Electoral Reform, Northeastern Pennsylvania MAEA Legislative Roundtable Tax Topic

Oct. 8 – BARNESVILLE – Elections and tax reform were among the topics discussed by state lawmakers on Friday at the Northeast PA Manufacturers and Employers Association Legislative Roundtable.

Held at Mountain Valley Banquet Hall, Barnesville, the five lawmakers who attended were, State Sen. David G. Argall, R-29, Rush Twp.; and Representatives Doyle Heffley, R-122, Carbon County; Jerry Knowles, R-124, Rush Township; Tim Twardzik, R-123, Butler Township; and Robert Schnee, R-116, Luzerne County. They discussed regulatory, electoral and tax reform, the economy, infrastructure, energy and the environment.

Randall M. Kalce, EMD Electronics, introduced the topics. Darlene Robbins, president of the Northeast PA MAEA, also made some comments during the discussion.

Knowles noted that he is retiring, with November 30 being his last day.

“Everyone loves you or pretends to love you when you’re dying or retired,” he told the crowd with a laugh.

Knowles said the country is “at a crossroads because we have a group on the left that is crazy, and we have another group on the right that is crazy, so what we have to do is we have we have to go back to how we used to be, where we can talk to each other.”

Both sides have to compromise, Knowles said.

Electoral reform

Law 77, which authorized postal voting, was discussed at length. The law was passed by the General Assembly in 2019. The state Supreme Court upheld the mail-in ballot earlier this year.

Twardzik said there were “a lot of problems when we put the new Bill 77 system in place,” although he was not in the Legislature when it was passed.

He talked about the 14 members of the House of Representatives who sued the state and won in the Commonwealth Court. However, the state Supreme Court ruled otherwise.

He said the law was unconstitutional because “to change the way Pennsylvania votes, you’re supposed to have a constitutional amendment and let the voters decide, not the lawmakers.”

“We want to have a fair election,” Twardzik said. “People want to know that their vote counts.”

Schnee said he thinks everyone should have an election day off “because nobody has a reason not to go.”

“And I believe either you go there, or if you can’t go there because you’re older or sick, to fill out an absentee ballot,” he said.

Knowles then said, “Act 77 was the worst vote I’ve ever done. When I did that vote, I thought it was the right thing to do. It went way over- beyond the intended scope. I don’t think we’ve given enough thought to what the Supreme Court might do, in terms of what the government can do.”

He said more time should be spent on the future instead of discussing the 2020 election.

Tax reform

The property tax reform has also generated strong reactions.

“The biggest issue is obviously property taxes,” Heffley said.

He said if any money was going to come back for property taxes, “I think it should go to their primary residence owners for property tax reform.”

Knowles said more frugal spending is needed, but taxes are needed.

“It’s all about compromise,” he said.

Schnee said urgent action is essential. He said tax reform must be accomplished.

“People haven’t stopped talking about it, talking about it for 50 years about tax reform. It needs to be done immediately,” he said.

Twardzik said another General Assembly lawmaker is preparing a constitutional amendment to eliminate property taxes.

“It’s a bold move and if we can get enough help, we can get this passed and voted on,” Twardzik said. “And I think the people of the Commonwealth will vote to eliminate the property tax, and that will force another solution because we just can’t do it now.”

Community impact

Argall, who had to leave the meeting for a phone call, said Friday’s meeting was important.

“Never doubt that meetings like this can really matter,” he said.

He said lawmakers can gain insight by listening to people and learning more about their communities.

At the end of the meeting, the manufacturing companies were honored and Robbins was recognized for her dedication to the MAEA.

Contact the author: amarchiano@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6023

Jessica C. Bell