State Sen. Scott Wagner (R-28) compared Pennsylvania to the Titanic with disaster just ahead at tonight’s (April 6) meeting of the Delaware County Patriots.
About 100 persons attended the event which was held at the Knights of Columbus hall in Newtown Square.
“The ship is going down and we got to do something about it,” Wagner said.
He was referring to Pennsylvania’s fiscal crisis driven by out-of-control state pensions and spiraling property taxes.
He blamed the cause on corruption giving special scorn to those on his side of the aisle. Wagner, who started three successful businesses in York County that now employ 600 persons, described how GOP leaders would hit him up for money at campaign time and that he would write ever bigger checks. Yet, he noted, the simple things that should have made life easier for himself and his employees never seemed to happen.
“They weren’t taking care of you,” he says. “They were taking care of themselves.”
This inspired him to seek office and in a special election on March 18, 2014, he ran a write-in campaign to fill the remainder of the term left vacant by late State Senator Mike Waugh. It was the first time a write-in candidate won a state senate seat. Wagner got 10,595 votes (47.7 percent), while the endorsed Republican nominee received 5,920 votes and Democratic nominee got 5,704.
He won an election to a full-term in November.
Wagner notes that in the private sector pensions rarely reach 40 percent of the working pay. He said in the public sector in this state it is approaching 80 percent. He notes that average pay for a teacher in his school district is $88,000 for 180 days of work and they can look forward to getting $75,000 per year for the rest of their life upon retirement. This would be at age 60 after 30 years, or earlier after 35 years.
He said that it angers him to see soldiers coming home from overseas in wheelchairs missing limbs knowing they could look forward to $800 per month in benefits when retired teachers would be getting over $6,000.
He said if things don’t change benefits and wages would soon be dollar for dollar.
“If Pennsylvania could file for bankruptcy, I’d be the first to prepare a bill,” he said.
Wagner proposed specific solutions. He said abolishing the prevailing wage mandate that requires wages for public works projects be set by the union-dominated Department of Labor and Industry rather than the market would save school districts between $200 million and $300 million annually.
He said he will not vote for a state budget unless the state gets rid of prevailing wage.
Wagner is also pushing to turn the state pension programs into 401K defined contribution types rather than the existing defined benefit packages.
He said he is also working on ways in which force give-backs in the existing benefits package.
A related issue that he is also trying to address is the cause of the corruption that led to this crisis.
He noted that he has been targeted by Pennsylvania AFL-CIO leader Rick Bloomingdale for his push for paycheck protection for union members. He said that about $750 annually is automatically deduction from each union member’s paycheck with the members having little say for which causes the money should be used.
The state’s AFL-CIO has about 800,000 members, so that’s about $600 million that winds up supporting not-so-pro labor causes like opening borders and stopping pipelines.
Wagner pointed out that Bloomingdale’s salary is over $300,000.
Wagner mentioned that he had a recent lunch with presidential hopeful Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker who was notably successful in stopping union corruption in his state. Wagner said the big difference between Wisconsin and Pennsylvania is that unlike in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin Republicans did not get any union money.
“Eighty percent of Republicans take money from unions,” Wagner said.
Wagner said he is far from making an endorsement but that he likes Walker
Wagner said that he is pushing for the sale of the state’s liquor stores.
“State liquor stores aren’t making the kind of money people think they are,” he said.
In a bit of irony, Wagner is now running the Senate Republican Campaign Committee which so bitterly fought him a year ago. He said that he has his eye on several Democrat seats in the western part of the state and expect to flip four or five to the GOP in 2016. The Republicans now hold a 30-20 lead in the body but Wagner notes that four or five from the Philadelphia suburbs often end up supporting the Democrats.
It was rather daring that Wagner would make his speech on his adversaries’ turf.
Wagner did have some nice things to say about Dominic Pileggi (R-9) who he was instrumental in removing as Senate Majority Leader earlier this year.
“I think he’s a brilliant guy,” he said.
He said Pileggi’s weak spot was that his training as a lawyer kept him from seeing the steps needed to save the state.
Pileggi is running for election as a Common Pleas Court judge this fall and would leave his senate seat if he should win as expected. Wagner said he expects a more conservative senator to replace Pileggi.
Wagner got some grief in the question period regarding his support for SB 76, a bill that was tabled last fall and would have replaced the property tax with either an income or sales tax to fund schools. Many members in the audience said they feared it would mean the end of local control of schools. Wagner said the bill was not perfect, is not likely to pass as is, and needs further work.
He said property tax relief is desperately needed, however, and SB 76 gets things moving.
Wagner said he does not expect a state budget to be passed until October. He said any claims that the government is going to shut down are “bullshit” a word he repeated several times. He noted that the state is still going to be collecting taxes whether the budget is passed or not.
Also at the meeting was Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Paul Panepinto who was seeking support for his independent run as a state Supreme Court judge. Judge Panepinto needs 17,000 signatures by July to get on the ballot. He recently made headlines for fining lawyer Nancy Raynor $1 million for her behavior during a medical malpractice case.
Wagner gave him a ringing endorsement calling him the “real deal”.
Scott Wagner Warns Ship Going Down