Her goal was to have everyone thinking, ‘Wow, I learned something today.’
State Representative Pam DeLissio of Pennsylvania’s 194th Legislative District held a town hall meeting Tuesday night to discuss hydrofracking, transportation funding, and the privatization of the state liquor industry.
In addition, she sought to explain the intricacies of the legislative process in the current political climate.
The 194th Legislative District, which DeLissio has represented since her 2010 election, includes portions of Montgomery County and much of Northwest Philadelphia, and encompasses approximately 62,000 residents, according to DeLissio.
One of three town hall meetings this week, the event was held in the Wolcoff Auditorium at Roxborough Memorial Hospital.
Empowering her constituency
While town hall-style events are a staple of political campaigns, DeLissio said her motivations for holding quarterly meetings were to disseminate information and empower her constituency.
“State policy affects our lives more than we realize,” she observed.
But while she is active in provoking meaningful debate about critical subjects, she laments that this dialogue is currently, in her words, “totally absent” in the state house.
Because of what DeLissio, a Democrat, termed a “lopsided” majority in the house – 112 Republicans to 91 Democrats – the House majority can effectively pass legislation on their own.
DeLissio notes that due to this deadlock, Democratic legislative initiatives are “more reactive than proactive,” typically taking the form of amendments to House bills.
While this limits the probability of the ideas generated by town hall meetings becoming policy, DeLissio says that it still has an impact.
“The dialogue,” she said, “can affect change through the amendment process.”
Touching on issues of topical import, DeLissio raised the subject of hydrofracking – the environmentally-questionable practice of extracting natural gas via the introduction of pressurized water.
While she noted that there is no shale in southeast Pennsylvania, DeLissio was emphatic that this is a topic that affects all residents of the 194th.
In addition to having impact on upstate recreational pursuits, she pointed out that the byproducts of drilling occurring in the Delaware River watershed can flow downriver, threatening the well-being of many.
She also noted that hydrofracking hurts Pennsylvanians in a more tangible and immediate fashion – financially.
DeLissio – who emphasized that she was “very conservative fiscally” several times throughout the evening – said that Pennsylvania is currently the only state where drilling occurs that has no severance tax or impact fee on drilling.
She made mention of a colleague in Harrisburg who has an electronic ticker in his office that tracks how much money is being lost by the absence of additional taxation on the drilling.
“As of this afternoon,” she recalled, “it was somewhere north of $250 million.”
“Imagine what we could do with this money,” she implored.
DeLissio noted that the taxation rate in other states averages 5 percent, which overshadows Pa. state legislature proposals – 2 percent from the Senate, and 1 percent from the House.
“My big concern is that we are leaving money on the table,” she said in regard to these lower rates.
To those present, DeLissio asked that they begin personal deliberations on the subject.
“You need to know where you stand on this issue,” she told them.
“Make no mistake,” she declared, “we will be affected by this.”
DeLissio also brought those in attendance up to speed on state transportation funding – there is none.
“There has been no movement on transportation funding at all,” she said, adding that any attendant legislation “has not seen the light of day.”
She lamented the impact the funding crisis has had on job creation, as well as the deplorable state of bridges and highways throughout the state.
While she admitted the diminished receipts from gasoline taxes contributed to the paucity of resources, the leading culprit is the 3-year absence of a highway funding bill.
Liquor store privatization
DeLissio also provided an update to what she termed as being “an eighty year-old conversation” – the privatization of liquor stores.
Noting that this is an issue “with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake,” she said that the most recent proposals adopt a hybrid solution.
“The new thing is adding [liquor licenses for sale],” she revealed, “and keeping the public-owned stores in place.”
However, that’s not the only liquor initiative with some juice.
Responding to a question from Manayunk Neighborhood Council President Kevin Smith, DeLissio said that as of Dec. 23, 2011, the new Sunday serving hour for bars and restaurants is now 9 a.m.
Before then, she explained, “If you wanted a mimosa with your Eggs Benedict, don’t get up before 11.”
Providing background, DeLissio explained that an omnibus bill had been passed “that cleaned up a bunch of arcane nonsense.”
What is means, she continued, is for establishments providing food – “and I’m not talking about peanuts on the bar,” she clarified – they can now serve drinks two hours earlier.
“The restaurants can now have these wonderful brunches,” she said, “and not get cited by the liquor control board.”
DeLissio also touched upon the issue of political reapportionment, or redistricting.
In what is quickly becoming her cause celebre, she spoke about the issue the previous evening at the East Falls Community Council meeting, as reported by Newsworks.
She expanded upon Monday night’s comments by noting that other states – specifically Iowa, California, and Oregon – are using non-partisan processes to reapportion voting districts.
“Every citizen needs to be behind this process” she said Tuesday night, as representative districting will encourage competitive and dynamic electoral campaigns, resulting in better representation.
“If these districts were drawn to be competitive, not safe,” she observed, “then a lot of this other stuff will start to clean up – you won’t have this (legislative) gridlock.”
DeLissio was asked about the process of instituting a non-partisan process in Pennsylvania.
“I don’t know,” she replied, explaining that while she still needs to investigate the constitutionality of her proposal, she will have an answer soon.
“Come to April’s town hall meeting,” she said.
DeLissio’s next round of Town Hall meetings are scheduled for April 16, 17, and 18.