PHILADELPHIA – Five Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls expressed support Tuesday for raising the minimum wage and imposing a tax on natural gas drillers, but disagreed on whether Pennsylvania should expand gambling.
Former state environmental protection secretaries Katie McGinty and John Hanger joined York businessman Tom Wolf, Lebanon County commissioner Jo Ellen Litz and U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz at a candidate forum in Philadelphia.
All five also agreed on keeping state-run liquor and wine stores – though most said they would try to modernize the system – and on using proceeds from a drilling tax to boost education funding.
They and two others are competing to take on Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, the unpopular incumbent whom they repeatedly criticized for not creating enough jobs. The primary is May 20.
After the event, Corbett’s campaign released a statement saying Democratic policies would increase spending, kill the energy industry and keep an “antiquated liquor system that discourages choice and convenience.”
Most forum participants backed raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. Litz said she’d phase in the hike gradually, while McGinty said she’d start at $9 per hour and peg future hikes to inflation.
When asked about introducing keno and online wagering in Pennsylvania, many said it wasn’t their favorite way to generate new revenue but wouldn’t oppose it. Litz was the exception, saying it would cut into small games of chance used as fundraisers by volunteer fire departments.
Participants were also asked different, specific questions about their candidacies.
Wolf, a former revenue secretary, said he would be “happy to share” personal tax returns and financial data from his cabinet company to verify business accomplishments he’s touted in the campaign.
Schwartz insisted she is electable statewide, saying Corbett singles her out for debate “because he is deeply concerned that I will be the nominee and I will beat him.” She was the only Democrat named in the post-forum statement released by Corbett’s campaign.
Hanger, who advocates legalizing marijuana, said it has valid medical uses and would create revenue and jobs. It could be sold either in state-run stores or by licensed businesses, he said.
“This prohibition policy has failed horrifically,” he said.
McGinty said voters shouldn’t be concerned about campaign contributions she received from the coal and insurance industries.
“I’ve been on the hot seat for 25 years on tough environmental issues, and anyone who knows my track record knows that there’s no special interest that tells Katie McGinty what to do,” McGinty said.
Litz contended her candidacy is viable despite only raising $4,000 in the most recent campaign reporting period. Wolf raised $13 million.
“This is a grassroots campaign,” Litz said, noting she’s visited all 67 counties in the state. “It’s up to the people to decide this election, it’s not up to a select few.”
The forum was sponsored by the nonpartisan Philadelphia Business Journal and WHYY. Candidate Rob McCord, the state treasurer, could not attend due to a scheduling conflict. Another hopeful, Pentecostal minister Max Myers, declined his invitation.