Rob McCord Answers the Keystone Politics Issue Questionnaire

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Education

1. Under Tom Corbett, the state’s share of education funding has dropped from 44 percent to 32 percent – well below the national average of 48 percent. What do you think is the right ratio of state-to-local funding? Could you support HB-76/SB-76 – the bipartisan bills that would make state government responsible for 100% of education funding?

The current administration’s approach to education has been tragic. It has defunded public education and caused failures and then failed to acknowledge its role. Clearly, it has NOT made public school funding a priority, and has generally made education issues a lower priority than liquor sales, for example.

Funding ratios should be part of a larger conversation about how we prioritize our public schools. The current method of funding public schools through property taxes is both wildly inadequate and inefficient. Property taxes alone do not provide a long-term solution for what is becoming an increasingly dire situation. Relying on property taxes as the primary way to drive public dollars to our schools will only continue to create a system of winners and losers among school districts. Areas with a poor tax base or with falling property values simply cannot generate the revenue needed to maintain high quality schools. State dollars are needed to bridge this gap and ensure each child is provided high quality educational opportunities – without regard to where they live in the state.

As governor, I will lead a conversation about how we can more effectively ensure that our public dollars are fairly and effectively delivered to our school districts. We need to consider moving away from an over-reliance on local property taxes and explore the availability of alternative, dedicated revenue sources. For example, could we effectively use gaming revenue generated by the state to help fund Pennsylvania’s school districts? Could we revisit the severance tax issues and build long-term, statewide resources for education?

We also need to support teacher innovation, not deter it, provide local schools the administrative tools they need to ensure a safe environment for learning, place less focus on tests, and eliminate classroom resource shortages.

So while I believe that we can, as a state, increase our financial support for public schools, I note that our education crisis cannot be solved through funding alone. We need to consider more innovative and collaborative ideas for our public schools. Setting a more effective state-to-local funding ratio is just a part of that agenda. We need to develop changes in programs that provide long-term solutions to problems that have been passed on for far too long.

2. Tom Corbett and the Republicans immediately abandoned Ed Rendell’s hard-won education funding formula, which increased state money for districts who serve larger populations of economically-disadvantaged students. The effect was to take much more money from poorer school districts than from wealthier ones. What is your view of the Rendell formula, and would you pledge to use it again?

As I said, I believe we need to reexamine the ways in which we fund our public schools and that means finding ways to break our dependency on an inefficient property tax funding mechanism.

Having said that, my view is that Governor Rendell was basically correct. School funding formulas that target state dollars to challenged school districts is an effective way to maximize the impact of the resources available. Abandoning that formula was one of the most significant mistakes (of many) made by the Corbett Administration when it comes to our schools.

Health Care

3. Congress opted not to create a federal public insurance option in the Affordable Care Act, but they gave state governments lots of flexibility to do basically anything that will reduce costs more than the ACA envisions. Which state-level cost control ideas do you support? Should PA follow Vermont’s lead and adopt a single-payer insurance system? Should we copy Maryland’s successful all-payer rate setting policy? Do you support HB 1526, Bob Freeman’s public insurance option bill that allows individuals and businesses to buy into the State Workers Insurance Fund (SWIF)?

I believe that, when it comes to health care, the obligation of the next governor should be to increase the number of Pennsylvanians with health coverage WHILE improving the quality of care and the efficiency of health services. Those will be the guiding principles of the McCord Administration.

Because the Affordable Care Act is still evolving, I will consider a wide range of solutions for the health care challenges we face in Pennsylvania, and I will review evidence built in other states about what is working best. In my experience as a business leader and as treasurer, I learned that we can’t keep approaching the same problems the same way and expect different outcomes or miracle solutions. We should consider innovative approaches if we want to come up with truly gamechanging solutions and improvements.

I believe, for example, that Maryland’s all-payer rate setting policy has been successful in at least one area – controlling costs – and is worth considering in Pennsylvania. It is, however, just one way to control costs, and additional options should be explored.

