This is part of Swissvale Community Action Committee's 2020 Primary Candiate Guide.

PA State Senate, 43rd District

Pennsylvania State Senate District 43 includes several areas of Allegheny County, including Swissvale, a large portion of the City of Pittsburgh, and many surrounding municipalities. Pennsylvania provides an interactive map of each state senate district.

The candidates for the 2020 PA primary are Bill Brittain (challenger, Democrat) and Jay Costa (incumbent, Democrat.)

Bill Brittain, Democrat • Challenger

Bill Brittain, PA State Senate Candidate

Bill Brittain, PA State Senate Candidate
đź“Ł Endorsed by SCAC

Please introduce yourself and your campaign.

My name is Bill Brittain and I am a small business owner (Shadyside Nursery/WBU), a 10 year volunteer for Big Brothers and Big Sisters and a member of the PA Farmers Union. My work with the PA Farmers Union involved looking into how industrial farms were forcing out small PA farms across the state. I started looking into campaign finance reports and was appalled at what I saw. Our politicians, both Republican and Democrat, take in millions of dollars from polluters, law firms, banks, multinational companies and a myriad of other special interests. I decided to stand up and run for office because I believe that we can have a transparent government that works for the best interests of the people. PA is consistently voted the 5th most corrupt state in our country, we have NO limits on gifts to legislators and unlimited amounts of money can be donated to our politicians. This is the reason we are offered 1/2 solutions to our most pressing problems. I believe that we can change this.

Pennsylvania’s school districts have the most inequitable spending for poor students in the nation. How can your office work toward equitable funding across school districts, reduce segregation in school systems, and ensure that everyone has access to a high-quality education?

  1. There are several bills in the house and senate that seek to equalize school funding in the state. I would support and cosponsor any of those bills that in their final form brought more equity in funding to our education system.
  2. My wife was a teacher at Propel Braddock Hills HS and through her struggle, I am aware of the strain charter schools put on the funding system. We need to address this situation quickly and find a solution to deal with established charter schools yet stop spreading our education dollars out to multiple districts in the same geographic area.
  3. Altering the budget to put revenue towards education is a difficult task in a large legislature like PA. Rural and suburban districts are going to be resistant to any change as most school districts in their areas are adequately funded. These districts also do not contend with charter schools and the strain on funding this creates to the degree that urban districts do. The resistance to change will come from these areas which are largely Republican, and in a Republican legislature these changes are difficult. The low hanging fruit to help solve this issue is legalizing marijuana immediately and using the tax revenue to help equalize and expand school funding. The taxes from this industry and the savings from our criminal justice system will not solve this funding gap. But the 300 million dollars in estimated revenue from marijuana taxes and criminal justice savings should to be allocated to underfunded schools.
  4. Poverty directly correlates to lower educational levels, higher divorce rates and lower social mobility. The fact is we spend more per student than many countries and our achievement rates are substantially less. Throwing more money at the problem is not a silver bullet. We need to work to end poverty and encourage the success of our young people particularly in low income areas.

Over the past two decades, crime has fallen, but the population of Allegheny County Jail rose by 70%. What can your office do to end mass incarceration, and heal the communities it has harmed the most? Which offenses will you work to decriminalize?

I will publicly advocate for our society to be realistic about the War on Drugs and the damage it has done. We need to stop pretending that the current system is working in any capacity to stop drug use or rehabilitate prisoners. Alleviating poverty and treating our citizens as people is the way forward, not over incarceration and policing.

  1. We need to immediately legalize marijuana and use that program to:
    1. Increase small business ownership and support PA farmers
    2. Release anyone in jail for any marijuana crime and expunge all records immediately
    3. Increase minority involvement in the industry to increase small business ownership in low income areas. This can bring money and jobs into low income areas and act as a bulwark against gentrification.
  2. I strongly advocate for:
    1. Ending the War on Drugs/ decriminalizing all possession of any drugs/treating addiction as a health issue not a crime.
    2. Allowing incarcerated people to work for full wages so when they leave prison they have a nest egg/actual rehabilitation in prison.
    3. Shrinking the criminal code/working for balance in the prosecutors office in regards to stacking charges and mandatory minimums
    4. Ending over incarceration
    5. In general, stop treating the poor and incarcerated like 2nd class citizens

The Pittsburgh region has the most air pollution-related deaths of any city outside of California. What measures will you take to ensure that our area’s environmental pollution and air quality improve dramatically?

