Candidate Q&A: Tom Killion, 9th Senate District

Tom Killion

Tom Killion

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?

State budgeting is a complex exercise. But fortunately, the state constitution requires that a balanced state budget is required to be passed each fiscal year. The process of getting to a balanced budget requires great scrutiny on both the revenue and expenditure sides of the equation.

This session, I supported legislation to make the Office of Inspector General a truly independent agency. Currently the Inspector General – whose job is to root out waste, fraud, and abuse — is appointed and serves at the pleasure of the Governor. That is counter-productive, as it creates a disincentive for the Inspector General to uncover waste, fraud and abuse that may embarrass their boss, the Governor, who can fire him or her at any time.

When looking at the revenue side, or taxes, we need to have a broad and comprehensive perspective. We need to realize that we must ensure that we have a sensible tax system that is not oppressive to working families and prohibitive to businesses. Making smart tax policy decisions will yield higher revenue. For example, a competitive income tax rate encourages families to relocate to Pennsylvania and entices employers to build their business here, or a competitive sales tax rate attracts.

 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?

Education funding has always been a top priority for me and I am happy to say I have voted for budgets that allocated record levels of education funding. In our area, some districts receive twenty percent or less of school funding from the state while other districts can get over seventy percent of their funding from the state. This wide variation resulted from years and years of different school funding formulas that tried to account for unique issues like poverty, local tax base, local tax effort, and other socio economic factors that impact education. Past formulas also always contained a hold harmless provision that said a district would never get less than what they got in the previous year. This benefitted more rural districts that had declining populations but hurt districts in our region.

This year, I was proud to have offered legislation that began to address these huge inequities by instituting a new fair funding formula that was recommended by the bipartisan Fair Funding Commission. The proposal was signed into law and used this year for the first time to distribute hundreds of millions of new education dollars. Over time, the new formula will help ensure a more equitable distribution of education funds.

With that said, there is still more work to be done. We need to continue to look at all aspects of the education funding issue. I believe we should responsibly provide all the resources needed to ensure all students get the education they deserve. I have supported various proposals that would have generated additional revenue for education, like a severance tax, and selling the state’s antiquated liquor system.

We also need to make sure the money we are spending is spent in a responsible way. We need to control increasing costs, by enacting good policy like pension reform and other common sense measures that help control costs.

I think Act 1 has been helpful in minimizing the rise of property taxes, but again there is still more work to do. I think we should always revisit past policy to evaluate whether it is still having the desired impact as it was designed to have.

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?

The state’s gas tax rate was just recently changed and is now funding hundreds of road and bridge projects across the Commonwealth. Prior to the changes, the state’s transportation infrastructure was crumbling. Now, this construction season has brought the resurfacing and paving of hundreds of miles of roadway. The Commonwealth is also steadily rehabbing hundreds of bridges across the Commonwealth and restoring them back to good repair. Maintaining a reliable and safe infrastructure is critically essential for the safety of our residents and our economy. With that in mind, we must make sure infrastructure funding is used wisely and efficiently.

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?

Gun violence is a serious issue that we need to address. There is no doubt there are major underlying socioeconomic issues that contribute to gun violence and we must address them at the macro level by investing in education and making sure people have access to good-paying jobs. At the same time, we must take steps to curb gun violence. I have always supported and voted for common sense measures that seek to take reasonable steps to curtail illegal use of guns, keep guns out of the hands of criminals and individuals with serious mental health issues, and make our communities safer. My pragmatic approach to addressing this issue in a bipartisan manner and my record in the legislature has led to me earning the endorsement of CeaseFirePA and Delaware County United for Sensible Gun Control.

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?

The opioid crisis is the most critical health issue facing the Commonwealth today. Like many others, I have family members that have been impacted by this crisis. I have taken a very active and aggressive role in doing all that I can to address the issue. Prior to being elected to the Senate, I was able to start working on this issue as a member of the House of Representatives. In the House we took action to pass Adams’s Law which put Narcan in the hands of emergency responders to reverse opioid overdoses. The bill also provided immunity for those who call emergency responders to report an overdose. The Legislature also joined many other states and created a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to empower doctors to be able to prevent pill shopping and create more accountability. We also created a new office of Drug and Alcohol programs in the Department of Human Services, provided funding to create education programs, and increased resources to address this crisis in a holistic way.

Since joining the Senate, I have continued to aggressively tackle this issue in a comprehensive way. I joined the local Delaware County Heroin Task Force, a multi-disciplinary group made up of community leaders, law enforcement, educators, and healthcare professionals to look at all aspects of the crisis. The task force and the General Assembly have now expanded their view and are looking beyond prevention and education to treatment and education. The past two state budgets contained additional funding for treatment. I have also introduced SB 1368, a bill that requires that medical schools include safe opioid prescription training in their curriculum for doctors. This is one of several bills that is likely to be approved by the House and Senate and in the final days of the current legislative session and sent to the Governor to be signed into law. There is a great deal of focus on this issue and we must continue to aggressively fight the epidemic.

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?

Open space and smart development are top priorities to me, that is why I introduced SB 1374, legislation to support Growing Greener III, which would invest more than $300 million annually for preserving open space, protecting our waterways, and creating sustainable communities. Growing Greener III is the continuation of the very successful Growing Greener programs which have helped preserve hundreds of acres across the Commonwealth. We enjoy a high quality of life here in southeastern Pennsylvania because we have an unmatched balance of urban centers, parks, and natural open spaces. We need to do all we can to preserve our natural resources and look to find ways to reinvest in and rebuild older communities.

Growing Greener III will be a powerful tool for local communities and local land trusts that will help them preserve open space before it is lost to development. I am eager to continue work on this proposal and look forward to working with environmental organizations and other stakeholders to get this proposal signed into law.

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?

I am supportive of any proposal that seeks to increase transparency and implement commonsense reforms. I think an independent commission is a good idea and one that deserves consideration.

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

I don’t think the media does enough to convey to taxpayers the significant impact that our state pension system and unfunded pension liabilities have on our local school districts, homeowners, and other property owners who are forced to pay ever rising property taxes because of the pension crisis. There is a lack of dialogue and detail surrounding the issue. Homeowners and taxpayers need be given the information and knowledge so that they can appreciate the fact that one of the main causes of property tax hikes is the ever increasing cost of public pensions. Once the public has a better understanding of the correlation between the growing pension problem and their rising property taxes, I think legislators who have blocked real reform will be unable to defend their positions.

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

As an alumnus of Penn State, I am a huge fan of the institution. I was a proud father when both of my daughters chose to attend Penn State for their college educations.

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