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July 8, 2013

Local Legislators: So what did they do in Harrisburg?

HARRISBURG — After leaving Harrisburg without reaching a consensus on transportation funding, liquor privatization, pension reform or Medicaid expansion, lawmakers insist they did not spend the last six months working in vain.

CNHI surveyed seven rural lawmakers from central and western Pennsylvania. They said their efforts in Harrisburg account for only half their jobs.

“I consider all the work that I do as equally important. That’s how I operate both in the district and in Harrisburg,” said Rep. Frank Burns, D-Cambria County, expressing a sentiment repeated by most lawmakers.

“In Harrisburg, I vote and legislate with my constituents in mind, which also ends up helping those in the rest of the state.”

When it comes to helping out constituents, most lawmakers were most proud of any and all efforts that could be considered job-creating.

Rep. Chris Sainato, D-Lawrence County, said he has been working for years to help facilitate efforts to bring a slots casino to Lawrence County. Those efforts took a giant step forward this year when a developer working with Penn National Gaming filed an application for a license to operate the 1,250-slot casino, he said.

Rep. Jaret Gibbons, D-Lawrence County, pointed to the recent completion of a new farmers market and community plaza in Ellwood City.

“This project will bring new life to Ellwood City’s downtown business district and is the result of years of hard work by the local officials and private citizens on the Ellwood City Revitalization Board,” he said, “as well as more than $1.5 million in state and federal funding that my office worked to secure.”

Rep. Mark Longietti, D-Mercer County, pointed to the effort to develop a package of state incentives to help convince a Canadian company to locate a factory in Sharon. Noise Solutions Inc. is expected to hire 125 people in Sharon, he said.

Lawmakers also pointed out that while some of the issues that got the most attention went unresolved, there have been some important legislative accomplishments in Harrisburg in 2013.

Some lawmakers argue that derailing the transportation funding plan and Medicaid expansion stand as a triumph.

“The most significant accomplishment so far this year was protecting the taxpayers,” said Rep. Brad Roae, R-Crawford County.

“We stopped the governor’s proposed 28-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase that would have been devastating for our area. People cannot afford higher taxes. We also stopped Medicaid expansion. We already cover 2.2 million people in Pennsylvania on taxpayer-funded medical programs and cannot afford to cover another 500,000 people.”

Rep. Fred Keller, R-Union County, said that just getting people talking about pension reform and prevailing wage reform was noteworthy. Both issues gained traction in the spring and will be on the agenda when lawmakers return to session, he said.

Passing a budget that does not raise taxes and puts dollars where they’re needed is hardly unimportant, said Rep. Dick Stevenson, R-Mercer County. The budget does not increase taxes and funnels an extra $122 million in basic education dollars to schools, he noted.

But schools are not the only beneficiaries.

“From public safety to agriculture and the environment and from senior citizen services to early childhood initiatives, the breadth of state government programs have a direct and real impact in our communities,” Stevenson said.

“That’s why achieving a responsible and timely budget, that prioritizes the core functions of government, is important.”

(Email: jfinnerty@cnhi.com)

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