Candidate Q&A: Carolyn Comitta, 156th State House District

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Carolyn Comitta

Carolyn Comitta

Editor’s Note: Once again, we posed the same nine questions to our legislative candidates and offered to publish them without edits or modification to allow our readers to get an unfiltered view of their positions on some of the top issues of the day in Pennsylvania. We will run the answers of all of the candidates for a given race at the same time — assuming all have responded.

1. There seems to be universal agreement that the state continues to face lower revenues than expenses. How would you address this issue — by additional cuts in spending (if so, where?), raising taxes or some combination of the two?

PA expenses continue to exceed revenues so we have a serious problem! As a small business owner, faced with this challenges during the Great Recession, I worked to eliminate all non-essential expenses, increase revenue and created a new business model through zero based budgeting. I am happy to report, our efforts paid off, and our business is thriving in the New Economy. Our Commonwealth faces challenges of an entirely different magnitude and complexity, but l believe the approaches that will help are similar.

We must continue to reduce government waste and abuse, as our current Auditor General, Eugene DePasquale has begun doing. Things are better than they were, but there is still some waste out there! One example is Gov Wolf’s digitizing of state records which saves $156 million per year. Rep Warner (R) is the prime sponsor of HB2286, which would establish a zero-based budget for our state. As our State Representative, I will reach out to him on this.

We also need to raise revenue. We can start by eliminating big corporate tax giveaways. The Marcellus Shale industry gets away tax free! Taxing the shale industry would provide much needed revenue for environmental oversight by DEP, to protect public health. We must close these corporate tax loopholes and tax the gas industry before raising any taxes on people!!

 2. School funding continues to be an issue for many folks — and litigation over fair funding is now working its way through the courts. Does Pennsylvania provide enough funding for local public schools and is it fairly distributed? Also, Act 1 of 2006 is beginning to put some school districts in a bind — thanks to a combination of lowered real estate values, skyrocketing pension, health care and special education costs — is it time to revisit the act and rework some aspects of it?

I applaud the legislature for voting for a “fair funding formula” for school districts, and I look forward to having a seat at the table to participate in that allocation. As a former teacher, I fully understand the vital importance of providing every child a quality education, regardless of their zip code. I will look into the problems being created by Act 1 and bring experts to the table to discuss the possibilities, either to tweak the Act as it exists, or revisit it all together.

3. Although Pennsylvania has the highest gas tax in the nation, it continues to struggle to pay for road and bridge maintenance. How would you address this issue?

My opponent voted NO on the Transportation bill on a technicality. Fortunately the Transportation Bill passed with a strong bi-partisan majority. I would have voted YES for this important bill, which addresses a serious issue – PA bridges are falling down! And our roads are in serious disrepair. The Transportation Bill raises the gas tax, which in PA is “dedicated funding” for necessary repairs to roads and bridges. Pennsylvania’s roads and bridges are among the worst in the country. The gas tax helps, but is not enough. Hillary Clinton proposes a huge investment in infrastructure. Federal money would be a big help.

Unfortunately, in our District, we missed an opportunity to make our roads and bridges a higher priority because of my opponent’s NO vote. As our state legislator, I pledge to cast my votes based on public health and safety, the common good, and with the best interests of our District top of mind. 

4. There have been at least five gun-related homicides in the county this year — four in the last few weeks — in addition to a number of non-fatal shootings this year. What would you do to stem gun violence?

I am proud to have been endorsed by Ceasefire Pa, Chester County Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, and Mom’s Demand Action, all powerful gun safety groups who recognize my early support of the need for closing gun show loopholes, reinstating the assault weapons ban, enacting common sense background checks, and keeping guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, such as people with mental health issues, or people on the No Fly list. I was an early member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. I have been a champion on this issue and when I am in Harrisburg I will bring people together, to find common ground and figure out a way to protect our children and families, while protecting our Second Amendment rights.

5. As the opioid crisis grows, what efforts do you support both to curtail new addictions and help those already in the grip of addiction?

I have personally seen the horrors of drug addiction – it affects all families: urban, rural and suburban, and all socio-economic levels of our communities. As Mayor of West Chester, I have been an active leader in our Community Campus Coalition to reduce alcohol-related incidents. The goal of the CCC is to work together as a community to help protect public health and safety. Recently we have been directing our efforts to combat the growing opioid epidemic.

