COOPERSBURG – Bob Mensch hates to miss a phone call. “I feel really bad,” he said, when a local supporter told Mensch he had left a message for him and hadn’t heard back. Mensch’s no-nonsense, people-first approach to campaigning has won supporters among even traditionally Democratic constituencies in Pennsylvania’s 24th Senatorial District. As we walked into the Coopersburg home of retired Allentown teachers Fern and Bernice Mann, he agreed with their bleak assessment of non-English-speaking students’ chances to compete in the economy. “The Germans and Turks have problems too,” said the sisters, who were tuned in to National Public Radio.
While preparing a dinner of broccoli salad and rice pudding to share with a few of their nine other siblings, the Mann sisters asked Mensch about their teachers’ pensions. “They won’t get touched,” Mensch replied, explaining that teachers in the present pension plan will be relatively unaffected by changes proposed for the future. “Teachers deserve respect,” he said, referencing his three years’ teaching experience at AT&T.
According to Mensch, “the thing that ties us all together is the economy.” Since everything from schools to bog turtles depends on money, economic development is his primary focus in Harrisburg. Now running for his first full term in Harrisburg after finishing former State Senator Rob Wonderling’s term when he left to become CEO of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, Mensch champions a five-bill economic development package which he said “didn’t go anywhere with the current administration,” but which he thinks will succeed in “changing the paradigm” in Harrisburg if Republican candidate Tom Corbett becomes Pennsylvania’s next governor.
According to Mensch, Pennsylvania has the worst business climate in the United States. He aims to bring jobs back to the state by cutting taxes “not only on big business,” but on every business. Mensch cited statistics that rank Pennsylvania 47th in new job creation, fourth or fifth in percentage of unemployed workers, and second in total unemployment claims in 2010. According to him, Pennsylvania borrows $100 million per month from Washington to pay its unemployment benefits, and is billions of dollars in debt for that reason alone. Consequently, Mensch is determined to get Pennsylvanians back to work.
He aims to attract out-of-state businesses and retain young college graduates through a number of tax reforms such as lowering the net corporate income tax, decreasing the personal income tax (which affects LLPs and LLCs), uncapping the net operating loss carry forward, and making property taxes fairer to seniors “who have worked a lifetime to establish an estate.” He also suggests that the state use statistics, not bureaucrats, to determine where Keystone Opportunity Zones could best serve businesses.
As for health care, Mensch says “the federal government is going about it all wrong. We want affordable health care, not cheap health care.” In education, he wants to make it possible for local government to decrease property taxes by making Harrisburg more cost-efficient He also says Harrisburg needs to “re-enable the private sector” to give grants to communities by getting the state out of that role.
Mensch told the Mann sisters he supports development of the Marcellus Shale reserves, which he said would bring in “a minimum of 110,000 jobs” with $45,000-50,000 annual salaries. He supports a 50-50 local-state split of a tax on the Marcellus Shale. That tax money, said Mensch, would stabilize the state budget without a tax increase, and pay for water systems, environmental needs, roads, and bridges impacted by the new industry.
In a similar vein, he opposed the Geryville Materials quarry project, calling it “a concern to all of us” and “very problematic.” As a former supervisor in Marlborough Township which also has a quarry, Mensch suggested that the Geryville quarry site be preserved. “The quarry is a really big issue for Lower Milford – there’s no doubt.” Mensch called Southern Lehigh “as valuable as any other part of the district,” and said he was optimistic about its future.
Mensch says he has received a “tremendous response” while campaigning from people who are frustrated about the economy and the lack of jobs. To illustrate, he told the story of one solidly Democratic household that he visited with another Republican candidate. In the last election cycle, Mensch said, the residents slammed the door in the Republicans’ faces. This year, they invited them inside to talk and have a drink of water.