Sen. John Eichelberger Holds Townhall Meeting At Medical Center
A lame duck session will get under way on November 3, just one day after the fall general election and selection of a new governor, thereby eliminating any unsigned bills currently before the Pennsylvania Senate. Fortunately, according to Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., the session equates to more accountability for legislators, but also means that several bills such as a Marcellus shale tax will need to be reintroduced in 2011.
Eichelberger, who is running unopposed on the November 2 ballot for his second term of office, pointed out to the crowd gathered in the Pearl Room of Fulton County Medical Center that the state House does not follow the same lame duck rule and can only vote on measures previously sent to them by the Senate. In the event of an amendment, the bill must be returned to the Senate for concurrence.
“We were promised during the budget process in July to do two things this fall, but it doesn’t look like either of them will get done. The governor has announced the Marcellus shale tax is dead – The Marcellus shale tax that came over from the House was unconstitutional,” said the senator, who noted the amendment by the House was not germane to the subject matter of the Senate’s original bill.
Following Eichelberger’s brief introduction, the 16 on hand for the senator’s latest town meeting last Thursday evening ran the gamut of topics: the expansion of small games of chance; inefficiency of government; the rising number of children enrolled in special education; the consolidation of county schools; and the need for additional law enforcement in and around the village of Needmore.
John Glazier, owner and operator of G&P Distributors, reported that for a period of five years efforts have been under way to expand small games of chance. The measure has not been updated since the 1980s, with the newest bill becoming stagnant in the Senate.
Eichelberger responded the issue revolves around three bills being in existence. A bill that previously died in the Senate Appropriations Committee was reintroduced in 2010. However, some clubs wanted to expand their limits and use the proceeds for their own benefit instead of for charity, and, in addition, tavern owners joined the melee and asked for the opportunity to have small games of chance as well.
Eichelberger stated the issue became a “big mess,” and the matter never came out of committee. He added that during the next session there will hopefully be a clearer understanding of what people want on the issue.
Local resident Jerry Gregory stated that government is becoming too inefficient and went on to touch on annual allocations given to township supervisors. Gregory said in accordance with the township code, money is allotted in direct correlation with the size of a township. In addition, the code further stipulates supervisors and employees may be offered heathcare and retirement benefits.
“Now I watch the budget. Here in Fulton County close to 60 percent of what the taxpayers pay now only goes to support the township’s insurance and the government. That doesn’t leave much for the roads. When is it going to end up that they’re going to raise taxes in order just to cover the insurance?” questioned Gregory.
In speaking about the growing number of children enrolled in special education, former Southern Fulton School Board member Ed Yates asked Eichelberger if anyone on a state level can look at the system and determine if it is being used fraudulently or overworked. Eichelberger stated federal mandates control the issue.
“I know it’s a tremendous problem and it’s extremely expensive for the school districts. I don’t know how we’re going to get past that,” said the senator. “It’s been brought up before and many are aware of the problem on the Education Committee.”
On the issue of how hard will we be hit in the area by the retirement issue, Eichelberger related the need to get away from defined benefits and move to a defined contribution system.
“I think we need to get a lot tougher with the pension. Our pension program is far too generous,” he noted of the retirement system that is facing a $5 billion shortfall as well as a spike in payments in 2012.
Staying on the topic of schools, Glazier questioned why a small, rural county such as Fulton needs three school districts. The senator reminded those on hand that approximately two years ago the governor shocked many with his suggestion of reducing the number of schools drastically.
Eichelberger stated in order for a plan to work, efficient and inefficient school districts need to be identified, although in most cases they appear to be the largest and smallest schools. He also said he was surprised at feedback from superintendents he has come in contact with as they are willing to look into the issue further.
Yates and Fort Littleton resident Karen Croft were further informed in order to have an issue, such as only having one superintendent oversee the entire county, they should speak to their school board. Sue Schooley of Mc- Connellsburg chimed in the reduction from superintendents in county from three to one would work as long as the superintendent is not paid to perform the work of three.
Some in attendance requested the senator broach the topic of having more of a state police presence in and around the village of Needmore. The residents complained of drag racing, speeding, smashed mailboxes and damaged road signs. Eichelberger said he would speak to the McConnellsburg state police commander on their behalf.