Whether you’ve heard of him previously or not, you’re likely in the coming months to become highly familiar with state Rep. Stan Saylor (R., York County).
Elected by House GOP members as the new state House Appropriations chairman, he replaces former Delco Rep. Bill Adolph, who retired after last session. As such, Saylor’s now a key player in all things budget, including Philadelphia schools, taxes, and overall spending. The budget’s due June 30. Saylor’s clout and input has statewide significance.
He’s 62 and and was first elected to the legislature in 1992. Like many House colleagues from rural areas, he’s very conservative: past winner of the American Conservative Union’s Defender of Liberty Award, past Statesman of the Year Award winner from Pennsylvanians for Right to Work.
He was born in York and grew up nearby in Red Lion (population 6,300). His dad was a farmer and construction worker. His mom worked in a cigar factory. Red Lion once was dubbed “cigar capital of the world,” then producing millions of cigars a month. The borough, every New Year’s Eve, still raises a Red Lion Cigar at midnight at its municipal building.
Saylor’s first job was as a short-order cook at age 14. He lied about his age because his father was hospitalized due to a job injury, and the family needed money. He later worked construction with his father, and he left college (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) to take a management post with another local construction firm. He says it’s a life goal to get a college degree, “even if I’m 80 when I do so.”
He loves history, baseball, and horse riding (he used to own horses). He visits historic sites and baseball stadiums, and likes to ride “for four or five hours … no phones, very relaxing.”
Political columnist John Baer recently chatted with Saylor about his new gig, budget stuff, and York County as a seat of power.
How did rural York County become a center of Pennsylvania political power? How did you, Gov. Wolf, Sen. Scott Wagner (who wants to unseat Wolf), and state Auditor General Gene DePasquale get where you are?
[Laughs.] I’d like to say we’re a lot smarter than the rest of the state, but that’s not true. Look, Tom Wolf ran a great campaign (as did DePasquale). Both Wolf and Wagner invested a lot of their own money. And in my case, it was timing. The General Assembly is more conservative. A lot of members from the southeast are new. So seniority and experience benefited me.
Speaking of conservatives. As a leading conservative with power over Pennsylvania’s purse, what’s your view of Philadelphia regarding state funding?
I think Philadelphia’s an economic driver, and as such, we need to make good investments in Philadelphia. I have friends that live in the city. It has many great assets. I visit frequently. And Philadelphia deserves respect from Harrisburg. On the other hand, I’m very disappointed in what we often see going on in Philadelphia politics. You’ve got to have your house in order.
You chaired the House Education Committee last session. Do you think Philly schools get a fair shake from Harrisburg?
I do. But I think Philadelphia needs to consider that it doesn’t move fast enough to deal with its problems. I’ve visited maybe 25 schools: public, private, and charter. We’ve got to make sure all those kids get the best education possible. But the politics in Philadelphia sometimes get in the way.
Philadelphia charter schools face real challenges with their funding formulas. Do you expect those challenges to be addressed in the coming budget or sooner?
I hope so. I don’t know that we’ll get that issue into the budget, but we have to make sure to address it. We need charter school reform. We’ve got to close bad charters and support good charters. Philadelphia’s not the only district with this problem. And until we fix it, we’re not serving the children of Pennsylvania well.
What do you see as the greatest budget challenge this year?
The real key for us is to look at what we can do better. They’ll be tough decisions. Everybody has different priorities. Everybody’s ox will get gored. I hate to say it this way, but we have to make sure everybody feels the pain. And the structural deficit [estimated at $3 billion] and how we deal with it, that’s my No. 1 priority.
How do you deal with it?
[Short laugh.] Well, we restructure government. Eliminate corporate welfare, reform regular welfare. Both issues need reforms. Too often, when something’s not working, we create another new program, and nobody’s accountable for things not working. We need performance-based budgeting for every department, every program. We need to find out what works and what doesn’t. And I expect we’ll introduce a performance-based budget soon.
Where are you on Gov. Wolf’s plan to save $2 billion through consolidations and greater efficiencies within state agencies?
I have been very supportive of mergers. I know AARP is concerned that folding the Department of Aging into a Department of Human Services risks less service for senior citizens. I know there are concerns about adding the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs into Human Services. But the fact is whatever is the focus of voters, whether it’s seniors’ programs or rehabilitation programs, if there are falloffs, if the mergers don’t work, politicians will find out about it at the ballot box.
And you really think you can get savings of $2 billion?
Yeah, I do. Not necessarily all the savings in the way Gov. Wolf suggests. But I believe we can save $2 billion. And we’re working that out.
What about Gov. Wolf’s proposal for $1 billion in new taxes, mostly on business?
I don’t think that’s a positive thing for Pennsylvania. Our unemployment rate [now at 5 percent] is one full percent above neighboring states New Jersey, New York, Maryland. Taxes are not the best option. We need to look closer at spending habits. Any budget I support is going to be about creating more jobs.
So I take it you would not support the governor’s call (again) for a natural gas severance tax?
No, I would not. Look what’s going on in that industry. We’ve lost thousands of jobs. The impact tax [a fee on gas wells] is producing less than it was. The industry is not doing as well. But it will grow when we build new pipelines to Philadelphia’s port over the next two to three years and when the cracker plant [a massive petrochemical facility that uses gas] opens in Western Pennsylvania. With those developments, the economy in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania will boom.
But for now, you need revenue. Do you support expanded gambling or other revenue sources?
Between gambling, further liquor privatization, controlling spending, I think we can do more without raising taxes. I’m pretty much supportive of most gaming.
There’s lots of attention this year at the grassroots level to gerrymandering. Do you expect any real action on that?
I’m sure we’ll take a look at gerrymandering, though I think it’s a little overblown. We’ve got 15 to 20 Republican seats in districts with 60 percent or more Democratic registration. They’re in office because of their policy positions, not gerrymandering. In Philadelphia, the two Republican House members, Martina White and John Taylor, are in Democratic districts. But they’re in office because of a point of view that relates to people in their districts.
On-time budget this year? Or another extended partisan battle?
I think we’ll have an on-time budget. I believe we had good budget hearings. We’ve met with Gov. Wolf and Democratic leaders in the House. We’ve met with Republican senators. We continue to craft a budget. And it’s been an open process among membership.