Eichelberger Meets With Residents
Sen. John Eichelberger (R-30) held a town hall meeting on Tuesday evening and although attendance was low, there were no shortage of questions asked of the legislator. Seven citizens were in attendance to listen and to ask questions about current happenings in state government.
The senator began the meeting by outlining three main topics that Gov. Corbett plans to address in the new year. The items include: 1) continued discussions of the privatization of the liquor stores; 2) state pension plan reform; and 3) transportation.
Privatizing liquor sales is a topic that has been discussed by previous administrations and has been revived by the current governor. Sen. Eichelberger said that there are several proposals being discussed that range from total privatization to perhaps having the state wholesale the liquor.
Funding the state pension plan has also become a growing concern and Eichelberger explained that the shortage in funds needed for the pensions has come about as a result of the plan not being funded for two years during a previous adminstration and as a result of the multiplier being increased also during a previous administration. He said he believes that any pension reform legislation will likely result in a change from a “defined benefit” to a 401K plan. He also said that any reform enacted would only apply to future retirees, not current ones..
Gov Corbett has said that transportation will be a main focus in the coming year as he plans to talk about ways to fund bridges and roads for the Commonwealth.
Questions for Eichelberger ranged from voter ID issues, small games of chance, healthcare and ways to make the Pennsylvania legislature less costly.
One citizen in attendance said he had recently offered to take a person to get a voter ID. He had to travel to Chambersburg and the process took about 3.5 hours. He questioned why there couldn’t be a photo ID center within the county. He also referred to the fact that although the Pa. Supreme Court had stayed the law for the November election, if nothing is done, the law requiring the ID will remain in effect for the Primary Election in the spring. “So now is the opportunity to do something about fixing this to have this capability closer to home before the next election,” the citizen said.
Eichelberger said that although the law stilll stands, the Supreme Court had stayed it and sent it back to the Commonwealth Court so he said the Court may rule further on the matter.
Another citizen commented on the fact that Pennsylvania has the second most expensive legislature in the country, second only to California. Suggestions were made to cut the number of House members, which is currently 203 members while another comment was made about the expense of health care for the members. There are 50 senators. in the Pa. Senate. Eichelberger said he believes that it would be more cost-effective for the House to do away with so many constituent services rather than cut the numbers. There was also discussion about legislators’ statute-required 2.2 percent cost -of-living increases and the fact that some give the increases back while others contibute it to charity. The latest raise brings rank-and-file member salaries to $83,802. Eichelberger responded that he writes a check and gives his money back to the state coffers. “Employees are not getting raises, so I don’t feel that I should either,” he said.
Another citizen talked about health care and said that all citizens should be able to have the same health coverage as the legislators. He referred to the “Cover All Pennsylvanians” health plan promoted by former Gov. Ed Rendell. The universal health care plan was never enacted, but many believe it could have saved millions of dollars for school districts and municipalities had it been passed. Eichelberger did not suppor the plan when it was discussed previously and noted that it had been blocked in committee.
There was much discussion on the new Small Games of Chance bill and the effects it has on social clubs (VFWS, Legions, etc.) as well as fire companies and other charitable organizations. Games can include dinner drawings, raffles, pull tabs and punch boards.
Eichelberger said that the law allows clubs to keep 30 percent of funds earned on the games, but requires them to give back 70 percent to charity. The law and its enforcement has resulted in many private social clubs being charged and, in many instances, shut down for various periods of time. However, the senator said that the old law did not permit the clubs to keep any of the funds while the new law does allow for the retention of 30 percent. He also said that the new law was in reponse to the clubs’ desire to have the maximum weekly limits (or payouts) raised from $5,000 to $25,000. The new law also requires a separate bank account for the funds.
The Pa. legislature is in recess from the election through the new year. The election changed the makeup of the Senate from 30 Republicans and 20 Democrats to 27 Republicans and 23 Democrats.