Republicans are looking to reopen businesses quickly, while Democrats look to longer-term solutions.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has delivered crushing blows to the Pennsylvania economy.
More than 2.1 million Pennsylvanians have lost some or all of their employment and applied for unemployment compensation since the pandemic reached the commonwealth in March, according to statistics from the state Office of Unemployment Compensation.
Businesses across the state have closed permanently, and many more are at risk of closing. Approximately 63% of 608 Pennsylvania businesses surveyed by Main Street America in April said they might not make it to fall.
In April, the Republican-led Legislature passed Senate Bill 613, a bill that would have required the governor to allow businesses to immediately reopen as long as they followed CDC guidelines.
However, at the time, health officials strongly advised against reopening too soon and warned it could worsen the economic recovery in the long term.
“Clearly, this is something that is hurting from the standpoint of economics, from the standpoint of things that have nothing to do with the virus. But unless we get the virus under control, the real recovery economically is not going to happen,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on “Good Morning America” in April.
“So what you do if you jump the gun and go into a situation where you have a big spike, you’re gonna set yourself back.”
Opening too soon would “backfire,” Fauci said.
Gov. Tom Wolf ultimately vetoed Senate Bill 613, and maintained restrictions on business operations and crowd sizes.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator for President Donald Trump, has since praised Pennsylvania’s response to the pandemic.
“I never give anyone an A, but I think they’re close to a B-plus, A-minus range, a really terrific job,” she said during a visit to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management headquarters outside Harrisburg in September.
Some of the Republican state senators who voted for Senate Bill 613 are up for reelection this year. We asked them, as well as some Democrats who voted against the bill and are also up for reelection, what they would propose to spur economic recovery and growth in the state.
Below are their answers as well as information provided by their campaign.
District 9 (Parts of Chester and Delaware Counties)
John Kane, Democratic Challenger: A former plumber, Kane says he spent his career fighting for high paying, quality jobs. On his campaign site, he says he’ll continue that effort as senator if elected.
On the topic of building back the economy in a post-COVID state, Kane told The Keystone that Pennsylvanians have to “prioritize our values.”
Kane wants to give tax breaks and incentives to “small businesses, industries leading green jobs and companies that promise to pay a living wage, and more investment in vocational programs to grow the next generation of workers,” he said. “This will create broad job growth across multiple areas of the economy.”
Thomas Killion, Republican Incumbent: Killion said he believes that the restaurant and hospitality industry have “been burdened by arbitrary and onerous limits on capacity.” Allowing those businesses to operate according to CDC guidelines would get people back to work, he said.
Killion voted for Senate Bill 613, despite health experts advising against opening too soon.
District 11 (Part of Berks County)
Judy Schwank, Democratic Incumbent: Schwank has proposed Senate Bill 335, the Industrial Hemp Act, which would recognize industrial hemp, including CBD, as an allowable cosmetic ingredient, food, food additive, and herb, and regulate it like any other food or commodity.
“This legislation will allow farmers continued access to a new market and put them on the same playing field as other states like Colorado that have passed hemp food legislation,” Schwank said to LancasterFarming.com last year.
The bill has been sitting in the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee since February 2019.
Schwank voted against Senate Bill 613.
Annette Baker, Republican Challenger: Baker did not respond to The Keystone for comment, but her campaign website says “the need to restructure our national economy” should be a “major focus.”
District 13 (Part of Lancaster County)
Janet Diaz, Democratic Challenger: Diaz grew up in Lancaster, where her family initially experienced homelessness. According to her campaign site, her mother worked her way out of poverty, and since then Diaz has been a strong supporter of increasing the minimum wage.
Diaz also is a strong supporter of expanding hemp production to provide more jobs for Pennsylvanians.
“Hemp can be used to manufacture many products including rope, cosmetics, and other personal care items,” she said. “Pennsylvania has a strong agriculture sector and enabling production in Pennsylvania will bring additional agricultural and manufacturing jobs.”
Scott Martin, Republican Incumbent: Martin did not respond to The Keystone for comment. He says on his campaign website that he wants to reduce unemployment in Pennsylvania through “commonsense regulatory and tax reforms.” His website does not provide specific proposals.
Martin voted for Senate Bill 613, despite health experts advising against reopening the economy too soon.
District 15 (Parts of Dauphin and Perry Counties)
George Scott, Democratic Challenger: Scott, who was raised on a family farm in South Central Pennsylvania, says on his campaign website that he learned the value of hard work growing up.
Today, Scott’s campaign focuses on listening to health experts and defeating the pandemic as a top priority in building back the economy.
“In the current environment, job creation depends first on defeating COVID-19,” he said.
Scott pointed out that health officials have said Pennsylvania’s pandemic response has been one of the best in the country.