We need to break the power that the petrochemical industry has over our political system in PA and in Allegheny County. Our local politicians take large donations from US Steel, fracking companies, EQT and list goes on and on. Our political system will never be able to address this issue if these special interests continue to dominate out politicians. What I can do as a elected official:

  1. Work to limit campaign donations in general. We cannot have real regulation until these companies are out of politics. This issue also is regulated under the federal jurisdiction so the Trump administration is part for the problem, there is only so much that can be done on that front.
  2. I can and will make known which politicians take money from these companies and how it affects their voting record. I have come to realize through campaigning that most people have no idea how much money our local politicians take from these industries. Local politics are the most important governmental aspects in our lives.
  3. Vote against any tax break for the petrochemical industry.
  4. Advocate for the idea of people over profits.
  5. I want to bring to the forefront the real costs of these industries. We need to think about the future and the costs that will be pushed on us, the taxpayer. The amount of plastic in our rivers, air and soil needs to be accounted for. The companies that are creating this mess need to be held accountable for the costs to clean up our environment.

Rising temperatures increase the intensity of floods. Precipitation from extremely heavy storms has increased by 70% in the Northeast since 1958. What can your office do to address the climate crisis, and to mitigate its effects in our area?

Climate change is going to continue to get worse as our society has made very little progress in lowering our emissions. The biggest problem we face in our area is the petrochemical industry and its support by state and county officials. In fact, our state just passed another tax break for a potential plastics plant last month (HB 1100). We need to be fighting this continual commitment to fossil fuel infrastructure and actively subsidizing alternatives. The price of natural gas continues to fall and due to our overzealous buildup of this industry, we are going to be bailing these multinationals out. This is a lack of foresight on our public officials part. What I can do:

  1. Advocate against any plan to continue the buildup of fossil fuels that is not based in realistic forecasting of our climate and takes into consideration the long term consequences.
  2. Vote and advocate against tax breaks for these industries
  3. Allocate any funds for disaster rehabilitation after climate related disasters
  4. Raise awareness of where we are building and how we are zoning areas throughout the state to avoid disasters 10 or 20 years from now.

Nearly 700,000 Pennsylvanians do not have health insurance. How can your office ensure residents are getting the care that they need?

  1. I am for Medicare for all , 100%. This is the best option for our society, we cannot have our most vulnerable population, avoiding hospital care or being bankrupted for seeking out care. I will advocate for M4A and do whatever I can to implement it in our state.
  2. I am willing to vote for and continue the funding of various state programs such as CHIP, that support the goal of raising health care coverage rates in the state.
  3. I recently was at a meeting for Just Harvest and listened to how recipients view the benefits system and what could change. I want to look into how these programs are implemented and how they actually behave on the ground. I was able to hear a lot of complaints about how these programs did and did not work.

Pittsburgh is one of the most gentrified cities in the US. How can your office work to address the rent inflation that is pushing residents farther away from the city and the greater metro area?

As an employer, property owner and landlord, I have seen this issue from many angles. As a landlord, I have had many decent renters who just did not make enough money to make their budgets work. Low income work is a trap and people who work hard and do the right thing need to have the ability to have stable life. This has made me a strong proponent of a $15/hr minimum wage. I own a business and we start everyone at that wage because you need $15/hr to live a dignified life in Pittsburgh. We need to recognize that financial stress has a huge affect on our society. Low income households have lower education attainment, higher divorce rates and a myriad of problems that are created by financial stress. $15/hr minimum wage is the easiest way to help solve poverty. We need to:

  1. Raise the minimum wage to $15/hr: This the easiest answer to get low income people an extra few hundred dollars a month. This is the foundation to increase savings, boost education and lift people out of poverty.
  2. Stop giving tax breaks to companies like Walnut Capital or large multinationals in general. We need to support business that keep their money in our communities.
  3. Disincentive out of state buyers from flipping properties
  4. Encourage home ownership in poor communities prior to gentrification.
  5. Encourage small businesses to open and be financially viable. These businesses can act as a bulwark against gentrification both politically and economically.
  6. I will advocate to change the PA tax code to a progressive tax system that puts more burden on the wealthy.

Over 90,000 people in Pennsylvania earn minimum wage or less, and our minimum wage has been stagnant at $7.25/ hr since 2009. What can your office do to ensure that all PA residents are paid a fair wage, and are able to afford necessities?

The state recently passed a bill to raise the minimum wage to $9.50/hr by 2022, this is not acceptable. We all know that inflation in housing and rent prices, and the price of food is increasing exponentially. When $9.50/hr becomes minimum wage in 2022, it will still be starvation wages. A $15/hr minimum wage is the only option to deal with the rapid increase in the costs of living in Pittsburgh and the surrounding regions. Our legislators need to wake up and actually feel what it like to be normal person. I will work tirelessly to make sure that we raise the minimum wage and make life for our low income citizens better. I strongly believe that we are only doing as well as our neighbors.

