Happy New Year to you, too, Rep. Kerry Benninghoff.
I share your wishes for a better 2018 for the residents of Pennsylvania and your district as written in your recent op-ed for the CDT (“How to Bring Prosperity to Pennsylvania in 2018”).
I have no idea if the main theme of your CDT essay about cutting taxes for businesses and corporations will trickle down and eventually make the entire state more prosperous. There are examples of other states, such as Kansas, going in that direction and those decisions left the state in a fiscal mess.
But there are five elements to the lives of Pennsylvanians I would put on my wish list for your legislative agenda this year.
If significant progress is made on most of these, Pennsylvania will be in better shape when we come together again to celebrate the next new year.
1) According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 1,500 Pennsylvanians were killed with a gun in 2016. Legislators spend their days in heavily guarded, gun-free work buildings. There are no gun deaths where you spend your days. The rest of us are not so lucky. Dozens of modern democracies around the world live without daily gun carnage. Fix this in 2018 or another 1,500 Pennsylvania children, spouses, parents, neighbors, friends and police officers will die. Make Pennsylvania as safe as England, Canada, Australia, France, Italy, Germany and many other countries. Use facts and statistics as a guide how to solve this.
2) Thirteen percent, or about 1.7 million Pennsylvanians, are defined as food insecure. They often do not have enough food to eat. Every day, thousands of our state’s children go hungry. Fix this in 2018. This is really important.
3) The current federal minimum wage level is $7.25 an hour and has not increased since 2009. Dozens of states have raised the minimum rate above the federal level, but not Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania’s minimum wage should be as high as most other states.
4) Almost 13 percent of Pennsylvanians live in poverty. Poverty is defined as a family of four living on $24,600 or less for a year. Fixing some of the other issues listed here will help solve much of this problem. More than a million people living in poverty is a crisis. A crisis should be on your legislative agenda.
5) More than a million Pennsylvania residents, 11.4 percent of the total, have no health care coverage. Many others have weak coverage that leaves them in debt because of high deductibles and incomplete coverage. Most modern democracies around the world have universal health care coverage. I have visited many countries and have friends from other countries who brag about their nations’ health-care-for-all systems. And it works. People from these countries with universal health care live longer on average than we do in the United States. Again, use facts and statistics to guide your decisions. Until the federal government acts, let’s follow other states that have attempted their own near universal basic coverage.
I think these five issues are important and should be added to your 2018 legislative agenda. The good news is other states and other modern democracies have already resolved these problems. We know it can be accomplished. It’s not a crazy wish list. Raise wages, feed hungry children and provide health care for all.
Let’s be known first and foremost as a state focused on making lives better. Not primarily as a state famous for low corporate taxes.
People who are hungry, who have no place to live or who can’t take a sick child to a doctor are not typically big campaign donors. They often do not vote. They live all around us but are largely invisible. If you look closely they are all over Centre County.
My legislative agenda is very different than yours. Mine is focused on people. Mine is focused on outcomes that are working in other places.
Let’s make the right decisions, decisions with immediate impact on those who need it most. Vague promises of trickle down help a couple years down the road is not inspiring.
Happy New Year!
Bill Mahon is a resident of Port Matilda.