PHOENIXVILLE — About 40 people turned out for State Rep. Warren Kampf’s town hall, asking issues that affect their lives and wallets.
Residents from Phoenixville, Schuylkill and Tredyffrin townships and Lower Providence asked the state representative questions as well as voiced their opinions during the meeting held Monday at the Phoenixville Area High School Auditorium.
Questions arose about the pension crisis, Voter ID Law, property taxes and other issues affecting the citizens of Pennsylvania.
Dan Reese of Schuylkill Township raised a question about what is being done about underfunded pension funds for state employees.
Kampf said there are two funds, known as the State Employees’ Retirement System and the Public School Employees’ Retirement System. Both have been severely underfunded, Kampf said.
He said it would take $35 billion to $40 billion to sustain the pension funds.
“How did we get into this situation?” Kampf said. “In 2001, there were very good benefits granted to people in the systems and it was retroactive. For about 10 years, the governor decided not to fund what was required.”
He said the rate of returns went down to 7.5 or 8 percent and that the “funds don’t invest conservatively.”
Kampf said the “significant legal hurdle” is some officials believe that when benefits and pensions are offered to people in the system, they can’t be changed.
“I believe we shouldn’t add people to this system,” he said. “We should manage funds so they are not a shock to the taxpayers.”
Kampf said $1 billion is being contributed to the pension funds from the $27.5 billion state budget.
He recently introduced bills that would mandate future school district and state employees to enter into an employee-controlled contribution plan like a 401K than a defined contribution plan.
Sharon Stein of Tredyffrin Township asked what the chances are that the reform bills could become law.
Kampf said other representatives have also introduced bills for pension reform and the governor said pension reform is going to be a priority for him this calendar year.
“There is a legitimate chance it could happen and that you’ll see some meaningful changes,” he said.
Another attendee asked if there are any bills proposing to ban assault weapons or if the NRA was too powerful for that.
Kampf said to his knowledge there weren’t any current bills to ban assault rifles, but in the past there have been attempts.
“The NRA is very powerful in Pennsylvania and there are many of my colleagues that view the Second Amendment as a very important one,” he said.
“I can’t ignore what happened in Aurora,” Kampf said, explaining his history of serving as a deputy prosecutor in York County and an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia.
He said as an individual, he is open to the idea of legislation that will solve a violence problem, but wouldn’t just vote for something that was “just for show.”
“It has to be something of value that has an impact,” Kampf said.
Ryan Dempsey’s question also dealt with gun laws. Dempsey asked if Kampf supported the gun laws in the state and what he felt needed to be changed.
Kampf said he supports background checks people have to go through when they are purchasing guns.
He said there are no restrictions on the amount of ammunition people can purchase.
Kampf said some guns are traded without background checks and that concerns him.
Joyce Macias of Phoenixville asked Kampf to clarify something she had heard about the Voter ID Law, whether people had to pay for a photo ID if they didn’t have a driver’s license.
Kampf said a law was passed in February that a fee for a photo ID would be waived if the person couldn’t afford to pay for one.
“We don’t want to deny people’s right to vote just because of their financial status,” he said.
An attendee asked what the chances of property tax reform.
“The chances aren’t bad, but not as strong as pension reform,” Kampf said.
He said people in the Poconos are facing “gigantic tax bills.”
House Bill 1776 (known as the Property Tax Independence Act) has been proposed to eliminate property taxes for school districts, Kampf said.
The idea with the bill is to replace the tax with an increase of 1 percent in sales tax and 1 percent in income taxes.
“All of the money would flow to the state rather than through school districts,” Kampf said.
He said while he’s open to eliminating property tax especially since it affects people with fixed incomes, there will be negative impacts on people if the bill is approved.
Kampf said an “education funding formula” needs to be included with this bill especially since people ask why certain schools receive more money than others.
He pointed out a step that has been taken to keep school districts in check with their budgets.
Changes have been made to Act 1. Under Act 1, if schools wanted to raise taxes above the assigned index, they would need to place the increase on a ballot. There were 14 exceptions that allowed districts to raise taxes above the index without putting the item on ballots.
Kampf said last year 12 of those exceptions were eliminated.
Another area resident asked when redistricting would be implemented.
Kampf talked about what’s happened with redistricting so far including the maps being challenged in court. A new map will be adopted and changes won’t take place until 2014.
He said with redistricting, Phoenixville Borough would be split into two districts: 157 and 155 (Curt Shroder’s district.)
Rebecca Bowser of Schuylkill Township asked Kampf about his stand on Marcellus Shale drilling.
Kampf said he sees various benefits from Marcellus Shale drilling. He said it has already created 250,000 jobs and it is expected to generate 500,000 jobs.
He said he believes the agencies policing drilling, including the Department of Environmental Protection, “are doing a good job of policing it.”
There wasn’t recent legislation for drilling until the recent passing of Act 13, Kampf said.
“Act 13 is an excellent start toward handling Marcellus Shale,” he said.
Kampf said due to Act 13 the state will receive revenue that will be used for roads and bridges and the Growing Greener Fund.