158th GOP candidate sees low taxes as key to sparking growth
By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
EAST MARLBOROUGH — When it comes to government, if you ask Republican state house candidate Cuyler Walker, less is more.
“In order to have a strong economy, I think the more limited amount of resources the government takes out of the economy, the better off we are,” said, Walker, running Tuesday for the Republican nomination for State Representative in the 158th District. “That’s how you create jobs, give people opportunities to become self-sufficient, to live with the independence and dignity that comes with being able to support your family.
“And as the economic activity increases, so does the tax revenue. If you resort to increasing taxes in the short run, to fill a budgetary need, in the long run, I think you only risk compounding the problem of revenue shortfalls. I think you need to look first and foremost at what you’re spending, and where you’re spending it and what your priorities are.”
Walker is running against Roger Howard, also from East Marlborough, for the GOP nomination. Howard did not respond to multiple requests for an interview for a similar profile. The winner of Tuesday’s primary will face Democrat Susan Rzucidlo in November, in a race to replace the retiring State Rep. Chris Ross. Rzucidlo will be profiled later this year.
Of course, wanting to do more with less doesn’t entirely capture the essence of Walker, the married (his wife Katie is the daughter of the late Pennsylvania Speaker of the House Matt Ryan) father of two school-age kids, a township supervisor for the last 17 years — the last nine as chair — a small businessman with a manufacturing company and a partner in one of the region’s most prestigious law firms, Pepper, Hamilton. During his time in township government, he has fostered a collaborative, collegial atmosphere, eschewing drama for pragmatism.
Which immediately begs the question: why aspire to go to Harrisburg, where pragmatism seems a totally lost art.
“I’ve always been interest in public policy and watching the way things are going both in our state and in the federal government I’ve been frustrated and just felt that if I really had strong feelings about the way things were going and I had the opportunity to get involved and try to have an impact on that, that was something I should do,” he said.
That call to public service is something that Walker to which has often responded — from local roles in recent years, to key statewide posts and even international roles.
He served as an assistant to Gov. Richard Thornburgh in Harrisburg and in the United States Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. during the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. He served as an assistant to Thornburgh during his time as Under Secretary-General for Administration of United Nations, which involved missions around the world. He also served as Chairman of the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission, appointed by Gov. Tom Ridge.
More locally, Walker has served Chester County as its representative on the Board of SEPTA since 2012, has served on the Board of Thomas Jefferson University since 1995, and serves on the Advisory Board of La Comunidad Hispana in Kennett Square. Previously, he served on the Boards of Lincoln University, the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School, the Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry and the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia.
With such a broad range of experience, Walker likely wouldn’t be as hampered by lack of experience as most freshmen legislators, but he admits that the current issues aren’t going to be easy fixes.
Take, for example, what appears to be a growing state budget deficit, now estimated to be around $1 billion. Solving that issue, Walker said, is going to require making tough choices, picking priorities and showing how to pay for them, he said.
“There’s lots of thing we would all aspire to do, but we have to be realistic in terms of what we can afford to do,” he said.
Still, he allows, there do have to be priorities. He said he supported Gov. Tom Corbett’s move to boost funding for road and bridge repairs — describing them as badly needed investments in the future of the commonwealth, not to mention the obvious safety improvements. He notes that previous generations invested in our current infrastructure and there is a clear obligation to the next generation to pass down similar investments.
When it comes to the pension mess, Walker said he favors taking the difficult step of bonding enough of the current liability to allow the immediate switch of new employees away from pensions to a 401K style plan.
“In the long run, that generates the greatest savings,” he said. “I think we have to take that long-term view and stop delaying the pain.”
In a similar vein, he said the time is long overdue to look at how we fund our public schools. He cites Senate Bill 76, which would fund public schools entirely through increases in state sales and end all real estate tax support of schools, as a good starting point for discussion. He did say he thinks some local funding should remain, to allow local elected school boards to make decisions about the spending of their districts. He also expressed concerns about allowing Harrisburg to be counted on the distribute the money in an equitable fashion.
“I would prefer not to see 100% of the dollars that school districts rely on to be coming from the state,” he said. “Because I don’t think there’s enough certainty there.”
Another worry Walker talks about is the future of local first responders. As local fire and EMS companies struggle to recruit new volunteers and keep funding, he said the state needs to come to terms with the idea that the current system is probably not sustainable over the long haul.
“The reality is we need to come to terms with the fact that we shouldn’t count on receiving a service that we don’t pay for for very much longer,” he said. He said he supports increased regionalization for emergency services, especially if the burden for providing those services shifts away from volunteer companies and onto local municipalities.
On the the current hot button issue of privatization of the state liquor store system, Walker said he favors privatization and getting the state out of the business.
On social issues, he describes himself as “Pro-life” and said he thinks current Pennsylvania law strikes a good balance of protection while keeping within U.S. Constitutional boundaries.
He does not support gay marriage, favoring civil unions instead as a natural progression to make sure no one is discriminated against.
“I think, traditionally, marriage has been a sacred institution between a man and a woman,” he said. “I think we’re moving very rapidly to change 2000-plus years of tradition. Honestly, I think we’re moving too quickly and really should take our time.”
Walker is a cum laude graduate from Yale University with a BA in History and Economics. He holds two graduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, JD from the Penn Law School and an MBA in Finance from the Wharton School.