2020 Leg. Candidate Questionnaire: Melissa Shusterman, 157th State House District

Melissa Shusterman

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?

First and foremost, I believe it’s important to recognize that the Federal government has failed massively when it comes to providing basic relief during the pandemic, and our state government has struggled to pick up the slack with its more limited resources. As your Representative, my highest priority has been to keep Pennsylvanians safe and able to pay their bills during this crisis. I’ve sought to put people before politics and work across the aisle to get results for my constituents.

When it came to the initial safety precautions taken by the Governor, I took issue with the lack of transparency in the Governor’s decision-making regarding which businesses were ordered to close and which were granted exemptions. I led efforts to resume real estate services and allow garden centers to reopen, two industries I felt were being prohibited without sufficient reason.

This summer I was able to work with the Governor to roll out $225 million in pandemic relief for small businesses. I’ve also drafted legislation to help small businesses strengthen their online sales during the pandemic.

  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)?

Our tax system in PA expects too much from working people and not enough from those at the top. Let’s be clear, massive tax cuts for corporations and the rich do nothing to create jobs or promote growth, and they are the reason PA was already facing a fiscal shortfall before the pandemic.

I support enacting a Fair Share Tax which would raise taxes on profits, capital gains, dividends, and estates; reduce taxes on wages and interest; and generate billions from the top 5% while cutting taxes for 60% of Pennsylvanians. I also support ending tax loopholes so that large out-of-state corporations must pay taxes at the same rate as PA-based corporations and so that fossil fuel production is taxed like it is in every other state.

  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.

I am committed to making sure every child in our state has access to quality public schools, regardless of zip code. The solution to school inequity must start with the state drastically increasing its share of school funding to reduce the unrealistic burden placed on many local districts.

In the legislature, I have worked to increase education funding, free our students from restrictive standardized tests, support our teachers’ independence, and modernize our schools. Charter schools receive more than $1.8 billion in state and property taxes each year with little to no oversight on spending or operations. While I believe in a parent’s right to choose the best school for their child, I firmly stand by the principle that any school that relies on public funding should be held to the same standards as any other public school.

  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?

I believe we must make tuition affordable at community colleges and at our state colleges and universities to ensure students can earn a degree without going deep into debt. This requires increasing state funding, as well as strengthening our vocational training programs to ensure a range of opportunities are available to our graduates.

  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?

I believe the marijuana legalization is a social justice issue. Legalization of recreational marijuana must be accompanied by policies and programs aimed at repairing some of the harms caused by the War on Drugs. This includes expunging low-level marijuana-related convictions, as well as policies designed to give people from disproportionately-impacted communities access to economic opportunities in the industry (minority ownership of cannabis businesses).

  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.

I support the proposal to impose a fee on municipalities that rely solely on state police. The current situation wherein some municipalities pay no share for the police coverage they receive while others pay 100% is unfair and unsustainable.

  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?

With regard to fracking, I believe we’re in need of a monumental overhaul in our regulation of the Marcellus Shale industry. With over 12,000 drilled unconventional wells in Pennsylvania, a well-documented history of harm to public health, and a consistently-underfunded state Department of Environmental Protection, it is inconceivable that the industry be allowed to continue in its current form. I have supported a moratorium on fracking in the Delaware River Basin, a more stringent and transparent permitting process, and stricter laws to protect our air, water, and land.

The fact that the ill-conceived, accident-ridden Mariner East pipeline was allowed to go operational is just one example of a broken regulatory process. Energy Transfer Partners (the company responsible for Mariner East) has not been held accountable by regulatory agencies, nor have they held themselves accountable. In response to the most recent incident when Energy Transfer spilled approximately 10,000 gallons of drilling mud into Marsh Creek Lake, I joined other legislators in calling for their permits to be pulled.

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

As a mother and as an American, I am horrified and angered by the scourge of gun violence in our country. Legislators must take seriously our duty to protect the people of our Commonwealth and this nation. It is time to pass universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders –– legislation overwhelmingly supported by Pennsylvanians. We can’t afford to wait any longer. As your public servant, my job is to pass laws to keep you and your family safe. I have also proposed and supported legislation that attacks the issue at its source, leading the charge to ban firearms in our courthouses and authoring legislation to require more certification and training to own a firearm.

  1. 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 will always defend a woman’s right to make decisions about her own health and will oppose any legislation that infringes on this right.

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

No, PA still lacks a statewide LGBTQ anti-discrimination law to prevent eployment and housing discrimination and several other overdue reforms like protection from Conversion Therapy. Despite the recent landmark US Supreme Court ruling banning employment discrimination, LGBTQ people are still subject to an inconsistent patchwork of legal protections in their states and local communities. It’s long past time that we come together to officially ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in PA.

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

One issue I believe doesn’t get sufficient attention is the extent to which state legislators are not held accountable. During my first campaign, I often spoke about the importance of transparency and accountability in our government. These principles continue to shape my stances on government issues. I am sick of legislators taking taxpayer money while ignoring taxpayer needs. For this reason, I introduced a “No Budget, No Pay” bill to make sure Harrisburg does its job before collecting its salary. Last year, I vowed not to take a paycheck until a budget passed and our Commonwealth’s needs were served. I also support action to make our elections fairer and eliminate gerrymandering. This practice allows legislators to pick their voters and avoid accountability, which affects everyone and damages our democracy in the process.

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

Before running for office, I worked in the video production industry for over a decade. I worked for large networks like FX and Food Network before returning to Pennsylvania to raise my son as a single mother. Here, I started my own successful business, a video production company.

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