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Election 2012: Q&A With State Sen. Jay Costa

Senate minority leader Jay Costa is running for re-election.

Incumbent state Sen. Jay Costa is running unopposed in the re-election to represent the 43rd District.

Costa was first elected to the state Senate in 1996 and has served four consecutive terms.

Before he was elected he was the register of wills in Allegheny County. For five years in the 1980s, he was the deputy sheriff of Allegheny County.

Costa received his Bachelor of Arts from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and his Juris Doctorate from Duquesne University.

Costa is the son of the late Allegheny County Treasurer Jay Costa Sr. His brother, Paul Costa, is a member of the state House of Representatives.

Costa lives in Forest Hills with his wife, Roxanne. They have two sons and a daughter.

Patch reached out to Costa to have him answer some important questions for voters:

Patch: Why are you choosing to run for a fifth term as state Senator?

Sen. Jay Costa: I am running for another term in the PA Senate because I believe that I can continue to make a difference in Harrisburg on behalf of the residents of the 43rd District and our region. 

I also enjoy very much the diverse nature of the work that I do. We have made great strides on many issues, but there is much work to be done. 

I am also well positioned in Harrisburg to help our region move forward and to address the issues and concerns facing us.

Patch: Although you are running uncontested, why should people vote for you? Have you received any endorsements? If so, who?

Costa: I believe that I can continue to make a difference in Harrisburg on behalf of the residents of the 43rd District and our region. As the Senate Democratic leader, I am fortunate to be in a position in Harrisburg to directly work directly to solve and address the issues and problems facing our commonwealth and region. I also enjoy a reputation as a proven problem solver who has worked in a bi-partisan manner to advance important issues and solutions.

We have received several endorsements: Allegheny County Democratic Committee, Allegheny County Labor Council, 14 Ward Independent Club, SEIU, Pittsburgh Teachers Union, Mine Workers Union, APSCUF.

Patch: Many local school districts are struggling financially, partially due to less state funding and rising PSERS costs. How do you propose to help the seven school districts in your district?

Costa: Although revenue is very tight right now, I believe we must help our school districts by continuing to make smart, proven investments in public education. PA has been a leader in our country directly because of our 8-year commitment to early and K-12 education. Last year PA did not make the level of investments we could have, and as such, will regress in our educational progress.

I believe there are a number of things we must do to help our school districts to meet their needs. The Accountability Block Program is one such program. I am working to restore the cuts to this very valuable program that allows school districts to determine what they need these resources for—66 percent of which used these resources for early learning programs. Last year the $250 million program was reduced by more than 60 percent, resulting in a significant reduction in early learning programs throughout the commonwealth. Early learning programs have a proven track record of saving school districts a significant amount of money by assisting a student's educational experience, away from expensive special education expenses.

We also should continue programs like the dual enrollment program, which allows student to take college level courses in high school and charter school reimbursement to our school districts. This program was eliminated in last year's budget, significantly impacting many of the less affluent districts.

I also believe, and will work to address, reasonable and fair charter and cyber charter school funding reimbursement formula to save school districts a significant amount of unfair funding levels.

Finally, I feel we as a commonwealth, should be partnering with our school districts to give them the tools to improve student performance, increase high school graduation rates and to provide students with a better path to a career—either through a college degree or a skilled training programs.

Patch: What are your thoughts on Marcellus shale drilling?

Costa: I feel that Marcellus shale drilling presents an economic opportunity the likes of which we have not seen in several lifetimes. However, we must do it right.

To me, that means proper environmental regulations with strict enforcement mechanisms. I did not support any of the recently enacted Marcellus shale legislation because I felt that it did not provide the level of environmental protection necessary, nor does it generate the level of funding that I felt was appropriate for our commonwealth. 

Finally, I strongly disagreed with the zoning language, which sharply impacts the ability of our local elected leaders to regulate drilling in their communities. 

That being said, this industry is here, and not likely to leave anytime soon. We need to make sure we monitor the industry's activity closely. There is no question that the Marcellus industry has shown to be a significant job creator in southwest PA and as an industry, they have made very several significant investments that will have a growing and lasting impact on our economic growth. We just have to do it right and not allow us to have another situation like we faced with the residual problems from the coal industry from many years ago.

Patch: What issues do you plan on focusing on if re-elected? 

Costa: There are five issues I plan to focus on.

1. Job creation
I believe that our highest priority must be to develop programs that foster job retention and creation. As Democratic leader, our Democratic caucus has focused on this issue for the past several years. Our comprehensive jobs plan, PA Works Now, clearly provides a road map to allow us to grow our economy.  Click here to see more details of this and other initiatives. I have also provided our Senate Democratic Budget Priorities plan in the media box above.

2. Education
I outlined my thoughts on education above.

3. Preserving our Human Service and Senior Programs 
I will work to insure that our Allegheny County administered social safety net programs remain for our seniors, a rapidly growing segment of our state's population. This year's general fund budget also calls for a 20-percent cut in other social service programs, including a significant reduction to county-based programs that provide much-needed services to our intellectually disabled community. These cuts are unconscionable. Restoring this $168 million cut to our counties and these programs is one my highest priorities.

4. Property Assessment 
I will continue to fight the unfair property assessment system that has forced thousands of homeowners from their homes. We must enact a statewide assessment moratorium to halt this practice and to require Pennsylvania to develop a fair and uniform property assessment system.   

5. Transportation
Transportation funding is another critical issue that we must address now. Mass transit funding is a major concern to Allegheny County residents, and Pennsylvania must partner with the county to provide a dedicated funding source to allow for a proper, affordable mass transit system for the region. We must also make the much-needed investments in our infrastructure, our roads and bridges. Not only will we be able to repair the many deficient roads and bridges, a transportation program will also immediately provide the opportunity for employment for so many in our region who are seeking work, from architects, to engineers, to maintenance workers. Addressing transportation infrastructure needs in Pennsylvania will have a positive impact on our employment and economic growth.

ellensimon April 21, 2012 at 12:27 PM
The prices these universities charge is ridiculous, best alternatives to this brick and mortar universities is something called High Speed Universities they charge much less

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