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Election 2012: State Senate Candidates Debate in Peters

D. Raja, Sue Means and Rep. Mark Mustio discussed property reassessments, health care, education, Marcellus Shale and more on Tuesday night.

The three Republicans vying for the 37th Senatorial District seat being vacated by state Sen. John Pippy convened at  on Tuesday night for a debate moderated by Peters Councilman David Ball.

Sue Ann Means, a Republican state committeewoman from Bethel Park; Mark Mustio, a state 44th House District representative from Moon Township; and D. Raja, a former Mt. Lebanon commissioner and , answered questions—both broad and specific—concerning their role if they took office and their stance on issues concerning residents of the 37th Senatorial District.

Besides , the 37th District includes includes part of Washington County, namely, all of Peters Township; and part of Allegheny County, including the townships of AleppoCollierFindlayKilbuckLeetMoonNorth FayetteOhioSouth FayetteSouth Park and Upper St. Clair; the boroughs of AvalonBell AcresBen AvonBen Avon HeightsBridgevilleEdgeworthEmsworthGlen OsborneGlenfieldHaysvilleJefferson HillsLeetsdaleOakdalePleasant HillsSewickley, Sewickley Heights and Sewickley Hills; and Bethel Park and Mt. Lebanon.

Click here to see if you reside in the 37th District.

Voters and Washington County Republican leaders attended Tuesday's debate, which was hosted by the Peters Township Republicans.

The winner of April 24's primary election will be an unchallenged nominee on November's general election ballot, as there are no candidates from opposing parties, including no Democrats, competing for that district's state Senate seat.

Means, who has a background in nursing, said that she's running because she's concerned about the direction of the United States and the "out-of-control spending" in Harrisburg.

"Our state is sick," Means said. "Our government is infected with parasites. It's an overeating glutton. It needs put on a strict diet called a balanced budget.

"I'm running for the people who need and deserve someone to champion their liberties."

Means also touted her 27 years as a grassroots activist.

When asked, "What will you do to make Pennsylvania a desirable place to run a business?" Mustio said that it's already being implemented.

"Corporate net income tax needs to be reduced," he said.

Mustio said that he's in favor of a moratorium on property reassessments. He said that Pennsylvanians must improve their environment and have a private sector come in to invest—as has been done at the Pittsburgh International Airport. He also touted that he's part of a legislative district that grew by 15 percent in the past few years.

Means replied, "We cannot be free until we are economically free. Our government is too big."

She said that she feels that Americans have less discretionary income today.

"We must look at our programs and only fund those that'll work," she said. "Two thousand laws are introduced yearly in Harrisburg. There are too many taxes, too many regulations."

Raja agreed.

"We have the second-highest business tax in the whole country," he said. "It's 9.99 percent. We are fundamentally flawed. Our regulation is archaic. We need a great platform that's organic, that'll work. Reform needs to happen."

Raja came to Pittsburgh to take advantage of a scholarship at the University of Pittsburgh. He eventually received a master's degree from Carnegie Mellon University and left for a job in the Silicon Valley, but he returned to Pittsburgh because it was home.

He said that he grew his company, Computer Enterprises, Inc., without bank loans to millions of dollars in a short amount of time. He said that he cut real estate taxes twice in Mt. Lebanon and is pro-life and pro-Second Amendment.

Mustio represents more than 60,000 residents of western Allegheny County in the 44th Legislative District and has served in that role since 2003.

Achieving a Balanced Budget

Means said that the government must take a serious look at welfare fraud.

"Thirty percent goes to welfare," she said. "Hard times call for hard decisions. We must cut out spending by at least 25 percent. We have to pay off our debt. We need to sell the liquor stores. The state needs to get out of the business of selling liquor."

Raja again agreed.

"Growth in revenue doesn't happen overnight," he said. "There are people that bought a Lexus on a welfare budget.

"We need to help those people in need because the system is fundamentally not working. We need to find the root cause of the problem and fix it so it works. We need to prioritize in public safety infrastructure.

"No liquor stores. We need to make sure the best service is going to the taxpayer."

Mustio said that he's in support of Gov. Tom Corbett's budget plan.

"It's not spending more money than we're taking in," Mustio said. "I have voted to reduce welfare spending by $400 million. Now, we're drug testing those on welfare. I voted to downsize the (state) Legislature, which hasn't happened since 1967. We need to take a look at ourselves first."

Means disagreed.

"Downsizing is a bad idea," she said. "It puts more power into fewer people's hands."

Property Reassessments

Mustio said that he believes that the taxing body must roll its millage rate back to the average increase.

"If the average went up 25 percent," he said, "then the district would have to roll back rates to 25 percent—zero windfall."

Mustio said that he voted for a moratorium on Allegheny County reassessments, which is now headed to the state Senate.

"The state Legislature has let us all down," Means said. "It's unconstitutional to have Washington and Allegheny counties faced with reassessment. We have the right to own property."

She said that she voted for House Bill 1776—instead of revenues stemming from property tax, they'd come from sales tax.

Means said that she visited a family in Mt. Lebanon while campaigning.

"I was broken-hearted," she said. "They had raised their family, paid off their house and had to move because they couldn't afford to pay property taxes anymore."

Raja said that he was also in favor of the moratorium.

"Forty-eight states do a statewide assessment," he said. "We're one of two that do not. There needs to be zero windfall, and it needs to be statewide. As a commissioner, I saw how the amount of refunds going out was estimated—appeals were made high. Those loopholes need to be closed."

