By PA Independent Staff
With the General Assembly done for the year, all attention has turned to the campaign trail. Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race has — somewhat surprisingly — turned into a nail-biter. GOP challenger Tom Smith has enough money to fund an advertising deluge in the final weeks of the campaign, and national Democratic groups are rallying to defend incumbent Bob Casey from an upset.
Two congressional races are also heating up, and the campaigns to determine statewide row offices are in the final stretch.
Pennsylvania voters should find it easy to spot the differences in their U.S. Senate candidates.
The contrasts were never more evident than Friday morning, when Democrat Sen. Bob Casey and former coal mine exec Republican Tom Smith met for their first and only debate, an apex of a tightening race.
Casey opposes the budget proposed by Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Smith supports it.
Casey wants to keep the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Smith wants it repealed.
Personally, Casey is a political savant who has held multiple offices. Smith is a self-described “farm boy” turned multimillionaire.
The pair debated at WPVI studios in Philadelphia, and it was taped for a Sunday broadcast. Two dozen reporters from Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., viewed the exchange via television in a studio conference room.
The hour-long debate touched on the economy, foreign policy, infrastructure, women’s health and Medicare spending, with a push-and-pull pace of two-minute answers and rebuttals. Casey proved more comfortable on stage, keeping a deliberate pace with measured motions. But Smith was fiery in his criticisms of Washington’s inability to act and Casey’s party-line votes.
Attorney general hopefuls David Freed and Kathleen Kane faced questions about their qualifications for the top law enforcement post, their independence from state politics and their plans for the offices during the only scheduled debate Monday.
Kane, a Democrat, repeatedly attacked Freed as the “handpicked” candidate of Gov. Tom Corbett and the Pennsylvania Republican Party, which has controlled the Attorney General’s Office ever since it became an elected office in 1980.
“Pennsylvania needs a tough independent prosecutor who is a watchdog for the people of Pennsylvania,” she said during a snappy 50-minute exchange hosted by Widener Law School outside of Harrisburg.
Freed stressed his experience and lengthy record as Cumberland County district attorney.
“My independence has been questioned since the day I entered this race,” he said. “But what I can show you is a record going back seven years.”
On the hot-button issue of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse case, both candidates said they would look into how then-attorney general Corbett handled that case, which was opened under his watch before he was elected governor in 2010.
Even though they agreed on some issues, the two candidates for the 8th Congressional District offered different views on the role of the federal government.
Republican incumbent Mike Fitzpatrick and Democrat Kathy Boockvar participated in a debate before about 200 people Thursday morning at Bucks County Community College.
Fitzpatrick said he wants government to “do for individuals what they cannot do for themselves,” including investments in infrastructure and national defense. Other than that, he said, the role of government should be limited, so people can make their own decisions.
“We need a federal government that spends less and taxes less,” he said. “And a federal government that expects great responsibility of the individual citizen.”
Boockvar said the Bush tax cuts should be allowed to expire for individuals making more than $250,000 a year, effectively raising taxes on high-income Americans and many businesses.
But, she said, corporate taxes should be lowered to make the nation more business friendly.
She said government must compromise to solve the national budget deficit.
“My motivating philosophy has always been that we’re all in this together,” she said. “America is stronger when we abide by that philosophy.”
Professors in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education are at a standstill in contract negotiations with the administration, and among their differences is whether to continue a $3.6 million to $5 million annual cost for online instruction.
Divisive issues holding up negotiations include health care, workload and pay for temporary faculty, according to union representatives. Just as divisive, the state is proposing getting rid of a system that has compensated faculty for developing and teaching online courses.
The professors, citing reasons of experience and quality, don’t want that to happen.
Since 1999, PASSHE has offered incentive payments for professors to develop online courses, called distance education, along with a per-student amount. Though the pay scale has been altered over the years, course development fees now are $800 per credit in each class for the first year. Professors also get $25 per student and $100 per credit the next three times the course is used over the ensuing five years.
In 2010-11, course development incentives cost PASSHE $3.6 million. Final figures for the next year are not yet available, but estimates are close to $5 million.
Should that cost continue to rise, PASSHE may need to raise tuition or look to other revenue sources. State funding, which makes up about 27 percent of PASSHE’s budget, was at $412.8 million for 2012-13, held flat from the previous year.
PASSHE consists of 14 universities statewide with about 118,000 students.
Gov. Tom Corbett on Thursday signed the final piece of a major Corrections reform package that is estimated to save Pennsylvania $250 million over five years.
The new law — dubbed the Justice Reinvestment Initiative — was passed by the state House and state Senate during the final week of the 2012 session. It provides funding to a new program the state created in June that will allow more low-risk inmates to be kept in county jails and enter alternative treatment programs instead of going to state prison.
“These reforms are all part of a philosophy that says justice, in order to work, must be administered with firmness, compassion and common sense,” Corbett said in a statement.
Of the savings generated by keeping those nonviolent offenders out of the state prison system, 25 percent will be redirected to counties and local governments to be used for law enforcement, probation, parole and victims’ services.
State Rep. John Sabatina, D-Philadelphia, sponsor of the bill, said the investments in local communities would be “potentially one of the commonwealth’s most valuable assets in reducing and preventing crime.”
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