Six Questions for 134th House Seat Candidates
Candidates for the 134th state House seat respond to Patch's questions on taxes, state budget, farmland preservation and more.
Patch also posed the questions to Republican Arlene Dabrow, who faces Mackenzie in the Republican Primary for the state House seat.
Slattery is unopposed in the Democratic Primary.
Both the Special Election and the Primary are Tuesday, April 24. The seat was formerly held by Doug Reichley, now a Lehigh County judge.
Each candidate was sent the same six questions, and they were given until Monday, April 16, to respond.
Here are Mackenzie's and Slattery's responses. The responses are in full, and unedited, and they are presented in the order that the candidates' name will appear on the Special Election ballot.
Farmland preservation is a well-debated issue in the 134th House District, particularly in Lower Macungie but also other municipalities. How would you balance the needs of the region to grow jobs and build business with local taxpayers’ concerns about preserving farmland and open space?
Ryan Mackenzie: I support preserving our farmland and open space because this actually helps attract and retain job creators since it helps provide for a better quality of life for their employees. In the past, local government has taken the initiatives at preservation through local bond issues. At the state level, programs such as Growing Greener and Growing Greener II have been very successful at open space preservation as well. As State Representative, I will continue to support local governments and organizations who work toward open space and farmland preservation.
Patrick Slattery: I am deeply concerned about the balance of economic progress and farmland preservation and through my work on the Lower Macungie Township Environmental Advisory Council, chairing Citizens for Strong Communities and subsequently supporting the Friends for The Protection of Lower Macungie I have worked to strike that balance. Balance first begins with a clear and transparent process whereby citizens, municipal leaders, farmers and developers engage in an open process. Second, detailed cost benefit analyses must be conducted weighing economic and environmental consequences. Third, calculation of impact on taxpayers must be completed prior to approval. Often in massive residential developments, the financial impact on the local taxpayer is not properly considered resulting in property tax increases that can outweigh other benefits.
2. As municipalities in the district grow in population, the issue of local policing has come to the forefront. Some municipalities continue to rely on state police, while others look to form their own forces. How involved should the state be in policing at the local level?
Ryan Mackenzie: I believe strongly in local control of governmental issues such as policing. If a municipality and its citizens believe that local policing is the best path for them to follow, I will support their decision. Until then, and as has been traditionally done, the state must continue to provide local policing to municipalities who do not have their own coverage. However, once municipalities reach a critical mass of people, it is prudent for them to consider their own police forces. If a municipality chooses the option of local policing, the state police should be there to provide supplemental coverage or to assist when called on by the municipality for special situations. I appreciate the role played by the state police in policing our municipalities which is why I will join in calls from the legislature to ensure our state police have the funding needed to recruit and train new police officers.
Patrick Slattery: The State Police are some of the most highly trained and professional law enforcement officers in the Commonwealth. They provide an outstanding service to the community. However, each community must make an informed decision regarding their policing including consideration of cost, efficiency and effectiveness. The costs associated with starting and maintaining a highly trained police force are immense and should not be dictated at the state level. That said, to protect state taxpayers, local governments cannot simply push what should be rightly their costs to the state.
3. In response to Gov. Corbett’s proposed state budget, local educators have put out a call to local lawmakers to increase funding for public education. And with the district seat currently vacant, educators in the East Penn School District, in particular, have been concerned that they are without representation in Harrisburg on the issue. Should public education funding be increased? Why or why not?
Ryan Mackenzie: I, of course, believe in supporting the resources necessary to provide a quality education to all our children and will work to ensure the state budget is focused on top priorities such as education. However, too often people only focus on revenue when looking at public education and simply call for more funding. But more funding has not led to increased achievement and, despite declining enrollments, state funding for basic education has increased almost 25% in just the past 8 years. We must try a different direction.
I envision a system that values common sense ideas of teachers and parents who are "on the ground" and gives them greater say in things like curriculum development. We must also ask job creators, "What do kids need to learn to meet today's job requirements?" In this way, we can make sure children are prepared to succeed in the classroom and in life.