Health Care

Mustio said that the candidates had talked about welfare earlier, but it's not just those who are getting checks, he said.

"It's our most disadvantaged citizens and seniors. Those services are being delivered and not being taken advantage of."

Means agreed.

"Most of our senior citizens should be moved to a better situation," she said. "We're the 39th overall provider for long-term health care services. There is 10- to 15-percent fraud in collecting Medicaid money and services.”

Raja said that Pennsylvanians should consider privatizing health care.

"The money needs to be spent efficiently," he said. "Vendors fund the politicians. The money comes in, and it's not for the best. The federal government mandates the direction of money.

"Some things are very archaic."

Should Education Funding Be Tied to Performance?

Means said that there is one program that bothers her.

"Students score below the state assessment test, and then, they get more money," she said. "They keep pouring more and more money into our schools and are not getting results.

"Teacher strikes needs banned. Prevailing wage needs eliminated."

Said Raja, "An integral part is being a leader in education. It sets us for the next generation. School choice is a critical aspect of it. The bottommost-failing schools need the option to go to a different area."

Mustio agreed.

"We need school choice in Pennsylvania," he said. "We need to update the charter schools. Three hundred and thirty million dollars is going solely into pensions."

He added that parental involvement is key.

"It's not happening in lower-performing schools," he said. "Kids aren't reading with the TV off, and parents aren't sitting down with them."

He referenced an example of an after-school program in Moon Township.

"Some of the most disadvantaged kids came in and were out of control," he said. "They came consistently, and now, they run off of the school bus to see those nuns. They know someone loves and cares for them.”

Means said that there is no correlation between money spent and classroom expense.

"Taxes are so high, and there is no discretionary income," she said. "Faith-based charity organizations work, but they're hurting because we're paying too much in our tax dollars."

She also said that there must to be transparency in our government.

"Right now, in Bethel Park, the issue is giving students iPads," she said. "The students shouldn't even have calculators. It's making our students dumber and their minds weaker."

Marcellus Shale

Mustio said that he's not a proponent of a moratorium on , but he did vote against House Bill 1950/Act 13.

"Peters Township is gorgeous," he said. "I understand how residents are concerned that it might be taken away because of ordinances, et cetera. It's different (to drill) where there aren't very many people. But, it will help us from an energy standpoint."

Mustio said that citizens must marshal that, so that they use it here in Pennsylvania.

"We're in the market for the product. At the same time, you're going to see jobs created."

Means said that Act 129 ("the Utility Act") should be repealed.

"Mustio voted for 129," she said. "It was passed. It you want to conserve, that's fine, but, this is state mandating.

"The bill was passed in 2008. We need to repeal the Utility Act. The state is picking winning and losers and driving up the price of our electricity.

"The more energy we use, we're growing and manufacturing more goods. It's the detriment of us all."

Raja said that Pennsylvanians are fortunate for Marcellus Shale.

"That said, I believe about the local control," he said. "The local bodies need to be able to decide. This gives us the ability to lead in energy production.

"I agree with Sue. We should be creating a platform where regulation is fair and consistent."

Raja said that he feels that 40 percent of the money shouldn't go to Harrisburg but should stay local.

Integrity of the Government

Means said that she's in favor of term limits.

"Pensions are tied with careers," she said. "I plan to serve two years with no pension.

"We need more citizens volunteering for duty."

Raja agreed.

"There are two kinds of politicians—one of those is seeking a career," he said.

"We need someone who wants to serve the people. Pensions are a detriment. The longer you stay, the more you become a career politician. You must have people who go there and want to give back.

"Allegheny County gave me the opportunity to be successful here. This isn't a career for me. I want to focus on results. There are significant issues in Harrisburg. I want to lead by reform and make sure there's transparency."

Mustio urged voters to check his expenses online.

"It's a good way for all of you to vent," he said. "It's hard for me to go to Harrisburg and see what happens to some of those people. They are indicted and go to jail. That's not who I am.

"I first ran for our kids. I ran for the airport. Some are there for the wrong reasons, but I don't think that's any of us."

Means said that she believes that a law should be passed that prevents elected officials from ever being a lobbyist.

"There are 2,000 lobbyists in Harrisburg," she said.

Final Word to Voters

Raja thanked the Peters Township Republicans for hosting the debate.

“I've taken a lot of hits," he said. "I have a small office in India, and 94 percent of my company is in the U.S. The rumors aren't true. I'm committed to growing and prevailing wage reform. I want to focus on results.

"Someone said to me, 'If you can trust your life to an Indian doctor, you can most certainly trust your life to an Indian CEO.' Those who want to serve get results done."

Means said, "Tough times call for tough decisions. Pennsylvania is sick. It's going bankrupt. It's calling for a nurse. Career politicians are putting the next election ahead of the next generation.

"We need to cut spending and live within our means. I'm running as an independent, citizen patriot. I'm worried about the future of our children and grandchildren. We need to redirect Pennsylvania onto a path of prosperity."

Mustio said that he chose to run for office in 2003 because he was tired of going to meetings and hearing (officials) say that they wanted to keep our young people here.

"I want students who graduate here to have jobs here. It's important to consider that when you vote for your next state Senator.

"I'm pro-business and have never voted for a tax increase. I have a record. I'm pro-life and well-versed on the issues."

Who has your vote on the 24th? Tell us in the comments section.

This article originally appeared on the .

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