John Hanger, the only announced Democratic candidate for governor appeared on the PCN Call In Show on December 11, 2012, with host Brian Lockman. I watched the video on PCN’s website and took notes. This is not intended as a full transcript and those wishing more information are encouraged to watch the video themselves. As always I apologize for any errors or misconceptions. The video is available at:
Hanger previously service as Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Environmental Protection.
BL: Why running?
JH: I have plans and experience. I’m ready to be governor. Very concerned about course Corbett has us on, education, environment
JH: I was born in Nairobi, Kenya. Some people in the birther movement may have confused me with the current president. Also lived in Lucan, just outside Dublin, Ireland. Came to US at age 12. Came to Pennsylvania in 1981 for law school at U Penn. I lived in Philly for 12 years, then moved to near Hershey where I still live, when Gov Casey appointed me to utility board.
BL: What was your family doing in Kenya?
JH: My dad was an agriculturist. Helping to develop tea and coffee farms so new independent government would have crops to trade
BL: Were your parents American?
JH: No, they were British. I was born a British subject. You aren’t British citizens. You are subjects to the crown. Glad to trade than in to be a citizen of the US. In US for 6 years then, but became citizen in 1977, wanted to have it done in 1976 for bicentennial but paperwork not done in time. Share immigrant experience, affects how I view policy.
BL: Why come to US?
JH: America offers more opportunity than any other country in the world. This is where liberty was born and where liberty is protected. As Reagan said it is a shining city on a hill.
JH: Duke and then Univ of Penn school of law.
BL: Pennsylvania Utility Commission?
JH: Graduated law school 1984, went to Community legal services. Thought I would be helping people who were struggling to pay their bills. Director said I was in energy project and I had no idea what energy was or what law was involved. Got on Broad St subway, reported to neighborhood legal office, reported to senior attorney, Janet Parrish. People often had a dispute with utility company. Customers had no official representation when gas works rate increase. Worked to start Office of Public Advocate. Great honor that I was appointed first Office of Public Advocate. That got me some notice. I was in some high visibility gas utility and water utility cases. Friend of mine, David Barrish, recommended me to Joseph Rhodes, new Utility commissioner. I became his staff lawyer. Gov Casey cared very much about working people and the poor, who had major problems in their lives. Committed to putting people on PUC with substantive knowledge in relevant area. He was persuaded to nominate me, as a 36 year old. One term, 5 years, had the opportunity to make some major changes. Often monopolies don’t provide good services, spend money well or take care of customers. True of electric utilities at the time, charging among 10 highest rates in US. Punishing middle class families, killing jobs, making it impossible for poor to pay bills. Working with others persuaded legislature to end monopoly on electricity. Let customers choose where to buy electricity. I buy 100% of my energy from a wind farm.
BL: When you threw your hat into the ring, why getting in some early?
JH: Corbett preparing for re-election since first election, raising money 24/7. I’m the first challenger but behind Corbett in raising money for 2014. Challengers have one resource and its time and I need to get going.
Caller: Do you anticipate primary competition, thoughts on privatizing liquor stores, right to work, button issues that some other states using in legislature now.
JH: liquor privatization – I am opposed, for one reason. The stores create significant revenues, hundreds of millions of dollars that won’t be replaced, pay for education. Also over 6,000 good paying jobs in those stores. Short term benefit but long term budget hole. Either cut education more or raise taxes. While I sympathize that selling alcohol not a core state function it would lead to cuts or more taxes. What’s going on in Michigan – right to work – I support collective bargaining. It would be a huge distraction in this state, won’t create more jobs, will lower wages, lead to loss of good paying jobs. Not at core of what state needs to do. In terms of a primary. The Dem party is vibrant, many good potential candidates. I’m not alone. D party has unique opportunity to rally around one candidate that is very vulnerable. In fact there may be a an R primary. Commissioner Bruce Castor says he might challenge Corbett. I’m going to work hard to be D candidate.
Caller: Pensions. How would you handle PERSers and SERS. They have to pay in $50M just into PSERS. If state has to continue paying won’t be money for education and other.
JH: Caller has a point. I want to be constructive. Basic problem is the pension bill when Gov Ridge and R party last controlled house and senate. That has occurred. We know Constitution and other legal precedents protect pension rights. The room for figuring out a solutions is not huge and protected by Constitutional rights. There are a number of changes that could be made. The reality is that regardless of what changes are made there will need to be further budget requirements.
Caller: 76 year old man from Hershey. Very cynical anymore. Been voting sine age 21, biggest problem now is property taxes. What would you do?
