Candidates for 40th PA Senate Race Answer Your Questions About Tuition Rates, Jobs
Part 2 of a series: Patch took your questions, and those of our editors, and submitted them to the two candidates in the race to fill the unexpired term of former senator Jane Orie
Democrat Sharon Brown and Republican Rep. Randy Vulakovich are running in the Aug 7 special election to become the next state senator in Pennsylvania's 40th district. The winner will complete the term of former Sen. Jane Orie, who was convicted and sentenced to prison for using her state paid staff to do campaign work.
Recently, the readers of the North Hills, Cranberry and Pine-Richland Patches were asked to submit questions to both candidates. The three editors of those Patch sites assembled those questions, and added a few of their own, for the candidates.
Their answers to questions about their qualifications, Gov Corbett's budget, and funding for public schools can be found here. Below are their answers to questions about tuition rates and jobs. The remaining questions and answers will be published throughout the week.
What will you do to get tuition rates at Penn State and University of Pittsburgh down to a more reasonable amount? They are listed in the Top 10 for public universities in the U.S.
Rep. Randy Vuakovich: "We need to enforce stricter conditions on our public funding in order to make our state school tuitions more competitive. The schools of higher education must reform their revenue/spending budget process by putting students first and prioritizing their spending. State funding should be tied directly to tuition increases."
Dr. Sharon Brown: "We need to support all levels of education. As an administrator at CCAC, I saw how hard it was for students when costs went up. And the tuition rates of all of our public colleges and universities were more reasonable before the Corbett/Vulakovich budget cuts. We have to and can do better for the students and their families of Senate District 40 and all of Pennsylvania."
What will you do to bring jobs to the 40th District?
Dr. Sharon Brown: "First off, we need to keep the jobs we have – especially teachers, firefighters, and police, who are bearing the brunt of the Corbett/Vulakovich budgets. Every time we have to layoff these public servants, those local families are devastated and the pain ripples out to our local businesses.
We also need to attract new 21st century employers to the region, and work with them to guarantee that they are here for the long haul. That will not happen with the current Harrisburg crowd.
The Corbett/Vulakovich budget was full of giveaways to fully mature and well capitalized industries – yet our lawmakers refused to place any requirements that the money we gave these companies would actually go to providing Pennsylvania jobs.
There are a number of options available that can be used to make the district attractive to new businesses in the area, creating reasonable tax credits with caps and ties to definite job creation levels.
We also need to make the business environment more attractive to small business development by offering more small business loans and professional business consultation and training to those with the entrepreneurial abilities to create new businesses that will bring more jobs to our area. As someone who runs a small business, I know how important that is.
Finally we need to stop the dangerous game of chicken that the Corbett/Vulakovich administration is playing on transportation. Our entire community will grind to a halt – with workers unable to get to their jobs, and customers unable to get to our businesses – if we don’t come up with the funding and a plan to save public transportation, and fix our crumbling bridges and roads.
We need to take action now, and we also need to develop a more regional approach to transportation within the region, not only improving the offering of bus lines in the northern corridor, but, also working to establish a comprehensive light rail system that will serve all areas of the greater Pittsburgh and southern Butler Co. areas – not just the South Hills.
Rep. Randy Vuakovich: "I will make sure job creators and businesses have an environment in which they can flourish. I will work with the community and business leaders of the 40th district who know their needs and wants for their district to help make their vision a reality."
How will you address the state’s public pension problem?
Rep. Randy Vuakovich: "I’d like all current employees to have the option of being put on a defined contribution plan or a hybrid plan. Current employees should have to make an added contribution rate for the solvency of their pension during troubled periods of pension losses. All current and future retirees’ pension should be calculated at the old rate."
Dr. Sharon Brown: "The Pennsylvania public pension system has served its employees well over decades, allowing them to maintain good, family sustaining wages and medical coverage for their families. Those that have put in their talents, time, and commitment to public service deserve to receive what was promised to them upon their retirement.
But a number of ill-advised changes in the federal banking and investment laws put those pensions at risk during two different collapses of our financial system. And our leaders in Harrisburg made it worse. Thinking that good financial times would last forever, they changed the formula for financing those pensions.
These factors combined in a perfect storm, with seriously underfunded pension plans now expected to meet the obligations of the baby boomer generation that is now retiring. Local school districts and municipalities have been left holding the bag.
We need serious people to solve this problem, and it needs to be based on sound fiscal science and fairness. Taxpayers cannot make up the difference in our pension funds caused by legislative mistakes. And our public employees must not be punished for those same mistakes.
We must bring all parties together and consider all alternatives while keeping our promise to our public servants who are nearing retirement. One option could be creating hybrid systems, with a percentage of defined benefits plus defined contributions from the employees. We should look to the private sector for some other examples of ways to guarantee our workers a good retirement without bankrupting our schools and municipalities.
We should also move immediately to rein in legislative pensions. Members should be restricted to one pension only, and not be able to double and triple dip. We should lengthen the amount of time necessary for legislative pensions to be available. And we should reduce the ability of elected officials to game the system so that they receive ever-larger pensions for holding party and other leadership offices."
Tomorrow, the candidates list their top issues and concerns for the 40th district, and answer questions about a tax break for the Shell cracker plant in Beaver county and pipelines for Marcellus Shale development.
You can chime in on what each candidate has to say in the comments box below.