Kathleen McGinty is an optimist. It comes from finding a way through situations in ways others might not—like the time her, then, boss Bill Clinton was speaking in Washington state when environmentalists were shutting down logging to “save the spotted owl.”
“I said to him before we got there, ‘don’t mention the spotted owl whatever you do,’” she said. “And what’s the first thing he does? He not only says he’s going to solve the problem; he says he’s putting me in charge of it. I spent the next 18 months on the spotted owl, but we got it worked out.”
Her optimism and energy were similarly on display when she met with the New Pittsburgh Courier editorial board, responding to policy questions by smiling and saying, “Governor McGinty will do…” and reveling in the non-stop travel and glad-handing of her race for the Democratic Primary.
“I’m having a ball. This is a big state, but I’m invested in improving these communities that have been hurt by Gov. (Tom) Corbett,” she said.
Though she was, at last count, trailing the other three Democratic Primary candidates, her focus was on Corbett. The only time she mentioned the other candidates was when outlining her stance on replacing the current impact fee on Shale drillers with a severance tax, and then only to attack Corbett.
“The other candidates would spread the money around, some for roads, some for jobs, some for education. Governor McGinty would earmark it all for education,” she said. “The Corbett budget cut $1 billion from the basic education budget. The severance tax will bring in about $600 million, so we have to use it all and even then we’re still not there.”
McGinty would increase the state’s portion of public education funding to 50 percent from the current 38 percent. She would also revamp the formula for school district funding based on special needs students, poverty levels, size of student bodies and their tax base.
“In the current budget, a non-native student in Allentown who need help learning English gets a $3,000 allocation. That same student in Reading gets $300,” she said. “We need a fair funding formula and the way to get there is to undo the Corbett damage.”
Again stressing fairness, McGinty is also a proponent of expanded voting initiatives. She applauded the Supreme Court quashing of Corbett’s Voter ID initiative and touts even less voting restrictions.
“It should be easier to vote. We want more citizens engaged and participating,” she said. “I am for early registration, even same day registration—no five-hour waits to vote.”
She also favors a citizens’ reapportionment panel to draw new district lines and curtail gerrymandering.
Though an environmentalist by training and avocation, working for Vice President Al Gore and then as Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection chief under Gov. Ed Rendell, she said she finds herself at odds with many environmentalists who see their cause as a zero-sum game.
“Do you want pristine air and water while poor people freeze in the dark because they can’t afford energy,” she said. “No. And I see this in other policy battles too. It’s not an either/or situation. I’m not an ideologue. I negotiated with Newt Gingrich. I can find common ground—and opportunities.
“When Reading, PA. had to spend $20 billion to rebuild its water management infrastructure. I worked with the building trades to get kids, low-income and minority kids, into apprentice programs so that when the work started, they got jobs.”
She said Governor McGinty would add 13 million in apprentice program funding, with some aimed at kids as young as 7th grade to interest them in trades. She would eliminate no-bid contracts at the state level to give minority- and women-owned firms a shot at the kind of work that could expand their businesses.
She would also decriminalize marijuana use, increase substance abuse and mental health budgets, push to eliminate mandatory sentencing and enact “second chance” and “ban the box” legislation to help remedy the effects of the state’s massive incarceration of young people, especially African-Americans.
“I also favor raising the minimum wage, especially for restaurant workers. Asking them, a lot of them single mothers trying to raise a family, to work for $2.50 an hour is outrageous,” she said.
When asked how she would compensate such families for the loss of much more valuable state and federal health, food and service benefits they would lose with such a raise, she said there is some number that would give them more income and allow them to keep the benefits. Although, she said she would rather see people work for those benefits than not learn the value of work.
“If you want someone who will work to see all Pennsylvanians treated fairly, then I’m your candidate. If you want some one who can work with people having diametrically opposite views, then I’m your candidate,” she said. “And if you want someone who isn’t bound by ideology who can find common ground, I’m your candidate.”
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