Candidates for the 31st District seat did not expect to be asked their views on Lyme disease legislation during their first and only debate.
That was one of a few esoteric issues posed during the forum, moderated by representatives of League of Women Voters of Bucks County. But the candidates, Democrat Perry Warren and Republican Ryan Gallagher, did get to speak on substantive topics for about 100 people who came to Yardley-Makefield Library on Monday night.
Warren, a lawyer and Newtown Borough councilman, aligned himself with current Rep. Steve Santarsiero, who is not seeking a fifth term to run for U.S. Congress in the 8th District.
Gallagher, a lawyer and Newtown Township supervisor, focused on controlling government costs for taxpayers.
On most issues, the candidates found common ground.
When asked about fracking, both agreed that there should be a severance tax.
Warren supports a 5-percent severance tax, calling it “perhaps the greatest source of revenue that doesn’t fall upon our residents.”
Gallagher agreed, and extended the idea to any company that removes resources from the state, mentioning logging companies specifically.
Both supported state-sponsored renewable energy initiatives.
“It’s where we need to go,” Gallagher said. “I would support any measure to get us there.”
Warren’s focus was on getting economic incentives for businesses and individuals who use renewable resources.
Both are against the Elcon waste treatment plant proposed for Falls Township. Though it does not fall within the district, Warren believes, with its location less than a mile from the Delaware River, it could affect drinking water throughout Lower Bucks. He also wants to protect communities from hazardous waste that may be carried on trucks through the district.
Warren said he wrote a resolution as a member of Newtown Borough Council in opposition to the proposal.
Gallagher said Newtown Township passed a resolution opposing the plant as well.
“There are a lot of very serious health and environmental concerns,” he said. “Anybody who knows me, knows that that is at the top of my list.”
Warren said restoring state funding to education is among his highest priorities, including for pre-K.
“In the absence of that, our property taxes continue to increase,” he said, mentioning that the current system burdens smaller communities, like Morrisville School District.
Gallagher said proper funding for schools is “not up for debate,” and that pension reform is a priority because new funding would not otherwise go to the students, but to “paying an old obligation.”
Gallagher added that everyone currently in the system should be paid what was promised, but all new hires should be on a defined-contribution plan to “fix the system going forward.”
Warren agreed that obligations should be kept to everyone already in the system, but disagreed on other points.
“I don’t have the answer tonight,” he said, noting that he would work to research and craft a solution in Harrisburg. “I don’t think that forcing teachers into a defined-contribution plan is the answer.”
To combat the opioid problem, Warren said he believes in state funding for treatment centers, and that addiction treatment be included in health plans.
“It’s time to get people who are not criminals, but are addicted to something out of our jails,” Warren added.
Gallagher said he serves on the board of directors for a treatment center and the issue is “near and dear to (his) heart.”
“We need to take every measure we can to make sure that these folks are getting the help they need,” he said. “Keeping somebody in a prison is very expensive … we can take that money and treat it as a disease and not as a crime.”
Gallagher applauded the state legislature for passing a restricted medical marijuana law, and called further legalization a “nascent idea.” He said states that have legalized can serve as “laboratories” for others who have not. He does support decriminalization, believing people should not be in jail for minor marijuana offenses.
Warren said he supports expansion of the use of medical marijuana and decriminalization, but is not ready to come out for full legalization.
Warren does not support the privatization of state liquor stores.
“The liquor industry is a money maker for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” he said. “That’s money that if it weren’t coming from the liquor store, it would be coming from the taxpayers.”
Gallagher said that the private industry is better equipped to deal with the liquor industry.
“I don’t believe the government should be in private business,” he said, adding that it would create better options for consumers.
Warren said he supports universal background check legislation for gun purchases, the “no fly, no buy” proposal and closing the gun show loophole. Gallagher did not seem to have a strong stance on changing gun laws.
On minimum wage, Gallagher said he would “probably support a small increase,” but a raise to $15 would “stifle business.” Warren recognized that it would not happen overnight, but supports a minimum wage raise up to $15 per hour.
“We want to have employees who are able to feed their families,” he said. “We need working people to be paid a living wage.”
The 31st District covers Lower Makefield, Newtown Borough, Newtown Township, Yardley and parts of Morrisville. ••