JH: The cuts in education that this governor made, that was a choice, let’s be clear, he cut [missed this] out of education budget while he was putting money into rainy day fund and making business tax cuts. One of the consequences is that local school districts had less state support and faced with terrible dilemma. Could raise property taxes or lay off teachers and other education jobs. In some cases had to do both. State needs to live up ….. Corbett has declared war on public education, as well as rising local school taxes. Tremendous harm to public education, art and music and tutoring canceled. Class sizes going up. Many paying more in school taxes but getting less.
BL: Corbett says education cuts is actually end of stimulus money
JH: not accurate. There was a stimulus program. But he cut. He put money into rainy day fund that could have been put into education, made $250M biz tax cut that could have gone to education. He made choices. My top two priorities would be education and public safety. His assault on public education goes beyond state budget, supports charters without accountability and transparency, vouchers, trying to privatize public education. Has harmed our economy .
BL: where would you get the money
JH: have to prioritize. Mine public education and public safety. He does seem committed to 14 charter schools, 13 have text scores lower than public school. Making sure public not underwriting cyber charters. Several cases of senior exec at charters schools being indicted for taking public money but money keeps flowing to those schools. A get rich quick scheme. There are some excellent charter schools and there needs to be a charter option. We are so far removed from a sensible use of taxpayer money. We’ve got to examine education budget from top to bottom, public schools must remain our top priority for education
Caller: LIHEAP funding. Would you add LIHEAP state funding to federal funding. At my office we get complaints from LIHEAP recipients that grants too low.
JH: Low income heating assistance program. Try to make sure heating bills as low as possible. Worked for that, continued at DEP but at end of day we have to face up that there are some good people who can’t pay entire bill. Everyone should pay something. Need to make sure folks aren’t going through winter with no heat. Money from feds, sometime state helped. Can’t say it would make my state budget in 2015. There are other ways. Utility companies have customer assistance program, utility financed programs not public financed programs.
BL: R spokeswoman says anxious to compare Corbett’s pro-growth business, balanced 2 budgets to broken bloated tax and spend govt that Rendell and Hanger
JH: full of talking points. Let’s start with what Rendell left Corbett. Last budget ended July 2012, left $800M surplus. That’s how he began his govt, Rendell laid off people to make sure he didn’t deliver deficit to budget. The claim that Gov Corbett has been a successful job creating governor. This governor inherited a lower than national avg employment rate. Because Corbett cut education and believes shale alone can deliver all the jobs we need. To day unemployment in PA higher than national. National recovery slow but PA slower.
Caller: lottery supposed to help. Casino money, where is it going?
JH: The legalization of gambling including casinos was done and a major reason it was done was profits from gambling go to property tax relief. Not enough to abolish property taxes, gotten higher under Corbett because of education. Gambling has helped reduce. Partial answer not a complete answer.
BL: you were secretary of DEP under Rendell. Comment on how Michael Krancer, current secretary, is doing?
JH: I had a better governor to work for. Biggest problem at DEP is not the secretary but the governor. I had one question for Rendell before I accepted job. He gave me 5 things, one was protect environment as we produce shale. Sec does not set priorities. I have some qualms at what has happened at DEP. There is a complete focus on gas, neglect and outright hostility to renewable energy. PA an energy powerhouse. We can do much more in energy efficiency. The failure to boost energy and energy efficiency is a change from Rendell admin. The other thing I would highlight is enforcement. Our rules must be fairly enforced. From 2008 to 2011 we increased gas oversight staff. This administration doesn’t have some commitment. We got creative, raised fee on permits to pay for more staff without tapping general fund
Caller: eliminating poverty taxes
JH: I won’t be able to eliminate property taxes. We can make that problem worse or better. We can do some very achievable to smart things. What Gov Corbett is doing is making it worse. It starts with where we put our education dollars. If state cuts then burden passed to local areas. Gov says proudly that he signed Norquist tax pledge. He just won’t deal with responsibility of property funding k-12 and higher educ. The budgets he has proposed for state higher education is outrageous. Those universities have been hit with enormous cuts. Our colleges and universities provide opportunities for families that they can’t get affordably at private colleges. The state universities are hugely important investment. This governor again just doesn’t seem to see the value of public higher education
BL: Corbett and Marcellus
JH: He has mismanaged it. It’s just one of our energy resources. Refused to sign simple letter to congress to extend wind energy tax credits. PA has wind energy and wind jobs. People in PA got laid off got laid off from a very real job. Corbett wouldn’t even sign the letter. The next way he has mismanaged it that he thinks gas alone will help economy. His one strategy is to give gas energy all they as for. We need more than 6M jobs in pa to have full employment. Gas industry is a boost but not even close to providing all of them. He has refused because of loyalty to Grover Norquist, a DC lobbyist to set a proper reasonable drilling tax on gas industry. Other states do this and also have a property tax on gas. Texas and Wyoming produce most energy and gas. PA will be third. Texas and Wyoming have no income tax because they tax energy.
