Republican Shannon Royer and Democrat Barbara McIlvaine Smith, state representative candidates for the 156th District, debated about the key issues of education and property tax in the coming election at Philips Memorial Autograph Library Wednesday night.About 70 to 80 people attended the debate. The members of the legislative committee, which consisted of Hannah Lamontagne, Lauren Foust, Anna Moronski, Bernadette Smith and Parliamentarian Matt Holliday, asked the respected representatives questions to start the debate.
One of the questions of concern dealt with the rise of college tuition. Royer said, “When funding decreases tuition increases.”
He said that from 2000 to 2004 there was an eight percent decrease in public education funding. Royer said that funding is back on track because of the $26 billion dollar budget from the state.
Royer said he wants to make sure that education is the number one item that he focuses on for his campaign. He finished by saying he wants to make the cost of textbooks affordable for students who have to pay for accessories in books, like CDs that they don’t use.
Smith began her rebuttal by saying “We need to put money in public institutions instead of private.”
She said that if the tuition is going to increase than PHEHA needs to increase student loans. “Education is the foundation of our economy,” she said. This was the one issue that the two candidates agreed on.
Another issue that was asked by the panel was increasing opportunities for college graduates.
Smith addressed the question by saying that jobs in Pennsylvania need to be available for students upon graduation and that opportunities for workers need to increase.
She also said that the university should have placements, meaning that students should be placed in jobs that they are interested in or want to do.
Royer said, “The key thing is making sure jobs are here when students graduate.”
A student asked both candidates what their records were on property tax. In Smith’s first year on borough council, she raised taxes 12.5 percent.
She said that the reason for this was because of 9/11. Smith said, “Twenty nine percent of the properties in the borough are tax exempt because of the 29 churches, Chester County Hospital, West Chester University, and the county.”
Royer jumped in and said, “Balancing a budget without raising taxes is difficult, but to blame 9/11 is just sad.”
Royer said that paying property tax through gambling is the best way to go. The $1 billion relief has gotten plenty of attention and that those in the WCASD will vote for a property shift next, he said.
Smith is a graduate of West Chester Area School Districts’ Henderson High School and also graduated in 1995 from WCU.
Smith was also on the Borough Council for four years. Smith said she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do until she worked at Wickes Lumber Company where she quickly moved up to managerial status at age 21. “That is when I realized that each one of us has potential,” she said.
In her opening statement, Smith said, “This district means everything to me and when I get to Harrisburg, I will represent you.”
Royer graduated from WCU and told the audience that community service has been important to him since college. He worked with community organizations like Toys For Tots and also helped raise money for cancer.
In 1993, he was elected to West Chester’s Borough Council where he served eight years. During his time he increased the budget and put more police on the streets. He also served as an aid to former Congressman Robert Walker.
Each representative was given the opportunity to close the forum with a two minute speech.
Royer closed by saying, “I am not running because of my background although it is good. I am running for issues that must be addressed, such as public education, health care reform and property tax reform.”
Royer encouraged the audience to view his website for more information about his campaign.
Smith said that she has a vision and that she wants to be our servant in Harrisburg to make sure that our public institutions and health care reform will not be undercut.
The forum was hosted by the Student Government Association. The moderator for the panel was Peter Loedel, the chair of the political science department.
Elections for Pennsylvania’s 156th congressional district will take place on November 7. The Quad reminds all registered voters to get out and vote at their local polling places.