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On Tuesday, residents in the 37th district will decide on a new state senator. For the last 32 years, Republicans have controlled that district that includes southern and western suburbs in Allegheny County, but the seat has been vacant since July, when Republican John Pippy resigned and entered the private sector.
Competing for the position is Democrat Matt Smith, and Republican D. Raja, who are both Mount Lebanon residents. Smith is finishing his third two-year term as a state representative. Raja is the co-founder of CEI, an I-T solutions company and lost his bid in 2011 to Rich Fitzgerald for Allegheny County Executive.
Smith hopes to make the jump from the House to the Senate and says his main issue is job creation and job opportunity.
“I think we got to make sure we’re making the right investments here in Western Pennsylvania to grow our economy and to be competitive in the 21st century economic situation,” Smith said. “I think you can do that by investing strategically and thoughtfully in a few things.”
One of those things is education. Smith says he has and will continue to fight “tooth and nail” against Governor Corbett’s budget that decreased public education funding. He says the cuts have caused adverse effects.
“Higher property taxes, larger class sizes, as well as school districts instituting new fees for participation in basketball, and soccer, and art, and theater and a whole host of areas that we should be investing in from the public education side and not putting the burden on the backs of students and parents to fund those programs,” Smith said.
Republican nominee, D. Raja, also promises to fight against cuts to public education.
“This is where I would have broken from the party. I mean I like to see-I would have wanted more funding for public education, and when I look at this from a taxpayer point of view, if the state or federal government cuts education funding, the local schools have to increase so the amount paid by the local taxpayer does not change,” Raja said.
The candidates differ on their method of creating jobs. Smith says early childhood education can kick start economic development.
“I would really focus on early childhood education as a very smart investment in our future, not only in the education context but also in the economic development context,” Smith said.
Raja agrees, but adds as a businessman, he thinks he knows what it takes to create and maintain jobs in the state.
“When you look at our state we have the highest business taxes of the whole country we have regulation that is archaic at times, at times it’s over burdensome,” Raja said. “By addressing those two I think would be the starting point for me with regard to job creation.”
Raja is in favor of smaller government, and thinks privatizing liquor stores could help get to that goal.
“80% of the revenues are from taxes that would still continue to come to the state and really [the] state is also regulating this industry, so in some sense I almost see a conflict of interest where one part of the state supplies the liquor and the other part regulates,” Raja said. “This is something where I think complete privatization is really the right approach.”
No action on privatization was taken because the GOP leaders didn’t have enough votes in favor of the measure.
Both candidates say their main campaign strategy is knocking on doors. Each said it allows them to directly hear about issues from the people they hope to represent. The senatorial district includes 31 southern and western suburbs of Pittsburgh plus Peters Township in Washington County.