With a new legislative session ahead and a new budget bolstered by revenue from casino table games, Joe Preston Jr. is focused on community development, education, utility and tax reform.
When asked about the disparity in quality of life issues and development between the booming East Liberty and district communities like Homewood or Wilkinsburg, Preston said he is encouraged that development can come to other parts of his district.
JOE PRESTON JR.
“You have to remember we started working on East Liberty 15 years ago,” he said. “Wilkinsburg has completed a comprehensive development plan that is awaiting approval. The CDC there is building new homes and the weed and seed committee has some good people on it.
“In Homewood, we’re trying to support the Harlem Project. But then there are issues in Garfield with a lot of drug use, and even in Highland Park it’s starting to deteriorate because there are all these 14-room houses that no one can afford to buy. So there’s a lot to do.”
Preston noted that as well as development work is going in East Liberty, it’s only about halfway finished, and the recession put a hold on two hotel projects and the jobs that went with them.
“These weren’t just housekeeping jobs,” he said. “We’re talking about steamfitters, plumbers, carpenters…now, who knows?”
Preston said he plans to work more closely with city councilman, Rev. Rickey Burgess, saying he is a real asset to the community.
On the legislative front, Preston will, as he has for more than a decade, again try to introduce a bill to eliminate not just school property taxes, but all property taxes.
“Think of the time, productivity and even gas wasted because people live in Butler County for the taxes but come to work in Pittsburgh for the paycheck,” he said. “We need to phase out this assessment process. I mean, if you live in a certain municipality or county—you have an advantage. We have too many school districts, and the school tax is the worst, but they are all unfair because they encourage people to live elsewhere.”
Preston said replacing real estate taxes with a much broader sales tax should also include professional services like those offered by attorneys and accountants.
As chairman of the House Consumer Affairs Committee, Preston has oversight of public utilities, railway safety, taxicabs and—because they require PUC licenses—all trucks in the commonwealth. But one pet peeve he has is the high cost of college textbooks at a time when higher education costs are soaring and incomes are not.
If he needed a reminder, his newest staffer, Brandon Davis, is pursuing a CPA degree. Davis has been there about a year, but Preston isn’t “grooming” him for anything—especially his job.
“It’s not always about getting people jobs, it’s about opening doors,” said Preston. “I thought I’d only do this for 10 years, and after 25 I’ve only missed about four days. But after seeing the problems that come in the office, Brandon will never run for office—a municipal management director of some sort, maybe in the private sector, people will be looking at him.”
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