Friday, April 21, 2006

121st District candidate interviews

The Times-Leader is running a series of interviews with the candidates hoping to succeed Kevin Blaum in the district encompassing Ashley, Wilkes-Barre, Wilkes-Barre Township, Plains Township and parts of Hanover Township. They have also posted the audio from the candidates in this race and the 20th State Senate District contest here.

First up was Jim Hayward former Wilkes-Barre firefighter and city administrator who now practices law. The highlight of his interview was a proposal to expand the sales tax to pay for property tax relief. Increasing taxes on food and services is certainly not a popular idea but if you are going to cut property taxes the money has to be made up somewhere.

WILKES-BARRE - Property tax relief; it sounds like music to a homeowner's ears. ...What’s Jim Hayward’s answer, or a least part of it? Tax food.

He ranked property tax relief as his number two priority. It’s right behind attacking the crime and drugs .... "I don't know if anyone has the one right answer," said Hayward. He has high hopes that slot gambling in the state will bring in hundreds of millions of dollars a year... But if that’s not enough, he suggests broader sales tax. The state imposes a 6 percent state sales tax, but exemptions include food, clothing, prescription drugs, textbooks, and residential heating fuels. Hayward wants to remove the exemption for food and open up professional services to the sales tax... It may be possible to decrease the 6 percent tax if the scope of taxable items were expanded, he said.

Wilkes-Barre Area School Director Brian O'Donnell stated the obvious about drugs and crime and pledged to provide more money to local law enforcement.

W-B-Brian O’Donnell said Wilkes-Barre area residents don't feel as safe as they did in the past, which is why he listed public safety, crime and drugs as the top three issues he'd address if elected...O’Donnell said he would look for ways to help local police departments acquire better vehicles and equipment...He'd also get the state Attorney General's Office more involved because the agency is "wonderful in aiding local police." O’Donnell said he wants to change Pennsylvania's distinction as the only state that doesn't allow local municipalities and law enforcement to use radar to nab speeding motorists. He likes New York City’s approach of tackling low-level criminals to crack into bigger criminal activity. O'Donnell's also a supporter of a more regional approach to policing but knows the idea is a tough sell to individual departments.

Luzerne County Clerk of Courts Bob Reilly (no website) wants more gambling.

W-B- Bob Reilly is not shy about tipping his hand. Would he support a gambling expansion from slots to table games? Definitely, said Reilly...How about legal sports betting? He'd consider it.
"Let’s face it. People gamble," he said Everyday state residents leave Pennsylvania to gamble in Atlantic City or at American Indian-run casinos in New England, and they're not just pulling slot levers. Expanding Pennsylvania gambling to include the table games and possibly sports betting would only increase the state's revenue stream, Reilly said.

Politicians are eying that money to fund property tax relief and economic development initiatives. Reilly suggested expanded gambling revenue could also be harnessed to solidify state pension funds that could be stressed in the future....But if Pennsylvania offered sports betting it would put the Keystone State in league with just one other-Nevada...Sports betting is a more than $125 million-a-year industry in Nevada, and even though it's illegal in Pennsylvania Reilly said it's happening everyday.

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