2020 Leg. Candidate Questionnaire: Craig Williams, 160th State House District

Craig Williams

Editor’s Note: As has been our tradition, The Times sent our its annual questionnaire to all Chester County legislative candidates, via their respective party. We publish these responses entirely unedited and unfiltered to give readers an honest assessment of the candidates and their positions. They will be published as candidates return them to us.

  1. Although there are many major challenges facing Pennsylvania, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is currently front and center. There is stark disagreement in the current legislature on Gov. Tom Wolf’s handling of the Pandemic. What, if anything, would you do differently and why?

We are all struggling to get through the pandemic, but I am confident we will eventually emerge stronger and more unified as a nation, state and community. We must remember what the scientists told us early on – that we need to contain the virus to the extent possible to permit our healthcare system to keep pace.  Now that Pennsylvania has returned to a Green status – or what the Governor calls the new normal – we need a bipartisan conversation between those in the executive and legislative branches of government about what it means to safely restart our economy, get our citizens back to work, and address the other concerns resulting from locking down our economy and way of life (like mental health and opening schools).  The Governor has used his executive power to thwart conversation, often ordering by executive order the exact same thing he vetoed when presented with bipartisan legislation.  While the lockdown in the spring was appropriate, the measures for reopening have been secretive, arbitrary and partisan.  The legislature is a co-equal branch of government and must have co-equal voice in responsibly and safely returning Pennsylvania back to normal. I also believe in the power of frequent testing to isolate the virus.  We have seen that approach work at several universities. We should use this same approach for our local schools and businesses to help us get back to normal.

  1. Although Pennsylvania was facing a fiscal shortfall before the pandemic, now it is expected to range between $3 and $5B. How would you close that budget gap? Cuts, taxes? Be specific, what programs/funding would you cut or what taxes would you raise (or work to create new revenue streams)?

The pandemic has been a great challenge for us all and we must do our part to be safe for our friends, family and neighbors.  However, the budget shortfall is a direct result of the closure of our economy.  The only way to solve our budget shortfall is to move forward with safely opening our businesses and getting our residents back to work, and getting the state back to a strong fiscal position.

  1. Public school funding and property taxes continue to be a concern in Pennsylvania — state funding of public schools as a percentage of budget continues to slide, a trend that is more than 30 years old. With litigation for fair funding in process, how would you change how the state funds its public schools.

The reason why our property taxes continue to increase every year is because there is a huge disparity in how the state distributes education funding.

While many local residents like to point the finger at local school districts for ever-increasing property taxes, the reality is that our system of allocating state education funding is fundamentally flawed.  A 1991 state law known as “hold harmless” created huge disparities in the amount of money local school districts receive from the state. This language essentially ensured that a school district could never receive less money than they received the year before – regardless of whether or not enrollment dropped, grew, or stayed the same.

Four years ago, the legislature made a minor step toward fixing this situation when it approved a requirement that any increase in state funding – compared to the prior year – must be allocated using a “fair funding formula.”

As the next State Representative for the 160th District, I will fight to remove the 1991 hold harmless provision and speed up the enactment of the fair funding formula. By doing so, we can finally achieve meaningful property tax reform, while also ensuring our school districts have the resources they need to provide a safe and quality education.

  1. Following on, Pennsylvania is 47th by some measures in funding higher education — many other state schools charge less for out of state students than Pa. schools charge for in state students. Is the state underfunding our higher education institutions?

As the father of four, with two children currently enrolled in college, I truly understand the importance and the cost of a quality education. Affordable higher education, including trade schools, is extremely crucial for our future generations. Pennsylvania needs a plan to transform higher education in the 21st century, as students are receiving less money from the state while paying higher tuition costs. The lack of funding to our higher education institutions deters students from pursuing higher education. Funding is critical to provide access to higher education for those seeking that opportunity.

  1. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman have come out strongly for legalization of marijuana for adults (and expunging records for those with possession convictions). Where do you stand on this issue?

As a former federal prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice and Chief Prosecutor with the United States Marine Corps, I brought to justice drug dealers, con artists, child predators and felons in possession of guns. I also have a sibling who succumbed to his addiction. I strongly believe in the medical benefits of marijuana, but I do not support the legalization of marijuana.  However, I do believe in the power of rehabilitative justice, which includes expunging records for minor offenses after a time of continued lawful behavior.

  1. Policing and its funding have been part of a national conversation of late. Should local municipalities be expected to pay more of the costs of State Police if they do not have local police? Additionally, does the state need to find a new funding mechanism for law enforcement funding, either locally or statewide.

As a retired United States Marine Colonel and former federal prosecutor, I have dedicated my life to protecting our country, communities and families. I am also humbled and honored to be endorsed by: Protect Our Police PAC; the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge #37 and the Chester County Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge #11.  I support our police and the need to fund them.  As for funding sources, I think it is time to reevaluate the funding streams for State Police who are providing local law enforcement functions to large municipalities with no police force of their own.

