The three Republicans running for Pennsylvania governor debated job growth, school funding, and the state's antidiscrimination laws Tuesday in Philadelphia.
The candidates — State Sen. Scott Wagner of York County; Paul Mango, a retired health-care consultant, and lawyer Laura Ellsworth, both from the Pittsburgh area — agreed that the state shouldn't spend more money on public education, saying that hasn't improved student outcomes, even as they said more children should get access to pre-K.
Appearing at the National Constitution Center for a debate hosted by the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, the candidates agreed on traditional GOP planks such as reducing spending and rolling back regulations to stimulate job growth. The winner of the May 15 primary will face Gov. Wolf in November.
Ellsworth stood alone in saying the state shouldn't eliminate property taxes. The levies should be reduced, she said, "but if we remove all property taxes, we will not adequately fund education and we will remove local control of education, and it needs to remain local."
Wagner said he could find as much as $4 billion through "zero-based budgeting" — forcing departments to justify every expense, not just new requests for money — and also supports legislation that would eliminate school taxes on all properties and raise the sales and income taxes.
Mango said he supported the same bill, though he had initially expressed concerns. Voters supported a constitutional amendment last year that would allow the state to exempt residents from paying property taxes on their primary residences.
Mango also continued to attack Wagner on social positions, accusing the senator of supporting legislation that he said would let people, citing their preferred gender identity "come into our girls' locker rooms in our schools."
Wagner has supported legislation that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Mango has characterized this as a "bathroom bill," which Wagner says is false.
"I'm not supportive of boys and girls sharing bathrooms, and [Mango] knows that," Wagner said.
Wagner said people shouldn't be fired or denied employment because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, and argued that businesses like Amazon wouldn't come to Pennsylvania if the state doesn't change the law.
Ellsworth agreed that the state's antidiscrimination law needed to be updated to protect LGBT residents. "There will be no run on the bathrooms," she said.