Candidate Q&A: Eric Roe, 158th State House District

Eric Roe

Eric Roe

Editor’s Note: Once again, we posed the same nine questions to our legislative candidates and offered to publish them without edits or modification to allow our readers to get an unfiltered view of their positions on some of the top issues of the day in Pennsylvania. We will run the answers of all of the candidates for a given race at the same time — assuming all have responded.

1. There seems to be universal agreement that the state continues to face lower revenues than expenses. How would you address this issue — by additional cuts in spending (if so, where?), raising taxes or some combination of the two?

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a lot of work to do in putting our financial house back in order. It would be my great privilege to earn the trust of the voters of the 158th District to do just that. We need a leaner, more efficient state government that lives within its means. That’s why I will fight for the sorely needed reforms we need like pension reform, property tax reform, tort reform, and liquor privatization, to name a few. Each of these will reduce and balance state expenditures. We don’t necessarily need new or higher taxes.

Let’s place new state employees into a 401(k)-style defined contribution retirement plan and start making promises to our employees that we can keep. It’s not fair to ask our state workers and teachers to contribute a portion of their paychecks toward an insolvent pension system. Let me be clear, however, that this reform would only apply to new hires. Article I, Section 17 of the Pennsylvania Constitution makes it clear that it is unconstitutional to renege on a promise the Commonwealth makes to its employees. Furthermore, this type of reform would help prevent our school property taxes from spiking higher than they already have. Since the unfunded pension liability is a significant cost driver for our property taxes, reforming the pension system can help reduce the tax burden for our property owners. Let’s make it easier for retirees on fixed incomes to stay in their houses, and let’s make it easier for young Pennsylvanians to get on the housing ladder in the first place.

Let’s make sensible reforms to our legal system to end frivolous lawsuits against our businesses. Small business owners are the risk takers and job creators of our community, so let’s stop allowing frivolous lawsuits against them to chip away at their bottom lines and keep them from hiring more of our talented workers here in Chester County. Let’s end the practice of “venue shopping” once and for all, so that lawsuits are tried in local jurisdictions instead of places elsewhere in the state that are more favorable to higher payouts.

Lastly, let’s get the state out of the liquor business once and for all. While 48 other states have already made the commonsense decision to distance the state from the sale of liquor, Pennsylvania remains one of the last two. Let’s give consumers more choices and better prices, while continuing to receive the tax revenues that come from the sale of wine and spirits. Let’s hand the stores back to our small business owners and entrepreneurs, while ensuring that alcohol stays out of the hands of minors and adults under the age of 21.

These reforms will help make Pennsylvania a more business-friendly and family-friendly state to live in. They’ll help foster an environment in which businesses can grow and create jobs for families, and they’ll expand our tax base in the process. That’s how we should balance our budgets and live within our means in government.

2. School funding continues to be an issue for many folks — and litigation over fair funding is now working its way through the courts. Does Pennsylvania provide enough funding for local public schools and is it fairly distributed? Also, Act 1 of 2006 is beginning to put some school districts in a bind — thanks to a combination of lowered real estate values, skyrocketing pension, health care and special education costs — is it time to revisit the act and rework some aspects of it?

The 158th District is home to some of the best public schools in the entire nation. I know this from firsthand experience, as I attended West Bradford Elementary School, East Bradford Elementary School, Peirce Middle School and Henderson High School. Between the West Chester Area School District, the Downingtown Area School District, the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, the Kennett Consolidated School District, and Avon Grove School District, the 158th has become a destination for parents who want to send their children to top quality schools. While knocking on over 9,000 doors this year alone, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had voters tell me they moved here because of the promise of our great public education. For that reason, I will not support sending our school tax dollars to Harrisburg, just to have those dollars redistributed by a bureaucrat to places elsewhere in Pennsylvania, thereby compromising the quality of our local schools. Our residents work hard for their money, and they often commute far and wide to their workplaces just so their children can grow up here. Let’s not compromise local control and inflate the size of state government by sending our school tax dollars to Harrisburg.

Instead, let’s make the government reforms in Harrisburg that free up more cash at the state level to provide more for our schools. Let’s fund the many mandates placed on our schools and stop using the Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement. Let’s promote accountability in our schools by ending the practice of using tenure as the prime determinant in employment decisions, and let’s focus on quality. Let’s fix the pension system so that it doesn’t threaten to increase property taxes, and we can do it by putting new state employees onto a 401(k) style retirement plan, which might free up more cash for our schools, too.

3. Although Pennsylvania has the highest gas tax in the nation, it continues to struggle to pay for road and bridge maintenance. How would you address this issue?

Pennsylvania has some of the most structurally deficient roads and bridges in the nation. Having reliable infrastructure is good for public safety, commerce, and countless public services. Not only is heavy traffic and congestion a nuisance, but it directly affects our quality of life. I will be a tireless advocate for receiving our fair share of transportation funding as our Representative in the General Assembly. Let’s invest more into public infrastructure and help businesses grow and create more jobs. Let’s make sure our roads are safe to drive on; let’s make sure our bridges are safe for school buses and ambulances to cross; let’s make sure our trucks can get our goods to market. This is why it is critical that we cut spending where there is waste, fraud and abuse, so we can put that money toward replacing aging infrastructure, investing more in schools, reducing the burden on taxpayers, and paying off our debts. Do we really need a Turnpike Commission that is separate from our Department of Transportation (PennDOT)? I’d like to look into the possibility of consolidating the two and see if we might be able to save some tax dollars in the process.