We must also face economic reality by giving schools the tools to control costs through mandate relief; benefit co-pays like those in the private sector; staffing flexibility and; most importantly, a sustainable and less expensive pension system for new employees. Once schools are able to control costs, taxpayers will benefit and children will receive a quality education.
Patrick Slattery: The state must begin to meet its constitutional mandate to provide a “thorough and efficient system of public education”. State maintenance and support of public education has decreased substantially in the past 2 years, exacerbating increases in local property taxes by underfunding while failing to remove unfunded mandates. A high quality public education system must be a substantial priority at the state level and receive the funding necessary to provide a thorough education that prepares student for the jobs of the future. The system must also be efficient which means that programs and curriculum that provide results are supported and those that do not are discarded or replaced.
4. A special tax incentive zone set up by the state to help Allentown build a hockey arena will divert earned income taxes from local municipalities and school districts. Some municipalities plan a court challenge. What is your position on the arena tax deal?
Ryan Mackenzie: When I was growing up, Allentown was a vibrant community and I remember going downtown to shop at Hess’s or walk up and down Tilghman Street with my parents and grandparents. Unfortunately, today, Allentown is not the city that it used to be and economic development needs to take place in order for the area to fully rebound. While the hockey arena may, in fact, have a positive economic impact on our communities, I support the municipalities' right to file a court challenge if they wish and trust in our American legal system to come to a fair decision.
Patrick Slattery: I am opposed to legislation that can have such a profound impact on municipalities and is not considered in an open and transparent way. Such a consequential piece of legislation must not simply be debated in the halls of Harrisburg but with full input from our local communities. As I go door to door, very few people have any idea about this issue and many municipalities still do not have a clear picture of the impact it will have on their local budgets. If given the honor of representing our community as State Representative, chief among my responsibilities will be to alert the community to legislation that could have such a significant impact.
5. What do you consider the key issues in this race for the 134th District seat?
Ryan Mackenzie: The two biggest issues facing the residents of the 134th District are a stagnant economy that is not providing jobs and the challenges presented by rising property taxes.
We must focus on helping job creators in Pennsylvania be competitive in the national, and international, marketplace through tax, regulatory, and legal reform. Once we do this, jobs will come as will a restoration of lost revenues to local municipalities.
Also, rising property taxes must be addressed by overhauling the property tax system and giving school districts the tools to cut and control costs.
Patrick Slattery: The most important issues facing our community are the creation of good family sustaining jobs, support for quality schools and protecting our environment. Currently, too often decisions are made in Harrisburg because of powerful special interests – nothing makes this clearer than the decision to allow oil and gas companies to override local zoning rules and drill near schools and hospitals -- not the impact those decisions will have on workers and families. We need an independent representative in Harrisburg, not someone hand-picked by Harrisburg insiders.
6. Why are you the better choice for state House representative?
Ryan Mackenzie: My opponent's goal seems to be simply to get elected; this is the second time in as many years that he has run for office. Worse, when you see where his financial support has come from in this and his past campaign – Harrisburg special interests – you know that he will not be willing to take the significant steps, such as pension reform, that are necessary to protect taxpayers.
I have also proven my ability to help change Harrisburg for the better. As the Director of Policy at the state Department of Labor and Industry, I helped make bi-partisan changes to the state's unemployment compensation system that will save taxpayers $120 million a year. I also reduced my own office's expenses to save tax dollars.
Finally, I was born and raised in our community and know the concerns and challenges our families face. This understanding will allow me to go to Harrisburg and fight for what we really need here in the Lehigh Valley and Berks County.
Patrick Slattery: I have spent my adult life trying to improve the lives of the people and families of the Lehigh Valley. As someone who has spent two decades in the private sector, I have the experience needed to refocus state government on creating jobs instead of on divisive issues like forcing women to undergo medically unnecessary procedures as the Republicans in Harrisburg have done. I am not the hand-picked candidate of the same Harrisburg insiders who are cutting school funding and forcing up local property taxes without improving the quality of education our children receive. I will represent the citizens of the 134th District, where I am raising my family, instead of the special interests in Harrisburg.
Candidate Arlene Dabrow, who is challenging Mackenzie in the primary, declined to answer the questions but sent a singular response to the questions.