Republicans are looking to reopen businesses quickly, while Democrats look to longer-term solutions.
As Pennsylvania businesses slowly reopen, health officials are concerned that there could be a second wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have warned for months that there could be another “assault of the virus on our nation.”
On Wednesday and Thursday, Pennsylvania health officials reported the highest numbers of new coronavirus cases in the state since April—more than 1,300 each day. And the average daily number of new confirmed cases is up 36%, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
But even as Republicans in the state Legislature have pushed to reopen businesses faster—against the advice of health officials—and challenged Gov. Tom Wolf’s closure orders in court, they have refused to give workers on the front lines the things they need to reopen safely.
As the GOP-led state House of Representatives considered Senate Bill 613, a law that would have required the governor to allow businesses to reopen as long as they followed CDC guidelines, in April, Rep. Matthew Bradford (D-70) proposed an amendment to help front-line workers.
Bradford’s proposal, Amendment 4993, would have increased the minimum wage for all essential workers to $15 per hour. The amendment also would have required all businesses to pay hazard pay to essential employees, and provide clean work areas, personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer, and other things necessary to work safely.
Republicans in the House shot down the amendment in a 110-92 vote, but moved forward with approving Senate Bill 613. State Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said this could lead to “a tsunami of cases” that could overwhelm the state’s health care system. She called Senate Bill 613 “reckless and irresponsible.”
House Democrats have proposed the Just Recovery Plan, which calls for removing barriers to unionizing, expanding paid family leave and sick pay, raising the minimum wage, increasing state funding for child care and public schools, making tuition affordable at community colleges and state colleges, and investing in career and technical education.
Some of the Republican state representatives who voted for Senate Bill 613 and against Amendment 4993 are up for reelection this year. We asked them, as well as their Demcoratic challengers, what they would propose to spur economic recovery and growth in the state.
Below are their answers, as well as information provided by their campaigns.
District 18 (Part of Bucks County)
Harold Hayes, Democratic Challenger: Hayes, a plumber and former small business owner, says on his campaign website that he “will work to secure additional funding for grant opportunities and low-interest loans to help our small businesses stay afloat during this difficult time.”
He also says, “We need to ensure unemployment benefits remain available as long as those facing this difficult situation are unable to safely return to their jobs.”
Hayes supports the House Democrats’ Just Recovery Plan.
“We need to expand opportunities for all Pennsylvanians, including adult learners, to pursue higher education and highly skilled jobs—not just the wealthy,” Hayes says.
Hayes also believes that the state needs to invest in “high-tech 21st century jobs.”
K.C. Tomlinson, Republican Incumbent: Tomlinson says on her campaign website that she is committed to “supporting Bensalem businesses and investing in our local economy,” but does not offer specific proposals.
Tomlinson voted against Amendment 4993, which would have increased compensation and improved safety for front-line workers.
District 26 (Parts of Montgomery and Chester Counties)
Paul Friel, Democratic Challenger: Friel says on his campaign website that the state needs to “provide greater resources to small businesses to allow them to compete and reopen safely.”
Additionally, Friel points out how COVID-19 has impacted Pennsylvania communities in unforeseen ways, and that big businesses have too often been prioritized over small businesses in economic relief efforts.
“I’m strongly in favor of a reopening plan that prioritizes local businesses,” he said. “New commercial approaches will help our communities recover and provide a stronger commitment to the diversity of our local economies.”
Timothy Hennessey, Republican Incumbent: Hennessey did not respond to The Keystone, and his website appears to be down.
Hennessey voted against Amendment 4993, which would have increased compensation and improved safety for front-line workers, and for Senate Bill 613.
District 28 (Part of Allegheny County)
Emily Skopov, Democratic Candidate: Skopov says on her campaign website that “a critical and necessary step” toward recovery is “a short-term rent postponement and a longer-term freeze on rent increases until…the economy begins to stabilize.”
“Going forward, small business lease rates should be determined through a clear and fair arbitration process between tenant and landlord which would ensure an approach that is both equitable and market-based. Other states are adopting these policies for their business owners, as well as providing up to $1,000 in tax credits per employee to small businesses with 10 or fewer full-time equivalent employees in the state,” she says. “We can and should do the same.”
She also says that she wants to lower the state’s Corporate Net Income Tax by 2 to 4 percentage points, “dependent on the size of the business, with small businesses seeing the largest reductions.”
She continues: “We must close ‘the Delaware Loophole,’ which results from our policy of Separate Reporting. Currently, nearly 76% of businesses use this loophole to avoid declaring the income they’ve earned in the Commonwealth, and therefore avoid paying income tax. This results in the remaining 24% of businesses, which are almost entirely small businesses, having to carry the burden of a tax rate that attempts to offset the overwhelming majority who are paying nothing. If everyone doing business in the Commonwealth paid their fair share, there would be no need for our egregiously high CNI.”
A lower CNI would make it easier for existing small and mid-sized businesses to operate, and attract new businesses, Skopov says.
