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October 16, 2012

House contest heats up

71st district foes battle over who can best fight for area

— State 71st district hopeful Sherry Stalley says the area needs someone who will go to Harrisburg and fight for Greater Johnstown.

The district’s current incumbent, state Rep. Bryan Barbin, says he’s done just that during the past four years he’s been in office.

It’s a race that puts the attorney and two-term lawmaker against a well-known challenger.

Stalley, of Richland Township, spent nearly 20 years on local TV airwaves as a FOX 8 news reporter. She maintains she will battle for the area’s “fair share” with that same tenacity.

“I know the pulse of this community,” Stalley said, saying it has become “a part of me” during the past 18 years. “I’ve covered every issue: The good and the bad ... and I want to make this a better place to live.”

Barbin, meanwhile, points to his track record, saying he has worked hard to do the same. Since 2009, bills he has penned to help the state’s oldest and youngest residents have become law – and he says ones he’s pushing now are geared to help war veterans.

“I’m proud of those bills,” said Barbin, of Johnstown, noting one measure ensures judges can force contractors caught scheming money from senior citizens will have to pay money owed back over five to seven years.

The other bill extends the state’s CHIP program, a long-running state program that makes health insurance available to all children in Pennsylvania running into 2014.

Barbin says he currently is fighting for legislation to offer a tax credit to benefit small businesses who hire unemployed veterans, and another that would ensure that wounded warriors diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries have access to new technology to enable proper diagnoses.

“We’re seeing veterans come back home from war, whether its the Guard or Reserves, who need help,” he said, noting unemployment among veterans is significantly higher than the already-high state and national averages. Others return with, until-now “invisible” brain injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder that can now be diagnosed with University of Pittsburgh-developed “super MRI” scanning technology that he says should be available to vets showing these symptoms.

“It will enable us to deal with these problems,” he said.

With the tax credit bill, small businesses employing 100 or fewer workers could receive $4,000 per veteran annually for each veteran they hire who has been out of work for six months or more.

Stalley maintains Barbin should be doing far more for those looking for work.

She said job creation is her top priority.

Stalley criticized Barbin for voting against last year’s Angel Investment Tax Credit to encourage businesses to start-up workplaces in Pennsylvania.

She also said state leaders have put too much red tape on small-business leaders, saying she has talked to local business people who say it costs them $7,000 to hire someone. Much of it is tied to requirements, paperwork and taxes, Stalley said.

“The state is making it too hard to attract new business here,” she said.

She said legislators should take a hard look at streamlining or eliminating old and duplicative grant programs where funds could be better directed to create a more small-business-friendly environment.

“And I just don’t really see what Bryan has done,” she said, maintaining she has knocked on nearly 10,000 doors in the region “and maybe 50 knew (he was) our state representative.”

Barbin said he has worked to put local people to work by pushing local infrastructure projects that must be addressed  – and will spur more growth down the road.

Nearly $27 million has been invested in the area’s sewer and water projects – “more than our fair share,” he added, noting that it’s deserved because the area’s systems are badly outdated.

“Those projects mean jobs,” Barbin said.

The 71st Legislative District covers most of Greater Johnstown, including Richland, Conemaugh and Stonycreek townships.

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