Democratic challenger A.J. Gales said his Republican opponent in the Nov. 6 election, incumbent state Rep. Tim Krieger, helped Gov. Tom Corbett in his efforts to "not trim but gut and cut" the state budget.
The result has been to push more costs onto local governments and school districts in Westmoreland County, he said.
"State funding for education is not an expense but an investment," Mr. Gales said. The state Education Department should be providing more aid to school districts and fewer mandates, he said.
Mr. Krieger, who is running for his third two-year term, said too many school officials mistook $2.6 billion in one-time federal stimulus money for permanent funding. "We told everybody that money would be going away ... and that is why districts are being squeezed now," he said.
Mr. Krieger pointed to what he described as an even greater problem looming for education funding: ballooning expenses for teacher pensions. Costs have risen to $1.2 billion this year and are scheduled to rise to $6 billion in 2015-16, he said.
"You could see property taxes triple and not have a dime more go to education unless we do something to address the pension problem."
The 57th Legislative District, which runs north to south between Delmont and New Stanton, includes Greensburg, Salem and portions of Hempfield and Unity. Mr. Gales, 27, lives in Youngwood, and Mr. Krieger, 51, lives in Delmont.
The two candidates also have different positions on the need for a natural gas extraction tax and on ways to provide more funding for bridges, roads and mass transit.
Mr. Krieger said he saw two problems with Act 13, the state law that sets rules and establishes impact fees for Marcellus Shale drilling.
"I don't like to see [impact fee] money first going to Harrisburg," he said. Local communities, which bear the brunt of any problems caused by gas drilling, should get the bulk of the revenue. "I would rather have seen it used to reduce local property taxes or earned income taxes." he said.
Mr. Krieger said he also opposed Act 13 provisions that shifted much of the power to regulate zoning of natural gas wells to the state and away from municipal governments. "Zoning is strictly local," he said.
Mr. Gales said he, too, believed the authority to regulate where natural-gas drilling could be done should remain with townships and boroughs.
Those controversial changes in zoning regulations have been appealed to the state Supreme Court, which heard testimony last week.
Unlike Mr. Krieger, Mr. Gales expressed support for an extraction tax. "We should get fair compensation for what is a Pennsylvania resource ... based on how much comes out of the ground," he said. A portion of that revenue could be used to reduce property taxes for seniors and another part could be used to create a "rainy day" fund to handle emergencies.
Mr. Krieger said Pennsylvania already ranks 47th among the 50 states in the taxes and regulations it imposes on business.
"We need jobs and we don't need to discourage a new industry," he said, explaining his opposition to an extraction levy.
U.S. and Pennsylvania officials missed an opportunity when they decided to devote only about 5 percent of federal stimulus dollars to repairing roads and bridges, Mr. Krieger said. Rather than raising taxes or fees, he said money to improve transportation infrastructure could be found by reducing fraud in food-stamp and welfare programs. Additional cost savings could come from reducing the size of the Legislature.
"We have to fix our roads and bridges before we have major disaster," Mr. Gales said. Any new gasoline taxes or driver's license fees, though, should not be permanent. Once the state catches up on infrastructure maintenance and improvements in three or four years, the new levies should expire, he said.
Len Barcousky: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1159.