Rob Mercuri, Republican Candidate: Mercuri says on his campaign website that he wants to enact a payroll tax moratorium, incentivize workers to return to work, and roll back Gov. Tom Wolf’s business capacity rules. Health officials have warned that reopening businesses too quickly could worsen economic recovery in the long term.
Mercuri told WTAE in May that he wants to stimulate business growth with a corporate tax cut.
District 29 (Part of Bucks County)
Marlene Katz, Democratic Challenger: Katz, who has launched multiple businesses, said she wants to increase the minimum wage and look at funding child care “so that our parents can get back to work.”
“One of the goals I have is to see how we can start to create more green jobs,” she said. “One of the things I’ve been looking into is the Community Solar Project that can help businesses, and a lot of counties have done it successfully.”
Creating more green jobs would help protect the environment and our workforce, Katz said.
Meghan Schroeder, Republican Incumbent: Schroeder did not respond to The Keystone for comment and she has not addressed the issue on her campaign website.
She voted against Amendment 4993, and for Senate Bill 613.
District 30 (Part of Allegheny County)
Lissa Geiger Shulman, Democratic Challenger: Shulman, a teacher, says on her campaign website that she wants to provide provide essential workers—including police, firefighters, emergency medical professionals, healthcare workers, food industry workers, and delivery workers—with “the best” personal protective equipment, priority COVID testing, “generous” paid and unpaid leave policies, and access to child care services and mental health services.
Shulman also says she wants to improve the state’s broadband internet infrastructure: “As homes and schools have moved to remote work or distance learning, a lack of connectivity means there are individuals who are left out or left behind because of a lack of basic technology infrastructure. Access to broadband internet also means access to telemedicine, which is particularly useful in continuing medical care while physically distancing during a pandemic. We need to substantially expand access to broadband internet services.”
In the short term, Shulman says, the state should require telecommunications companies to provide mobile wi-fi hotspots for free.
Lori Mizgorski, Republican Incumbent: Mizgorski says on her campaign website that she “voted to expand testing, supply additional personal protective equipment (PPE) to frontline workers and provide immediate assistance for hospitals.” However, Mizgorski voted against Amendment 4993, which would have increased the minimum wage for essential workers to $15 per hour and provided hazard pay. She also voted for Senate Bill 613.
Her website goes on to say “she increased accessibility to unemployment compensation by voting to eliminate the waiting week, and voted to expand assistance to small business owners that were shut down.” Her website does not say what she will do if she is reelected.
District 44 (Part of Allegheny County)
Michele Knoll, Democratic Challenger: Knoll, a small business owner and educator, says on her campaign website that she wants to expand coronavirus testing.
She also says she “will advocate so that no family will have to choose between taking care of a sick member of their family and keeping their job.”
Knoll also talks about improving education as a way to help prepare people for in-demand jobs.
“By supporting teachers, promoting STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math), and seeing to it that public funding is used for programs that create results, (I) will ensure that our children are ready to participate in the economy of the future, and make it possible to attract quality, high paying jobs to our communities.”
Valerie Gaydos, Republican Incumbent: Gaydos says on her campaign website that she has “made Pennsylvania better for job creators by fighting higher business taxes and introducing legislation to reduce health insurance costs for small businesses.”
Her website also says she supports career and technical education “so workers have the skills they need to attract employers and fill today’s jobs.”
However, Gaydos voted against Amendment 4993 and for Senate Bill 613.
District 105 (Part of Dauphin County)
Brittney Rodas, Democratic Challenger: Rodas wants to get Pennsylvanians “back to work in a way that protects frontline employees,” her campaign manager said.
On her campaign site, she says she supports an increase in the minimum wage for all skill levels. “I will fight for workplace protections statewide to offset federal rollbacks, and will continue to support our unions in their efforts to protect Commonwealth employees and all Pennsylvania workers,” she says.
In an op-ed in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star in April, Rodas encouraged voters to learn from the lessons of the pandemic. “We must always remember how our values impact workers and working families everyday,” she wrote.
Andrew Lewis, Republican Incumbent: Lewis did not respond to The Keystone for comment and he does not address the issue on his campaign website.
Lewis voted against Amendment 4993 and for Senate Bill 613.
District 106 (Part of Dauphin County)
Lindsay Drew, Democratic Challenger: Drew said she supports the House Democrats’ Plan for PA.
“Among the measures suggested, I strongly believe that we need to, as a state, invest in building 21st century infrastructure, promote small business rather than corporate growth, and ensure that the jobs we create pay a fair, living wage and have appropriate protection benefits,” she said. “I also believe that working with our friends in Pennsylvania’s Trade Unions is essential to strengthen protective bargaining rights and ensure the jobs we create are good jobs.”
Drew also wants to invest in workers to provide them with the training necessary to work in green energy jobs.
She also wants to invest in education, and prepare students for jobs that will provide a living wage.
Thomas Mehaffie, Republican Incumbent: As of Sunday morning, Mehaffie had not addressed the issue on his campaign website.
