What are your top three legislative priorities in 2021? One thing I want to do is help the airports and create an incentive for properties around the airports (so that) for every job they create they get some sort of tax break. It doesn’t cost us anything. If they don’t create a job, they get nothing at all. This is a bill that is in the homestretch. We did talk to the Governor’s Office and negotiated what they would support.
I also have a radar bill. It can be difficult to explain, especially in a district like mine where you have small boroughs and people are crossing the street with these cars speeding by. We’ve lost a couple of people hit by vehicles in Stroudsburg Borough and in Mount Pocono. The police cannot set up their Lidar or VASCAR because you need to have visibility, and with parked cars you don’t get it. In the Mount Pocono instance, they set up outside the borough, figuring that if you are speeding there, you were speeding through the borough.
That doesn’t work. I don’t want them speeding through the borough where there are pedestrians. People know that now you have to be careful because you have radar. That’s where we want them to stop and protect residents. The goal for me is to get the bill to the finish line. We’re the only state in the United States that doesn’t have radar for local police. All we want to do is slow people down in the populated areas.
I have a variety of different bills, but those are my two focuses right now.
I’m hoping I can get this to the finish line, too. Our seniors, especially in the growing school districts, are being taxed out of their homes. We’ve tried different plans to help seniors in a certain income bracket stay in their homes… They don’t want to leave their houses. So, raising the state sales tax a half percent, but taxing nothing else, will generate enough money to give seniors who are 65 years and older with an income of $60,000 or less about a $5,000 credit on their school taxes. We have to do something for the seniors because they are really hurting.
What are the important issues facing your district? We’re doing tremendous infrastructure work right now. We’re planning for the widening of I-80, and that needs to happen. The highway was built for about 12,000 vehicles a day, and it gets as many as 78,000 a day now. Especially the Stroudsburg and East Stroudsburg areas of my district, the most accidents in the whole 320-mile stretch of I-80 from New Jersey to Ohio are in those boroughs of Stroudsburg and East Stroudsburg. Road improvements and safer roads are important to me.
School property tax is a big issue. When you’re in growing school districts, you build buildings. And every time you build a building, the debt services goes on the backs of the people who live in those communities.
School property tax is a big issue. When you’re in growing school districts, you build buildings. And every time you build a building, the debt services goes on the backs of the people who live in those communities. I’ll give you an example. Today, you build a high school and it’s about $125 million. An intermediate school is about $75 million and an elementary is about $45 million. So if you’re growing, that’s your problem. Somebody has to pay for it, it’s going to be born by the taxpayers. The last couple of years, it’s been an escape from New York and New Jersey to the Poconos. We grew by about 3,000 in the last two years, and unfortunately it came after the census was taken, so we don’t get credit for them.
Where do you shop locally for food? Giant is the closest one to me, or ShopRite.
What is your favorite vacation destination? I used to have a house in Bethany Beach. The problem is, I couldn’t take the sometimes five-hour ride on a Friday night. Sunday night coming back was even worse. So I ended up selling it and buying a house in Punta Gorda, Florida, for half the price of the house in Bethany Beach. I can get a plane in either Harrisburg or Allentown. I get there in 2 hours and 5 minutes. I get off the plane, and I walk 17 minutes to the house.
What are the biggest challenges for grocers in your district? Well, you’ve got a tremendous amount of competition. You’ve got Weis, ShopRite, Giant. And with those, competition actually keeps you sharp, especially when things are bad. People will check pricing and service.
To me, the supermarket that shines out is the one that sticks out of the box and will do services that normally you don’t find in a supermarket. I notice they are now doing call in your order, we’ll put it together for you. Those are the types of things, especially with working families and with kids, that work much better. Whomever take that challenge and is good with what you want to see in a store—freshness, quality and service—will do well.
It’s a challenging business, the supermarket business, it really is.
What are your biggest challenges and successes as a legislator? I was at an event when I saw this young man take an artificial limb off, and he’s jumping on the other one. I said, “Why’d you take the limb off?” He said, “Because it’s bothering me.” I said, “Why haven’t you told your parents and returned it?” He said, “We tried, they won’t take it back.”
There were no protections. And that’s a $35,000 leg. They’re not cheap. So I looked into it and saw anyone can measure for that. And yet once you have it, it’s yours. So I put a bill in and moved it to the finish line. You had to be certified, and if it didn’t fit properly the consumer is not responsible, it’s the company.
Basically we’ve gotten the people out of the market who weren’t certified. That bill saved a tremendous amount of people. That young man was hurting himself even more. He was up on one leg, and he was hurting his body. That was, for me, a challenge.
Then, when you buy a house and you sell a piece of real estate, there’s a real estate tax that’s collected at closing: it’s 2 percent of the sales. It’s collected then it’s given to the county. The county disperses those dollars. One percent goes to the state, a half percent goes to the school district and a half percent goes to the local municipality.
Quite often, the state checks those numbers and finds they didn’t collect enough taxes. So, what the state would do is go after that 1 percent. Once the state collects their money, they send a letter to the county that there are more taxes due. But there’s a two-year window to collect your money, and many times the municipality and school district never receive it.
What my bill does is when the state makes a determination that there weren’t enough taxes collected, they collect the full 2 percent. Instead of sending a letter to the county, they send 1 percent back to the county for the county to distribute to the school district and local municipality. … It’s reciprocal. If there is a problem, the state will collect. And that has meant big money in my county, in many counties, especially when you have a tremendous amount of real estate being sold. It saved tax payers dollars.
I moved the property tax bill twice to the finish line—moved it out of the house—but the senate didn’t take it up. This is something I want to see, and I’ll keep working on it, to get school property taxes addressed, especially in the growing areas.
What is your favorite food or meal to cook? Lasagna! I make a mean lasagna. I take sausage meat and chopped meat and mix it together, and it gives it a great taste. I do it just like my mom did. My mom never put anything down (in a recipe), but I always watched her.
One of the most important things with lasagna is Locatelli cheese on every layer.
What do you like to do for fun? You know, I’m blessed! My wife’s a baseball fan, I’m a baseball fan. We go to as many games as we can. This particular year, we were down in Florida and the Mets were down there. We went to the whole series. And the prices were half that of the prices in New York.
The other thing my wife and I enjoy is going to see the grandkids play. My granddaughter will be 9 shortly, and my grandson will be 11. One plays baseball and football, and he is so fast. My granddaughter plays soccer, she’s five years ahead of her time. She is amazing… And they’re the two oldest, we’ll see what the younger ones do. Both very athletic and bright!
You know what? It’s all about family.
Liz Kemmery, director of communications