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Pa. lawmakers take on issues at public forum

July 12, 2012|By ROXANN MILLER | roxann.miller@herald-mail.com
  • State Rep. Rob Kauffman makes a point during the 9/12 Patriots forum Thursday night in Chambersburg, Pa. Also participating were state Sen. John Eichelberger, left, and state Rep. Todd Rock.
Photo by Roxann Miller, Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Three state legislators faced their constituents to address a number of major issues facing Pennsylvania, including the recently passed $27 billion-plus state budget, education reform, prison overcrowding and cuts to human services.

For more than an hour, Sen. John Eichelberger, Rep. Rob Kauffman and Todd Rock, fielded a list of prepared questions from the Franklin County 9/12 Patriots, sponsors of Thursday’s event at the Franklin Fire Co. in Chambersburg.

The Franklin County 9/12 Patriots was formed in March in response to issues facing local government, the state and country.

Each of the lawmakers told the nearly 50 in attendance that they supported Gov. Corbett’s budget.

“We turned the tide in Pennsylvania. We’re not on this trajectory we had been with the spending (going upward),” Eichelberger said.

He said the cuts to education have been distorted by the unions and educational public relations firms.

“We didn’t have cuts — their budget actually increased this year. They lost federal stimulus money they had for a two-year period but they knew it would go away,” Eichelberger said.

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He said there is a lot of fat in social services and “the ones screaming the loudest are the providers.”

Kauffman said next to educational spending the largest piece of the state’s budgetary pie is public welfare.

“Seventy percent of the department of public welfare goes to Medicaid. Medicaid spending is just engulfing the department of public welfare, and 70 percent is now under mandate by the federal government because it goes back to ObamaCare,” Kauffman said.

With a pension program that some say is under funded by $35 billion, several audience members wanted to know what is being done to solve the problem that threatens school districts and taxpayer’s pockets.

“I think it’s the No. 1 problem facing Pennsylvania,” Rock said. “I don’t know what the answer is, but it’s not easy to do.”

“We try to get concessions from the unions and that’s not easy to do,” Rock said.

Eichelberger suggested having new employees have a contribution plan similar to a 401(k).

Property tax reform was the next big issue.

But all three lawmakers said House Bill 1776, coined the Property Tax Independence Act, needs a bit of tweaking, but is a step in the right direction.

“I support the bill fully, but we also know who is opposed to it (teachers unions and businesses) even though 85 percent of the general public are for it. It’s an uphill climb,” Rock said.

“One of the biggest detriments in Harrisburg is public-sector unions,” Eichelberger said.

There’s a problem with public education, according to all three lawmakers agreed.

“Our schools are not performing well – we are not ranked well nationally or internationally,” Eichelberger said.

He said in the last 10 years there was a loss of 35,500 students while there was a gain of 35,800 employees in public schools.

Not only is education a major issue, but Eichelberger also said the state prison system is crumbling.

“Corrections is an honest to goodness crisis for us in Pennsylvania. Since 1980, our state prison population has increased 500 percent. We have built 18 new prisons in Pennsylvania since 1980 and are 13 percent over capacity,” he said.

It costs $35,000 per year to house a prisoner, he said.

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