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Petrarca re-elected to 7th term

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State Rep. Joseph Petrarca, a Washington Township Democrat.
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Brian Panichelle, Republican nominee for state representative of the 55th District.

Democratic state Rep. Joseph Petrarca was elected to his seventh term serving the 55th Legislative District on Tuesday, according to unofficial election results.

The Washington Township resident defeated insurance businessman Brian Panichelle in the 40-year-old Latrobe Republican’s first run for political office.

Unofficial results show Petrarca won 62 percent of the vote in Westmoreland and Armstrong counties. With 100 percent of the precincts reporting, Petrarca had 9,382 votes to Panichelle’s 5,762.

The 53-year-old father of four has been in office since 1995. Before that, his father, also Joseph Petrarca, represented the area from 1973 to 1994.

“I never thought 20 years in the Legislature would happen for me,” Petrarca said Tuesday night. “Whether you win by one vote or 10,000, it feels good to know that people recognize you work hard for them.

“There are still a lot of problems in Pennsylvania that need to be addressed, though, and I’m looking forward to working with the (administration of Gov.-elect Tom Wolf) to do that.”

In returning to Harrisburg, Petrarca said his top priorities lie with reforming the corporate tax system, restoring education funding and cutting property taxes.

“We have a corporate net income tax that is way too high,” he said, “and, on the other end, we have all these corporate loopholes that we need to close, so we’re losing on both ends of that.”

Petrarca added that boosts in education funding are paramount in helping to cut real estate taxes for Pennsylvanians.

He reiterated his stance against raising taxes, however, and discussed possible alternatives for increasing education funding, namely through the sales tax or a combination of the sales and income taxes.

Gov.-elect Wolf has expressed plans to increase the state’s share of education funding by $1 billion, but was non-committal through his campaign on where the money would come from.

Petrarca wouldn’t say late Tuesday whether he supports the governor-elect’s plans, noting that he’s reserving judgment until more details become available.

“I’ve never voted for a tax increase,” Petrarca said. “I think we have to see what the governor’s plans are and where that money is coming from and go from there. There’s no doubt, though, that there needs to be a shift. Pennsylvania has been under-performing for a long time and it’s time we get back on the right track.”

Panichelle, who owns the Ligonier-based BP Insurance Inc., agrees with Petrarca’s assessment of the Legislature’s performance in recent years.

The 1992 Burrell High School graduate said he took first bid for political office after years of growing frustrated with what he called Harrisburg’s lack of transparency and a “climate that promotes dependency, rather than individual growth.”

“I’m not a career politician,” Panichelle said, “So I wouldn’t have been afraid to go against the system over fear of political ramifications. I think the people of the 55th are missing out on a guy who would have stood up to Harrisburg for them.”

Panichelle attributed his loss to his lack of campaign experience and the influence Petrarca has cultivated over two decades in office. He plans to return to BP Insurance and spend time with his six children and wife in Latrobe, where he serves on the Greater Latrobe-Laurel Valley Community Chamber of Commerce and as an elder at Manchester Reformed Presbyterian Church.

He is undecided about running again in 2016.

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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