Campaign 2012/East: 54th District offers voters wide choice
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The two candidates seeking the 54th Legislative District seat on Nov. 6 couldn't be further apart on most issues.
Incumbent state Rep. Eli Evankovich, R-Murrysville, said he's in favor of privatizing the "exceptionally antiquated" state liquor store system.
Mr. Evankovich ran for the first time in 2010 and unseated Democratic incumbent John Pallone, who had represented the district since 1997.
Mr. Evankovich's challenger, Patrick Leyland, a Democrat from Allegheny Township, opposes privatization and said the liquor stores, the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the lottery are all assets to the commonwealth.
"Once you sell an asset, it's gone, and that revenue is gone," he said.
Mr. Leyland added that the state stores have "come a long way" in the choices they offer consumers.
But Mr. Evankovich noted that an alcohol product made in Western Pennsylvania wasn't available in state stores for years. Daily's Cocktails, part of the American Beverage Corp. headquartered in Verona, makes what the company calls "ready-to-drink frozen pouches."
Michael Bartlett, chief human resources officer and vice president at American Beverage Corp., said the pouches were available in state stores for a short time in 2010 but weren't selling. Once they were out, the company "fought like heck" through "a lot of bureaucratic red tape" to get them back in, he said.
Mr. Evankovich said it was unreasonable that consumers were unable to go to a state store and purchase a product made in Pennsylvania. The company sought help from legislators, including Mr. Evankovich, to get the pouches back in liquor stores, where they have been available since summer.
"We do believe Eli was very helpful in getting us back into the state stores," Mr. Bartlett said.
Mr. Evankovich and Mr. Leyland also differ on abortion rights.
Mr. Leyland said while he is Catholic and opposes abortion personally, he thinks it should be legal. "I don't push my personal religious beliefs on anybody," he said. "I'm not a female, and females have a right to make decisions on how they want to take care of their bodies."
Mr. Evankovich opposes abortion rights and noted an endorsement from the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation. "I think we should do what we can to limit elective abortions," he said.
As for funding Pennsylvania's ailing roads, bridges and transit, Mr. Evankovich noted that in 1960, 30 percent of the state's budget went toward infrastructure improvements. Now, he said, it's less than 10 percent, and that money is being spent on social programs, welfare and "other budget areas."
Mr. Evankovich said he wants to "reprioritize existing revenue" and expedite permits for road upgrades to ensure "that the red tape is moved out of the way" to make road upgrades easier. He said he does not believe the gas tax needs to be increased and said he would move $1 billion from the state's general fund to its motor vehicle fund over four years to ensure that money is spent on road and bridge improvements.
He said as long as the economy continues to grow, it won't be necessary to make cuts to social programs throughout the state.
Mr. Leyland said legislators should look at "wasteful spending" in Harrisburg and divert that money to infrastructure improvements.
He said legislators will have to make "tough decisions" on funding for roads and bridges, including the possibility of raising fees for drivers' licenses and vehicle registrations.
Despite Mr. Evankovich's two years as a state legislator, Mr. Leyland claims he has more experience because he spent 12 years as a Kiski Area school board member and served on a Pennsylvania School Board Association committee studying pension funds in 2007.
Mr. Leyland also noted he lost his job and was unemployed for more than two years.
"I know what it's like to struggle over the last four years with the downturn and the economy we've had," he said. "I have those life experiences, and I think that's what sets me apart."
Mr. Evankovich, who lives on and operates his family's cattle farm in Murrysville, said his role as a small-business owner and his time as a financial analyst for U.S. Steel bring "a pretty strong work experience to this job."
He added that he's campaigned with a message of fiscal responsibility, and said he's made progress in his two years in Harrisburg.
"We're living within our means," he said. "We stopped the out-of-control spending.
In Westmoreland County, the 54th district includes Arnold, Lower Burrell, New Kensington, Export, Upper Burrell, parts of Allegheny Township, Murrysville, and Penn Township. It also includes Bethel, Cadogan, Gilpin and Parks in Armstrong County.
First Published October 25, 2012 5:14 am