Monday, July 21, 2008

Response from Representative Dan Moul

We have reposted our questions for Representative Dan Moul, State Assemblyman from the 91st District immediately below this post. We are posting his response here:

Thank you for inviting me to respond to the issues you presented.

When I ran for office, property tax reform was at the top of my agenda and it remains at the top of my agenda. It is an issue that must be addressed, but it is probably the most difficult issue to address in Harrisburg because there are quite a few areas in Pennsylvania that don’t want any property tax reform. They like things just the way they are, but citizens in my district are clamoring for tax relief. In short, the current system is not fair.

While some in the Legislature have touted this year’s education budget is a step in the right direction, I voted against it because it simply is not fair. It does not address the differences that exist in per student funding. For example, Southside Area School District in Beaver County is being awarded $7,660 per student in state education funding while Gettysburg will get only $2,136 per student. Some other examples are: Littlestown $2,539; Fairfield $2,704; Bermudian Springs $2,455 and Conewago Valley $1,805 -- just to name a few. These numbers tell the real story about our state education budget – not the percentage points you read about in the paper. The per student cost enables us to measure how much education funding our students are getting compared to other schools.

In comparison, there are 180 school districts that will receive more than $4,000 per student in funding. I would guess that none of my colleagues who represent those districts will want to change the education funding formula because their schools are making out like bandits. Also worth noting is the fact that suburban areas around Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Wilkes Barre/Scranton are largely supported by industry, commerce and retailers that pay most of the school taxes for the homeowners. By contrast, our tax burden in rural Pennsylvania is very high because we don’t have industry to support us.

I assure you that I will be working tirelessly to even the property tax playing field for the citizens of my district. I will make every attempt to change the education funding formula to bring about fairness. In doing so, I will aim for a more even distribution of funds on a per student basis with adjustments based on specific needs.

For the homeowners of Adams County, property tax is the number one issue and there is a great sense of urgency on my part to do something about it. In other areas of the state, property taxes are not even on the radar screen. I’m going to try to put it there.

You asked about referendums. I believe referendums are necessary on big ticket items such as major infrastructure improvements, new schools and stadiums. Taxpayers will be asked to fund these projects and they should have input. Transparency should exist throughout the process. Public meetings should be held to present ideas, reveal costs and funding sources as well as the likely tax burden. In this manner, citizens will be prepared to make informed decisions on whether to support these projects. I am not here to tell any school board how to do their job, but I believe taxpaying citizens should have a voice in how they spend their money.

To address your concern about the timely passage of the state budget, let me first state that there is no good reason for the process to go beyond the June 30 deadline. In fact, I believe it could and should be done a month ahead of the deadline as it was in the years prior to the Rendell administration. Unfortunately, this year, the budget did not come before the rank and file members of the state Legislature until it was time to vote on final passage. Instead, the budget was hashed out by a small committee of legislative leaders and the governor behind closed doors. This is unprecedented and does not bode well for our attempts at government transparency. In the final budget package, I was particularly disappointed with the Governor’s $2.8 billion spending plan. It is not fair for us to vote to increase spending and burden our children and grandchildren with additional debt.

I don’t believe docking legislator’s pay would solve the problem of late passage of the state budget. After all, most of us were left out of the process this year. I also do not believe that state employees should be furloughed when a budget is not passed on time. For the governor to throw hard working people out of their jobs and out of our state parks to push his own personal agenda with the budget is reprehensible. Running a budget overdue is this administration’s way of trying to force everyone’s hand to give them what they want. Regardless of the long hours and number of consecutive days we must work to get a budget passed, it is more important to me that we get a budget that is fair. That did not happen this year. I was one of 32 members who voted against all components of this budget due to the borrowing and spending that will eventually result in increased taxes.

What is sorely needed in Harrisburg is campaign finance reform. Lobbying reform has helped, but more reform is needed to restore integrity and rebuild public trust in government. We need to stop the flow of big money into campaign accounts. Such power and influence leaves citizens with the perception that our legislators can be bought and sold.

Meaningful reform takes time and substantial effort. What I lack in patience, I make up in effort. You can be assured that I will not sit idly by and watch your tax dollars be needlessly spent. Just as reform takes time, it also takes time for reformers to work their way up the ladder of political prominence. Reformers represent change and are therefore typically unpopular. In fact, most reformers never rise to leadership positions, but we can bring about change through our actions, our words and by always remembering for whom we work.

The public can also take an active role in their government by staying informed and speaking out when something is not right. You may recall what happened in the aftermath of the legislative pay raise two years ago. Voters, like a sleeping giant, awoke to demonstrate, with unmistakable clarity, who holds the real power and influence over government. That is the type of involvement the reform movement needs to bring about true and lasting change in Pennsylvania.

Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you. Please feel free to throw questions my way on occasion and also, don’t forget to visit my website (www.RepMoul.com) from time to time.

Rep. Dan Moul
91st Legislative District
Thank you Mr. Moul. All in all, I believe your responses to be quite excellent, and on target. And you are correct about reform. It is sorely needed. To keep budget negotiations secret even from the legislature is an insult to the Constitution and the citizenry of the Commonwealth. How can any person make an informed decision on the budget when they are handed the package and told to vote to pass it by leadership within a couple of hours. That smacks of the same secretive and heavy handed hubris by legislative leadership as the Pay Raise. And this time the Governor was openly complicit.

Reform may come if we the voters if Pennsylvania can get you more help for the 32 members who don't follow leadership so blindly.

Thanks you again for your responses, and we will certainly keep in touch. And thank you also for the fine work you have done and continue to do in Harrisburg on our behalf.

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