Pennsylvania’s General Election: Big Deal Statewide and Nationally

Pennsylvania’s General Election: Big Deal Statewide and Nationally

Sep 14, 2022

pa-cpa-journal-pennsylvania-s-general-election-big-deal-statewide-and-nationallyThe race to succeed Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who will leave office in January 2023 after serving the maximum of two four-year terms, is dominating the 2022 election cycle in Pennsylvania. With Pennsylvania’s unique position as a battleground state, this year’s election has caught national attention too. 

Pennsylvania’s governor wields significant executive and regulatory authority in addition to the office’s power to sign or veto legislation. The chief executive also is responsible for proposing an annual budget, which is the starting point on how much the commonwealth spends each year on public education, transportation, social welfare programs, agriculture, and economic development, to name just a few areas. A final budget is then negotiated with, and approved by, the General Assembly. Also, in Pennsylvania the governor appoints many top officials, including the secretary of the commonwealth, who oversees elections among other duties. As a result, the outcome of the gubernatorial election could affect future elections and election results. 

There are many pivotal races this November, but for the reasons stated above let’s first take a look at the candidates for governor: Doug Mastriano (R) and Josh Shapiro (D). 

Mastriano 

State Sen. Doug Mastriano emerged from a crowded field of GOP hopefuls that included nine candidates who spent several months rallying support among party elites and primary voters. Mastriano is a first-term senator who was relatively unknown until he rose to prominence following the 2020 presidential election. Mastriano holds conservative positions on social issues and has focused his campaign on opposing coronavirus restrictions.  

In his nine-point plan that details how he would handle his first 100 days as governor if elected in November, he promises to push back against COVID-19 mandates, eliminate mail-in ballots, implement voter ID, and reform state government. 

He would also seek to lower taxes. He plans to do this via a Property Tax Elimination Taskforce that will introduce legislation to eliminate property taxes for all homeowners as well as by establishing a working group to slash the gas tax while still maintaining level funding for roads and bridges. 

Mastriano previously introduced “Tax Relief for Aging Pennsylvanians” legislation in the state Senate that would eliminate property taxes for senior citizens who meet income, residency, and age thresholds. He has also been a supporter of the Senate Bill 76 proposal that aims to eliminate property taxes by taxing a number of other goods and services. The PICPA has taken an active role in opposing Senate Bill 76 and similar measures that sought to tax accounting services and did not adhere to our Guiding Principles of Good Tax Policy: A Framework for Evaluating Tax Proposals. 

Mastriano has stated that he plans to ensure fiscal responsibility by working with the auditor general and state treasurer to audit and itemize the previous five years of budgets to identify areas of waste and abuse. Mastriano introduced legislation this session to streamline government by consolidating state agencies and offices. He has stated that, if elected, he will propose a 2023 budget that keeps spending in check. 

Shapiro

Having run unopposed in the party primary, the Democratic nominee for governor is Josh Shapiro, the state’s current attorney general. Shapiro’s uncontested primary allowed him to campaign across the state for months to talk about what separated him from the candidates who were running for governor on the GOP side. In particular, he highlighted Mastriano’s political views, which he has labeled extreme. The uncontested primary also enabled Shapiro to build a significant campaign fund of $16 million.  

Shapiro has a three-part tax relief plan that focuses on using surplus state cash and federal pandemic aid to eliminate state taxes on cell phone bills, give a gas tax refund to car owners, and expand the state’s rent and property tax rebate program. 

Current income limits for the rent and property tax rebate program are $35,000 a year for homeowners and $15,000 annually for renters. Shapiro said he wants to double the income limit for renters to $30,000 a year and increase the limit for property owners from $35,000 to $50,000 a year. The maximum standard rebate would increase from $650 to $1,000. 

His proposal would roughly triple the cost of the property tax rebate program, by an estimated $424 million, and potentially increase the number of applicants by 60%. The increase in cost would be covered by surplus state tax collections.  

With Republican majorities in the state legislature, Shapiro might get some pushback if elected governor. The GOP has insisted that federal pandemic aid and state reserves be used conservatively to ward off deficits. 

