number one reason for blight is property taxes are so high people just walk away from their properties,” Benyak said. “There are good things going on now. In Charleroi there is the land bank. I do have to give Donora credit for thinking outside the box and having their street department tearing down houses.” Cook said regulations often get in the way of communities fixing themselves up. He cited the case of a property in Washington County, where a local  contractor was hired to tear down a structure only to have the project stopped by the state Department of Environmental Protection because the contractor wasn’t licensed to handle asbestos removal. “It doesn’t take a lot to get these communities cleaned up,” Cook said.

Education

Both candidates support additional funds for education.
“Where you come up with the money is a great question. You would have to look at every single item in the budget and prioritize them,” Benyak said. Cook said districts need to think outside the box when it comes to funding, partnering with nonprofit groups, state agencies and area universities to provide programs for students.
“It’s not always about passing new laws and spending more money,” Cook said.
He indicated he supported the concept of charter schools as alternatives to traditional education. “Competition is a good thing, but they too need to be held to a high standard,” Cook said. “I support basic public education,” Benyak said. “The problem with charter schools is they aren’t held to the same standard.” When asked whether high school students should have to pass a question civics test using the questions from the U.S. citizenship test, Benyak said he would like to review the proposal first.
“I don’t know what those 100 questions are. Would it be the same questions in all of the school districts?” Benyak asked. “I would defer to the attorneys here and say we need to review,” Cook said. Cook said he was amazed when he was gathering signatures for his nominating petition at how many people between the ages of 25 and 35 were unaware of how the political system worked.

Harrisburg, jobs and pensions

As for the political gridlock in Harrisburg, Cook said he is all for building a team.
“You attack the problem, not the people” he said. Benyak said people need to respect one another and keep an open mind. “I’m always able to get along with other people. My father was a steelworker and my mother was a secretary. I was taught to respect people. I’m a middle of the road guy,” Benyak said. On the role of recreation in the region, Benyak said it is one element of a diverse economy. “I’ve always viewed it as the icing on the cake, and in this particular district, there isn’t much cake left. We need to develop real jobs before we develop recreation,” Benyak said. “My priority is family-sustaining jobs.”
Cook said recreation jobs are the low-hanging fruit for local job creation.
“Seven of 10 jobs are created by small businesses in this country. If Allenport Steel Mill were coming back, it would have come back years ago,” Cook said. Neither candidate has made up his mind regarding taking a state pension, though Benyak noted that they are a long way away from earning a state pension and would need to win multiple terms in office to qualify. Cook said he would submit actual expenses instead of taking the state per diem. Benyak said he still hadn’t decided which reimbursement method he would select.
“I won’t abuse it either way,” Benyak said. In closing, Benyak said he supports a no budget/no pay proposal for the state legislature, forcing lawmakers to come up with the annual budget in a timely fashion. He also said the district has a bright future.
“We can rebrand ourselves. We’ll be something very different in five or 10 years,” Benyak said. Cook said he will continue to walk the walk. “Two things are still respected in the Mon Valley — hard work and fighters,” Cook said. “All my adult life I have attacked problems. Go down Main Street. Is this the best we can do after 25 years?”

Candidate Forums

Snyder, Rohanna-McClure to square off in candidate forum

By Patty Yauger Herald Standard Court Reporter
Oct 7, 2016

The two candidates seeking to represent the residents of the state’s 50th Legislative District will discuss the issues facing southwestern Pennsylvania during a forum hosted by the Herald Standard, Greene County Messenger and The Mon Valley Herald-Standard.
Both incumbent state Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Jefferson Township, and her challenger in the race, Waynesburg Republican Betsy Rohanna McClure, will take part in the Thursday, Oct. 13, candidate forum in the auditorium of Waynesburg Central High School. The district encompasses all of Greene County and portions of Fayette and Washington counties.
Doors will open to the public at 5:45 p.m., with the forum to beg at 6:15 p.m.

  1. Neither candidate was challenged for their respective party nomination in the April primary.
    Snyder was first elected to state office in 2012 after serving nine years as a Greene County commissioner and is seeking a third term.
    A proponent of the coal and natural gas industries, during her first term, Snyder sponsored and led the passage of legislation that requires the state Department of Environmental Protection t receive approval from the state for the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions.
    In 2014, Snyder was one of four lawmakers named to a legislativ task force charged with investigating the opioid prescription drug abuse in the state. The Joint State Government Commission’s task force produced recommendations that are now being implemented statewide.
    Rohanna McClure, a Trinity School District nurse and community leader, is a first time candidate.
    A Greene County native, Rohanna McClure earned her nursing degree from Waynesburg College and an master’s in education from California University of Pennsylvania. She has served as a case manager for Albert Gallatin Hospice and Washington Hospital, in addition to teaching college and vocational technical nursing classes.
    Rohanna McClure is a member of the Greene County Historical Society, Pennsylvania State Education Association and VFW Local 4793, among others.
    Herald-Standard, Greene County Messenger and The Mon Valle Herald-Standard Executive Editor Michael Palm said a candidate forum allows each candidate to express their views on a variety o topics.
    “The public deserves the opportunity to be informed about the views of the candidates who would like to represent them,” he said. “We believe the questions posed during our forum will help illuminate the issues most important to voters.”
    Robert Pinarski, publisher of the three newspapers, said that since 1690, Americans have looked to their newspapers for information about economic conditions, politics and the comings and goings of their neighbors.
    “The goal of the Greene County Messenger, the Herald-Standard and The Mon Valley Herald-Standard has been and will continue to be to deliver the most up-to-date information to the communities we serve,” he said. “The candidate forum is an additional informational tool for those that will go to the polls in November.”
    Christopher Whitlatch, Mon Valley Alliance chief executive officer will moderate the forum.
    The Alliance — the consolidation of the Mon Valley Progress Council and the Middle Monongahela Industrial Development Association — was created in April.