Mehaffie voted against Amendment 4993 and for Senate Bill 613.
District 131 (Parts of Lehigh, Montgomery and Northampton Counties)
Kevin Branco, Democratic Candidate: Branco says on his campaign website that the state should offer “incentives for employing our residents and unions while investing in our communities.”
He also says the Legislature needs to “develop policy that makes Pennsylvania more attractive for start-ups and recent graduates. Pennsylvania has one of the best systems of higher education, yet we struggle to keep talented students in the state after graduation.”
Milou Mackenzie, Republican Candidate: Mackenzie says on her campaign website that she wants to reduce business taxes and “promote career and technical education.”
District 144 (Part of Bucks County)
Gary Spillane, Democratic Challenger: Spillane told The Keystone that he believes “the fundamental, most important thing we can do to support our economy and increase employment is to strengthen our education system.”
He noted that Pennsylvania has one of the lowest high school graduation rates and highest illiteracy rates in the nation.
“Our state is failing our children, who become our adults. And therefore, we are failing our own economy,” Spillane said.
“As a longtime employer and business owner, I firmly believe that paying a living wage is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart business thing to do. When you invest more in your employees, they invest more in the place where they work.”
Companies that pay a living wage will have less turnover and more commitment, Spillane said. And the employees will have more ability to participate in the economy as consumers.
Spillane also said he wants the state to invest more in infrastructure—roads and bridges.
“We have the oldest bridge network in the country. We have a terrible road system in terms of its quality. We need to invest in the basics,” he said.
“What employers are attracted to is a well-educated population and a well-maintained infrastructure—two things the state has largely ignored over the past 30 years.”
F. Todd Polinchock, Republican Incumbent: Polinchock did not respond to The Keystone for comment. However, Polinchock says on his campaign website that he wants to hold the line on taxes, require legislative approval on any regulations that cost the economy more than $1 million, require the Independent Fiscal Office to conduct an annual “stress test” on public pensions, and reduce taxes and transaction fees on home sales.
Polinchock voted against Amendment 4993 and for Senate Bill 613.
District 147 (Part of Montgomery County)
Jill Dennin, Democratic Candidate: Dennin, a substitute teacher and school board member, says on her campaign website that she supports “hazard pay for essential workers on the front lines” and “economic recovery for small businesses.”
She is also a proponent of property tax relief. “I will fight for introducing legislation that mirrors successful tax relief programs that help those on a fixed income pay only a fraction of their assessed property taxes,” she says on her website.
Tracy Pennycuick, Republican Candidate: Pennycuick did not respond to The Keystone for comment and has not addressed the issue on her website.
District 151 (Part of Montgomery County)
Jonathan Kassa, Democratic Challenger: Kassa, previously an executive at nonprofit organizations who later focused his work on campus safety and victim advocacy, said it’s important that the state not rush to reopen indoor spaces. He argues that “will dramatically increase the spread of the virus,” ultimately further hurting the economy, as well as the lives of countless Pennsylvanians.
Instead, he said, the state should support local restaurants and businesses by expanding unemployment benefits.
“The more spending power consumers have, the faster our economy will heal,” he said.
Todd Stephens, Republican Incumbent: Stephens told The Keystone, “I think we need to review some of the regulations that were suspended during the COVID pandemic with an eye toward continuing those practices to provide some of our ailing businesses some additional financial relief.”
Stephens voted against Amendment 4993 and against Senate Bill 613.
District 168 (Part of Delaware County)
Deb Ciamacca, Democratic Challenger: Ciamacca told The Keystone that she believes Pennsylvania “should continue to provide relief from evictions so that our poorest citizens have a home during this terrible pandemic.”
She also said the state needs to provide low-interest loans and grants to small business owners, so they can continue to operate and provide jobs.
“We should be repairing our crumbling infrastructure: our bridges, our roads, our schools, all need to be rebuilt,” she said. “We could rebuild Pennsylvania by borrowing at historically low interest rates and create jobs that are desperately needed in this state.”
Christopher Quinn, Republican Incumbent: Quinn did not respond to The Keystone for comment and has not addressed the issue on his campaign website.
Quinn voted against Amendment 4993 and for Senate Bill 613.
District 178 (Part of Bucks County)
Ann Marie Mitchell, Democratic Challenger: Mitchell believes it’s important to invest in education as a way to prepare young people for the workforce.
“Today’s students not only need to be prepared for college, but also for the career path they plan to take which includes basic personal finance skills, civics, community service, creative problem solving, team-building, and the value of art, music and sports,” she says on her campaign website.
She continues to say that she “believes that students need to have access to a wide range of experiences that will better prepare them for financial stability—this includes college and career guidance and vocational opportunities, as well as increased exposure to opportunities in the private business sector and the trades (apprenticeships).”
Wendi Thomas, Republican Incumbent: Thomas has not addressed the issue on her campaign website.
Thomas voted against Amendment 4993 and for Senate Bill 613.