Legislators: Transportation Is Top Issue

Pottsville Republican Herald

All four members of Schuylkill County’s state legislative delegation agreed Friday, that refurbishing Pennsylvania’s roads and bridges must become as high a priority in Harrisburg as it is elsewhere in the Keystone State.

“We had a terrible problem with roads and bridges before the flood,” state Sen. David Argall, R-29, said at the annual Legislative Roundtable sponsored by the Northeast PA Manufacturers and Employers Association at the Top of the 80’s Restaurant. “We’ve really got to get this on the agenda.”

Transportation emerged as the key issue on the minds of Schuylkill County’s four legislators, along with ones from Carbon and Luzerne counties, as they spoke about it and other matters to about 30 local business leaders at the two-hour morning meeting.

Legislators also spoke on education, liquor store privatization, redistricting and other issues, showing partisan differences but also a willingness to work together.

State Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-124, said money from liquor store privatization could be used to help solve the infrastructure problem. He said 20 percent of the money from the sale of state stores could be allocated to repairs of roads and bridges.

Not everyone agreed that liquor store privatization, even if it the sale produced spendable money, will help Pennsylvania.

“To me, the math just doesn’t add up,” said state Rep. Neal P. Goodman, D-123. “We can have the lowest prices in the nation if we take off the Johnstown Flood tax. We’re actually competitive on many prices.”

Knowles said the privatization issue goes beyond money.

“There are very few things that government can do better than the private sector. The time has come for the privatization of liquor stores,” he said. “This is about providing good service to the people of Pennsylvania.”

Goodman said privatization could do just the opposite.

State Rep. Mike Tobash, R-125, said the state liquor store system does not reduce alcohol abuse and privatization would not bring back corruption in such sales.

Education also spurred debate, with some legislators boosting vouchers and other alternatives to current public schools.

“We need to take a hard look … at places where charter schools have been effective,” Tobash said.

Others did not think vouchers are affordable in the current era of budget-cutting.

“I don’t know if it’s something that’s going to be (financially) sustainable,” Goodman said. “It’s going to be a lottery. Only certain kids will qualify.”

Argall expressed caution in changing the current system, and he said there are costs to not providing a good education to all Pennsylvania students.

“We all want to do something to help the failing public schools,” but not at the expense of good schools, he said. “If the model really fails, we pay for them in the Department of Corrections.”

Knowles said educators should place more emphasis on trade schools.

Redistricting and the proposal to change the way Pennsylvania’s electoral votes are counted in presidential elections, from the current winner-take-all system to one per congressional district, are not high legislative priorities.

“I don’t think it’s on the radar screen,” Knowles said.

Argall said redistricting will occur because it is mandated by the courts, while the electoral change is not pressing.

A right-to-work law, which would eliminate mandatory union membership in workplaces, also is not pressing, Argall said, although association President Darlene J. Robbins said her group receives many inquiries about it.

“It hasn’t been debated to any degree … for a long time,” Argall said. “It’s not at the top of our list.”

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