Commute times are the strongest indicator of whether a household can emerge from poverty. How can your office strengthen and support our public transportation?

The impending shortfall in the budget of state transit is a major problem facing our state. Act 84’s current contribution to the state transit budget will be dropping form 450 million to 50 million dollars. Public officials are already stating that we are underinvesting in our transit infrastructure substantially each year. We need to find new sources of revenue for mass transit in PA. Finding the money in the existing budget is going to be difficult without finding new sources of revenue. I have seen the following ideas floated and I support them: Taxing Uber and Lyft Increasing the gasoline tax We need to think about transit systemically, in the way we build residential housing and how our zoning codes are utilized. I think overall we are moving in the right direction with the city building high density housing around transit corridors. I am hopeful about the improvement along the busway in Wilkinsburg leading to better transit in these areas. Things I can do:

  1. Meet and take advise from transit groups such as PPT, on how to improve service
  2. Fight to implement long term funding for the transit system, and make sure improvements to transit are a good use of tax payer money.

Throughout the US, reproductive rights, health, and justice are under attack at the state level. What can your office do to protect and expand upon existing rights to bodily autonomy?

It is a travesty that in 2020, these fundamental rights are under attack. I will be an advocate for women’s reproductive rights and will work to expand and enshrine these rights in PA law. There are some major problematic donors like ALEC in PA, that prop up politicians who favor abortion. Pushing to address campaign finance reform could help stop fringe candidates from continuing to be elected as could addressing gerrymandering. The younger population of PA is increasing pro choice and favors equality, we need to usher in this new generation of leaders to truly end this ridiculous fight. In general, I am advocating to change the image of the Democratic Party in PA to a young, work oriented, transparent organization which I believe could take back votes from rural areas if its policies actually helped the average person.

What can your office do to increase voter representation and engagement?

  1. We need to change our system to a vote by mail system, such as in Oregon. This will increase participation and hopefully engagement. We need to empower our citizens to be involved in government and to work as a watchdog to keep our government honest.
  2. Help end gerrymandering. Our districts are “safe” for our elected officials so the voter rarely has a chance to have real choices in our elections. We need to stop this practice. I support such groups as March on Harrisburg and Fair Districts who advocate for a fair electoral system.
  3. Push for democracy vouchers or a similar program. We need to limit the amount of money that can be spent on campaigns in PA and encourage new blood to run in elections. We have a serious incumbent problem in PA and I would support term limits for any politician or leadership limits in the legislature. We will never have novel solutions to our pressing problems without a robust system of democracy in our state.
  4. Help Institute gift bans and campaign finance reform. We need our politicians to be accountable to the people not their donors.

Jay Costa, Jr., Democrat • Incumbent

Jay Costa Jr., PA State Senator
Jay Costa Jr., PA State Senator

Please introduce yourself and your campaign.

I’m advocating in Harrisburg to address important issues here at home, including healthcare, jobs and the economy, climate change and the environment, and protecting our communities from gun violence.

Pennsylvania’s school districts have the most inequitable spending for poor students in the nation. How can your office work toward equitable funding across school districts, reduce segregation in school systems, and ensure that everyone has access to a high-quality education?

A child’s zip code shouldn’t be a determining factor in shaping their destiny. But a public education model based mainly on property taxes limits educational opportunities for our students. That’s why I’m pushing for a new funding model where 50% of all education funding comes directly from the state, so that every child, no matter where they live, has access to quality education and a higher chance at success. We must support our public schools so that ALL children, regardless of their financial situation, can get a quality education and a fair chance at success. I also co-sponsored SB 1079 to help fight for children who are experiencing educational instability.

Over the past two decades, crime has fallen, but the population of Allegheny County Jail rose by 70%. What can your office do to end mass incarceration, and heal the communities it has harmed the most? Which offenses will you work to decriminalize?

In the Senate, I’ve fought to reform our predatory cash bail system and keep Pennsylvanians out of our prisons as they await their day in court. Data shows that locking people up simply for not being able to pay a cash bail leads to an increased risk of poverty and homelessness for them and their families. That’s not true justice. It’s time to end the obsolete practice of requiring money bail throughout the state, and I pledge to do all I can to eliminate this shameful practice. Additionally, I worked to pass the Clean Slate Law, which makes expungement and record-sealing procedures more accessible for all Pennsylvanians who deserve a second chance. With the opioid crisis, I secured $2 million in state funding to expand the commonwealth’s specialty drug courts, ensuring residents who interact with our legal system as a result of their addictions have access to rehabilitation instead of incarceration. I also have fought hard for jury pool reforms. I sponsored Act 37 which helps to increase diversity in juries.

