In­cum­bent Harper faces chal­lenger White in 61st

North Penn Life - - News - By Eric Devlin ede­vlin@mont­gomerynews.com

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,

R-61

Jo White

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