Jack Wagner outlines what he will do if elected governor of Pennsylvania
The Daily Review sent questionnaires to the candidates in the Pennsylvania governor's race: Joe Hoeffel, Jack Wagner, Athnothy Williams, and Dan Onorato - all Democrats - and Republicans tom Corbett and Sam Rohrer. Here is Wagner's answers:
1. What are the most important issues facing the state and how do you plan to address them?
The first priority of the next governor must be to assess the fiscal condition of state government and develop a comprehensive plan to maintain vital government services without raising taxes. My experience as auditor general makes me uniquely suited for this task. I know firsthand where the waste, fraud, and abuse are in government programs. I will implement my audit recommendations and other ideas in order to generate significant savings that will be used to develop responsible, on-time budgets that address the needs of Pennsylvania families and taxpayers.
The next governor must also immediately begin to restore the public's faith in government. This requires a record of integrity and a commitment to reform. I was the first statewide official to condemn bonuses in state government and propose banning them. I have long fought to reduce the size of the General Assembly and to hold a Constitutional convention. Being auditor general is about leading the fight for transparency, accountability, and reform in all areas of state government. I will continue to do so as governor.
2. How should Pennsylvania handle the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry, and do you support a severance tax on natural gas, and why or why not?
The new Marcellus Shale energy resources give the Commonwealth an unparalleled opportunity in the coming years to create tens of thousands of good paying, high quality jobs to our communities, bring in much-needed revenues to state government, and reduce the cost of natural gas. However, while I am committed to maximizing these new resources, I am equally committed to ensuring that it be done in an environmentally responsible way. I will insist that the costs of the increased government oversight necessary to build and monitor this new industry be borne by the industry itself. I support a reasonable severance tax, set at perhaps the average of other states' tax rates, with a portion of the revenues dedicated to environmental restoration, preservation, enforcement, and oversight at the state and local levels, including a new Growing Greener program. Pennsylvania cannot impose the highest tax in the country or else we will kill the new industry, which will provide a clean fuel as a better alternative to oil, before it takes hold in the state and we will lose the energy and job creation benefits that it can bring.
3. Do you have plans for school finance and property tax reform? If so, please describe.
As both a public official and a parent, I have always believed that every public school should have the resources needed to provide our children with the best possible education. I have worked to improve the system of funding public education in the Commonwealth in a fiscally responsible way.
As a State Senator for 10 years, I fought to increase the Commonwealth's share of education costs and distribute those resources more fairly among the state's school districts. As auditor general, my cyclical audits of school districts and other public school entities have determined whether state and local tax dollars are spent wisely and identified waste, fraud, or abuse of funds, resulting in more funds being available to be redirected to the classroom. As governor, I will implement my audit recommendations and other ideas in order to generate significant savings that could be used to provide stable and sufficient funding for public education.
Throughout my career, I have consistently supported moving away from property taxes to other forms of taxation. However, I have not supported, and would not support, simply layering new taxes on top of existing property taxes. As governor, I will continue to work to reduce the burden of property taxes. I will also ensure that homeowners receive the property tax relief that they were promised from the legalization of casino gaming, as discussed in my recent special report.
4. Do you support a Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention? Why or why not?
Yes. My plan to reform state government calls for a state Constitutional convention, which is long overdue. A convention would empower the public to bring fundamental reforms to state government, such as reducing the size of the General Assembly, instituting non-partisan legislative redistricting, banning bonuses for state employees, eliminating pay-to-play, and limiting campaign contributions.
5. Do you feel the state legislature should be smaller? Why or why not?
Yes. The General Assembly is too big and costs too much to operate, especially as compared to its productivity. As a state senator, I introduced legislation to reduce the size of the General Assembly by one-third. I will continue to advocate for such a reduction as governor. I am open-minded to reducing the size of other agencies of state government and even eliminating certain agencies in order to cut costs and improve service to the public. The taxpayers want a government that puts their needs first and provides quality services in a cost-efficient way, and that is exactly what I intend to deliver as governor.
In addition, I have led by example in my own department. For example, I cut the Department of the Auditor General from 755 employees when I took office five years ago to approximately 680 today, a 10 percent reduction, which we achieved without furloughing any employees. We were one of the few agencies in state government that did not furlough any employees during the ongoing state budget crisis. Instead, we addressed our challenges by operating our agency in a fiscally responsible way. We have instituted a freeze on management salaries for the past two years, and I have returned my own statutory salary increases to state government.
6. What will you do to create jobs and improve economic development in Bradford County?
As governor, I will work with the private sector to improve the employment situation in Bradford County and throughout the Commonwealth, so that all Pennsylvanians who want to work hard and pursue the American dream have the opportunity to do so. I will use my experience as Auditor General to fix the state's economic development programs and hold the recipients of state assistance accountable for creating and retaining the jobs promised.