The Pittsburgh region has the most air pollution-related deaths of any city outside of California. What measures will you take to ensure that our area’s environmental pollution and air quality improve dramatically?

I have been endorsed by Conservation Voters of PA and Clean Water Action. And I have a 100% environmental voting record with those groups and others. Recently, I introduced legislation mandating the Department of Environmental Project to work with our new Climate Change Advisory Committee, and to craft a plan to reduce Pennsylvania’s greenhouse gas emissions. I also introduced the Pennsylvania Local Solar Program (SB 929), which allows utility companies to create 100% Pennsylvania, solarbased energy programs.

Rising temperatures increase the intensity of floods. Precipitation from extremely heavy storms has increased by 70% in the Northeast since 1958. What can your office do to address the climate crisis, and to mitigate its effects in our area?

I introduced a cutting-edge Climate Change Mitigation and Energy Transition Act – which will limit regional greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen our communities (the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative) which aims to reduce carbon emissions from the energy sector by 90% by 2040. I sponsored Senate Bill 386, the Landslide Insurance and Assistance Program, which would create dedicated landslide insurance programs that are affordable for all our residents. When tragedy strikes, no Pennsylvanian should be left to pick up the pieces on their own just because they couldn’t afford the high price of insurance coverage.

Nearly 700,000 Pennsylvanians do not have health insurance. How can your office ensure residents are getting the care that they need?

In the Senate, I pushed for the expansion of Medicaid which brought coverage and access to medical treatment to 700,000 Pennsylvanians. Yet there are still some in Harrisburg who would like to roll back access to Medicaid and force tens of thousands of our friends and neighbors off Medicaid and remove their basic coverages. We can’t let that happen. That’s why I’m fighting to continue expanding access to affordable healthcare options that all Pennsylvanians deserve. I sponsored Senate Bill 51, mandating all healthcare plans offered in Pennsylvanian include guaranteed essential health benefits. I spoke every session day on the Senate floor calling for the resolution of the UPMC Highmark dispute. I also introduced SB 310 and 311 in the Senate, compelling providers like UPMC and Highmark to accept payments from any insurance company a patient has, which makes getting the care needed much more accessible to all of our area residents.

Pittsburgh is one of the most gentrified cities in the US. How can your office work to address the rent inflation that is pushing residents farther away from the city and the greater metro area?

Affordable housing is an important issue in Pittsburgh and we must work with developers and other stakeholders to make sure that homes are affordable and accessible to all age groups and all income levels.

Over 90,000 people in Pennsylvania earn minimum wage or less, and our minimum wage has been stagnant at $7.25/ hr since 2009. What can your office do to ensure that all PA residents are paid a fair wage, and are able to afford necessities?

I have been fighting for an increase in the minimum wage. I advocated and voted for it in 2006 and again in 2019. More than 70 percent of Pennsylvanians support raising the state’s minimum wage - including a majority of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. It’s time we raise the wage. Senate Bill 12, which I support, would do just that. We need to do more in state government to ensure that our minimum wage is a living wage, not a starvation one. No Pennsylvanian who works full-time should have to raise a family in poverty, and in Harrisburg, I’ll continue to push for legislation like Senate Bill 12, Introduction of comprehensive modernization of the Minimum Wage, to raise the minimum wage and ensure all working Pennsylvanians can provide for themselves and their families.

Commute times are the strongest indicator of whether a household can emerge from poverty. How can your office strengthen and support our public transportation?

We’ve done a lot to repair our region’s crumbling infrastructure, but we must do more. Our bridges, airports, and public transportation systems are vital to the success of our economy, and infrastructure projects create jobs that put Pennsylvanians back to work. Accessible and reliable public transit infrastructure is critical to so many communities in our region. That’s why I pushed for Act 89, which would create a public financing plan to keep our public transit systems safe and strong.

Throughout the US, reproductive rights, health, and justice are under attack at the state level. What can your office do to protect and expand upon existing rights to bodily autonomy?

When the government interferes with a woman’s right to choose, it is interfering with her basic human rights. I am against SB 3, SB 2315, and SB 321, and other bills which restrict a woman’s right to choose.

What can your office do to increase voter representation and engagement?

It’s no secret that some in the government want fewer to participate in elections. Because of this, imposed deadlines on voter registration limit the time frame to register and be able to vote. Act 77, which I supported, helps with accessibility to voting by allowing Mail-In Ballots. With no excuse mail in ballots it allows for those who cannot make it to their polling location the ability to vote. We must ensure that all Pennsylvanians are able to participate in the most basic process of our democracy: casting their vote. In the Senate, we’ve fought unconstitutional voter ID laws and made progress– but our work isn’t finished yet.