Candidate Q&A: Jack London, 19th Senate District

Jack London

Jack London

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?

Harrisburg politicians have failed to act on a change that would provide the necessary funding to balance Pennsylvania’s budget: implementing comprehensive pension reform.

Neglecting to make meaningful reforms to the state’s public pension system has caused a financial crisis for Pennsylvania, a crisis that is impacting not only current taxpayers, but one that hurts future generations of taxpayers as well. Some experts have estimated that the pension system’s unfunded liability exceeds a staggering $60 billion. As a result, Pennsylvania is forced to spend enormous resources from taxpayers just to meet pension payment obligations.

The unprecedented public pension crisis has caused record amounts of taxpayer dollars to be diverted from other public needs, such as investments in education and balancing the state’s budget. To add insult to injury, ignoring the pension crisis has also negatively impacted Pennsylvania’s bond rating, hurting taxpayers even more. In addition, it should be noted that not fixing the state’s pension system has resulted in skyrocketing school property taxes as school districts struggle to pay for pension obligations in their budgets.

The pension crisis is the single biggest fiscal challenge for Pennsylvania. While politicians continue to vote for small changes to the system and then pat themselves on the back for taking action, the underlying issues remain and the costs to taxpayers grow. Creating a public pension system akin to what the private sector offers is long overdue. Substantial fixes to the pension system will free up significant revenue to help balance the state budget.

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?

One of the best ways to address school funding is to transfer this funding to the state and eliminate school property taxes altogether.

Rising school property taxes are hurting homeowners, especially those who live on fixed incomes. Year after year many of our neighbors are faced with the heart-wrenching possibility of losing their homes because they can no longer afford to pay property taxes. Other taxpayers are seeing more of their hard-earned dollars going to rising property taxes instead of providing for the basic needs of their families. The antiquated system that taxes land to pay for schools must end.

While shifting the funding of schools to the state allows for the elimination of property taxes, this must be done in a manner that optimizes funding for our districts. A fair and comprehensive formula from the state must be applied to ensure schools get the funding they need. In addition, if school districts wish to spend money above what they receive from the state and want to enact a separate funding stream, this should only be done with the approval of voters through a local referendum.

Politicians in Harrisburg have been talking for decades about eliminating school property taxes and shifting funding to the state, yet nothing has been accomplished. The time has come for this reform to finally be enacted.

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 a sufficient revenue source in place for road and bridge funding. Drivers do not want to pay additional taxes at the gas pump, and this is understandable.

With a satisfactory amount of state money available for roads and bridges, it is important to have legislators who are effective advocates for state funding of transportation projects impacting local communities. Another piece of the puzzle is working with federal officials on federal funding for road and bridge projects. Legislators must also work to provide adequate funding for public transportation, helping non-drivers in their commutes and lessening the number of cars on our highways.

Intelligently allocating funds for roads and bridges is vitally important to our region. Road and bridge repairs are needed for driver safety. Road expansion is tremendously helpful in easing traffic congestion, especially during rush hour. In addition, using state funds to expand local roads makes Chester County more attractive for businesses to locate here, helping create new jobs and tax revenue for the state.

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?

As a former police officer, I know the challenges communities face with gun violence. It is imperative that Pennsylvania does everything it can to protect our families while respecting the right to legal gun ownership.

The key to solving gun violence is making sure law enforcement has the tools necessary to enforce Pennsylvania’s existing gun laws. I can tell you that while serving as an officer, having the resources and technology to investigate crimes, track down criminals and get them off the streets was extraordinarily helpful. Government must always make law enforcement a funding priority so that officers can successfully provide for the public’s safety.

In addition to enforcing existing laws, Pennsylvania must look for new ways to stem gun violence. Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed House Bills 1496, 1497 and 1498 to help reduce gun crimes. HB 1496 greatly increases penalties for felons convicted of possessing a firearm illegally, HB 1497 prohibits juveniles who are convicted of drug dealing from owning a firearm until age 30 and HB 1498 would permit Pennsylvania to submit mental health data to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to help enforce existing mental health prohibitions for gun sales to troubled individuals. These are good bills that now await action in the Senate.

