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Taxation frustration sparks angry argument Rep. Bear ‘keeps it clean’ during town hall meeting
By: NOELLE BARRETT Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer
State Rep. John Bear asked community members what their outlook on life was at the beginning of his fifth annual talk back. Sixty-three percent responded with the glass half-full perspective.
Still, hot button issues pushed a few buttons during the May 31 session held at Linden Hall’s auditorium. Bear hosts the event each year as a way for community members to ask questions about their concerns in a light, entertaining and interactive format. Last week, it was clear early on that some affected by these issues were ready to sound-off.
A resident of Manheim Township (Ben) stated his main concern is teachers’ pensions and expenses.
"I’ve lived in Manheim Township 12 years. My taxes have now gone up over 100 percent since we moved here in 1999," said the former New York resident. "My wife and I are seriously considering moving from this state … all because of these runaway taxes. Everywhere we go, everybody wants in our pockets."
Bear said it’s an issue many have approached him about, but is moving forward.
"We’re slowly coming around to it because financially no one can afford it," he said. "The governor said that he wants to do pension reform next year, and I think you’re seeing the Senate say, (it’s) ready to do something right now."
After Ben compared the state’s taxes to other states, a verbal argument broke out between him and another man (Bill).
After Bill suggested Ben move back to New York, the men yelled at each other, back and forth, while Bear tried to take control of the situation.
"I don’t live in New York," said Ben. "That’s the problem with your attitude. I may not be able to change my heritage, but…
Bear tried to calm things down, but the argument got louder.
"You’re wrong," Ben shouted to Bill. "You’re out of line."
"Guys, guys. This has to be respectful," Bear interjected.
"He doesn’t have to tell me you can move to New York," said Ben. You can go to Hell (directed at Bill)."
"Clean up your act," Bill replied.
"Idiots!" said Ben. "That’s the whole problem, we got them in Harrisburg. Just like you (directed at Bill)."
After a few minutes, Bear was able to extinguish the fire.
"This is supposed to be a good debate. We’re not always going to agree, but let’s try to keep it clean," Bear said.
The Record Express was unable to get the last names of the two men.
A teacher from Manheim Township took to the microphone next, and said that more jobs are needed to solve the problem.
"As a teacher, I put money in my classroom," he said. "Teachers want to teach students so they’re successful, and if we can’t get them to be successful to have a job, then what is our job?"
Before he could continue, Ben spoke up again, but Bear made sure to set the rules from there.
"I want to ask you to kind of, instead of addressing each other in the audience, please address me," he said. "Because some of these issues are sensitive, I’d ask you to address the question to me or the comment to me, not to any individual member."
Bear was able to keep the rest of the evening light while tackling other residents’ inquiries.
A Lititz resident and parent of a special needs child said he is concerned with proposed funding cuts.
Bear discussed the budget, saying that there are extra funds that weren’t budgeted for and that some funds for education have been restored.
Spending in regard to the Department of Corrections was also addressed.
"Corrections didn’t used to be, but is now the third largest department," said a Manheim Township resident. "If we’re cutting libraries and increasing costs for corrections, we’re crazy. You just can’t defend that."
Bear said he believed that some plans were being made through the administrating of Department of Corrections secretary John Wetzel.
While there weren’t many questions involving the proposed state budget, only four percent said they had no issues during Bear’s survey. Forty-two percent said the overall level of spending was their biggest issue, followed by 21 percent concerned about education cuts.
Other questions that were raised dealt with the privatization of the state’s liquor stores, the voter ID law, and the Marcellus Shale law.
Brenda Barnes of Lititz said she wished more people attended, but was satisfied with Bear’s responses.
"I think it went very well," she said. "He keeps the atmosphere pretty positive."
Barnes said she is concerned that lowering the nation’s nuclear preparedness is dangerous.
Bear said he was surprised with the focus of some questions.
"It was actually a little different than what I expected," he said. "I really thought it would be budget-focused, particularly on education. That’s not what I heard today."
He said he enjoys having talk back sessions and hearing what constituents are thinking about.
"I came up with this format five years ago," he said. "It’s like a town hall meeting, but it’s more interactive in that I want people to feel comfortable to ask any question and I try to give them a straight answer."
He hopes people continue to return to the meetings, and that others will give it a try.
Kay Gresh of Manheim Township said she always attends, and usually has trouble finding a seat.
"I think John Bear is doing a good job, and I wanted to support him," she said. More HALL MEETING, page A18