I am also open to supporting Rep. Freeman’s proposal to allow individuals and businesses to buy into SWIF. The more options available to consumers, the more likely we are to reduce the number of uninsured Pennsylvanians, to provide coverage at an affordable rate, and to improve the ways citizens consume health care.

Generally, I would like to see Pennsylvania take part in Medicaid expansion in order to provide more affordable coverage to more individuals and families, to increase efficiency, and to improve our economy (otherwise, health care funding provided by Pennsylvanians will finance care — and jobs — in other states and not in PA!).

Further, I would like to see Pennsylvania take an aggressive approach to promoting health care exchanges, especially to young, healthy consumers who will help spread out the risk and bring costs down for the rest of us.

Economy

4. About 78% of Pennsylvania’s GDP comes from the top 5 largest metro areas (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Lehigh Valley, Harrisburg and Scranton), and more than half comes from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh alone. How can state government help our large metro economies grow and create even more jobs?

One word: Invest. We must invest in education, infrastructure, and job creation.

Education is the fundamental vehicle through which individuals are prepared to enter the workforce. It leads to essential opportunities that families will seek for their children, and it is a critical need for businesses in search of skilled workers and innovation.

When I was in the private sector as a business leader, it was understood that businesses wanted to locate their operations in places where their employees could raise a family, where the company had access to a well-educated workforce, and where the quality of life was high. Improving the performance of the public schools in our metro areas, therefore, will help create an environment that grows the economy and creates jobs.

In addition, I believe that the state should work with our colleges and universities and develop partnerships by which university-sponsored innovation is fully exploited to enhance regional business development and create employment opportunities. Public, state-related, and private colleges and universities are economic engines that enhance educational, business, economic, and career opportunities.

In addition, as governor, I will take advantage of the bipartisan consensus that acknowledges the need to re-invest in infrastructure. I will push for investments first in infrastructure projects that not only create jobs in the short run but which maximize job creation in the long run. Usually, we see maximum return on investment — when measured in this way — in metropolitan areas.

I will also review and re-invest in urban-oriented state tax incentive programs, such as Keystone Opportunity Zones, Neighborhood Opportunity Zones, Keystone Opportunity Expansion Zones and Keystone Opportunity Improvement Zones. In some cases, these initiatives have been successful in drawing new business development in economically depressed areas of cities and regions. Similarly, I would significantly boost investments in our state’s Ben Franklin technology partnerships. These investments pay for themselves many times over with a $3.6 return in tax revenue for every dollar invested within five years!

5. PA has one of the top 10 most regressive state tax codes in the nation. Will you support an amendment to the state Constitution to allow a progressive rate structure for the income tax?

As Warren Buffet once pointed out, a tax system in which he pays a lower effective tax rate than that paid by his secretary is fundamentally flawed. I believe the same criticism applies to Pennsylvania’s tax code. I would support a more progressive system, whether through a Constitutional amendment or other means.

Transportation

6. SEPTA, PAT, and other transit agencies are seeing record high ridership, but they still face large funding shortfalls, because such a large share of their funding comes from federal and state transfers. The geography of political power in Harrisburg and Washington does not inspire much hope that our transit networks will ever be generously funded, let alone expanded. If these actors won’t step up, do you think it’s time to give county governments more autonomy to fund transit? Which of the following local revenue options would you be willing to consider: value capture? road fares? regional sales taxes? regional income taxes?

I would consider all options. I would also note that mass transit is not simply a regional issue. Mass transit is an issue that not only impacts a large percentage of Pennsylvania’s population — both as a critical service and a reducer of traffic — it also helps increase employment and economic activity that adds tax revenues shared by all Pennsylvanians. Therefore, local/regional governments should have the tools necessary to provide and maintain a safe, reliable, and accessible public transit system, AND the commonwealth should also invest in mass transit.

