WAYNE AND PIKE COUNTIES, PA — For the past decade and a half, Pennsylvania’s 139th District has been represented by Rep. Michael Peifer, a business-background Republican who chaired the …
WAYNE AND PIKE COUNTIES, PA — For the past decade and a half, Pennsylvania’s 139th District has been represented by Rep. Michael Peifer, a business-background Republican who chaired the House Finance Committee and served on Appropriations during his tenure.
Last December, he announced that he would retire at the conclusion of his current term in November.
Vying to fill his seat are Joe Adams, the Republican Wayne County commissioner who calls himself a close friend of Peifer’s, and Meghan Rosenfeld, a Democratic Pike County resident and advocate who recently ran as a write-in candidate for the Delaware Valley School Board.
Encompassing the southern end of Wayne and the northern portion of Pike, PA-139 is perhaps one of the most quintessentially rural districts in Pennsylvania. With that distinction comes some specifically rural issues: an aging workforce; a dearth of nearby colleges and universities; Pike County’s lack of access to healthcare services; and Wayne County’s lack of access to the internet.
Between Adams’ years as a business manager and superintendent at local school districts, and Rosenfeld’s work as a Montessori-certified supervisor and field consultant, both candidates cite their experience in education as key qualifications for the job in Harrisburg. They offer different approaches, however, to fixing PA’s broken school-funding system.
Ranked 44th in the country, the PA state government only funds about 38 percent of what public education costs—the national average is 47 percent. School districts must rely on local taxpayers to make up the remainder of their funding needs through property-tax collections. This system essentially ensures that wealthier school districts receive more, while poorer districts receive less.
Even though PA lawmakers enacted a new fair-funding formula in 2016 to address this inequity, the formula only applies to “new money,” and does not reform the built-in disparities among districts that existed before the formula was incorporated.
“It’s simply a matter of closing a loophole in order to start implementing the fair-funding formula, which absolutely should be happening,” said Rosenfeld, who criticized the sort of reforms proposed by Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for PA governor.
Mastriano has said that he would significantly cut state spending on public education, opting instead for a voucher system designed to make it easier for parents to send their children to private or religious schools.
“I don’t believe the solution is cutting funding to all school districts, and I don’t believe the solution is essentially crippling all public schools by offering a voucher system for private education. I think that would be a disaster for every student in Pennsylvania who isn’t well-off enough to pay the out-of-pocket expenses for private education that aren’t covered by a voucher,” Rosenfeld said.
To deal with funding issues, Adams said he would like to see several initiatives from the past reinstated. For example, he said that when Gov. Bob Casey Sr. cut the state’s share of special education funding back in 1992, the burden was placed on local taxpayers, and remains there today. According to a recent report by the Education Law Center and PA Schools Work, the state government only covered 22 percent of special education costs in the 2019-20 school year.
“Special needs children require special services… it’s important to have mandates and good things happening for special needs students, but the funding mechanism went away and got all thrown on the local taxpayer,” Adams said. “There are individuals who may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to educate, that fall directly on the local taxpayer where that student lives. To me, that’s unfair.”
He also said that he’d like to see the state’s gambling revenue—a funding stream that Gov. Ed Rendell promised in 2004 would go toward public education—directed back toward public schools, and therefore provide PA homeowners with some tax relief. This tax relief was named the Homestead Tax Exemption.
“[The first] year they funded the Homestead Exemption to the tune of $250 to $270 per taxpayer… then didn’t add anything to it since,” Adams said. “At that time, there were four casinos and very little gambling revenue. Now, the gambling revenue is two billion dollars in the state of Pennsylvania… If they did what they said they were going to do, that exemption now would be just shy of $2,000 per homeowner, which would be significant for taxpayers.”
Adams said he would also like to possibly expand sales taxes in PA to “replace or at least augment” property taxes, which are currently the state’s primary source of funding for education.
In a problem clearly highlighted since early 2020, Pike is one of few counties in Pennsylvania that lack an urgent-care service or hospital. The Pike County Commissioners said in 2021 that they were “really, really close” to announcing plans to establish one or two urgent-care facilities in the county.
“The [Pike County Commissioners] have done a yeoman’s job of getting health organizations to want to come in and partner with them to create two major health centers… and that needs to continue,” Adams said.
He said that state could offer “direct incentives” in the form of tax credits and interest relief to young Pike County natives, who would attend medical school and then return to the county to provide residents with rural healthcare.
“It’s a competitive world, and we need to be able to compete there,” Adams said.
Rosenfeld calls the county a “healthcare desert,” and said it’s a problem that she’s felt on a deeply personal level, when her 11-year-old son was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
“In order for us to have him receive the medical care that he needed for his last month of life, he had to travel an hour-and-a-half away to a hospital in New Jersey,” she said. “This wouldn’t have been the case anywhere else that I have ever lived.”
She added that the area has a problem with healthcare access for even routine medical visits, an issue she said especially affects the elderly, who might not have reliable access to transportation, or working families who can’t afford to take time off work just to have a checkup.
“I would love to see the state offer more funding opportunities and appropriations for the building of facilities; we have plenty of land here where a facility could be built,” she said. “And the population increase that has been happening over the past 10 years warrants it.”
Rosenfeld also wants the minimum-income threshold for Medicaid eligibility to be raised, which she said would help guarantee healthcare access for the middle class.
“If we were to pass that in the state legislature, we would see a huge difference in the economic standing of people in the middle class,” she said. “We can’t keep putting people into a position where they can’t get out of cyclical poverty in terms of their living conditions, regardless of what their tax returns show.”
The region has a lot to offer, Adams said, like recreational opportunities, clean air, clean water, low crime and low taxation.
“What we don’t have enough of are good, quality jobs,” he said. One of his top priorities as a representative would be finding ways to help local small and mid-sized businesses grow, and attract larger companies from surrounding metropolises.
Adams pointed out two primary areas for economic growth: fixing the region’s lack of broadband access—which is especially scarce in Wayne County—and embarking on more Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) projects. The Sterling Business & Technology Park in Wayne County is one such project, and it now employs more than 50 workers.
“What keeps people where they are is family and employment,” he said. “We have great families, now we just need more employment.”
Rosenfeld said that two integral components of her campaign are economic growth and environmental conservation, and said that the two don’t have to be at odds with each other. She cited a current example in Pike County, where many residents have been opposing a developer’s proposal to construct a large warehouse on the Milford aquifer—an area of about 44 acres that supplies water for the Milford Water Authority reservoirs.
Rosenfeld sees both sides of the issue. She said she believes that a warehouse poses too much of a threat to the communities’ water supply, but also that the landowner should be able to sell and profit from their property. Her solution: sell the land to a developer who would build a hospital or other medical facility there.
“It’s in a prime location, it would not pose a threat to the Milford aquifer, it would solve our healthcare problems, and it would be lucrative in terms of tax revenue,” she said. “It’s easy to get creative with identifying what our problems are and what the potential solutions could be in a way that would be environmentally sound.”
This year’s election will take place on Tuesday, November 8. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The last day to register to vote is October 24. The last day to request a mail-in ballot is November 1.
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