Budget, drilling top issues list

Date: February 28, 2011

BILL O\’BOYLE boboyle@timesleader.com

WILKES-BARRE – Nearly 100 people came to ask questions of their legislators and hear their answers, but time was not on their side.

Two state senators and six state representatives formed a panel at the annual Legislative Breakfast sponsored by the Wilkes-Barre Area League of Women Voters held Saturday morning in the Sheehy-Farmer Campus Center at King\’s College.

Ronald and Marie Duclos of Mountaintop wanted to hear about Marcellus Shale and they heard plenty.

“We often wonder about what happened in Dimock Township,” Marie said. “Did the water problem ever get resolved? I know people will get paid, but is the water safe?”

Her husband said he heard a lot of topics discussed during the two hour event, but . . .

“I didn\’t hear a lot of solutions to the problems facing us,” he said. “Overall I thought it was good.”

Attending the event were state Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township; state Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township; and state Reps. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre; Mike Carroll, D-Avoca; Tarah Toohil, R-Butler Township; Phyllis Mundy, D-Kingston; Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake; and Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township.

The legislators agreed that except for the state budget and its $4 billion deficit, Marcellus Shale is the next most important issue facing the state. All favor a severance tax, but they disagree on where the money generated should go. They don\’t feel the revenue should be applied to the state budget – they feel the local communities should receive the revenue to offset anticipated costs associated with the gas drilling industry.

“Our towns need protection,” Mundy said. “For example, there\’s a pressure station next to the Dallas High School. This could explode; there couldn\’t be a worse location for this. It\’s ludicrous. We have to hold people\’s feet to the fire and toughen our regulations.”

Pension reform was discussed at length. Yudichak said the economy is just starting to come out of a two-year recession, but he noted that it won\’t be enough to bring the pension funds back.

“Small towns just can\’t afford to pay for services because of the pension obligations,” he said.

Mullery said the situation is dire and “all options have to be on the table.” Pashinski agreed, saying the benefits were “too rich to be able to sustain themselves.”

“Let\’s bring some financial wizards to the table,” he said.

Toohil said the pension problem isn\’t going away and can\’t be ignored.

“These are unfunded liabilities,” she said. “There\’s no money to fund the promises that were made.”

Carroll said retirees benefits are “out of the equation.” He said the problem has to be addressed with current and future employees.

The legislators agreed that free health care clinics deserve funding, but none could say where that funding would come from.

“Good luck,” Mundy offered to the suggestion. “The fact is we have an enormous budget deficit. I do not foresee the state being able to pick up that slack.”

Pashinski said it\’s time to examine why health care costs “increase by double digits each year.”

“We\’ve done nothing to fix the reasons why health care rates are through the roof,” he said.

Toohil said it\’s “unacceptable” that people have to be without health care.

Carroll said if jobs aren\’t created and unemployment continues to rise, “we will need a lot more free clinics.”

Baker said the $4 billion deficit looms large over the state and needs to be resolved. She said she is anxious to hear Gov. Tom Corbett\’s budget address on March 8.

Boback said the key is job creation, prompting Yudichak to remark, “the greatest social program you can introduce is a job.”

Mundy was the last to speak and she said the answer is not reducing the size of the state legislature or making legislators part-time employees. She said that neither would benefit constituents.

“All of my work starts with you,” she said. “Constituent service is my top priority.”

Fred Murray of Jackson Township said he got a lot out of the session.

“Based on what I listened to, I enjoyed it,” he said. “They answered the questions; now they have to get the work done.”

Copyright: Times Leader

 

Joe Price
Attorney Joe Price is a seasoned Trial Lawyer serving Northeast, Central and Southeast Pennsylvania for the past forty (40) years. He has handled serious personal injury cases in courts throughout the Federal system including New Jersey and New York. Attorney Price is A.V. Rated by Martindale Hubble. He is Board Certified in Civil Practice by the National Board of Trial Advocacy since 1996.