NANTICOKE — Barring any unforeseen occurrences, the winner of Tuesday’s Democratic Primary will be the state representative in the newly structured 119th Legislative District.
On Wednesday night, two-term incumbent state Rep. Gerald Mullery and his Democratic challenger Tony Bonomo, a Hazleton Area school director, answered questions on the issues at the Luzerne County Community College Educational Conference Center.
About 50 people attended the hour-long forum sponsored by the Wilkes-Barre chapter of the League of Women Voters. Christine McLaughlin moderated the Q&A, with questions asked via index cards from attendees.
“It’s events like this that are critical for voters to attend and learn about the candidates,” Mullery, D-Newport Township, said. “Whoever wins this race will in all likelihood be unopposed in the November General Election.”
Bonomo, of West Hazleton, has served three terms on the school board. He said he got in the race primarily because he has seen the ill-effects recent cuts in education have had on the quality of education in his district and all others.
“Our children are our most prized possession,” he said. “They are our future, and we cannot cut funding to schools.”
One area where the two candidates differed was the taxing of the Marcellus Shale gas-drilling industry. Mullery favors a 6.5 percent severance tax that would generate about $800 million for the state. Bonomo said that if the gas industry is taxed, it would come back to consumers to pay higher rates.
To cut the $1 billion state deficit, Mullery said, the severance tax would be key, but he also supports cutting the size of the state legislature and taking a “close, hard look” at the state’s prison system and sentencing guidelines.
Bonomo said, while he doesn’t support it, the quickest way to cut “big money” from the budget would be through staff reductions across the state payroll.
Mullery said the pension problem goes beyond school and state employees. He said it reaches into municipalities that struggle to provide services.
Bonomo said he has seen pension budget projections in Hazleton Area and “it’s scary.” He works for the state Auditor General’s Office and he said alternatives ways to fund the pension fund are desperately needed.
Bonomo said the government should not step in and ban such unions.
“The state has much bigger issues to resolve without interfering with people’s personal lives and choices,” he said.
Mullery said he would never support discriminating against anyone.
“I do believe the term ‘marriage’ should be reserved for the union of a man and a woman, but a civil union between people should never be banned. As a state representative, I am here to represent all of my constituents.”
Right to choose
Mullery said government should not deny a woman’s right to choose an abortion, saying he advocates making a “conscious, educated decision and uses a safe facility for treatment.”
Bonomo said he hadn’t thought much about the issue, but he favors a woman’s right to choose.
Check on gun buys
Both support background checks on gun purchasers and said municipalities should not be allowed to enact laws requiring the reporting of lost or stolen guns.
Reasons for running
Bonomo said he entered the race because he had heard from many people in the new towns in the district that they didn’t even know who their state representative was. He said he would never support cutting school funding and he would support all legislation that benefited senior citizens.
Mullery first clarified that the towns Bonomo referred to are not currently part of the 119th District; they remain in the 116th until the end of the year. He did say he has met with elected officials from all of the new municipalities that will be in the district since the redistricting was announced. Mullery also said job creation, education and senior citizens are his top priorities.
Bonomo supports term limits, but he would increase the length of the term for a state representative from two years to four years.
“With a two-year term, state representatives are always politicking,” he said.
Mullery agreed with extending the term to four years and added that the maximum terms to be served should be two four-year terms.
Mullery acknowledged the recent alleged “ghost rider” situation at the Luzerne County Transportation Authority, but he said the buses are vital to senior citizens and others who depend on the system.
Bonomo said the state needs to maintain funding to LCTA and like agencies because “so many people depend on (them).”
Both support restoring drastic funding cuts to the state Department of Environmental Protection and raising the minimum wage. They agree on the need to look to streamline the state welfare program and to ban gifts to elected officials.
“Taxpayers need an experienced representative in Harrisburg,” Mullery said. “We need to pass HB-76 on property tax reform and we have to do what’s right for the people we represent back home.”
Bonomo said he will be a full-time representative.
“I will work for the people,” he said. “And I have the experience of representing the people and their concerns.”