My administration's economic development programs will focus on small locally-owned businesses, which create the jobs needed in the Commonwealth. We cannot depend on large national or multinational businesses without any ties to our communities; we must develop and nurture Pennsylvania businesses. In addition, I will reform state government's procurement process in order to reduce costs for taxpayers and provide opportunities for businesses throughout the Commonwealth, particularly small locally-owned businesses.
Finally, I share the business community's concern about high taxes in our state compared to other states. As governor, I will work with the business community to address this concern, because a positive business climate creates thriving businesses and thriving businesses create and retain high quality, family-sustaining jobs, which is our ultimate goal.
7. What will you do to improve the infrastructure, including water, sewer and roads in Bradford County?
As a safety engineer by profession, I am very concerned about the Commonwealth's crumbling infrastructure. This state is in critical need of improvement through public investment. A 2006 Report Card by the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Pennsylvania a cumulative "D" grade. That is why I recently released a detailed infrastructure reform plan, which will invest in infrastructure in Bradford County and across the Commonwealth. It will also create tens of thousands of high quality, family-sustaining jobs in the process.
My plan includes the following elements:
- Modernize state roads and bridges by building them correctly the first time, properly maintaining them, and making them safer.
- Fix the hundreds of high-hazard Pennsylvania dams, as identified in my department's first-ever special performance audit of the Department of Environmental Protection's oversight of dam and levee safety.
- Consolidate water systems by tying city systems into surrounding communities and maximizing their output rather than building new systems and prioritize separation of ground water, wastewater, and run-off through incentives.
- Make the Pennsylvania Turnpike a model national superhighway and the first multi-fuel (natural gas, propane, electric, gasoline, diesel, and other fuels) road in the nation.
- Invest in mass transit projects that make sense.
- Implement proper scheduling of maintenance activities for state highways, especially interstates, at times when traffic is less.
- Build effective high-speed rail systems that connect Pennsylvania cities to each other and surrounding cities such as New York, Washington, D.C., and Cleveland.
- Bring strong broadband service to all of Pennsylvania, not just urban and suburban areas.
- Advocate for Rails-to-Trails to create greater opportunities for walkers, runners, and bicycle enthusiasts.
- Ensure that fair portions of Marcellus Shale revenue go toward water treatment and road repair, as well as environmental restoration, preservation, enforcement, and oversight at the state and local levels.
8. What can be done to bolster the state's dwindling ranks of volunteer firefighters which rural areas such as your district are dependent on?
As a former paramedic, I have great respect for volunteer firefighters and other first responders. Over the past five years, my department has distributed over $1 billion in state aid to firefighter, police, and non-uniformed municipal pension plans and volunteer firefighters' relief associations (VFRAs) throughout the Commonwealth. We audit those pension plans and VFRAs to make sure that they are complying with state laws and are fiscally sound. We have also provided regular training sessions to the VFRAs on financial record keeping. As governor, I would work with the volunteer fire fighting community to develop and implement a comprehensive program of recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters that could include tax incentives, educational benefits, outreach to young people, and recognition programs. I would also consider providing direct funding to volunteer fire companies as new funding sources become available, in order to allow the majority of the volunteers' time to be spent on training and responding to emergency calls rather than raising funds to pay for equipment and operational costs.
9. Pennsylvania has more units of local government than any other state; isn't it time for the state to take the lead in a movement to reduce costs and improve efficiency, and, if so, how, or why not?
As a former local elected official, I believe in local control of government. However, I do share the concern about the large number of school districts, municipalities, authorities, and other units of local government. I have seen the impact firsthand as auditor general. My department conducts audits of the hundreds of school districts and thousands of municipal pension plans across the Commonwealth. There would be much to gain in administrative cost savings and enhanced performance by consolidation, even if the consolidation still kept government at a fairly local level. As governor, I would encourage local governments whose citizens want to consolidate to do so, and I would provide financial incentives and other assistance to help them achieve that goal.
10. What else would you like voters to know about your plans?
As auditor general, I know firsthand where the waste, fraud, and abuse are in government programs and how to make those programs operate more effectively. I will continue to identify significant savings that will support vital government services without tax increases. I will pass a responsible state budget on time every year. I will not use vulnerable Pennsylvanians as pawns in the budget process, and state elected officials should not be paid until the budget is passed.
In addition, one of my top priorities as governor is to create a HOPE (Helping Our Pupils to Excel) Scholarship program to make higher education affordable for Pennsylvania students who attend Pennsylvania colleges and universities. Students who graduate from high school with at least a 3.0 grade point average would have their tuition paid for at a state-owned university. Students choosing to attend a state-related institution (Penn State, Pitt, Temple, and Lincoln universities), a private institution, a community college, or a vocational-technical school would receive a scholarship valued at the average cost of a state-owned university. The program would be funded by excess profits from table games at Pennsylvania casinos. I introduced legislation to create the HOPE Scholarship program four different times as a state senator. I will make it happen as governor.
Jack Wagner for Governor
P.O. Box 99995
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15233
Ph: (412) 388-1100
Fax: (412) 388-1102
Jack Wagner for Governor