Mack, Cipriani take similar stands in 120th district candidate forum in Kingston

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KINGSTON — If either Democrat is elected as the next representative from the 120th Legislative District, it is certain the candidate will advocate levying a severance tax against the Marcellus Shale industry.

That was one of several points made crystal clear Wednesday night at the Wilkes-Barre League of Women Voters’ Candidate Forum, held at the Buckingham Performing Arts Center on the campus of Wyoming Seminary.

Gary Mack, 55, an Edwardsville councilman and Wyoming Valley West School District math teacher, and Eileen Cipriani, 50, West Wyoming councilwoman and former legislative assistant to state Rep. Phyllis Mundy, agreed on many issues and managed to offer clear answers on more than 30 questions from moderator Christine McLaughlin and the 50 or so in attendance.

The 120th Legislative District race is one of the most competitive leading up to the May 20 primary. Mack and Cipriani are squaring off for the Democratic nomination, and the winner will then face Republican Aaron Kaufer of Kingston in the November general election.

Kaufer, 25, who attended the forum, ran against Mundy two years ago in a competitive race, losing to the veteran lawmaker 14,051 to 11,002. Mundy announced earlier this year that she will retire at the end the year, completing her 12th term.

Mack, in his opening and closing remarks, stressed the need for quality education, good jobs and safe neighborhoods.

“I bring the values of hard work, integrity and ethics to the table,” he said. “But this is about we, not I. There’s no way I can do anything alone.”

Mack said he would work toward a common goal — bringing the municipalities in the 120th district together to effect positive change.

“We have too much parochialism here,” he said. “We have to all have the passion and energy to work together.”

Cipriani said she could “hit the ground running” in Harrisburg, stating she has a familiarity with the inner workings of state government. She spent more than a year on Mundy’s staff as a legislative aide.

“I know and I understand the issues facing this district and the state,” she said. “And I am committed to solving them by serving with honor, integrity and respect.”

On the issues

Taxing the gas industry: Both favor enacting a severance or extraction tax. Cipriani noted the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year is projected to be about $500 million short on the revenue side.

Mack agreed on the extraction tax, adding that the state’s schools need to be fully funded.

Both agreed that the state needs to close the Delaware loophole, which allows some state business to get out of paying state taxes.

Education: Both candidates favor Act 76, which would eliminate property taxes. They said the gas industry revenue would allow for the reinstatement of past cuts and also allow funding for other areas.

Cipriani said corporate tax breaks must be eliminated. Mack said early-education programs need to be funded as well, noting that children in those programs statistically fare far better as they progress through school.

Jobs: Cipriani noted that Pennsylvania has fallen from seventh to 45th in job creation in the U.S. She said education is the key for improving that ranking, advocating for stronger programs to better prepare students for today’s jobs.

Mack said college needs to be more affordable for students and more students should be steered toward the career and technical centers for training.

Both candidates favored funding welfare-to-work programs and increasing the minimum wage as ways to stimulate the economy.

Environment: Cipriani favors guarding the state’s water and air, and she would support having scientists, not engineers, heading the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Mack noted he has not had time to familiarize himself with current environmental issues, but he said he has meetings scheduled during the campaign with state officials.

Improving neighborhoods: Both favor strong landlord/tenant ordinances to monitor and control who moves into local communities.

Mack said it has worked in Edwardsville, and Cipriani said the issue hasn’t impacted West Wyoming too severely, but the town does have the ordinance in place.

The candidates agreed that drug testing should be instituted for welfare recipients, and they agreed they would not oppose the same testing for state legislators.

They each favored term limits, second amendment gun rights, banning gifts to legislators, expanding Medicaid, campaign finance reform, transparency in government, reducing the size of the Legislature, as well as addressing the growing fiscal problem with state pensions.

“I thought it went well,” Mack said after the forum. “We showed we are up to date on the issues.”

Cipriani agreed, calling the event a “great discussion of all the issues facing the district and the state.”

Kaufer, however, wasn’t that impressed.

“I didn’t hear specifics,” he said. “There was no real policy discussion.”

United States - North America - Pennsylvania - Wilkes-Barre

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