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Candidates debate at county convention
Monday, October 8, 2012
By Wendy Lynn Brion Staff Writer
ALLPORT - At Friday's fall Clearfield County Convention of Township Officials, there was a debate between the two candidates vying for Rep. Camille "Bud" George's seat in the 74th district, Republican Tom Sankey and Democrat Mark McCracken. The debate was moderated by James Wheeler, Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors director of environmental affairs.
Sankey is a local business owner with no prior political experience. He said he feels the state is heading in the wrong direction and people don't have the opportunities they used to have. He said his goal is to grow the economy and prioritize spending while also making sure those in need are helped.
McCracken, who is currently serving as Clearfield County commissioner, previously served on the Clearfield Area School Board. He said we hear a lot about change but he wants to bring continuity. He said he wants to bring jobs and opportunity to the county and listed some of the successes of the commissioners.
Question one asked whether the candidates favor raising the gas tax for infrastructure. McCracken answered first and said it is clear the state needs more revenue and the gas tax is something to look at. He also pointed to the natural gas extraction tax used in other states and said that is something else that should be considered.
Sankey said it isn't fair to raise any tax and getting people back to work will bring in more revenue from taxes. He added that Pennsylvania has a different tax structure from other states with the extraction tax.
Question two asked if the candidates would be willing to go against party lines to stop or pass a bill? Sankey said he would if it was something he felt would help or harm Clearfield County. He said the question is if someone is part of the solution or part of the problem, not whether they're Republican or Democrat. McCracken also said he would cross party lines. He said he would look at a bill and determine if it was good or bad for the county and pointed to his record of opposing the tolling of Interstate 80. He said he has a reputation of working with the two current Republican commissioners.
The candidates were then asked about their thoughts on deep injection wells for disposing of frack water from shale drilling. McCracken said the commissioners oppose it; there is no evidence of what happens to the chemicals once they are in the ground. He said he backs treating the water, which would create jobs and help the environment. Sankey agreed. He said he supports energy independence but it is important to protect the environment and treatment would create jobs and needed drinking water.
Question four asked if the candidates support the Marcellus shale impact fee and having 60 percent go to local municipalities. Sankey said, "Absolutely," noting that each area is impacted differently and the money should stay in the communities where the gas is extracted. McCracken said his priority was always to keep the money local and also to keep as much of the gas in the state as possible.
The fifth question asked if unfunded mandates should be eliminated and how. McCracken said any mandate created should also have to apply to state government, noting that if the legislators had to deal with them, they wouldn't pass them. Sankey said Harrisburg has a "one-size-fits-all" mentality and municipalities know how to govern themselves and unfunded mandates only create more red tape.
The candidates were then asked about sewage facility mandates and cuts to state grants. Sankey said he is not in favor of cutting grants because they help municipalities meet the mandates. Communities need the grants to help update their sewerage plants and they simply don't have the money on their own. McCracken said he has seen the negative impact of the sewage mandates and the regulations are not reasonable, they hurt farmers and communities. "Washington is not being reasonable," he said. However, grants require revenue and the question is how to fund those grants in the future.
Should governments be only able to spend what they raise? McCracken said in a perfect world, yes. He said fiscally responsible people need to be elected and they need to determine what kind of debt load the government can safely handle. He again pointed to the commissioners' office and said they were able to reduce the debt but also build in the community. He said government has to borrow responsibly and consider the tax base.
Sankey replied, "Without question." He said the state needs a balanced budget and noted most of the money goes to prisons and welfare and is taken from seniors and veterans. The important thing, he said, is to prioritize spending or nothing will change.
The candidates were then asked about charging for state services, such as the state police. Sankey noted local communities are struggling to provide any kind of police protection and suggested moving toward a highway patrol system such as other states utilize. He also suggested changing the role of the sheriffs' department to give them more law enforcement ability. McCracken said it is the state's responsibility to fund the state police and note that legislation recently passed to fund more cadets but the governor hasn't released the money. He said increasing the sheriffs would pass the cost to counties, which are already stretched and is a coward's tax increase.
The ninth question asked about reducing or eliminating the property tax and what alternatives could be. McCracken said it is time to reform the system and he favors real tax reform that moves away from property taxes. He said a better way needs to be found especially in regards to school funding. Sankey responded that he would like to see a different tax and suggested either a consumption tax or increased sales tax, but said while the theory is good there is no easy solution and it should be considered carefully. He added people struggle to pay their property taxes.
The candidates were asked about the state's relation with local municipalities. Sankey said, "Government starts here," referring to the people and local governing bodies. He said the local government needs to be a top priority and we need to learn to help each other. "I'm not above anyone," he said, "I'm a working man."
McCracken said to the audience, "You've worked with me for nine years," pointing to projects in the county and no one has to question whether he will be their "partner." He said Harrisburg doesn't listen and that needs to change.
When asked about mandatory intergovernmental cooperation and consolidation, McCracken said to save money if cooperation helps, you do it, but it shouldn't be mandated. Mergers should also be left to the local people to decide. Sankey said to leave the mandate out and that the county needs its local municipalities.
Question 12 asked what is the American Dream and how do we restore it? Sankey said the people are the holders of this and limited government is good government. He said the government isn't helping and needs to get off the backs of small businesses, which are the hope of the nation.
McCracken said the American Dream starts at home and he looks at how things affect his daughter. He said the country needs opportunities, needs infrastructure and to help small businesses and create jobs.
The last moderator question asked what the state should do to recruit and retain volunteer fire fighters. McCracken said the fire company grant is a great resource and more revenue to help them needs to be generated. He said we need to be fighting for them. Sankey noted that firefighters give their lives to the fire company. The state can only go so far and communities need to support their companies.
The final question came from Decatur Township Supervisor Andy Rebar, who had earlier requested permission to pose his question to the candidates. He asked if the constituents came to the representative and expressed concern about misuse of an agency by the representative, would they be willing to talk, or turn their back on the constituent and turn their legal department on them?
Sankey said he did not know exactly what Rebar was referring to, but that his door is always open.
He said his community is important to him and any way he can help he will, "I will not knock it down the road."
McCracken said he is there to work with people and his door is always open.
He said it is important to have a good relationship with the citizens and he has experience in problem solving.
In closing, McCracken said, "Ask yourself who you want in office...experience does matter." He added he has 28 years experience in getting results.
Sankey said he believes in leading by example and noted he will refuse a state care, phone and per diem if elected, and he is running on integrity.
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