Health care reform, immigration, term limits, and property taxes were among numerous topics covered by candidates for governor and congress at a Town Hall Forum last night at Penn's Peak in Jim Thorpe.
There were 228 people at the event, according to MaryEllen Salerno, head of the Lehighton 9/12 Project, sponsors of the event. She said more than 100 people who had said they were coming canceled because of slippery roads caused by several inches of snow that covered many major roadways from a surprise snowstorm.
Participants included two candidates for Pennsylvania governor, one for U.S. Congress, and one for lieutenant governor.
All the participants were Republicans. Salerno said the town hall meeting was non-partisan and numerous Democratic candidates were invited to attend but declined.
The moderator was Kim Bell, general manager of Blue Ridge Communications TV-13. The town hall forum was broadcast live on TV-13 and will be shown again on TV-13 at 7 p.m. Friday and on the PCN Network on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. and 9:45 p.m.
The participants were:
Ÿ Attorney General Tom Corbett and State Rep. Sam Rohrer, both candidates for governor.
Ÿ Luzerne County Commissioner Stephen Urban, seeking the position of Pa. lieutenant governor.
Ÿ Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta, who is vying for a seat on the U.S. Congress that is currently occupied by Paul Kanjorski. Kanjorski declined to take part in the event.
Each candidate was invited to give opening statements, field questions from audience members, then make closing remarks.
Salerno coordinated the event with Sandy Dellicker of the Lehighton 9/12 project. She said the main purpose is to make voters better informed for both the upcoming May primary election and the general election.
Although many topics were discussed, perhaps the one where the gubernatorial candidates differed most was on property tax reform.
A member of the audience asked both Corbett and Rohrer, "How will you pay for education if you take away the property tax?"
Rohrer suggested moving primarily to a broad-based consumption tax.
Corbett disagreed with him, stating that he doubts elimination of property tax would get legislative approval. He also said that it's not certain that Rohrer's suggestion will generate enough revenue to replace property taxes.
All four candidates agreed that the state must improve its business climate. Barletta told about starting his own business and finding out how regulatory the state of Pennsylvania is.
"I saw how the government interferes in business," he said, adding that political leaders must realize "it isn't government that creates jobs, it is business that creates jobs."
The candidates also emphasized the need to capitalize on the Marcellus Shale natural gas supply, stating it will both create jobs and help to make the country more energy independent.
Barletta urged that more attention be also given to the state's supply of coal.
All voiced displeasure with the health care reform law passed by Congress. Corbett was one of numerous state attorney generals who filed federal lawsuits against the health care reform law signed into law by President Obama, claiming it is unconstitutional. He criticized Governor Ed Rendell for not taking such a stand on the topic.
In his opening comments, Barletta said he never planned to get involved in politics. His early dreams were to be a major-league baseball player and play for the New York Yankees.
It was after he opened his own business and saw the interference from the government that changed his mind.
"I saw how dysfunctional the government really is," he said.
Another problem he quickly saw in Hazleton was how gangs moved into the community and violence increased. He said the gangs and violence were attributed to illegal immigrants.
"Little children were being recruited to join gangs and Hazleton had no money to fight it," he said. He added that he went to Washington seeking help and met with numerous officials, but only got a coffee mug, lapel pin, and a slap on the back.
"I realized how the federal government had failed us," he told the audience.
"Washington continues to fail us," he said, citing bailouts, increasing debt, and rising unemployment.
"We all agree we need health care reform," he said. "But not with a $1.2 trillion price tag that we will never be able to repay and our children will never be able to repay and our grandchildren will not be able to repay."
Corbett commented that in the past seven years, Pennsylvania's budget has increased 40 percent. He said the only way to stop this trend is with painful spending cuts.
He blasted federal lawmakers on passing the Health Care Reform measure, labeling it unconstitutional.
"This is not a political lawsuit," he said, adding that it strictly is based on beliefs of the constitution.
The attorney general said he is dismayed by the number of college graduates leaving Pennsylvania because there are no jobs here. He commented that one reason is that Pennsylvania has the second highest corporate net income tax in the nation.
Corbett also felt the need to curb such agencies as the Department of Environmental Protection and make them realize that "business is a good thing."
Concerning health reform, he said one way to start it is with tort reform. "With tort reform, we would be able to bring down the cost of defensive medicine and we are going to keep doctors here," he said.
Rohrer remarked, "The challenges facing this commonwealth are significant."
"We're standing here today in an insolvent Pennsylvania," he proclaimed.
He said the labor climate in the state is hostile, and that he favors right-to-work legislation.
Rohrer said that capitalizing on the Marcellus Shale natural gas find could create hundreds of thousands of jobs.
According to the candidate, about 30 percent of the state's school districts are currently insolvent. He said he would lead the way for the elimination of school property taxes.
On the health care reform law, he said, "We don't need anyone to tell us it's unconstitutional. The 10th Amendment tells us it is unconstitutional."
Urban, of Wilkes-Barre, said he has the philosophy that "you don't spend what you don't have." He said this hasn't been the case in Pennsylvania.
"We've got to start reducing the size of government," he stressed.
Urban supported development of the Marcellus Shale belt, stating that it contains five times more natural gas than the entire State of Texas.
He opposes making Interstate 80 a toll road, stating that he feels a toll is a tax.
Tolling the interstate would drive business away and raise the cost of consumer goods, he said, "and we'll all pay in the long run."
Jean Andrews of Lehighton sang the national anthem and "God Bless America."