Have a question of your own for Russ? Send it now and he will answer in his own words. We may even post it here!
Where do you stand on property taxes?
I believe property taxes are an extremely inequitable way to fund schools and local governments. They are also very expensive to maintain due to the need to constantly reassess property values. Unlike any other tax in Pennsylvania, property taxes - if you can't afford them - give government the power to take away something you already own. That's just wrong.
For these reasons and more, I am the prime sponsor of HB262, which would offer Pennsylvanians the opportunity to amend our state constitution to permanently abolish all property taxes once and for all. I have also supported every other bill in the House of Representatives that seeks to offer any sort of property tax relief.
What's your take on Pennsylvania's pension crisis?
The state's pension plans are headed for certain disaster. There is currently a $60 BILLION shortfall in these systems that threaten to cause a massive fiscal implosion. It's ruining the Commonwealth's credibility and is the driving force behind ever-increasing property taxes. This crisis was directly caused by failures of previous Governors and legislators to properly manage state policy. If this happened in the private sector, people would go to jail and their personal assets could be seized to help their victims. While I'd like to see that happen, it's just not legally possible when dealing with elected officials. Pointing fingers and playing the blame game will do us no good.
At this point in time, three elements of this crisis are crystal clear: 1) Taxpayers alone cannot afford to bail the pension systems out of trouble; 2) The courts will not allow any reductions in existing pension benefits by legislative action; and 3) the pension systems are on a trajectory to become insolvent at some point in the future, which would leave us in a situation similar to Detroit, where pensioners were paid mere pennies on the dollar despite promises made to them during their careers.
That outcome is wholly unacceptable and unfair.
As such, we need to 1) move new public hires away from defined benefit pension plans and toward a defined contribution (401k) plan as soon as possible without further deepening the current fiscal crisis; 2) ask existing pension plan members to VOLUNTARILY roll their benefit levels back to pre-Act 9 of 2001 levels (when the crisis first began); and 3) buckle down legislatively to adequately fund the pension plans until such time as no more retirees are depending on them.
It's not fair to put this entire burden on the taxpayer. Nor is it fair to strip public employees of benefits they were promised and helped pay for out of their own paychecks. Only by bringing all stakeholders to the table with compromise in mind can we ever get the Commonwealth out of this mess. We are, after all, all in this thing together and only together can we dig our way out of it. It won't be easy, but it is possible.
What about your own pension plan?
I do not participate in the legislative pension plan, because I refuse to contribute further to a broken system. The state does not currently offer a 401k plan in which I could participate. Therefore, my only retirement option is a Deferred Compensation plan. Under this plan, I set aside a portion of my salary to be invested much like a 401k plan. However, my plan does not offer any "company match" from the Commonwealth. The investment is all mine, but so is all the risk.
How do you feel about gun rights?
I believe in the clear and concise language of Article I Section 21 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which declares: "The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned." This section is much stronger than the language of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution.
I believe in limited government and as a Republican I would prefer to see government downsized instead of grown. For instance, I voted against HB1460, the budget plan the Governor partially approved just after Christmas, because it sought to grow state government by 3.7 percent in a year when a flat Consumer Price Index dictated that Social Security recipients were entitled to no cost of living increase whatsoever. I simply do not believe government should grow any faster than the real-world economy does.
Why does Harrisburg seem so dysfunctional?
Many people believe Harrisburg is dysfunctional because change is slow to happen. However, state government was designed to work slowly and deliberately. I know it can be frustrating at times, but we need to reach consensus among 203 Representatives, 50 Senators, and a Governor to make any idea a reality. Pennsylvania is a very diverse state with several distinctly different regions and sets of traditions. Doing what's best to serve the needs of the majority of 12.8 million citizens takes time and deserves careful consideration.
The local Republican Party opposed you in 2014 and that campaign got pretty nasty. Are you still at odds with them?
It would have been very easy to take all that business personally and continue to be at war against the local political establishment. However, I believe bygones should be bygones and have made every effort to take the high road, reach out, and make peace with all my former political opponents. I believe the Republican ideals of limited government and individual liberty are far more important than any petty personal disputes. Sometimes, you just need to move along.