New Castle News

October 31, 2012

Decision 2012: Rare contest in state House race

John K. Manna
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — It has been rare for state Rep. Chris Sainato to have Republican opposition for re-election.

Tuesday’s general election is one of those rare occasions, as Jason Murtha attempts to unseat the 18-year Democratic incumbent.

The winner will represent the 9th District, made up of New Castle; Hickory, Little Beaver, Mahoning, Neshannock, North Beaver, Pulaski and Union townships; and Bessemer and SNPJ boroughs.

The last time Sainato, 53, faced GOP opposition was in 2000.

Murtha, 35, of Little Beaver Township, is making his first attempt at public office.

A commissioned officer in the Pennsylvania National Guard, Murtha has been a combat and flight medic. He has flown two missions to Iraq as a medic and to Kosovo as a pilot. He currently flies a medevac helicopter.

Owner of two small businesses, a lawn care company and a trucking firm, Murtha said one of his priorities is to improve the business climate in Pennsylvania.

To do that, “regulations need to make common sense.” Over-regulation, he said, “stifles business and business expansion.”

Murtha cited a case in which a man who has been farming for 60 years is dealing with three agencies on the proper way to dig a ditch.

He wants to cut red tape in state agencies and cut the corporate net income tax to make Pennsylvania “a pro-business state.”

He also believes efforts should be made to develop businesses for the blue collar workforce and train people to fit those jobs. Now, people are hard to find for some jobs, such as welding, he said.

Young people need to have a sense that there is a future here, he added.



SPENDING WISELY

Regarding government costs, he said he is not about cutting state spending, but spending money “more wisely.”

Noting his wife is a teacher, Murtha said he would not have voted for Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget because it made cuts to education. Murtha said he would have tried to find savings in other programs.

As for how he envisions himself as a legislator, he said, “Everybody wants to be too politically correct. I think you have to be respectful, but speak your mind.”

The state representative, he said, “can’t be afraid to step on anybody’s toes.”

Contrasting himself with Sainato, Murtha said, “I’m going to lead from the front. I’m going to be outspoken and bring people together. This is not a career to me. I don’t think we need career politicians.”

After 18 years in office, he said, a legislator becomes complacent. However, Murtha noted how long he serves will be up to the voters.

He is critical of Sainato attending functions such as spaghetti dinners rather than working or helping to create jobs.

Murtha said he will not take per diems or accept an increase in pension or pay.

“When we’re cutting school budgets, we should be leading by example and not wasting taxpayers’ money.”

He also criticized Sainato for voting against Act 13, legislation regulating the natural gas industry.

“Businesses know that. Are they going to locate here?”

Sainato, 53, defended his attendance at local functions.

“That’s part of the job,” he said, pointing out those occur on weekends.

“I get invited. That’s what you get with this job.”

The only time you get to see farmers to hear their concerns, for example, is at the fairs, he said.

Sainato asked whether candidates who appear at various functions will continue to attend them if elected.

“You won’t last long if you tell people you can’t go. My job is not to just sit on the House floor.”



DEFENDING VOTE

As for Act 13, Sainato said the legislation takes away local governments’ power of zoning to control gas drilling operations.

“You just can’t tell the local government you must do this.”

Commonwealth Court ruled that portion of the law violates the state constitution. The case is now before the state Supreme Court.

Sainato said he also voted no because the fee of about 1.5 percent on companies was too low. Sainato said he supported a fee of 4 percent to 5 percent, which the gas industry did not oppose.

He said he supports Marcellus Shale drilling, but “we also have to make sure the environment is protected and reputable companies will.”

One of his accomplishments in the current session was passage of a bill providing grants for paid fire departments in Third Class cities such as New Castle. Previously, grants were available only to volunteer departments.

The legislation, he said, came from the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, of which he is minority chairman.

One of his goals for the next session is to complete an update of Title 35, which deals with all emergency response to natural and man-made disasters in the state. The measure has not been updated since 1996, he said, and that was before the 9/11 attacks.

A second goal is to see that the racetrack/casino proposed for Mahoning Township becomes a reality.

His third priority is to see funding restored for education.

“The basic education subsidy is a problem.”

Sainato said he supports cutting the corporate net income tax, but legislators have to find funds somewhere else to make up for the loss in revenue.

One possible option is to cut out grants for corporations if the corporate income tax is reduced.

“I’ve always voted for these programs.”

Murtha addressed a 1998 charge against him of recklessly endangering another person. He eventually pleaded guilty to trespassing. He said he hopes the focus is on the issues and not something that occurred when he was younger.

“The good thing is you learn from your mistakes.”

(Email: jmanna@ncnewsonline.com)