“So we need to keep listening to public health experts and follow their recommendations to reduce the spread of the virus,” he said. “But we also need to promote job creation by ensuring that federal and state relief funds go first to small businesses, because they are the primary engine of job creation, rather than ending up in the pockets of large corporations.”
John DiSanto, Republican Incumbent: DiSanto’s campaign website says he will try to lessen “burdensome regulations, keep the cost of government low, and make state government a partner with job creators to make sure our community has good paying jobs.” However, his website does not provide specific proposals.
Like his Republican peers in the Senate, DiSanto voted for Senate Bill 613, despite health experts advising against reopening the economy too soon
District 17 (Parts of Delaware and Montgomery Counties)
Amanda Cappelletti, Democratic Candidate: Cappelletti did not respond to The Keystone for comment, but she told WHYY in June that she wants to use taxes on existing gas wells to support green infrastructure and she supports raising the minimum wage in Pennsylvania.
On Twitter, she has argued that putting more Democrats like her in power would have prioritized small businesses pre-COVID.
Ellen Fisher, Republican Candidate: If elected, Fisher says she wants to cut regulations for Pennsylvania businesses. She does not mention green infrastructure or minimum wage on her campaign site, but told The Keystone,“We have lots of creative entrepreneurs in PA and need to give them the space and support they need to create.”
District 23 (Bradford, Lycoming, Sullivan, Union and Parts of Susquehanna Counties)
Jackie Baker, Democratic Challenger: On her campaign website, Baker says she wants the state to “invest in green infrastructure to upgrade our water and sewer systems, creating jobs & saving money.”
Baker is a teacher originally from Meshoppen, Wyoming County. On her site, she also talks about investing in infrastructure across the state.
“A growing economy, thriving businesses, and a safe & healthy population depends on a first-class infrastructure,” Baker says. “For too long now, PA lawmakers have not invested enough into our roads, bridges, and public transportation.”
Gene Yaw, Republican Incumbent: Yaw did not respond to our question.
Yaw voted for Senate Bill 613.
District 25 (Cameron, Clinton, Elk, Jefferson, Mckean, Potter, Tioga, and Parts of Clearfield Counties)
Margie Brown, Democratic Candidate: Brown described herself as the daughter of a bi-partisan family, and says she wants to improve the way of life in rural communities in PA. She believes that the Pennsylvanians in her district are in need of better paying “21st-century jobs.”
“Our district has too often been left behind when it comes to well-paying employment. We need to strengthen our workforce to meet the needs of our business community,” she said, pointing out the need for more widespread availability of broadband internet. “Without reliable internet service, we cannot compete in the current job market where more and more jobs are being done remotely.”
“For workers who don’t attend a four-year university, one of the greatest obstacles to getting the qualifications for a middle-skills job is not knowing how to obtain them,” she said.” We need to be taking advantage of the various state initiatives that can help Pennsylvanians connect with better opportunities – I will make sure our district gets their fair share.
Cris Dush, Republican Candidate: Dush did not respond to The Keystone for comment.
Dush is currently a member of the state House of Representatives. He voted against a House amendment to Senate Bill 613 that 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 personal protective equipment, clean work areas, and hand sanitizer.
He also voted for Senate Bill 613.
District 27 (Columbia, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder, and Parts of Luzerne Counties)
Michelle Siegel, Democratic Challenger: If elected, Siegel wants to give more of a voice to rural people who are “too often ignored in Harrisburg.”
She is calling for a Rural Bill of Rights, that would include investments in rural hospitals, roads, bridges, broadband internet, cell phone service, public transportation, and rural schools.
She said she supports a severance tax on natural gas and the closure of the Delaware Loophole.
John Gordner, Republican Incumbent: Gordner did not respond to The Keystone for comment.
He voted for Senate Bill 613.
District 31 (Parts of Cumberland and York Counties)
Shanna Danielson, Democratic Challenger: Danielson, a public school teacher, believes that Pennsylvania can strengthen its economy by investing in more ways to fight climate change.
“That means supporting nature-based tourism and small businesses, expanding our abilities to manufacture and install solar and wind energy, and investing in a stronger conservation program to both remediate environmental damages and upgrade our infrastructure in a sustainable way,” she said. “We also need to ensure that we are strengthening the reasons why families want to live in Pennsylvania—that means investing in strong public education, a fair tax system, and affordable housing and healthcare.”
Mike Regan, Republican Incumbent: Regan did not respond to The Keystone, and he does not address the issue on his campaign website.
He voted for Senate Bill 613.
District 35 (Bedford, Cambria and Parts of Clearfield County)
Shaun Dougherty, Democratic Challenger: Dougherty wants to focus on rebuilding infrastructure in the state if elected—”not only repairing our bridges and roads, but expanding our technological priorities.”