BL: Tax would decrease gas industry
JH: that would be true if other states didn’t have taxes on gas drilling. Where will they go? To Texas which has tax on gas drilling, West Virginia which has tax on gas drilling …. Marcellus gas had lowest cost highest return gas industry in country. S&P said this.
Caller: what governor is doing with lottery privatization
JH: the governor is proving that he’s a right wing ideologue. At war with all public services whether public schools or lottery. Lottery has set records. My mother taught me not to fix things that aren’t broken. Our governor doesn’t even get that part of common sense. No hearings, no transparency. Now one company, a foreign company, and he seems determined to move forward. Illinois did privatize and now in a mess, a lawsuits with private company which has underperformed.
BL: Back in March Standard Oil said PA possible site for cracker plant. PA gave 15 year tax amnesty window, tax credit, largest in state history. Governor says will created 20K new jobs.
JH: Let’s start with that, does state need to do that to compete? Unfortunately yes, in order to compete. Texas giving $19B in state and local incentives to bring jobs to Texas. Successful but paying a big cost. Don’t believe in unilateral disarming, believe in being careful with tax dollars. Want to build cracker plant. Important that taxpayer money spent wisely. Don’t want to overpay. Some of these deals, tax credits paid but jobs not appear or leave quickly.
Caller: why govt doesn’t protect people against these gas workers who promise world to sign things and nobody protects you.
JH: Industrial activity, needs to be regulated, wanted more oversight workers. If abuses against landowners, laws stopping that. Tone of Corbett admin, including at DEP, hostile to those with complaints about gas industry. Want to create ombudsman’s office about gas industry. If gas industry makes mistake then need to fix, if no mistakes then need to say that too. People need place to go where they will be heard respectfully.
Caller: if want to be governor, need to develop plan to eliminate property tax, have gas money, lottery money, income tax. Growing number of seniors. People will move to Delaware or Virginia where property taxes lower.
JH: You’re the third or fourth caller on pain of school and property taxes. Also honest with you. We can make this problem less painful, better not worse. There are sources of revenue that can be put to property tax reform. If governor willing to make changes, reform might be achieved. But I can’t tell you that will come out of legislature. But we can make it less painful at local level. If state pays its share of education money.
BL: Corbett said next year he want s a plan to fund transportation.
JH: We’re now going into the third year of Corbett admin and he’s now coming forward? He’s let the issue go. He’s got a good transportation secretary but hasn’t listened to him. He’s been listing to Norquist. You can’t be serious about transportation without being serious about revenue. It takes money to repair or build a bridge. I haven’t signed Norquist tax pledge.
BL: Coal industry
JH: Coal is a viable industry. It’s a well run industry in PA. In 2010 first year no miners died on job. Industry and unions and government working together. Big supporter of carbon capture sequestration technology. It’s a way of making coal even cleaner. Coal burned at a power plant with modern pollution controls doesn’t release the mercury that others do. Can make coal zero carbon.
BL: public safety.
JH: It means policing, state police, gas drilling and safety around gas drilling. It means Jerry Sandusky. Here’s a horrendous child predator left loose for 2 years and his home not searched for 2.5 years. If the law needs to be changed to search a predator’s home once an accuser has stepped forward. Then let’s do it. It just took too long. It is indefensible that it took that long. He said I was ludicrous. He’s ludicrous.
BL: same sex marriage
JH: I’m in favor of it but no church should be compelled to marry gay couple but in civil setting any consenting couple should be able to get a marriage license. PA is the home of liberty and I’m proud of that.
BL: one hand gun per month, lost and stolen
JH: I have a different position. My position starts with the fact that the Supreme Court has declared the 2nd amendment to be an individual right. Many of the things that Rendell has said are quite likely today unconstitutional. Violence by gun or other means is a constitutional issue. Getting drawn into debate on this will not deal with problems of gun violence or other violence. Need smarter better approaches.
BL: Obamacare, state insurance exchanges.
JH: It will be a disgrace if this governor doesn’t have his admin establish an exchange in PA. I don’t want federal bureaucrats doing this. PA know our business better. Let Pennsylvanians design our exchange.
BL: voter id law
JH: terrible terrible law. Impinges on sacred right to vote. Affects those who have given up drivers licenses because no longer safe for them to drive, over 80. Costs over $12M to administer, money better to schools or prop tax. No such fraud in elections period, voter fraud nonexistent according to Corbett admin.
BL: Thank you
JH: Thank you. Good questions.