UPPER SAUCON — Republican candidate for state representative Justin Simmons spoke with the Upper Saucon Township Board of Supervisors Monday night at the Township Municipal Building.
Chairman Miro Gutzmirtl invited Simmons to speak at the meeting after a scheduling mixup prevented Simmons from attending on Oct. 4. Simmons’ Democrat opponent in the 131st Legislative District race, Mike Horton, spoke with the board on that date.
According to Simmons, he has lived in Upper Saucon Township since 1997 and graduated from Southern Lehigh High School in 2004. Simmons explained that he had challenged incumbent State Representative Karen Beyer in the Republican primaries because he disagreed with her votes on the budget, gambling, and the way Harrisburg operates. Though Supervisor Joseph Horvath expressed doubts that Simmons could change the way the state legislature operates, Simmons contrasted himself with Beyer by pledging support for reforms such as an end to taxpayer-funded automobiles, official correspondence and breakfasts. He said he will help the Citizens’ Alliance for Pennsylvania raise money to challenge incumbents in Harrisburg who oppose such reforms. Simmons explained that he was not going to Harrisburg “to make friends,” but instead he has “a lovely puppy to spend time with.” Simmons pledged to serve no more than three terms or six years in the state legislature.
Another reform Simmons supported was to require state employees to make contributions towards their pensions, known as defined contributions. Simmons said state pensions were “bankrupting our state” just as they had other states and companies such as Bethlehem Steel. When asked by Gutzmirtl if Simmons would repeal a 2001 Republican-backed state pension plan, Simmons answered “yes,” albeit subject to constitutional requirements.
As with Horton two weeks earlier, Gutzmirtl asked Simmons to speak on nine areas of concern to the board of supervisors. According to Gutzmirtl, the board had “never gotten replies to any of these things” from Beyer, State Senator Bob Mensch, or former State Senator Rob Wonderling. Gutzmirtl asked why Upper Saucon had been denied stimulus money for “shovel-ready” projects last year. While he said he had not agreed with the stimulus packages, Simmons said he would “fight for funding for our township.”
Gutzmirtl said the township is committed to preserving open space as its “number one priority” and wants state funding to that end. Township Solicitor Jeffery Dimmich asked if Simmons would support changing the planning code to require developers to provide funds for open space. Simmons said he would support looking into that proposal.
Gutzmirtl said it was difficult for the township to revise its zoning ordinances without a moratorium on new development. “Developers have a huge lobby in Harrisburg,” said the chairman. Simmons responded by claiming that much of Beyer’s support had come from such developers. He said he prefers local, small contributors, but admitted that he has received money from political action committees such as Right to Work and the Chamber of Commerce.
According to Gutzmirtl, though Upper Saucon currently has some incentive programs in place, the board would like to offer its volunteer firefighters additional incentives. Simmons said the first thing he would do in legislature would be to create an incentive to make it easier for townships to recruit and retain its volunteer firefighters.
Gutzmirtl would also like to make it cheaper for the township to advertise its legal notices in the media. He proposed raising the bar on when townships have to buy advertisements for contract and purchase bids, and making it possible to advertise in less expensive, more effective local papers. To Simmons, the proposals Gutzmirtl brought up were “common sense” and attainable.
“You’ll take it on the chin at first,” said the candidate, but with a $3 billion deficit, Simmons said his first priority was to cut taxes in order to stimulate the economy, and thus raise revenue over the long run. He repeatedly referred back to the larger political cycle, which may see Republicans seize control of the governor’s office and state legislature. Simmons said taxes will decrease if Republicans win control of those offices. Republicans already hold a majority in the state senate.
Gutzmirtl asked Simmons why he, as a young, first-time candidate, decided to use “so much negative campaigning.” Simmons blamed Horton for making Simmons out to be “an idiot who doesn’t know anything.” Simmons said that if Horton wanted to base his campaign on experience rather than issues, then the Democrat ought to have paid his taxes and not inflated his corporate credentials. When asked if he had ever paid property taxes, Simmons admitted he had not, but added that he was not thereby barred from political office according to the U.S. Constitution. Simmons told the board he lives at home with his parents.
Dimmich said the Pennsylvania Separations Act of 1913 causes increased costs to the township. Vice-Chairman Stephen Wagner said that it and prevailing wage laws were “so archaic, even a reform would be wonderful.” Simmons said he is “adamantly opposed to prevailing wage,” and it would be one of his priorities. Gutzmirtl thanked the candidate for appearing before the board, saying he had “lots to learn” but had spoken well for himself. Simmons said he wants to communicate regularly with the township, since “the most important thing for a representative to do is to communicate with his constituents.” Justin Simmons can be reached at 610-442-5255.