Education funding the focus of Northwest Philly candidates forum

Funding for public education was the focal issue at a packed candidates forum in Germantown. The Wednesday night event featured a panel of Democratic hopefuls competing in two of Northwest Philadelphia’s state legislative districts.

Organized by the Chew and Belfield Neighbors Club, the forum gave voters a chance to hear Mike Ellis, Stephen Kinsey, Malik Boyd and Charisma Presley weigh in on the issue with less than a month to go before the primary election.

Ellis and Kinsey are running in the 201st district which covers portions of Germantown, West Oak Lane and Ogontz. Democrat John Myers, who has served there since 1995, is retiring.

Boyd and Presley are running in the 198th district, which covers sections of Germantown, Mt. Airy and Nicetown. Incumbent Democrat Rosita Youngblood is seeking re-election.

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Where they stand

Gov. Tom Corbett’s inaugural budget in 2011 cut $1 billion from education statewide. An additional $100 worth of cuts are in the works in his second proposal. In Philadelphia, those losses have contributed to creating a severely cash-strapped School District.

Ellis, who is making his second bid for the seat, said taxing the state’s booming natural gas drilling industry could go a long way in keeping school funding intact.

Companies working the Marcellus Shale — an expansive, underground rock formation that contains what may be the country’s largest source of untapped natural gas reserves — are currently assessed a fee for the opportunity to be part of the multi-billion dollar industry.

“We need to capitalize on it,” said Ellis of the lucrative natural resource. “We need to put a tax on it like every other state that does natural gas drilling. That’s how we’ll increase funding in our public school system.”

Boyd, also making his second run for office, advocated a different tactic. He said it’s time to approach large corporations — Target or Wal-Mart, for example — that already help back education initiatives in other states and see if similar agreements could be brokered for Pennsylvania.

“We haven’t taken the time out to have a representative go to them and force them to come to the table,” said Boyd. “It’s going to them and saying, ‘If you can make $1.3 million from our community, you can spend one-third of that re-investing back into our children.'”

Kinsey, Myers’ current chief of staff, agreed with Boyd’s approach, saying that “outside of the box” solutions must be found, including potentially turning abandoned properties into affordable housing units as a means of increasing the tax-base.

Presley, a first-time candidate, said closing the Delaware tax-loophole for corporations could help. Companies headquartered in other states that do business in the state use the loophole to avoid paying state corporate income taxes on profits earned in Pennsylvania. A house bill to that end has been introduced.

Chelten Plaza issue discussed

Community development was also an important issue discussed inside the Joseph E. Coleman Northwest Regional Library on Chelten Avenue. In particular, residents asked how each candidate planned on keeping residents informed about projects in the district.

Chelten Plaza, a strip-mall development recently erected at Chelten and Pulaski avenues, was a source of strong ire for a contingent of neighbors who felt, among other things, that the project’s developers were not open with the community about its plans.

“No matter what level of government you’re working for, it’s our responsibility to notify the community and set up community meetings,” said Kinsey. “Communities have a right to say what type of development should take place and what they want in the community.”

Kinsey’s counterparts largely agreed. Presley said the community needs to be able to “follow a development from start to finish.”

Rep. Youngblood and Karl Gamble, who is running in the 201st district, were invited to the event. A representative from Youngblood’s office said the official was in Harrisburg as part of her legislative duties.

The Pennsylvania primary election is April 24.

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