The current system of supporting mass transit by drawing funds from the Pennsylvania Turnpike is unsustainable. While a reasonable level of support is appropriate, the current funding demands were premised upon the assumption that Pennsylvania would be permitted to impose a toll on I-80. Since its rejection by the United States Department of Transportation, no new source of revenue has been identified to replace that shortfall. As governor, I will make it a priority to work with legislative leaders to identify a sustainable revenue source. Some in Harrisburg have gone so far as to label mass transit as a form of public “welfare.” I reject that notion, and I will fight for a sustainable funding source for Pennsylvania’s growing mass transit needs.

7. Ed Rendell established a Fix-It-First policy for infrastructure spending that was recently embraced by President Obama in this year’s State of the Union address. Tom Corbett’s Transportation Funding Advisory Commission reversed course and brought back to life a lot of undead capacity expansion ideas, even though vehicle miles traveled have been declining. Where do you stand on the Fix-It-First policy?

Fix-it-first is a common sense approach that I support. New Jersey was the first state to adopt this policy, and it has been an effective means of prioritizing transportation dollars. Under the Corbett Administration, bridges are now being closed to certain types of vehicles because of their deteriorating condition. This is not a problem that suddenly emerged; it reflects years of neglect and the lack of any realistic policy to address our state’s transportation infrastructure.

Municipal Policy

8. The Detroit bankruptcy has prompted some soul-searching about PA’s own municipal finance problems. With about 41% of PA residents living in a distressed municipality, it seems clear that the state municipal finance policies aren’t working. Organizations like the Team PA Foundation and the PA Economy League have argued that one key reason for the widespread distress is too much fragmentation in local government. PA’s 4,562 municipal tax bases and 501 school district tax bases are too small, and leave local governments too vulnerable to small changes in migration. What would you do to help reduce fragmentation?

While the notion of regionalizing local government functions sounds good, it has proven difficult in Pennsylvania, which has an extraordinary number of political subdivisions. It is an issue that is intertwined with emotion and self-identity. The issue becomes even more complicated when policy makers push financially stable local governments to merge and absorb neighboring towns that are financially struggling.

Having said that, I believe it’s an initiative worth considering and, as governor, I will lead a conversation with local leaders to identify how state support can be leveraged in a manner that provides incentives for regionalization of government services such as water and sewer systems, police protection, and road maintenance just to name a few. Existing local funding formulas should be examined to determine whether greater regionalization of specific government services could be more efficiently provided on broader scales.

9. PA’s Municipal Planning Code makes Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) recommendations advisory-only, and does not require our 4,562 municipalities to develop their land use plans in accordance with the broader region. Critics say rendering MPOs toothless encourages municipalities to discount the negative economic and environmental impacts of their land use and development choices on their neighbors. Do you support changing the Municipal Planning Code to give MPOs’ regional plans the force of law? What else can state government do to lean against environmentally destructive land use and development patterns?

As governor, I would eagerly consider pragmatic proposals to give greater authority to Metropolitan Planning Organizations with hopes that MPOs would provide for development that constructively protects against adverse impacts on contiguous municipalities, townships, or boroughs. I would also note that it may be most productive for the commonwealth to provide tax incentives or direct subsidies for local development that adopts well-defined environmentally sensitive land use policies that preserve open spaces, scenic areas, historical sites and natural habitats.

Environment

10. The PA Democratic Party platform officially supports a severance tax on natural gas drilling. If PA had a severance tax rate as high as West Virginia’s, we could raise between $800M-1B for the general fund – over four times as much as the Republicans’ “local impact fee” generates. Will you support a statewide severance tax?

I believe that corporations that reap millions in profits by extracting Pennsylvania’s natural resources should pay us for the privilege of taking those resources. I am open to considering different ideas for how Pennsylvania should be compensated by the companies that are generating historic profits through the extraction of our natural resources. Furthermore, I would like to explore the possibility of using revenue generated for the state through the natural gas industry to help fund other priorities – such as our public schools or higher education.

This entry was posted in Miscellany.

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