Two candidates seeking to fill a House of Representatives seat in the state’s 25 th District met to field questions on everything from taxes to transportation during a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh.
The debate between Democrat Brandon Markosek and Republican Steve Schlauch held Oct. 24 at CCAC-Boyce in Monroeville was moderated by the League’s director of public relations, Eileen Olmsted.
Markosek, 25, of Monroeville seeks to continue the work his father, Joe Markosek, has done for the past 35 years. His political experience includes summer internships at the state Capitol and almost two years as a community outreach representative for state Sen. James Brewster, D-McKeesport.
His opponent is Steve Schlauch, 35, of Plum, who has been the borough’s Republican Committee chairman since 2013. He also has served on the Plum School District board of directors for three years and currently serves as its president and finance committee chairman.
Schlauch said he does not support expanding government’s role in business and would use his financial prowess to put an end on tax increases by serving on the state House Finance Committee.
“A lot of people are worried about taxes. … I think taxes in general are high in Pennsylvania,” he said.
Markosek said he hopes to tackle transportation issues facing the region, specifically by serving on the House Transportation Committee.
“That is what’s facing our district … for the last 10 years, and it’s going to continue. We have bridges that need funding. We have sewage issues that need fixed,” Markosek said.
The candidates toed the party line on most issues. However, they agreed on:
• Maintaining a two-year term limit for members of the House;
• Providing adequate funding for the military;
• Keeping recreational marijuana illegal in Pennsylvania;
• Reducing the size of the state Legislature;
• Being against sanctuary cities;
• Supporting rehabilitation programs, substance use treatment and alternative sentencing for people incarcerated on drug-related charges.
One of the audience-submitted questions focused on whether the candidates would support a severance tax on natural gas drillers. Gov. Tom Wolf proposed the tax as part of the state’s budget in April. According to the proposal, which failed when the $32.7 billion budget passed in June, the tax would have ranged from 4 to 7 cents per thousand cubic feet of gas, depending on the price of gas. Wolf estimated the tax would have brought in an estimated $248.7 million to the state’s general fund for the fiscal year.
Markosek said Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that does not have such a tax.
“I would be for a fair tax that does not drive away the people that are coming in here to do business,” he said.
Schlauch pointed to the impact fee Pennsylvania already imposes, which charges gas companies for each well they drill. According to the state Public Utility Commission, the fee has amounted to more than $1 billion in revenue since 2012, when it was signed into law by former Gov. Tom Corbett.
“If you add the severance tax, the impact fee goes away. And when the impact fee goes away, the millions of dollars of local revenue for the municipalities goes away,” he said, adding severance tax money would not be seen right away and be funneled to Harrisburg and Philadelphia.
Residents who turned up to the event seemed to have their minds made up about which candidate will get their votes.
Jim Beninati, 50, of Plum said he had cast an absentee vote for Markosek. He said the debate reassured him he made the right choice.
“I disagree with Schlauch on almost every issue,” he said. “I’m a moderate guy. … He seems very extreme and sometimes inconsiderate.”
Len Young, 61, of Monroeville said his vote will go to Schlauch.
“(Markosek) is inadequate. He doesn’t have a clue. Everything he said were talking points,” he said. “Steve’s attitude was one of really wanting to help, to do the right thing for the people.”
The 25 th District covers East McKeesport, East Pittsburgh, Monroeville, North Versailles Township, Pitcairn, Wall, Wilmerding and a large part of Plum.
To locate a polling place, visit bit.ly/2zijrOb.
To view the entire debate, visit the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh’s Facebook page at bit.ly/2z380Yx.
Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, [email protected] or via Twitter @dillonswriting.