With time ticking down before the May 15 primary, the three Republican candidates for governor gathered once more for a debate, each trying to establish why they were the best choice to take on Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in the fall.
The debate was held Friday at the studios of WGAL in Lancaster. Topics of discussion included government spending, raising the minimum wage, property tax reform and the use of attack ads in the campaign.
On the topic of the minimum wage, Laura Ellsworth and Paul Mango both said they were opposed to an increase in Pennsylvania.
“I think we need a governor who finally gets this economy is going to ensure that we have much more than minimum wage jobs,” said Mango, a former U.S. Army Ranger and longtime management consultant. “One way to do that is through vocational training. … I’m very supportive of early in school, eighth grade, ninth grade, creating another path for our kids to be successful. These are family sustaining incomes, they can make [$65,000 to] $80,000 a year without debt.”
Ellsworth, a partner in a Pittsburgh law firm, argued that by boosting the natural gas extraction industry, there would be a ripple effect of positive economic growth that would make the minimum wage irrelevant.
“It is the downstream manufacturing where the actual benefit is to Pennsylvanians, because energy is the number one cost of sophisticated manufacturing,” she said. “Put manufacturing right on top of the energy source, we will create thousands of good, high-paying jobs for our citizens here in Pennsylvania.”
Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York, on the other hand, said he supports a hike in the minimum wage, though he supports a carve-out for a lower “training wage.”
“I am in favor of raising the minimum wage to probably $9.50 or $9.75 [per hour],” said Wagner, an owner of several businesses who has been in the Senate for four years. “I’m not in favor of raising the minimum wage to $12 or $15 per hour as Gov. Wolf is promoting. … I would like to see an uphill domino effect, where we could take people in public assistance and train them and help them become gainfully employed.”
When it came to property tax reform, Mango said he supports a bill from Sen. David Argall, R-Mahanoy City, that would replace property taxes with a mix of sales and income taxes. Ellsworth said that reducing property taxes is a good idea, but some amount would have to remain so that schools wouldn’t be left in the lurch during an economic downtown. Wagner agreed with Mango on Argall’s bill, on which he is a co-sponsor, but also emphasized that the state’s dysfunctional budgeting process is a serious issue.
“We have a bigger problem in Harrisburg,” Wagner said. “We have not balanced our checkbook in 30 years. We don’t know how much money we have or how much money we don’t have.”
When it comes to the state’s finances, Mango said that while he would like to rein in spending, that’s not enough.
“I’ve never been associated with an organization in my life that has saved its way to prosperity,” he said. “If we just address the spending issue, we will have a smaller broken government. I want a smaller government that’s effective, so it’s not just about spending.”
Wagner pointed to excessive state regulation as a hindrance to economic growth in the state.
“We have over 153,000 regulations in Pennsylvania,” he said. “It’s become ridiculous, and it’s affecting everybody. I’ll also tell you, a lot of regulations and mandates are hitting municipalities, and people around Pennsylvania are seeing their municipal taxes and their county taxes going up because of all these regulations. It’s costing our economy a lot of money.”
Ellsworth argued that state government had developed a habit of spending more money as a solution to too many problems.
“We’re conflating throwing money at the problem with solving the problem,” she said. “Education is one of the clearest places we see it. We think if we just throw more money at education, we’re going to get better quality outcomes. But all the data tells us that’s not true.”
As she has in recent weeks, Ellsworth took issue with Mango and Wagner’s use of attack ads against each other.
“I think if you look at this race, I agree that the ad wars have been a complete disservice to the people of Pennsylvania,” she said. “I think they’ve been alienating to the people of Pennsylvania when what we all need to do is bring them into the process and have them understand that they own the process.”
But Mango accused Ellsworth of being disingenuous by characterizing herself as being above the fray.
“I appreciate what Miss Ellsworth said, but she’s running an ad that’s attacking us for attacking each other, so I just find that a bit ironic,” he said.
Mango also presented a defense of his campaign’s advertising, saying the topics he was raising would only come out in the general election if he held back.
“I think character matters, and I think this is important for the following reason: we don’t want to find out on May 16th that we nominated the wrong candidate, a candidate who Tom Wolf is going to use to distract from his failed liberal progressive socialist programs,” he said. “Tom Wolf has all of this information on all of us.”
Wagner focused on his credentials in an attempt to rebut Mango’s campaign painting him as out of touch with voters.
“I was elected in the first-ever write-in campaign in York, Pennsylvania, in the 28th Senate District,” he said. “Eleven thousand people came out and wrote in my name. They were Democrats, Republicans and independents. I have an over 30-year track record in York County operating my businesses.”
On the Democratic side, Wolf is unopposed in the Democratic primary as he seeks a second term in office.