HAWLEY — The issues were tough and the politicians were straightforward on Friday morning.

The event was the annual Legislative Breakfast held at Ehrhardt’s Waterfront Banquet Center and sponsored by the Pocono Lakes Region, Pike County, Wayne County and Southern Wayne chambers of commerce.

HAWLEY — The issues were tough and the politicians were straightforward on Friday morning.

The event was the annual Legislative Breakfast held at Ehrhardt’s Waterfront Banquet Center and sponsored by the Pocono Lakes Region, Pike County, Wayne County and Southern Wayne chambers of commerce.

Tim Downs of Bold Gold Media Group moderated the event which featured Sen. Lisa Baker, Rep. Sandra Major and Rep. Michael Peifer. Rep. Rosemary Brown was also at the gathering but had to leave after opening remarks because of a previous commitment. Rep. Edward Staback was unable to attend because a close family member was injured in the war in Afghanistan and he was dealing with that tough situation.

Opening remarks
The lawmakers began the program with opening remarks and touched on various issues.
“We’re here to listen,” Baker told the large audience which attended the early morning event. Baker said she sits on six committees in Harrisburg, chairing the Veterans Affairs Committee.

That, she said, gives her a broad perspective of the many issues facing the Legislature.
Baker said she is focusing on how officials responded to the flooding following Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. She said a bill has been introduced to address recovery from the flood. One component of the bill is a way to provide low-interest loans to small business owners.

Another component is having the counties compile an inventory of the damage to roads and bridges in the area. She had especially kind words for county and utility officials and how they responded to the storms.

Major opened by saying there is a lot of work to be done at the capital.
“We’ve got quite an agenda in Harrisburg,” said Major.

She did say lawmakers and the governor approved an on-time budget for the first time in eight years. She noted that $1 billion was also trimmed from the budget.
Major said an issue which she is interested in concerns privatization of certain state services.

She pointed to liquor stores, welcome centers, rest areas and drivers license centers as all up for consideration for privatization.

Peifer also commented on the budget, saying cutting that much was not an easy decision, but one that was necessary.

“It is something we had to do,” said Peifer.

He also said lawmakers cut $500 million from the welfare system, citing fraud as a major part of those cuts. Peifer also said he would like to see drug test as a requirement for collection of unemployment benefits but added that a legal ruling in Florida may not make that possible.

He said another positive step forward this session was Penn Watch, where all state spending information is now available online.

But one issue which Peifer said has to be addressed is rising unemployment.

“We need to get people back to work,” said Peifer.
Peifer also touched on redistricting, which will be unveiled Monday with a 60-day comment period to follow.

Peifer said Monroe County has grown faster than Pike and Wayne counties, so he could lose some of his territory.

“That’s kind of stressful,” he said. “I don’t want to lose these districts I’ve worked hard to meet and greet.”

Peifer also discussed the issue of the tough financial situation being faced by government entities throughout Pennsylvania. He cited Harrisburg, which has filed for bankruptcy, as an example. There, he said, the issue comes down to a $300 million incinerator which was supposed to produce green energy. He said that incinerator is probably only worth $100 million.

“The state has to step in there,” said Peifer.
But, he said, the state resources “will be limited” as they will use assets of Harrisburg in trying to work through the problems. Peifer also cited the situation in Scranton and added, “Even our local boroughs are having issues.”

Liquor stores
Following those opening remarks, the microphone was then opened up to the audience for questions.

Jim Shook, co-owner of IGA Markets in Hawley, said he was concerned about the issue of privatizing liquor stores as well as allowing convenience stores to sell larger quantities of beer.

Peifer said there is a “disconnect” between the agendas of the House, Senate and governor’s office. Peifer said the leader of the House is focused on privatizing liquor stores and is in favor of that move.

“The House leader is actively pushing for sale of the liquor stores,” said Peifer.
Peifer said the state could earn $1.6 billion by selling the liquor stores.

“We are the largest purchaser of alcohol in the world,” said Peifer.
He also said the issue has “been discussed for 20 years” but lawmakers haven’t “been able to” make the sale go forward.

He also pointed out if the stores were sold, the state would still collect 24 percent in sales taxes. Part of that is the 6 percent state sales tax and the 18 percent is the Johnstown Flood Tax. That tax was instituted in 1936 following the devastating flood and was intended to be temporary. However, it was never repealed and was actually increased to 15 percent in 1963 and upped to 18 percent in 1968. Today, all of that money goes toward the general fund.

Peifer said if it came down to selling the liquor stores versus upping the gasoline tax by some 23 cents, “I’d probably vote to sell the liquor stores.”

Major said there are “some conservatives who absolutely don’t want to sell the state stores. Others believe we should privatize.”

Major said she has not yet taken a stance on the situation.
Baker said nothing has come before the Senate, adding it might not get that far.
“I don’t see that rising as a high priority in the Senate,” said Baker.

‘Rogue’ state trooper

Shook also asked the lawmakers about what he called a “rogue state trooper” in Honesdale who he said is “targeting” commercial vehicles for  “small, minute” problems. He accused the trooper of targeting “blue collar workers.” Shook said the trooper will make drivers pull over and “sit on the road for hours,” costing them money.

Peifer said it is “very difficult” as a legislator to “interfere” in the court system.

He also said the people have to stand up and speak.
“This is America, damn it,” said Peifer. “People have to stand up and make the phone call.”

Peifer said he has received “all these anonymous” phone calls and urges people to identify themselves if they think this issue is a major problem.

Shook said he had an incident where there was a drug deal happening in the IGA parking lot and no trooper was available to respond.

“There was nobody to respond but they can spend hours checking vehicles,” said Shook.
“You need the people to fight back,” said Peifer, urging them to file complaints with the state police.

Baker said there is a Bureau of Professional Responsibility within the Pennsylvania State Police and forms are available online.

Several other issues were discussed during the event, including bringing more jobs to this area, concerns about the pipeline and state revenues.