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?

I have heard the heart-breaking stories from families who have been devastated by drug addiction. It is without question that drug abuse in Pennsylvania is a full-blown crisis. There were over 3,500 drug overdose deaths in Pennsylvania in 2015. This must end.

I strongly support bipartisan legislative efforts that will save lives from opioid and heroin addiction. We must fully fund treatment centers around the state so those caught in the cycle of addiction have a lifeline and get the help they need. We need to also require insurance companies to cover abuse-deterrent opioids, provide opioid addiction education in our schools, restrict doctors’ ability to prescribe long-term opioid use to minors and require prescribers to check the statewide drug monitoring database before prescribing opioids so they can more quickly discover patterns of drug abuse.

Too many lives have been destroyed by drug addiction. We must act now.

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?

Former Governor Tom Ridge established Pennsylvania’s Growing Greener program in 1999. This program, which in part provides funding for land preservation, is a national model for protecting open space.

Senator Tom Killion recently introduced Growing Greener III legislation that will implement a new phase of funding for environmental programs, including land preservation. I support this legislation and believe it will have a positive impact on Chester County as well as counties across the state.

Protecting open space in growing and congested areas is important and makes sense on so many levels. Land that is preserved can continue to be used for farming and for public recreation, such as parks and trails. Protected land also means less development and less of an impact on school district budgets, as well as fewer cars on the roads and less traffic congestion.

Land preservation is a key ingredient to protecting Chester County’s special quality of life.

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?

Pennsylvania’s congressional districts are created by the General Assembly, and the state House and Senate districts are created by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission comprised of legislative leaders. District boundaries are adjusted every ten years to reflect population shifts recorded in the once-every-decade national Census. The redistricting process routinely results in gerrymandered districts. This process is flawed, partisan and must be changed.

I believe districts should not be redrawn by politicians, but instead by the people. An independent commission should be used and composed of an equal number of Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated members. With the current Legislative Reapportionment Commission established in the Pennsylvania Constitution, a voter-approved amendment is needed in order to change the Constitution and move away from the current system.

Changing the reapportionment system is not a short or easy process, but it is necessary to restore integrity in legislative redistricting.

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

By far the most important underreported story by the media about Pennsylvania is how public labor unions and their millions of dollars in campaign contributions are blocking desperately-needed reforms. Nowhere is this more evident than in liquor privatization and comprehensive public employee pension reform.

Pennsylvania is one of only two states that runs a liquor distribution system. Every time state legislators attempt to privatize the system, public unions spend millions of dollars blocking reforms. For them, it is a matter of self-preservation. They do not want to see their union members shift to the private sector. The end result is that we get legislation that “modernizes” the system in small ways instead of the complete privatization consumers want.

The story is much the same with meaningful pension reform. Every time reformers attempt to move public employees into a pension system similar to the private sector, public unions, especially the teacher unions, spend millions of dollars in influencing elections in order to kill big changes to the system. We end up instead with weak, watered-down pension changes that do nothing to solve the problem of taxpayers being on the hook for over $60 billion for the system’s unfunded liability.

The sad, untold story by the media is how public unions have ferociously stopped reforms that save taxpayers billions of dollars, taking our state to the brink of financial disaster. We can no longer afford to play the fiddle while Rome burns. I will fight fearlessly for these reforms and for taxpayers.

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

I am blessed to have the best wife and daughter any man could ask for, and I cherish every minute of the time I spend with them.  Family time is the most important part of my day.  I’m very close with my daughter Brooke and we enjoy watching movies together, playing with our cats, and just talking to one another about the trials and tribulations of being a 17-year-old girl. It is no secret that I am an avid gym goer. I enjoy working out and mentoring young bodybuilders who hope to become professional lifters someday. When I’m not working, working out, or running this campaign, one of my favorite hobbies is skiing. I’ve been an avid skier my whole life and have traveled all over the country and world skiing. Lastly, I love a good book.

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