“We need a return to light manufacturing, local food/meat processing and good paying skilled jobs,” he said. “We need a public/private partnership to ensure all Pennsylvanias have access to high speed broadband and data services.”
Dougherty also supports the legalization of recreational marijuana, which he says will create more jobs in agriculture, distribution, marketing, and tourism.
“While we look towards the future, we must continue to take an ‘all of the above approach’ to energy. Pennsylvania can return to being an industry leader if we all work together,” he said.
Wayne Langerholc, Republican Incumbent: Langerholc did not respond to The Keystone for comment.
He voted for Senate Bill 613.
District 37 (Parts of Allegheny and Washington Counties)
Pam Iovino, Democratic Incumbent: On her campaign website, Iovino says the state needs to “invest more in career technical training for our students, preparing them for in-demand careers here in our region.” Additionally, Iovino supports programs to “grow small businesses, and minority owned businesses, which contribute so much to the vitality and economy of the commonwealth.”
She also points to her voting record. “I was specifically motivated to cosponsor two pieces of legislation during my first year that would help reach those goals, both aimed at enhancing our workforce pipeline and connecting businesses to job-seekers in a more efficient manner.”
She voted against Senate Bill 613.
Devlin Robinson, Republican Challenger: Robinson’s campaign website says he “is committed to policies that end job-crushing taxes and regulatory overreach that have held our region back.” However, he does not give specific proposals.
District 39 (Parts of Westmoreland County)
Tay Waltenbaugh, Democratic Challenger: Waltenbaugh says he will propose legislation and work with public schools to create more opportunities for young people to get training for careers in health care and the trades.
That way, he says, “we can rely on our own workforce, manufacturers and healthcare providers to do the work and build the materials for industries of the future rather than bring in cheap, out-of-state labor crews who leave here once a job is completed.”
Waltenbaugh also said he will work to improve public transit in his district.
“Transit goes hand in hand with good jobs,” he said. “I will fight to bring the light rail system we were promised a decade ago and find funding for better, quicker, cleaner transportation.”
Kim Ward, Republican Incumbent: Ward did not respond to The Keystone for comment.
Like her Republican colleagues in the Senate, she also voted for Senate Bill 613, despite health experts warning against opening up Pennsylvania’s economy too early.
District 41 (Armstrong County and Indiana County and parts of Butler County and Westmoreland County)
Tony DeLoreto, Democratic Challenger: DeLoreto did not respond to The Keystone for comment.
DeLoreto’s campaign website says he wants to “create and recruit new industry” in his district, but does not provide specific proposals.
Joe Pittman, Republican Incumbent: Pittman did not respond to The Keystone for comment.
He voted for Senate Bill 613.
District 45 (Parts of Allegheny and Westmoreland Counties)
James Brewster, Democratic Incumbent: “I have offered far-reaching legislation to generate jobs. In the last two years alone, I have been able to secure nearly $15 million in key investments in my district to bolster communities, support business expansion and aid job producing industries.
“In addition, I sponsored legislation to require the use of American made steel—with steel and drilling components made in our area—in the growing fracking industry. Plus, to spur the recovery from the pandemic, I offered a detailed six-point economic stimulus program to jump start business and aid in the recovery. This included grants for business, help for the unemployed, acceleration of public improvement projects and other key items.”
He voted against Senate Bill 613.
Nicole Ziccarelli, Republican Challenger: Ziccarelli did not respond to The Keystone for comment.
Ziccarelli’s campaign website says she “will fight to reduce taxes on job creators and working families to stimulate our economy.”
She also says she wants to “decrease regulatory burdens, and provide incentives for our businesses to thrive.”
District 47 (Lawrence and Parts of Beaver and Butler Counties)
Stephen Krizan III, Democratic Challenger: Krizan did not respond to The Keystone for comment. However, his campaign website indicates that he intends to “create family-supporting and union jobs in new clean energy, transportation, advanced manufacturing, and sustainable agriculture areas.”
He also wants to create “repairing and replacing aging energy distribution systems using union workers in the pipe fitters, insulators, and other union trades.”
Elder Vogel, Republican Incumbent: Vogel did not respond to our question.
He voted for Senate Bill 613.
District 49 (Part of Erie County)
Julie Slomski, Democratic Challenger: Slomski’s campaign website says that she intends to work to protect “workers in a changing economy.”
Though she did not respond to The Keystone for comment, Slomski previously worked for Gov. Tom Wolf as his Northwest Regional Director. During that time, Slomski oversaw the new investments in the Port of Erie, the revitalization of the UPMC Park, and the recovery of the Erie School District.
Daniel Laughlin, Republican Incumbent: Laughlin did not respond to The Keystone for comment.
He voted for Senate Bill 613.
The Keystone contacted candidates in Senate Districts 19, 21, and 33, but they did not respond and they did not have anything on their campaign websites to address the issue.