4. There have been at least five gun-related homicides in the county this year — four in the last few weeks — in addition to a number of non-fatal shootings this year. What would you do to stem gun violence?

We must pass on a safer Pennsylvania to our children than we were given, which is why I intend to work hard to pass commonsense gun laws that protect the right of law abiding citizens to own a firearm, while keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, the mentally ill, and those who have expressed the desire to harm our fellow Americans. Let me be clear that we, as United States citizens, have a right to keep and bear arms. Legal gun ownership must be protected so that families may protect themselves from dangerous individuals. With that said, there are measures that can be taken and existing laws that must be better enforced in order to prevent gun crimes before they take place.

We should enact measures that increase the penalties for individuals found guilty of the illegal possession of firearms. HB 1496 would accomplish that. The opiate crisis affecting our Commonwealth and country has also underscored the need to keep narcotics dealers from being able to legally purchase a firearm, which is why I would be supportive of HB 1497. Lastly, I remain convinced that the best way to prevent gun crimes is to strengthen education, empower families, and grow our economy so that it works for everyone and provides the best opportunities for all Pennsylvanians. Let’s keep investing in education and maintain some of the best schools in the nation. Let’s allow the free market to work and raise wages across the board so parents can give their children everything they need to succeed and stay on the right track. Finally, let’s help small businesses grow by creating a business-friendly climate where jobs abound. In the words of President Ronald Reagan, “I believe the best social program is a job.”

5. As the opioid crisis grows, what efforts do you support both to curtail new addictions and help those already in the grip of addiction?

Drug addiction and opiate abuse are detrimental to our communities here in Chester County and everywhere they exist. Substance abuse is not limited to any single demographic, socioeconomic status, age group, gender or zip code. It affects all of us, either directly or indirectly. I will leave no stone unturned in the push to make sure that our citizens are informed and aware of the dangers of abusing opiates, that we promote and embrace recovery, that we provide law enforcement with the best technology that 2016 has to offer, and that we work with the medical community to make sure opiates are not prescribed excessively.

In County Government, I’m pleased to work with County Commissioner Michelle Kichline and District Attorney Tom Hogan on a project aimed to increase awareness and raise funds for a “warm handoff” pilot program in Chester County’s hospitals for overdose victims. On Saturday, November 5th, we will be having a Family Fun Run & Color 5k, and its proceeds will be put toward local hospitals that wish to help survivors of overdoses get the help they need immediately after they are released from the hospital after an overdose. My hope is that programs like this will reveal helpful data and offer real assistance to people in the throes of addiction.

6. Land use continues to be front and center in Chester County — from the development of farm lands to housing developments to needed redevelopment in our urban areas. In terms of your district, what should the state being doing now to better preserve open space and target development to areas with existing infrastructure?

Chester County has historically been a destination for people to come enjoy Pennsylvania’s natural beauty and escape the noise from urban areas like Philadelphia and Wilmington. For residents of the 158th District like me, we are lucky to call this beautiful place our home. Having grown up here, I know that we must preserve the character of our communities by focusing our growth in our boroughs, instead of tearing down lush forestland and fields, compromising our landscapes. The same landscapes that were available to the painters who traveled to Chester County in the 19th Century to capture our natural beauty should be available to our children and theirs.

That’s why I will be a strong proponent of Growing Greener III, Pennsylvania’s environmental stewardship fund that promotes and advocates for the conservation, protection and restoration of land, water and wildlife. We must protect our award-winning parks and outdoor recreational sites throughout Pennsylvania and Chester County, and Growing Greener III must have adequate funding to do that. I’ll also support “clean and green” legislation to help ease tax assessments for properties like farmland, forestland and open space, so those properties are taxed based on use value, instead of market value. I will also defend our natural land preserves like the White Clay Creek Preserve, the ChesLen Preserve, and the Stroud Preserve, to name a few. Preserving open space in Chester County protects our property values and guards against urban sprawl.

7. Do you support efforts by some to take state legislative and congressional redistricting out of the hands of the legislature and put it into the hands of an independent commission? If so, why? If not, why not?

Voters should choose their legislators, not the other way around.

7. What issue do you feel that the media/public fails to discuss enough in terms of state government?

Pennsylvania’s legislators need to lead by example in a few areas. We should put new State Representatives and State Senators into a 401(k)-style defined contribution retirement system. Nobody should be getting rich off of taxpayer dollars, so let’s reform pensions for legislators. Pennsylvania also needs to enact term limits for its legislators, so that we reduce the amount of career politicians. Term limits also provide market stability and give investors assurance that state funding won’t dry up once a powerful and longstanding legislator retires from office.

9. Can you tell us something mildly surprising about yourself (hobbies, unusual past jobs, etc.) that the public might find interesting?

In 2008, I lost over 115 lbs. in about 12 months. I walked over 8 miles per night while wearing ankle weights after work every day. Through diet and exercise, I changed my lifestyle and enjoyed the payoff of hard work and determination. Similarly, I have knocked on over 9,000 doors to date in 2016 alone for this campaign. It takes a lot of grit and perseverance to run for State Representative well, but it has brought me much joy to meet the voters of the 158th District and hear about their visions for a better Pennsylvania. I look forward to buying some new shoes after Tuesday, November 8th!

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