Campaign 2012/East: 'Unfinished business' spurs DeLuca in 32nd District
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The race for the 32nd Legislative District in the east suburbs appears to be a mismatch, with a Republican lawyer from Penn Hills, Lawrence Paladin, trying to unseat a Democrat, Tony DeLuca, who has been in office for nearly 30 years.
Mr. Paladin, 57, didn't respond to a request for his position on issues in the Nov. 6 election.
Mr. DeLuca, 73, who has represented the 32nd District since 1983 and is the Democratic chairman of the House Insurance Committee, said he still has "unfinished business" despite his longevity.
He said his leadership and experience, particularly the "rapport" he has developed in working with Republican leaders, gives him an advantage in Harrisburg that allows him to effectively represent the people in his district. The 32nd covers Penn Hills, Verona, Blawnox and part of Plum.
He said his priorities are job creation and improved education, healthcare coverage and mass transit.
He said he is particularly concerned about the effect state funding of charter schools is having on public schools in Penn Hills, which have suffered over the years and especially during the recession. When a Penn Hills student goes to a charter school, the state subsidy money the district would receive for that student goes with him, but the district's staffing needs usually don't change.
He said charter school students have jumped from 400 to 800 in the last year, but the Republican administration has cut funding for public eduction, so the burden on the Penn Hills district has increased to the point where it is "unsustainable."
"We need to fund schools differently," he said. "We can't continue to take money from the public schools."
While Plum is a growing bedroom community, Penn Hills faces the same predicament of many older suburbs and river towns in the Pittsburgh region: population loss, decline in the tax base and a high percentage of senior citizens who can't afford higher property taxes.
The community once boasted more than 62,000 people; the population now is about 44,000.
Although he didn't respond to the Post-Gazette, Mr. Paladin has previously said he favors swapping property taxes in Penn Hills and Verona for a hike in sales and income taxes.
Mr. DeLuca said those increases aren't enough to offset the loss in property taxes. "It's still too short," he said.
One measure he does favor to help seniors, he said, would be to freeze their property taxes at age 65. "I think something to that effect would work," he said.
He said he has worked to lessen the tax burden in Penn Hills, but the real solution is to attract large commercial entities that pay a lot in property taxes.
He said one success that he helped engineer was getting the owners of Universal Atlas Cement Co. to pay taxes after years of delinquency. Now, he said, a priority is to develop the 270 acres on which the cement plant used to sit into a mixed-use site that can generate revenue.
Another sign of progress, he said, is a proposed Walmart store on Saltsburg Road in Penn Hills that will add more jobs.
But Mr. DeLuca said the area faces many challenges, mass transit among them. He said cuts to bus service affect many people in Penn Hills and Plum and a funding source needs to be found to shore up the Port Authority.
First Published October 25, 2012 5:13 am