As Mayor, I am the citizen liaison to the police department, and understand that like alcohol addiction, the opioid epidemic requires a multi-faceted approach. We need more funding for police and EMS and need more collaboration between the police, EMS, schools, medical and mental health professionals. I will continue to be a champion for combating the drug epidemic and will continue bringing the various stakeholders together to address this complex problem.

6. Land use continues to be front and center in Chester County — from the development of farm lands to housing developments to needed redevelopment in our urban areas. In terms of your district, what should the state being doing now to better preserve open space and target development to areas with existing infrastructure?

As Vice President and CFO of Thomas Comitta, Associates, Inc., I am proud to work with the most experienced land planner in our area, my husband Tom Comitta. For over 35 years, our firm has worked with over 125 municipalities across the Commonwealth and beyond to prepare Comprehensive Plans, Open Space Plans and Zoning Ordinances that give Townships, Boroughs and Cities the tools they need to regulate and control suburban sprawl, preserve open space and promote smart growth. Following Chester County’s Comprehensive Plan, Landscapes, we are working every day to help municipalities preserve open space and plan for new development primarily in urban areas.

In order to better preserve open space, the state could investigate ways to strengthen Open Space Planning, through amendments to the PA Municipalities Planning Code. This would involve a new set of definitions, the identification of heritage landscapes, and the identification of other areas to be protected and conserved. Further, the state could investigate improvements to the MPC to strengthen the designation of growth areas. While many counties, and our DVRPC work every day to explore ways to balance the protection of open space areas and the identification of growth areas, we could add “teeth” to the planning process to help minimize suburban sprawl.

Currently in our District, Crebilly Farm in Westtown Township is a heritage landscape with plentiful farmland. It is proposed to be developed much to the consternation of residents. This could be a great opportunity for regional TDR- Transfer of Development Rights, whereby Crebilly Farm could be the “sending area”, and portions of West Chester Borough could be the “receiving area”. In this way, open space could be protected, and properties could be redeveloped in West Chester where infrastructure (streets, public sewer, and public water) already exists.

As our State Representative, I will promote the reestablishment of the West Chester Regional Planning Commission, to focus on issues such as Crebilly Farm, regional TDR, more effective Open Space planning, public transportation, and LERTA – Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance. Dan Truitt says “a state rep can’t do anything to help with local land planning concerns”. I say, that depends on who your state rep is!!”  “A state rep has a tremendous opportunity to bring people together to improve the community. That’s what I do as mayor and it’s what I will continue to do as your state representative”. 

7. Do you support efforts by some to take state legislative and congressional redistricting out of the hands of the legislature and put it into the hands of an independent commission? If so, why? If not, why not?

YES! I was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to stop the gerrymandering of West Chester Borough, where my opponent’s Legislative Leaders split the Borough in half, seeking to dilute our representation in Harrisburg. Fortunately, West Chester Borough won, and was put back together, but the consequences ended up splitting West Goshen Township. A non-partisan computer generated plan, meeting the requirements of our Constitution to have a contiguous district, without cutting up townships, is the way to go.

8. What issue do you feel that the media/public fails to discuss enough in terms of state government?

The biggest challenge in Harrisburg is its dysfunction! As the first woman elected Mayor of West Chester and the first Bi-Partisan elected Mayor, I have earned the respect and trust of both parties, and have good success bringing diverse stakeholders together to find solutions that work. In the Legislature, I won’t care if you’re a Democrat or a Republican, because true leaders don’t play politics – we get things done!

9. Can you tell us something mildly surprising about yourself (hobbies, unusual past jobs, etc.) that the public might find interesting?

A few random fun facts:

I play the piano, violin, and sousaphone

I performed in high school gymnastics shows and musicals.

I attended the Northwest Outward Bound School for Mountaineering and learned to rock climb, rappel, hike glaciers and perform ice arrests.

In high school I loved gymnastics and performing in leading roles in musicals.

Since 1988, I have been working as a volunteer with an educational NGO at the United Nations focused on health and environment issues. I have had the opportunity to participate in three international UN conferences: the Earth Summit, Rio, 1992; The UN Conference on Population and Development, Cario, 1992; The UN Conference on Human Settlements, Istanbul, 1996. Each year, since 1992, I have organized the attendance of over 100 local high school and university students to the annual UN Health and Environment Conference, sponsored by my NGO.

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