Incumbent Harper faces challenger White in 61st
Republican incumbent Kate Harper squares off against Democratic challenger Jo White for the 61st district of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in the November election.
Harper, now in her sixth term, said she has represented the district since 2001 and has developed an expertise to be an effective legislator, deal with state government and provide affordable public education, higher education, roads and bridges.
She said the biggest challenge the House faces this term will be the “terrible economy” and will fight to encourage job growth. She said she wants to make government helpful instead of a hindrance, adding that the state budget has been balanced for the past four years without having to raise taxes. She said her goal is to “fund the things that need to be funded and not a penny more.”
Another issue the Lower Gwynedd Township resident said needs to be addressed is the school property tax. She said that schools in the district are excellent, but their cost is driving property taxes up and driving older people out of their homes. She said the state needs to direct more money to seniors on fixed incomes to offset this cost.
In terms of how she would address school district funding and property tax relief, she said the school districts are 90 percent funded at home. She said the Wissahickon, North Penn and Colonial school districts are excellent with locally elected board members, whom she supports, but two-thirds of their budgets are salaries and the budget costs rise as salaries increase. Harper said the question is whether the cost gets too much for homeowners living on fixed incomes paying property taxes. Harper proposed a “good and broad tax base” by keeping businesses in the area in order to help pay school property taxes and relieve some of the burden on retirees and others on fixed incomes.
Traffic congestion is another issue the 56-year-old Harper wants to address. She said many residents commute from one suburb to another and due to a lack of public transportation from SEPTA, it has caused a lot of traffic issues. She said the opening of Route 202 will be a “major boon” to the area and also cited the refurbished Route 309 as steps in the direction to help solve this problem.
Harper addressed the environment, where the Marcellus Shale natural gas fracking was an issue she felt needed to be dealt with carefully. She said her focus is not to harm drinking water but called the project a “critical point in Pennsylvania.” She said the project provides jobs and clean energy.
White said her focus was on making Pennsylvania and the 61st district prosper through economic growth, reforming education funding and more regulations on charter schools.
The Lower Gwynedd Township resident and physician working as a research consultant for pharmaceutical companies said she’s the best candidate for the position because she better represents the constituency. She said she believes Harper no longer reflects the more moderate constituency and said she has better ideas for how to move the state forward.
The 58-year-old White said the biggest issue the Legislature faces in the next term is the economy and job growth. She said being a physician she is better suited to deal with the Affordable Care Act and has Medicaid expertise.
She also said the Legislature must find a way to fairly tax the Marcellus Shale drillers to help grow the economy.
“I think it’s something we can use,” White said, adding the additional revenue from the natural gas taxes would help pay for things previously cut by the state.
Another area White said she would like to tackle would be a reform to education funding.
She said there have been large cuts to education, noting education funding has dropped $1 billion per year and larger school districts have received $1 million less in state funding.
She said that Penn State rniversity is the most expensive state college in the country with Temple being a close second. Students are graduating with $31,000 in student loan debt and can’t find jobs.
She said tax revenue collected from Marcellus Shale drilling would be redistributed to education.
She also said that charter schools are very unregulated and are not the best value and would work to provide greater regulations and bring down the cost.
When asked how she would address school district funding and property tax relief she said, while she hadn’t studied the numbers, her ideas included a sales tax to support preschool and fixed property taxes for resident aged 65 and above.
Finally, White said she’d like to see more transparency between the state government and constituency. She said that debates are not open and bills are often passed in the 11th hour.
It’s “not how anyone runs a business or democracy,” White said. She said she would like to see more town hall meetings and would also begin offering webinars.
“It’s 2012 for God’s sake,” she said.
The 61st district includes North Wales Borough and portions of Lower Gwynedd, Montgomery, Plymouth, Towamencin, rpper Gwynedd and Whitpain townships.
State Rep. Kate Harper,