Shapiro plans to attract new businesses to Pennsylvania by lowering the corporate net income tax, increasing the net operating loss deduction, eliminating regulatory burdens for businesses, and investing in research and development credits to spur innovation and growth. However, he also plans to close tax loopholes. The PICPA has been engaged in discussions with the legislature on such initiatives, and is supportive of efforts to make the state more business friendly and is largely in favor of initiating tax policies that will align Pennsylvania with our neighboring states. 

Shapiro is focused on supporting small businesses. He has plans to implement a growth strategy to support and invest in them. His plan would establish a “25-50” program to help small businesses grow and scale from 25 employees to 50 and beyond. Additionally, if elected Shapiro will make available loan guarantees for capital investment, real estate acquisition or renovation, and working capital. Lastly, he plans to revitalize local commercial corridors and invest in main streets so more mom-and-pop shops can grow and sustain themselves.  

Shapiro has many years of political service under his belt as Pennsylvania attorney general, a Montgomery County commissioner, and former state representative. As attorney general, he has taken steps to restore integrity to an office that needed stability after the scandals of former attorney general Kathleen Kane.  

Other Races 

Pennsylvania is among a minority of states that elect governors and lieutenant governors separately through the primary process, but then joins them as a single ticket in the general election. 

Austin Davis and Carrie Lewis DelRosso, both state representatives from Allegheny County, won their respective Democratic and Republican primaries. Davis, a current representative of the 35th legislative district, was endorsed by Shapiro during the primary campaign as his running mate – an unusual move in Pennsylvania politics. On the Republican side, DelRosso, a state representative for the 33rd legislative district, surged to a sizable lead in the nine-person field of candidates. 

The elections of governor and lieutenant governor are critically important at the state level, but on the federal stage we’ll have an equally contentious race for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Pat Toomey. 

John Fetterman, the state’s current lieutenant governor, defeated three Democrats in a decisive primary victory. Fetterman has served as lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania since 2019, and he previously served as mayor of Braddock from 2006 to 2019.   

The race to be the Republican candidate was tight, with Dave McCormick, former hedge fund CEO, and Mehmet Oz, TV celebrity and retired cardiothoracic surgeon, in a deadlock that lasted weeks beyond the primary. Ultimately, Oz was victorious. He is the first Muslim to be nominated by a major party for U.S. Senate.    

The U.S. Senate is split with 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats. Several races across the country are deemed close enough that either party could net a seat or two, giving it the majority. Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat paired with the commonwealth’s history of being a swing state is making this race one of the most watched of the general election.  

Pennsylvania’s now 17 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives (one less than the previous election) also will be voted on this November, as will 203 seats in the Pennsylvania House and 25 seats in the state Senate. Of note, four of our CPA legislators will be on the ballot this fall: Reps. George Dunbar (R-Westmoreland), Keith Greiner (R-Lancaster), Ben Sanchez (D-Montgomery), and Nick Pisciottano (D-Allegheny). Two other CPA legislators, Reps. Mike Peifer (R-Pike/Wayne) and Frank Ryan (R-Lebanon), announced that they will not seek reelection this year. Our lone CPA in the Pennsylvania Senate, Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh), was defeated in the May primary. 

Election day is Nov. 8. Sign up for PICPA’s Legislative Update (www.picpa.org/legislativeupdate) for more information on the candidates. The PICPA invited the gubernatorial candidates to participate in interviews with our Certified Public Accountant Political Action Committee (CPA-PAC) board members, but we had not yet received responses as this issue went to press.  

The mission of the CPA-PAC (www.picpa.org/cpapac) is to improve government functions by providing CPAs with an opportunity to be more active in activities that affect Pennsylvania and its citizenry, and to provide support for candidates to statewide office who align with the interests of CPAs. This enhances the efforts of the PICPA government relations team, which works with CPAs to engage in the process.   

Alex Fabian is manager of government relations for the PICPA. She can be reached at afabian@picpa.org.

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