Argall, Heffley hold town hall meeting
ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMES NEWS State Rep. Doyle Heffley, left, and state Sen. David Argall answer questions at a town-hall meeting held in Aquashicola.
Sen. David Argall (R-29) and Rep. Doyle Heffley (R-122) co-sponsored a town-hall meeting at the Aquashicola Fire Company on Saturday.
Argall said it was one of the better attended meetings. Years ago when the town hall program began, he wasn't sure anyone would attend, but they do.
Heffley said it was his first town hall, but he has wanted to sit down and talk with people.
The first question was about $12 million to be paid by Horsehead. It was said that most of it would be spent outside the local area.
Heffley said $9 million is still available and was designed to restore what the area lost through the contamination.
"We are trying to get it to stay in Carbon County," he said.
The next question and many others were about education. Residents thought the casinos were to help in a larger way. Argall said Tamaqua, where he lives, gets a $150 decrease in its school tax from the casinos. It brought in $1 billion but when that is spread over 12 million Pennsylvanians, it doesn't leave much.
Argall would like to scrap the entire property tax, but people have pointed out that whatever form the tax takes, there still has to be a way to control spending.
When the governor's budget came out with a plan to cut state aid to education, "our office was flooded with phone calls." When his grandfather taught in 1920 he was sometimes paid with vegetables and the same system of funding exists today.
"We are hopeful of getting cuts in other parts of the budget that can be moved into schools," Argall said.
Heffley said there are a lot of state and federal mandates that can't be cut financially. However, they are working on mandate relief, but were told what is being considered is not enough.
He introduced a bill that would provide property tax relief as it was supposed to be done.
"We need to solve the problem," he said, referring to the questioner's comment about senior citizens being unable to constantly pay more.
A sales tax is attacked when it is offered in place of property taxes. People do not want it added to things that are now sales-tax free.
"We have to point out that they would get the property tax reduction in return," said Argall.
The only solution Argall sees is to get school funding on the ballot. Taxes are also the reason some people will not upgrade their homes.
Special education is extreme. They come in with their advocates and lawyers. In one district special ed costs went up $1.7 million in one year, said one person. There were objections to paying for children to go to charter schools ($23 million last year).
The question of having multiple kids in the school system for the same tax payment as someone with no kids was called unfair. A man on social security, who did not get a raise for two years, bluntly said he doesn't want to pay taxes for "your" kids.
The corrections department spends 10 times as much on a prisoner as the schools do on a child. Argall's solution would be to "slap a bracelet on them (people who do soft crimes) for $1,000 instead of spending $30,000."
Argall said once income taxes are received in April, the government will know the size of the hole it is in. A wage freeze for a year is under discussion.
A resident said he doesn't see legislators, judges or the governor taking a freeze.
Argall said he and Heffley haven't taken the previously legislated cost of living raise, but people did not drop the subject.
"How about a salary freeze like you're asking other people to do?"
Heffley said $327 million has been moved into public pension funds.
Argall said teachers can't be laid off because the current law would have to be changed, but said "we will see some change."
He has heard some of the talk about changing the size of the legislature, but said that cost is one-half of 1 percent of the budget, and staff budgets have been cut.
The Marcellus shale severance tax was brought up. Argall said the governor opened the door a little bit, but any taxes will go to fix roads, water and bridges, not to help the general fund and it will not be a severance tax.
Where the shale industry is, unemployment is 2 percent lower. Cement mills and the steel industry benefits from the gas industry. It has put $2 million into a bridge and road fund and is investing in community colleges to train people.
Heffley said he will never vote for a gas tax that goes to SEPTA. He wants it kept local for roads and bridges.
"We just don't want to be so reliant on the property tax," he said.
"How many letters do you read? Is it worthwhile to write," the legislators were asked. Argall said he reads everything from the people he represents.
There was concern that bills came before the legislature, and senators and representatives did not have time to understand them and the ramifications before they came up for a vote.