On 4/11/12 Josh Widdowson of AM 1450 WDAD Radio in Punxsutawney called to interview Jim Brown
These were the questions and answers discussed that evening.
1) Belt tightening is the big thing going on, not just with families and individual lives, but within state government as well? What are your ideas on how we can tighten the belt without sacrificing too much?
- Well, Josh, as a new member in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives I would begin this task by starting with cleaning our own house. The Commonwealth Foundation Has written a paper called A Taxpayer’s Budget an in it the identify a plan for Responsible Spending which includes opportunities to cut over $4 billion in wasteful state spending in the budget. The report also offers a series of recommendations for resolving the current revenue shortfall and reducing the size, and burden of government on Pennsylvanians.
Basically their report was organized into three sections:
- First,To Eliminate Wasteful Spending: they identified $4.13 billion in spending cuts – $1.00 billion from the state General Fund Budget, $2.21 billion from other operating funds, and $926 million from the capital budget and off-budget programs.
- Second, we should Adopt a Market-Based Delivery of Government Services: Spending on public education, benefits for state workers, and Medicaid is growing far beyond taxpayers’ ability to pay. By adopting market-based reforms in the delivery of services, state government can not only reduce costs, but improve quality.
- And Third, we should Adopt Spending and Budgetary Transparency Reforms: Transparency in government spending and instituting performance-based budgeting would help identify and eliminate wasteful expenditures, as shown in other states.Before imposing tax increases on working Pennsylvanians and job creators, Harrisburg policymakers need to prioritize spending, justify all $66 billion in state spending, and cut waste from state government.
- A part-time legislature with part-time pay to match, and no pension.
- A restoration of the founding tradition of term limits to re-instate the concept of a “citizen legislature.”
- Opening every account in the General Assembly—including the notoriously secretive slush funds controlled by legislative leaders—to an independent audit.
- An end to taxpayer-funded radio and television advertisements, newsletters, road maps, children’s coloring books and other goods and services that are not the proper domain of government but which legislators use to get themselves re-elected
Josh, when I am elected and arrive in Harrisburg I will refuse to participate in that lavish pension system. I will refuse to take the automatic annual pay raises that previous members have voted to give themselves. But most importantly, I will not make a career out of Harrisburg. I will not stay there more than six years total.
2) Jefferson County’s unemployment rate is currently above the State Unemployment Rate of 7.6 Percent as of February. What do you think is the best thing that a state legislator can do to help stimulate job growth?
Let me ask you a question, Josh, “Do Government programs grow the economy?” Think of the economy as a small lake. If you fill a bucket on one side of the lake, walk around to the other side (spilling some along the way), and pour the water back into the lake, you aren’t increasing the total amount of water in the lake. But that is exactly how a lot of spending advocates argue government programs will grow our economy. While decades of increased government spending have resulted in economic stagnation, many advocates of increasing government spending, claim that their favored program will “grow the economy.” They argue that if government takes taxpayer money and “invests” it, that is the path to prosperity.
But This argument ignores the basic fact that government has no money of its own, other than that which it takes from taxpayers. Claims that any program “creates” economic growth look only at the surface effect of government spending, not the unseen effect of taking that money out of the economy through higher taxes. How much better would families and businesses spend and invest their own money than politicians?
If we are going to grow the economy and bring more jobs to Jefferson, Indiana, and Armstrong Counties we need to get the government out of the way of the private sector. A smaller government with fewer regulations will do more to truly stimulate our local economy than more taxes, regulations, and bureaucracy.
Josh, a few weeks ago our local Brookville Jeffersonian Democrat newspaper had an editorial by Randy Bartley called “Welcome to Regulation Nation.” In it he outlined how over the past generation liberal policy has gone berserk, regulating the nation to the brink of economic ruin. It’s time to return some common sense to Harrisburg and restore those personal and business freedoms that we have lost.
We can’t just blame the liberals on this issue, we’ve had our share of republicans there too that continue these economic bankrupting policies. I would like to restore some of that common sense to Harrisburg.
3) Education has always been a big issue in this area. Can you name something that can be done to help school districts that may be in financial straits within the next five years?
Josh, I’ve been in education for 35 years now as a teacher, administrator, librarian and lately as a school board member. My experience tells me thatA well-educated citizenry is the bedrock of a prosperous society. Enabling parents to choose the school that best fits their children’s academic needs is the best way to ensure a well-educated citizenry.
Pennsylvania ranks in the top four states in America in spending on education, yet our students’ SAT scores are average at best.
I am proposing that we empower parents by
- Allowing tax dollars to follow children to the school of their need—public or private—just like higher education.
- Prohibiting public school teachers from striking and locking out students, and docking their pay when do, just as New York state does.
- Grading each public school according to the academic achievement of its students and publicizing that grade to parents and taxpayers.
4) The size of the state legislature is slated to shrink. Do you think this is a good idea? Why or Why not?Well,Josh, I don’t know if you knew this but Only four states in the nation have a full-time legislature, and Pennsylvania is one of them. Defenders of the full-time legislature argue that Pennsylvania is a large state with a wide array of complex issues to continually address, such as education, transportation, energy, agriculture, health care, crime, the environment, and more. But Texas, which has more than double Pennsylvania’s population and is four times the size of the Keystone State geographically, has a part-time legislature.
Moreover, Pennsylvania’s legislators are in session only 70-90 days a year, yet they collect a $79,000 base salary, are fully reimbursed for mileage, and receive a gold-plated health care plan for which they pay very little (1% of salary). They also receive a golden parachute pension that is paying retired Senate Minority Leader $330,000 annually.
Additionally, lawmakers who live more than 50 miles from the Capitol are eligible to collect a tax-free, daily supplemental payment of $163 for food and lodging during legislative session.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking, “No wonder Jim wants to be a State Rep. That job is full of perks.” But Josh, I didn’t enter education to get rich, I entered because I want to serve people and help students learn. I have a similar motive for joining the House of Representatives, I want to serve the people of District 66 and help them get the most for their tax dollar.
Rather than cut the size of the legislature By Making the General Assembly part-time we could save the taxpayers as much as $20 million a year with no reduction in the effectiveness of state government, as Texas and other large states have shown. Oh, sure, if we reduced the number of representatives we would also save money and from the representative’s point of view they might be able to run things more efficiently but think about this from the taxpayer’s point of view, “Now I have to share my representative with a greater number of other citizens and I will probably be less valued in their eyes. Josh, I don’t want to see any taxpayer slip between the cracks. Each one of us needs as great of voice in Harrisburg as we can possibly get and we will lose some of that with a smaller General Assembly.
- What do you see out of state government two years down the road? Do you mean realistically or idealistically? Well, idealistically, I see a smaller government in Harrisburg with less regulating of the people and businesses in Pennsylvania. I see a much lower unemployment rate and the economy thriving. But realistically, I know I’ll just be a freshman legislator without much policical pull but what I do have will be some good strong vocal cords and I intend to use them to bring some common sense to Harrisburg. I will not sit idly by while business as usual goes on. I will make my voice heard.
- 6) What do you feel is the biggest issue that we have overlooked? So far we’ve neglected the really important issues. A couple of the most important issues before us today are the protection of personal and property rights. We’ve had a republican majority in control for some time now but we are still not getting our conservative agenda passed. We need to protect the weak and the defenseless. Today we still have lives of unborn being needlessly wasted. We have sick and infirmed people in hospitals not getting the best service that they need because too many of the important decisions are being made by insurance companies. Shouldn’t decisions be made with the best interests of the patients in mind? As for property rights I would like to see the property tax repealed and replaced with a sales tax. No tax should have the power to leave you homeless.