  1. Fracking and the Mariner East II pipeline are increasingly becoming controversial in Chester County. Has the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) properly supervised the pipeline construction? Also, where do you stand on fracking? Should it be halted in the state?

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has failed to properly supervise pipeline construction, and we have all witnessed the devastating effects: contaminated well water supplies, polluted streams and rivers, sinkholes engulfing neighborhood and the loss of property owners’ rights. The primary role of government is to ensure the safety of the citizens, and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection must do a better job keeping our families and communities safe. I support energy generation including wind, solar, nuclear and natural gas.  But being an environmental steward and conducting operations safely should be the minimum prerequisites to being licensed to operate in our region.

  1. What changes, if any, do you support in terms of gun safety in Pennsylvania?

I support the right of law-abiding citizens to own and use firearms.  I was also a Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) federal prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice.  Our sole mission as PSN prosecutors was to use Title 18, United States Code, Sections 922 and 924 to get guns out of the hands of those who were not allowed to have them and incarcerate them in federal prison (and note, there is no parole in the federal system).  Section 922 of federal law prohibits the following from being allowed to possess a firearm (among others): previously convicted felons, fugitives from justice, unlawful user or addict to federal controlled substances, those adjudicated with a mental defect or committed to a mental institution, those unlawfully in the United States, those discharged from the Armed Forces with a Dishonorable Discharge (akin to a felony conviction), those who have renounced their citizenship, those who have been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, and those who – after a fair hearing – are subject to a court order for harassing, stalking or threatening an intimate partner or the children of an intimate partner.  The penalties in Section 924 for being in possession of a firearm during a violent crime or the crime of drug distribution are even more severe.

Getting guns out of the hands of people who are not permitted to have them will address a great deal of gun violence.  Local District Attorneys have the opportunity to have their Assistant District Attorneys serve in federal court as Special Assistant United States Attorneys – devoted entirely to gun crimes – if there is adequate funding.  That is how I intend to fight gun violence with a direct and immediate impact on our local communities, by helping our local District Attorney’s with the resources they need to prosecute these cases and get guns out of the hands of criminals.

  • 9. With the nomination and likely confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court, it is possible that Roe v. Wade, the ruling that legalized abortion in the U.S., will be overturned, returning the issue to the states. Where do you stand and how would you vote if there was a bill banning abortion in Pennsylvania?

I believe in the sanctity of innocent human life, but I also believe there should be exceptions for the safety of the mother, rape and incest, and therefore, I would oppose a bill that did not include those exceptions.  I will also oppose any legislation that would permit late-term abortions and the insistence on faith-based organizations being coerced to pay for or provide abortions against their religious precepts.

  • 10. Are Pennsylvania’s protections for the LGBTQ community adequate? If not, what would you change?

No, I do not believe they are adequate. I believe everyone should be free to love who they love while being treated equally under the law.  I am honored to be endorsed by the Log Cabin Republicans, and I will be an advocate for equality.

  • 11. Is there an issue in Pennsylvania you feel does not get enough attention that you plan to highlight if elected?

The sale of the Chester County Water Authority is one of my top issues.  The sale of the CWA would give a one-time cash infusion to a municipality without addressing the underlying cause of its financial hardship. Conversely, the CWA is well-run, delivering high value to its ratepayers, and is in no need of reorganization of its award-winning operations.  The sale of CWA during the COVID-19 pandemic is particularly troubling, given the unknown duration of our current situation coupled with the severe economic impact on residents and ratepayers.  The Commonwealth must be circumspect when using executive powers during these difficult times.

I am also concerned about preservation of the Octoraro Reservoir. CWA owns over 2,000 acres of valuable land assets, including the reservoir.  That land may be parceled off for development; we face the loss of scare open space; and we face the loss of precious natural habitats, which provide environmental and recreational benefits.  As State Representative, I will be committed to a clean environment and preservation of the natural beauty of our District.

  • 12. Getting personal, can you tell us something about yourself that might surprise people (ie, unusual hobby or pet, brush with fame, etc.)?

I am a long-time volunteer in the Boy Scouts of America.  A little-known fact is that Scouting has been co-ed at the high school and college age for over 20 years in a program called Venturing.  My daughter and I started a Venturing Crew at our church (St. Thomas the Apostle Church), and we took the Crew on an epic adventure to the Florida Sea Base.  With a dozen teenage Scouts, my wife and I canoed 8-miles in the oceans of the Florida Keys to an uninhabited island and survived for a week.  Sleeping in hammocks in the elements – and the noseeum bugs –we provided for ourselves and engaged in activities that taught about personal character and leadership.


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